Readers find their wings

I know that this is a really odd title for a blog post but I think it reflects the sensation when children first discover that they can read longer books with pleasure and a certain degree of fluency.  It is like learning to walk, ride a bike or even to swim; there is a feeling of freedom and having some control over the environment in which you find yourself.  In other words it is a truly liberating experience which will stay with you for your whole life.

“The New Teacher” by Dominique Demers and Tony Ross is the first in a series of books by this French Canadian author and which was first published in 1994.  It is a short and very witty story about what happens when Miss Charlotte arrives to teach a class of young children who do not enjoy school.  Her somewhat eccentric methods eventually make her very popular, but the children find that they have to fight to keep the teacher they have come to love and admire.  As a follow on, you might like to read “The Mysterious Librarian” which sees Miss Charlotte take on the challenge of encouraging children to enjoy reading.

“The Spooky School” by Tracey Corderoy and Steve Lenton is another set of short stories about the cake-baking, crime-fighting duo of Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam.  They originally started their adventures in picture book format but have now branched out for the next age group.  In this book they save jewels, fight ghosts and meet a fiendish new villain; a Red Panda called ‘Red Rocket’.  It is great fun.

Tamsyn Murray  has written “The Troublesome Tiger” as the second story in the “Tanglewood Animal Park” series which follows the adventures of young Zoe, whose parents have bought Tanglewood Manor and turned it into an Animal Park.  This story revolves around Tindu the male Tiger and the attempts to help him settle down in the park, before the arrival of his new mate.  It is a charming story with a lot of information and a cast of characters that you can’t help but like.  This is a super series, especially if you are an animal lover.

“Captain Pug” by Laura James and Eglantine Ceulemans follows the adventures of  young Lady Miranda and her dog called Pug as they visit the local boating lake.  However when things get out of control and Pug finds himself in the sea and being rescued by another young girl life becomes quite adventurous.  This is the first in a series of adventures for the pampered pooch and joins the list of books written about the breed.

“Pugly bakes a cake” by Pamela Butchart and Gemma Correll is another Pug related story only this time the hero is called Pugly and he is trying to bake a cake for his owner.  Unfortunately his efforts seem to be being sabotaged by Clementine (Clem) the family cat.  Most families with a mix of pets will understand the frictions between the main characters and the very funny scrapes that they get themselves in to.

“Marge and the Pirate baby” by Isla Fisher is the second book featuring Marge, a truly unique babysitter. This time she is looking after Jemima and Jake as usual, but finds herself having to look after their demon of a baby cousin called Zara.  There are three short stories in this offering and I think that the author is really starting to be comfortable with her characters, which means that we become more involved with the stories.  This is a funny and quirky book for both boys and girls.

“HILO, the boy who crashed to earth” by Judd Winnick.  What do you do when you discover a boy that says he fell from the sky and does not know where he is from.  That is the situation that D.J and Gina find themselves in and they then have to try and find a way of sending him back home.  This book is the first in a series of comic style books being published by Puffin.  It is bright , well illustrated and full of humour; in other words it is great for boys in particular, although the strong female character makes it fun for everyone.

“Jinks & O’Hare Funfair Repair” by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre is another one of their fantastically funny collaborations.  Set in Funfair Moon it is full of zany aliens, dastardly villains and a clever heroine called Emily.  As you would expect this will take you on a ‘roller coaster ride’ of excitement.  The illustrations are full of the energy and humour that we have come to expect.  It is a great book to read alone or to a class.

“The Bolds on Holiday” by Julian Clary and David Roberts.  Once again we enjoy the company of the Bolds, a family of hyenas who are living in Teddington, disguised as humans.  This book sees them and their friends going to Cornwall on their summer holidays.  As usual there are lots of ‘groan worthy’ jokes as well as puns, both written and visual.  I love the way that the author’s voice comes across so easily and the illustrator’s ability to translate all of this visually.  A really great read for all ages.

“Rabbit and Bear” by Julian Gough and Jim Field is about the developing friendship of Bear and Rabbit.  Bear wakes up during winter as a thief stands on his nose as they are leaving his cave; that is when he finds that all his food is missing.  He goes outside and discovers the wonder of the snow.  Rabbit offers him a moldy old carrot to eat, which he is very grateful for.  However he does not know that it is Rabbit who has stolen his food. When a wolf comes looking for some food the two friends have to work together and Rabbit in particular learns a few things about friendship.  What a funny story with some gross elements such as Rabbit eating his own poo (yuck!)

“A Race for Toad Hall” by Tom Moorhouse and Holly Swain is a wonderful update on  “The Wind in the Willows”.  When Teejay, Mo and Ratty find an old Toad frozen solid in the ice house, little did they guess that it was the (in)famous Toad that they had heard stories of from their grandparents. Toad of course is just as excitable as in the past and when he finds that the weasels have taken over Toad Hall and want to knock it down for a housing estate, he is determined to get it back.  With the help of his new young friends he finds a way to challenge the weasels.  This is a great story full of charm and humour that really retains the spirit of the original and this is captured by the super illustrations by Holly Swain.

I hope that you find some books here that you will enjoy reading, either to yourself or to some others.  All of the stories have the ability to make reading FUN, which is the best way to help children develop a love of reading for the rest of their lives

 

Glasgow and YLG

2015-10-22 17.59.02

A very nice room

For the first time in quite a few years YLG has returned to Scotland for its conference.  It was held in Glasgow and the venue was the rather incredible Beardmore Hotel; fantastic rooms for all of us and our own major hospital next door.  Even the bills were made out to the Scottish NHS!  There is a long and fascinating story behind all of this, but I had no worries about what to do if I was taken ill. I was only able to go to the event for the Friday and the first half of Saturday and treated myself to a plane flight from Bristol, much better than 6 hours of trains.  It was great to arrive on the Thursday evening and to meet up with lots of friends, especially Bev Humphries, and to just sit and talk about books.2015-10-23 15.42.28

As usual there was a fantastic exhibition and a big thanks goes to all the publishers who travelled to put on such a good show.  So many good friends and some lovely new friends in the making.

2015-10-23 12.40.06

Amazing Grace, 25 years old

The Friday started out with a fascinating plenary session  by Karen McCluskey, the Director of the Scottish Violence reduction Unit, which reminded all of us of the major issue that we face in areas of deprivation.  This was followed by the first of the workshop sessions.  I attended the one run by Paul Register, who founded and runs the Stan Lee Excelsior Award, which is for comics (of the American variety such as X-Men, Superman, not the Dandy and Beano).  It was a great insight into a very popular and yet poorly understood area of young people’s reading and I am sure that many more schools will want to become involved with this award.  After the coffee break and celebration for the 25th anniversary of “Amazing Grace” I attended a workshop lead by Siobhan Parkinson, a past Irish Children’s Laureate and the publisher at Little Island Books, as she spoke about translating children’s books.

The afternoon provided the publishers with a 3 minute slot to promote their future books.  Some were very slick and others more homespun, but they all whetted our appetites for some really amazing books to come.  The third workshop period of the  day was after lunch and I spent an hour learning many things about my iPad that were new to me, despite having had the machine for several years.  I really must try and use it more effectively than I have done.

Author highlights of the weekend included Sarah Crossan talking about “One”  A lovely panel session with illustrators Catherine Rayner, Emily McKenzie, Holly Sterling and Ross Colin, celebrating the launch of a new book 2015-10-23 15.42.19by Andersen Press, “The Prince and the Porker” by David Robert and based on the story “The Prince and the Pauper”  by Mark Twain.

The Saturday morning was taken up by a Graphics novel panel consisting of the stars that are Mel Gibson and Paul Register, together with Liz Payton from the Phoenix magazine, as well as a talk by the very popular Sita Brahmachari.  This was closely followed by discussions with Barbara Band about boys reading and the gender gap and then Barry Cunningham talking to some of his  Chicken House authors, Sam Hepburn and Emma Shevah.  It was a shame that I had to leave at lunchtime and I missed several sessions that I know will have been great as they involved Gill Lewis, Jenny valentine Janetta Otter-Barry and Anna McQuinn.

One of the real joys of going to any conference is the opportunity to meet and talk to like minded people.  Over the years these become friends and you are constantly reminded what a truly friendly and dedicated bunch of people are involved in children’s literature.  I really want to say thank you to all the people involved in organizing the conference, I have that t-shirt and know how much hard work they put in, even though it is so worth while. A big thank you to the publishers for the exhibition, the authors and of course THE CAKE!

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Bath time again!

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An expectant audience

Can it really be a whole year since the last Bath Festival of Children’s Literature, well yes it can.  This year sees the return of John and Gill McLay as the artistic directors.  They founded the festival and nurtured it during the first 6 years of its life, now they are back for year 9.

The events started off with a wonderful talk by the iconic Judith Kerr (pronounced Carr, so we2015-10-01 15.50.43 were informed?) in conversation with Julia Eccleshare.  She spoke about her childhood but also about her many books and in particular her new work “Mr Cleghorn’s Seal” which is based on an event in her father’s earlier life.  After this many of us transferred over to Waterstones for the launch party which was full of lovely authors, illustrators, supporters volunteers and friends of the festival.

2015-09-26 09.53.03

Mamillan, 9781447277897

the next day saw me reporting for duty in my first volunteer session of the year.  I was lucky enough to work on a session by Kristina Stephenson for her “Sir Charlie Stinky Socks and the Pirate’s Curse” which was full of music activity and a wealth of energy.  The children absolutely loved it.  I then had the great pleasure of seeing the Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell talk about his latest book “Goth Girl and the Wuthering Fright” as well as watching his amazing talent as an illustrator.  The queue for book signing was enormous and I was unable to get my book signed as I was booked to go and listen to the amazing Patrick Ness talking about “The rest of us just live here”.  A book that I have written about before.

2015-09-28 15.17.33I must admit to then having a day off in order to catch up on the more mundane things of life, as well as doing a bit of reading.  However on Monday I was off again, this time it was attending a school visit with the lovely Bali Rai.  I have heard him do a short talk at a conference in the past, but this was the first time that I had the pleasure of hearing him work with a young audience.  He absolutely held all of them spellbound, something that is quite difficult with over 100 year 9s and year 11s.  He spoke about writing in general, his background, the influences he finds and also about racism and extremism across a wide spectrum.  I would recommend any school to have him talk to their older pupils.

2015-10-01 15.26.53

Corgi, 9780552570749

2015-10-03 11.13.21The second weekend of the festival I was working on both days, but only half a day on each.  Saturday I worked the morning shift at the Guildhall and was able to see Elen Caldecott and Robin Stevens talking about writing crime for younger audiences.  Elen is a local author and and her latest book is the second in a series ‘Marsh road Mysteries’ and is called “Crowns and Codebreakers”.  Robin has really hit the spot with her wonderful series about the two schoolgirl sleuths Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong and she was talking about the third in the series “A first class Murder” which is a homage to “Murder on the Orient Express”  I also spent some of the morning learning how to draw “Wookies and Droids”, which might come in useful when my grandson is older.  With the next Star Wars film coming to the big screen in 2015-10-03 09.33.19 2015-10-06 21.25.41November this was very well times. I also saw the amazing duo of Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve in the green room as they were about to go to their “Pugs of the Frozen north” event.  I then met them later when they were off to their individual events for “Railhead” and “Dinosaur Police”.

 

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Andersen, 9781783443642

Sunday was the last day of the festival and there were so many events that I would have loved to attend, however I did steward the events for Julian Clary and David Roberts, talking about their book “The Bolds”, which is a great read for those younger confident readers.  they shared the speaking and then David also produced illustrations so that the audience could see how a character is developed.  I then worked on the session with the poet John Hegley – he is 2015-10-04 16.33.05-1really brilliant and it is a major ‘experience’ to hear him speak, play his ukulele  and generally entertain his audience.

The final bit of icing on the cake was meeting Jennifer Donnelly in the Green Room and getting her to sign copies of 2015-10-04 16.59.01her books “Rogue Wave” and “Dark Tide”, the second and third titles in her series about a world with Mer nations and wars for power.

Of course all of this was just the tip of the iceberg and there were so many other fantastic events going on at other venues.  The programme is so varied that there is something for everyone.  For small children there were some favourite authors and illustrators, such as Michael Rosen,  Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler and for teens there was Joe Suggs and Jacqueline Wilson.  If you haven’t been to Bath before, then I suggest you book the dates for next year.

Boldly Going…

Well, it might not be the final frontier but on Thursday there was a gathering at Daunts in Marylebone to celebrate the launch of the phenomenally funny book “The Bolds” by Julian Clary, with illustrations by David Roberts.

David Roberts and Julian Clary

David Roberts and Julian Clary

A fantastic crowd at Daunts

A fantastic crowd at Daunts

The Bolds are a family of Hyenas who have found themselves living in Teddington with their two children Bobby and Betty.  Once your brain starts to accept this fact it becomes easier to slide (laughing hilariously) into the story of their lives and the plot to save an elderly hyena, from the local safari park, from being put ‘to sleep’.  David Robert’s illustrations are as always amazing and and bring the whacky characters to life in such a vivid way.

Tony and Miranda

Tony and Miranda

 

Betty and friend Minnie

Betty and friend Minnie

This is yet another fabulous book for what used to be a very neglected age range, the 7-9 year olds.  I particularly like the very groan worthy jokes that Mr Bold creates for his job, writing the jokes for Christmas crackers and I am quite sure that the intended audience will be wowing their friends and family with them once they start reading.

A big thanks should go to everyone at Andersen Press, not only for the great party, but also for bringing together such a brilliant team as Julian Clary and David Roberts.  I can only hope that this is one of many collaborations and I know that a follow up is being planned for the Bolds.  I almost dread to think what they will be doing in suburbia next time around.  The one thing that keeps passing through my mind is “what if they had lived in Surbiton and came across Margo Leadbetter?”  A vaguely surreal and worrying prospect.

Andersen Press, 9781783443642

Andersen Press, 9781783443642

Young and Fun books

I thought it was time for another round up of some beautiful and fun picture books that I have received over the last few months. The first of these is

Specs for Rex by Yasmeen Ismail

2014-08-27 14.49.31

Bloomsbury, 9781408836972

A really great story for all children, but especially for those who have something that makes them different from those around them.  This is the story of Rex, who needs glasses but hates to wear them as it makes him different.  He tries all sorts of ways to hide his specs, but then they help him find something that his teacher is lost and he is made to feel good.  The illustrations are vivid and full of energy; they use watercolours and have that naivety which we associate with the work of young people, but of course there is an underlying skill and complexity which really brings the illustrations alive.  This is one of those special books that hopefully will become a classic for the future.

The Dawn Chorus by  Suzanne Baron

2014-08-27 14.49.54

Bloomsbury
9781408839218

I really loved this charming story about a young bird called Peep.  One day he wakes to hear other birds singing and he is invited to join them in the Dawn Chorus, but no matter how hard he tries, he cannot wake up in time.  It is only when he meets another bird like himself that all is explained – he is a Nightingale and they are meant to sing in the evening.  Beautiful illustrations make this great for telling to young children and the message about having individual gifts and skills is subtly woven into the story.

 

Smelly Louie by Catherine Rayner

2014-08-27 14.49.16

Macmillan
9780230742505

This is the latest from the award winning illustrator Catherine Rayner.  It is the story of Louie and his endeavours to rid himself of the smell of roses and apple blossom, after his owner has given him a bath.  As always this is produced in the author’s distinctive style, which fits so well with the plot of the book.  It reminds me of earlier favourites on a similar theme, including the What-a-Mess  stories of Frank Muir and the tales of  Harry the dirty dog by Gene Zion.  I particularly love the touches of gold on the cover of the book, very luxurious.

 

 

 

The Flying Bath by Julia Donaldson and David Roberts

2014-07-19 11.48.01

Macmillan
9780230742604

It is always great to have a new book from the prolific and very popular Julia Donaldson, but when the illustrations are by the lovely David Roberts then you know you are in for a treat.  This is the tale of how the bath toys spend their day, travelling around the world in a magical flying bath tub and saving a variety of creatures.  The book is full of colour and action, and I love the multicoloured wings of the bath tub; is this a slight ‘homage’ to Elmer perhaps?

 

 

 

Snow by Walter de la Mare, illustrated by Carolina Rabei

This really is a beautiful evocation of a winter that we all hold in our imaginations, even though the reality is so different for many of us.  The poem is by one of the best known children’s poets of the early 20th century, and his stories for children won the Carnegie medal in 1947.  The illustrator has taken a very short work and really added to it with her simple colour palette and a quite retro 1950s feel to the background.  I can never have enough books about winter and Christmas and this is one to keep and read again every year as part of the build up to Christmas, just like the Muppet Christmas carol on DVD.

Faber and faber, 9780571312191

Faber and faber,
9780571312191

Frances Lincoln, 9781847804327

Frances Lincoln,
9781847804327

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How the Library (NOT the Prince) saved Rapunzel by Wendy Meddour and Rebecca Ashdown

For those of us who have been involved with libraries for most of their working lives it is wonderful to see the support that we are getting in this time of hardship and with this book Wendy really sings the praises of the library and what it can do to to widen our horizons.  This is a picture book, so it is aimed at young readers in a way that they can appreciate; the text is in rhyme and the illustrations are bright and vibrant .  It is full of energy and the humour that I have come to expect from Wendy’s work, having read some of the Wendy Quill books in the past.

Made by Raffi,   by  Craig Pomranz and Margaret Chamberlaimn

there seems to have been an increase in the number of books showing ‘diversity’ in its many forms and I have noted several about sewing and knitting particularly with boys as the main characters.  For older children there is Boys don’t knit by T.S  Easton and for younger readers we have this book .  It is about a young boy, Raffi, who enjoys sewing and knitting, but feels he has to keep it secret in order to avoid the teasing and bullying which could ensue from such un-boyish hobbies.  it is a bright cheerful affirmation of wanting to be yourself and not just following the crowd.

Frances Lincoln, 9781847804334

Frances Lincoln,
9781847804334

Picture book fun

With a small grandson I am even more interested in picture books than I was before, and I have always loved seeing how writers and illustrators get the words and pictures to work together.  Here are some of the books I have enjoyed over the last few months, and I just had to include two books with the same title!

The first of these books is by Angie Morgan and is a story about a rat who thinks he is actually a mouse.  It is beautifully written and illustrated tale of knowing who you are inside and not being stereotyped.  The second story is the story of a small kitten who joins the circus and has difficulties finding his place in the world.  Then he has a BIG idea and becomes a triumph.  Again this is about knowing yourself and also working with your strengths.

Egmont Books

Egmont Books

Frances Lincoln books

Frances Lincoln Books 

 

 

David Roberts must be one of my favourite illustrators, with a very distinctive style and pictures that are full of colour, action and a truly  subversive  sense of humour.  I first saw a copy of his latest book, written by Peter Bently, at an Andersen preview evening last autumn and I was thrilled when a copy landed on my doorstep.  It is about the adventures of a group of sheep who steal an airplane and have fantastic adventures, whilst being chased by the pilot, who looks remarkably like Dick Dastardly.  The setting is early 20th century, so we have the open bi-plane and the link to the film ” those magnificent men….”  It really is a great story and full of wonderful atmospheric pictures.

Andersen Press

Andersen Press

Andersen Press

Andersen Press

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jo Hodgkinson is new to me but I really loved this gentle tale of friendship and parenting.  Billy has parents who love magic, the trouble is, they are not very good at it.  One day Billy saves Nigel the snail from one of their spells and they become firm friends.  Unfortunately the parents think Nigel is unexciting and try to persuade Billy to have another pet; as a result Nigel decides to leave.  Luckily, after a lot of excitement, all ends well.  I think I am going to have great fun reading this to my grandson and I look forward to seeing more work by this author.

Bloomsbury

Bloomsbury

Alison Green Books Scholastic

Alison Green Books
Scholastic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These final two stories really appealed to me and I have been talking about them to anyone willing to listen.  “Herman’s Letter” is written and illustrated by Tom Percival, perhaps better know for his covers to the “Skulduggery Pleasant” books.  It is a gently humorous book about what happens when best friends Henry Raccoon and Herman Bear are separated.  Herman worries that his friend has forgotten him and Henry is concerned that he has not heard from his friend.  How everything is resolved makes for a warm and enjoyable tale.

The final book is by Thomas and Helen Docherty and focuses on the importance of bedtime stories, family and friendship.  In Burrow Down all the children enjoy stories at bedtime, but then their books start to mysteriously disappear.  Who could be stealing their bedtime stories?  A small rabbit called Eliza Brown takes on the challenge and finds a small creature called a “Snatchabook”.  The resolution to the story is satisfying and reminds us of the importance of the bedtime story and the way it brings adults and children together.