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.

Some book gems to read


“Brilliant” by Roddy Doyle

I have been waiting for a while to write this review as I was privileged to read the proof several months ago.  It is not often that a book lives up to its title in such an concise way but Roddy Doyle really has written a brilliant book.

Macmillan, 978144724884

Macmillan, 978144724884

It is an allegorical tale of life in Dublin and how the ‘black dog’ of despair hits the adult population.  Luckily the children still have faith in the positive and over a day they seek to banish the darkness by affirming that things are brilliant.   It may be that having an Irish mother made me more susceptible to the concept, but I had no difficulty in hearing the accent in my mind as I was reading the book, together with the very lyrical language..  It really showed the spirit of the children as they banished the ‘black dog.

Despite the serious theme of the book it is full of humour and a huge optimism about the ability of people to overcome even major problems.  It truly is brilliant!



“The boy on the wooden box” by Leon Leyson

This is the amazing true story of a young boy who survived the war thanks to the efforts of Otto Schindler.  Along with his father he was employed in Schindler’s factory and the book’s title related to the fact that he stood on  box to reach the machine controls for his job.

The story is a simple retelling of his story, but it is haunting and  a real reminder of the horrors that people went through.  It also shows how human nature can overcome such trials and succeed in life.

Simon & Schuster 9781471119682

Simon & Schuster

Unlike many other wartime stories it does not end in 1945 but follows Leon as he grows into adulthood in the USA and eventually meets Otto Schindler again.  It gives us the answer to the question about ‘what happened next?’, something which is often missing from other accounts, but which will be greatly impacted by the trauma that the main character has been through.





“The cat who came in off the roof” by Annie M G Schmidt

The cat who came in off the roof

Pushkin Children’s Books, 9781782690368

It seems amazing that I have never heard of this author.  When I was growing up in the 1960s she was the most famous children’s writer in Holland and went on to win the Hans Christian Andersen award in 1989. Thankfully her work is now being translated and brought to a wider audience.

It is a quirky little story about a reporter called Tibbles who loves to write about cats, but is told to stop by his editor because the stories are boring.  Then one day Tibbles rescues a young lady from the tree she is hiding in, because of a dog.  The woman is called Minou and she shows some remarkably catlike traits.  Well, as it turns out, she was a cat and turned into a human after eating scraps from the waste bin at a science institute.  All sorts of situations occur as she struggles to keep her cat links whilst living as a human.

It is a fascinating book about change and being accepted as well as about the dangers of big business.  There is a very 1950s feel to the book and I keep imagining Miss Minou as Audrey Hepburn (not a bad thing),  but the themes are still relevant today and the characters are full of personality.


Fleeced by Julia Wills

What a great piece of fun for those who love oddball heroes and a tongue in cheek approach to the Greek myths.

Fleeced 9781848779853

Templar, 9781848779853

Aries, the ram of the Golden Fleece, had been in the underworld for millenia and he is still mourning the loss of his fleece.  Then he wins the opportunity to go on a quest to our world in order to search for it.  However he and his friend Alex end up in modern London, not Athens and then all kinds of dangers start presenting themselves.  Who is trying to kill them and can they depend on their new friend Rose to help them, but most importantly what has happened to the fleece since it was last seen in ancient Greece?

Fantastic fun and will really suit those who enjoyed books such as “The Pig Scrolls” by Paul Shipton, “Corydon”by Tobias Druitt and of course the Percy Jackson novels of Rick Riorden.

I do hope that we will see further adventures for this Ram with attitude.


“The Bubble-wrap boy” by Phil Earle

A really great book for those 8-12 year old who want to spread their wings, but feel that they are being stopped by their parents.  We all know that the world is a dangerous place but sometimes being over protected  can feel like being wrapped in bubble-wrap.  Charlie finds that he is really good at skateboarding, but is not allowed to anything dangerous by his mother.  How he fights for his dream and discovers a family secret are the two main themes of this book.  Charlie is such a great hero, he just wants to be normal and do the things that others do, so that he is not picked on at school.  Yet again Phil Earle has produced a fantastic story with lessons for us all and a hero who we can all cheer for.

Penguin, 9780141346298

reading copy with thanks to Netgalley