Real life heroes

“Youthquake” by Tom Adams and Sarah Walsh is a book that I first came across when it was nominated for the Information Book Award.   It is aimed a Middle grade readers, as well as those in KS3 and focuses on 50 young people throughout history who have had a lasting impact on the world that we live in.  This is a book that is divided into themes, so that creative arts are under the heading “Create and Dream”, while sport is called “Lead and Triumph”.  It is a book to dip into, as well as to learn more about specific people.  Many of the names are now well known, but there are also many who are just receiving their first acknowledgements.  It shows how people an overcome multiple challenges if they are determined to achieve.

“Just like Me” by Louise Golding, Melissa Iwai and Caterina Delli Carri is a collective biography of a range of individuals who are neurologically and physically diverse.  It is aimed at the Middle Grade age range, even down to age 7 years according to the publishers.  It is great to see a title that allows young children to understand that we are a world of wonderfully diverse people.

“I am not a label” by Cerrie Burnell and Lauren Baldo is another collection of biographies from the past and present.  All of the people represented are disabled in some way and this book focuses on their achievements, rather than on the disability.  There are quite a few names that I am not familiar with, so it is wonderful to see people from across the world who have overcome many obstacles to achieving their ambitions.

We are the Beatles” by Zoe Tucker and Mark Wang  AND “We are the Supremes” by Zoe Tucker and Salina Perera. These two titles are the first in a new series from ‘Wide Eyed Editions’ and aimed at KS1 readers. The author is beginning to make a name for herself with the range of biographies for young people that she has written, so it is great to think that we have another talent to depend on for many years hopefully.  The stories are told very simply and have underlying themes of friendship, equality and teamwork.  There are some exciting titles in the pipeline and I am really looking forward to the books on NASA Scientists and also the Apollo 11 crew, which are due out this autumn.

“Fearless” by Gattaldo  tells the story of a Maltese journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was well known for her expose of injustices in her country.  I first heard about her a couple of years ago when there was a TV documentary about her life and an investigation into the bomb  attack that killed her.  This book is aimed at younger readers and emphasizes her belief in freedom of speech and civil rights, it does not cover the horror of her death.  It is supported by Amnesty International and shines a light on the fact that all countries seem to have dark areas in the way they are run and in the way that people are able to live their lives.

“The Fog of War” by Michelle Jabes  Corpora and  Amerigo Pinelli,  AND “Queen of Freedom” by Catherine Johnson and Amerigo Pinelli are both titles in the best selling series “True Adventures” from Pushkin Children’s books.  The range of subjects is extremely broad.  The former title is about Martha Gellhorn an American journalist who managed to be part of the D-Day landings, something that her then husband, Ernest Hemingway, did not manage.  The latter title is about the Jamaican freedom fighter Queen Nanny who led  the revolt of the Maroon people against the British colonial authorities and slave owners in the late 18th century.  All of the books in this series tell us about people that struggled against oppression, stereotypes and colonialism among other issues.  They bring all of this home to the reader in a straightforward and understandable way.

Little people: BIG DREAMS” is a wide ranging series of biographical books aimed at very young readers. Written by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara they have a range of  illustrators , however they do follow a ‘house style’ that most people will recognize.  This links in to the small format of the books and also the age range that they are aimed at, which is in the 5-8 years range.  the characters portrayed range from people such as Alan Turing and Martin Luther King, to Captain Tom Moore and Marcus Rashford.   there are also multiple books about famous women, from Mary Anning to Frida Kahlo and Coco Chanel. One of the latest that I came across is about the iconic figure of Iris Apfel, who at the age of 100 is still a major figure in the fashion world and an example to us all.   Hopefully some of these titles can be found in every school and library.

Down to the Sea again

Over the last few years we have seen a rise in the number of books that talk about the environment.  It is good to see that a lot of them have been aimed at the youngest age ranges, as we need to make sure that the need to change is embedded in all young people, as well as adults.  Perhaps the main worry that this look at titles has raised is that Michael Foreman was talking about the problem so many years ago; it seems that the pace of change is still far too slow, however programmes such as “Blue Planet” have definitely raised awareness at government levels as well as with general populations.  Here are a few titles that I hope will be useful for younger readers.

QED ‎Publishing, 9780711250055

The Deep Blue” by Charlotte Guillain and Lou Baker Smith.  Mankind has always been fascinated by the sea and the creatures that inhabit it.  Since the coming of modern media, such as film, television and now digital resources we have become more aware of the environment and the effect we are having on the oceans and its inhabitants. From Jacques Cousteau to Sir David Attenborough, we have been introduced to the wonders that lie below the surface and a thirst for knowledge has been developed by many children and adults.  We have also become more aware of what can happen to mankind if we don’t care for our oceans, ice caps and animals.  This is a fascinating look at the world of water and those animals who depend on it.

Big Picture Press,‎ 9781787417755

“There are Fish everywhere” by Katie Haworth and Britta Teckentrup is a gorgeous, stunningly coloured look at the world of fish.  Starting with what they are and then the history of their development from pre-historic times, the reader gets to understand the part that they play in the eco-structure that we live in.  The author looks at all parts of the world and also covers the relationship between mankind and the aquatic world.  Definitely one to browse and enjoy as well as looking up the facts.

Andersen Press, 9781849393041

“One World” by Michael Foreman is now over 30 years old, but it was re-published last year to celebrate the anniversary.  This is full of stunning artwork by Michael Foreman and the use of watercolours provides a very individual feel to the pictures.  It is such a tragedy that we still have the same concerns about the environment, after all these years, but given the movements being led by young people at the moment, it is appropriate that this book comes to the forefront for a new generation.  Whilst this book works as a picture book for reading to young audiences, it also works at another level in pointing out the dangers we face from pollution, plastics, climate change and industry.  This is yet another book that should be in all primary schools.

Pavilion, 9781843654513

“The Blue Giant” by Katie Cottle.  This is a delightful allegorical story about cleaning up our oceans and landscapes.  It is told as a picture book story, featuring Meera and her mum.  When they go to the beach, they are surprised by a giant wave that speaks to them and asks them for help in cleaning up the sea.  They start to help, but realize that it is a huge task.  However, gradually they get their friends involved and the more people help, the more rubbish they can clear.  This gives a strong message about us all doing our part and would be great as part of work about environmental issues.

Little Tiger, 9781912756148

“Goodnight Ocean” by Becky Davies and Carmen Saldana is a beautiful flap book for the youngest readers.  It looks at a wide range of animals and environments related to the Ocean.  the book was long-listed for the  SLA Information Book Award in 2020 and works at both a story telling and an information level.  It is a fantastic introduction to the watery world around us.

Scholastic, 9781407195100

“Somebody swallowed Stanley” by Sarah Roberts and Hannah Peck brings home to us the dangers that sea creatures face from plastic bags that are thrown away.  Stanley is a striped bag and looks remarkably like a jelly fish, so sea creatures think that he will make a good meal.  Unfortunately he can get stuck in their throat and prevent breathing, or get tangled up in parts of their body.  This story really brings it home to us how dangerous plastic can be in the environment and is a must read title.

Andersen Press, 978-1783449149

“Clem and Crab” by  Fiona Lumbers is about a young girl called Clem who has a day out at the beach with her sister.  She finds a crab and takes it home as a pet.  Of course, this turns out to be a bad idea and she has to take it back to its own habitat.  She also discovers the dangers that it faces from pollution and rubbish and sets out to improve the beach and in doing so she gets lots of others involved in the process.  This works beautifully as a picture book, but also acts as a starting point in discussions about the environment.

 

Dino Knights: Panterra in Peril by Jeff Norton and Jeff Crosby

It is always exciting when I receive a new book for younger readers.  Over the years there has been a real problem in finding well written, adventurous and interesting stories that will fire the enthusiasm of our new readers.  Luckily we are in a period where  publishers have realized that young people need to feel inspired by books and are giving many very talented writers and illustrators the chance to create some fabulous books.  It is a real challenge to write a well rounded story, with characterisation and action, when the word count and vocabulary is more limited, but I am delighted to say that Jeff Norton has achieved it.

I think that we would all agree that any book for a young reader depends to some extent on the illustrations that go with the actual text.  The images help young readers interpret and even expand their understanding of the main story, so it is vital that the pictures show the character and overall atmosphere of the story.  Jeff Crosby has done a fantastic job of bringing the world of Panterra to life and we really get a feel for this mythical world and the creatures that are found there.

As Jeff Norton explains in his guest post for this launch, the story revolves around a medieval world where dinosaurs had not died out and are used instead of horses by a crack team of young dino knights.  What we also discover is that learning to work as a team and valuing the skills and talents of others is just as important as being brave and willing to fight.  This is a fast paced adventure story for those young readers who prefer their stories to be full of action.  We have the young hero, Henry Fairchild, who was found as a baby and has a close link with the dinosaurs he looks after and then we have the evil Sir Neville who wants to take over the kingdom, using a force of Pterosaurs that he has bred and trained.  I can really imagine many young readers will be using their toy dinosaurs in order to re-enact the skirmishes in this book and no doubt they will use their imagination to take the story to a higher level.  Thank you Jeff for this explanation of how the story came about, I know it is going to be the start of a fantastic series (at least, I hope it is?)

 

On juggling being a father with writing for kids

I’m not sure I can take full credit for the idea behind DINO KNIGHTS. That would have to go to my then two-year-old son, Torin. It was the middle of the night, about three in the morning, which of course for two-year-olds is the perfect time to party.

So, we were up, playing with all of the toys in the living room. I was half-asleep but he was fully awake. Torin grabbed one the many plastic dinosaur toys we had (an Albertosaurus, if memory serves) and placed one of his older brother’s plastic knights on top of it, to ride on it.

It was a genuine eureka moment. Suddenly, I could see a whole story world with brave knights riding into adventure on the backs of dinosaurs. Camelot meets Cretaceous!

I quickly grabbed a pencil crayon and some paper and sketched out a drawing of the dino-riding knight and then Torin and I played with the dino knights on the living room floor until it was time to go (back) to bed.

The next day, I couldn’t shake the idea, so I started to write. I created four brave knights, one of whom I named after Torin, and a character called Henry, who was a lowly stable boy who dreamed of being a dinosaur-riding knight.

As the story took form, the themes emerged: courage, loyalty, and bravery. This was a tale about young people facing down a threat. They would have to work together as a team to defend the realm.

My writing process usually starts this way, with a singular idea or a character. I start with something very specific and then build out from there. I’m a big believer in the “one pager”, distilling down the core concept into a laser-focused articulation of the idea. For me, it keeps the story focused as it unfolds. In the case of Dino Knights, I then wrote an overview document about the world and the characters. Who are they? What do they want? What are they seeking and what are they afraid of? Everything starts with character, so even a clever idea like Dino Knights doesn’t work unless you care about the characters.

In Henry, I wanted someone the audience could identify with and root for. He’s an outsider, someone who doesn’t feel like he belongs and through his own determination and bravery slowly grows to become a valued team member and eventually a leader. But he’s going to make a lot of mistakes along the way, because we all do!

I tend to write in the mornings, often first thing. Torin is now eight and my elder son is eleven, so we’ve got a busy household. I like to get a few hours in at the writing desk every day to keep projects moving forward. I get through a lot of coffee!

You never know where inspiration will come from, so my advice to everyone is to keep an open mind and grab ideas when they come to you, even at three in the morning playing with toys with a toddler.

DINO KNIGHTS by Jeff Norton, illustrated by Jeff Crosby is out now in paperback (£6.99, Scallywag Press)

How to be Brave by Daisy May Johnson

Pushkin Press, 9781782693253

What an absolute treasure of a book.  It is a total delight for all of those who love stories set in a boarding school, which in this instance is called the School of the Good Sisters.  The story  begins with a young girl called Elizabeth North being sent to the school after the death of both her parents.  The nuns are kind but eccentric and Elizabeth soon learns to love the school. One day her class is out for a walk in the grounds and they come across a small brown duck, sitting in the road.  Elizabeth is the one person who is brave enough to go and help it.  This leads to her lifelong fascination with ducks (and especially the Mallardus Amazonica, which she had first seen) and also to the adventures that are to await her and her daughter in the future.  If we fast forward quite a few years we find Elizabeth and her daughter Calla (named after a lily from southern Africa) living a somewhat erratic lifestyle, due to Elizabeth’s difficulty in coping with the mundane aspects of life, such as keeping a job, paying bills and not burning the food.  When she is offered a job in the Amazon, studying the ducks she loves, Calla is sent to her mother’s old school.  However, when she arrive she finds that things have changed.  Her mother’s nemesis from her school days, Magda DeWitt is now the headteacher and she is trying to make the school a much stricter place (and don’t get me started about the awful food, yuck!).  The pupils are ready to start a revolution and Calla finds herself  caught up in events; but then she receives a message to say that her mother has been kidnapped and then gone missing.  Calla is determined to attempt a rescue mission, but first she has to deal with the ‘headmistress from hell’.

This is a stunningly original take on the boarding school story.  There is family, friendship, adventure, mystery and above all there are BISCUITS.  The author has added to our reading pleasure with the inclusion of many footnotes throughout the book.  They explain some of the terms, provide humorous comments and generally work as gentle asides from the author.  It is a delightful mix of Hogwarts and St Trinian’s, with a mix of eccentric pupils and teachers who would be equally at home in either establishment.  Having attended a convent for 7 years, I only wish that I had such an enterprising group of teachers.  Most of us get our knowledge of boarding school from reading books and watching films but for those who want a look at the reality for those attending school post- WWII then Ysenda Maxtone Graham’s book “Terms and Conditions” (Slightly Foxed,  9781906562977) is well worth a read; you will see that the fiction definitely lives down to the reality for many past pupils.  I have also just come across this latest podcast from the publisher Slightly Foxed which has a section about boarding school stories https://foxedquarterly.com/picnic-at-hanging-rock-slightly-foxed-podcast-episode-32/?ct=t%28SF+Podcast+Episode+32+Reminder%29  so I am really looking forward to listening to this as well. Daisy  has definitely made me want to revisit some of the books from my youth and perhaps catch up on some of the authors that I missed out on.  Most of my boarding school knowledge came from stories such as the “Sadlers Wells” series by Lorna Hill and the “Four Marys” who appeared in Bunty magazine throughout my childhood, this means that I have a wide range of authors to read and then discuss with other fans of this type of book.  It should keep me busy for quite a long time and perhaps i will be able to meet up with Daisy at a conference or festival and have a long chat about favourite school heroines.

 

Daisy May Johnson

Agent: Bryony Woods

copyright, Bookseller?

Writer, researcher, chartered librarian and former A14 Writer In Residence with the University of Cambridge, Daisy wears a lot of literary hats. She blogs about children’s literature at Did You Ever Stop To Think, about her research at Big Boots and Adventures, and can be found happily gossiping about children’s books on Twitter.

She’s a specialist in children’s literature, and has written about gifted and talented characters, the representation of landscape, literary tourism, and currently researches young girls and creative writing. Her favourite children’s books include boarding schools, buns, and silver brumbies wandering around the outback.  She’ll talk to you for days about how groundbreaking The Chalet School In Exile is.  And when she’s not reading or writing books, she’s making chocolate brownies and watching vintage films. She loves a Gene Kelly dance number, fangirls over Burt Lancaster, and adores a good Powell and Pressburger.

Daisy’s first novel for children, How To Be Brave, will be published by Pushkin in 2021.

© Diamond Kahn and Woods Literary Agency, 2012-2021

Children of the Quicksands by Efua Traore

Chicken House, 9781913322366

Over the last few years we have started to see more stories for young people that feature not just diverse characters, but also a diverse setting.  This story is set in the author’s home country of Nigeria and gives us an insight into the the challenging contrasts between different ways of life.  Over many years I have had several friends from Nigeria; they included girls in my class at school and then three or four friends who attended library school in Manchester and were looking forward to contributing to the development of library services in the country.  However this book really brings the country to life provides a wonderful sense of the balance that is being sought between different aspects of culture.

Simi finds herself being sent to live with her grandmother for the summer, whilst her mother is in England for a work training course.  Simi is a thoroughly modern girl who lives in the buzzing metropolis of Lagos, so it comes as quite a shock to find herself in a small rural village, without computers or mobile phone coverage.  She then discovers that her grandmother is central to the village structure and acts as the healer and wise woman for the local community.  Whilst out, exploring the local area, Simi finds herself drawn to a small lake which the local people avoid as they say many children have disappeared there over the years.  What follows next seems like a dream to Simi; she is drawn down into the lake and discovers a land beneath the water, even seeing two children talking, however she is then raised out of the lake and left on its edge; so is there magic at work here?  The rest of the story follows Simi as she tries to make sense of what is going on, and also how she tries to discover why there is so much bad feelings between her mother and grandmother.  By the end of the book we have found old secrets uncovered, old wounds healed and a sense that a new positive future is possible for all the people of the area.

I absolutely loved this story as it shows the conflict that so many young (and not so young) people feel about the many changes that we are constantly seeing in our lives. Although this is set in Nigeria, it is a scenario that could take place in many other countries, as tradition and the modern world try to work together and maintain the sense of belonging that is so important in most of our lives.  It also reminds us that the modern world does not always provide answers to what we see and feel.

Efua Traore

Efua Traoré is a Nigerian-German author who grew up in a small town in Nigeria. For as long as she can remember, her head was filled with little stories, but it was not until much later that she began to write them down.

Apart from Nigeria, she has also lived in France and Germany and she writes in English and in German. If she had her way, she would travel much more and write every single day.

Efua won the 2018 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Africa with her short story ‘True Happiness’ and she is a literature grant holder of the Munich Literaturreferat. Children of the Quicksands is her debut novel which won the Times / Chicken House Prize in 2019.

She lives in Munich with her husband and three daughters.

Photo credit belongs to Boubacar Traoré (if not, please let me know and I will update the credit).

The Three Impossibles by Susie Bower

Having worked for Bristol Libraries for nearly 20 years, I am always delighted when I read that an author lives and works in this vibrant city, although I have just heard that Susie has moved to Devon; yet another hub for fantastic authors and illustrators.  I first came across Susie Bower when her book “School for Nobodies” appeared in 2020 and was excited to hear about this new title.

Pushkin, 9781782692928

“The Three Impossibles” is the story of a young girl called Mim, who is actually Princess Jemima, but hates all of the trappings that go with being a ‘perfect princess’.  She lives in a castle, but is forbidden to leave its grounds and the whole town is said to suffer from a curse that occurred when her mother died, just as Mim was born.  The arrival of a new governess called Madame Marionette soon sets the cat among the pigeons.  There is something very sinister about this teacher, her servants and her so called ‘pet’ that she keeps hanging in a covered cage; she appears to have a secret agenda and Mim is worried by what that might mean to the inhabitants of the castle.  Mim is a very inquisitive person and loves escaping to the library and reading her way through the books, unfortunately she can only reach those at the start of the alphabet.  But then she comes across a book that is definitely out of place and there is something very unusual about it.  “The Three Impossibles” positively glows, as if it want to be found, but Mim finds it impossible to open the book, which just makes her more determined to investigate this puzzle.  the story develops at a tremendous pace as Mim uncovers the secrets surrounding her home and the inhabitant of the lighthouse that is just off the shore.  Will the book finally reveal its secret and can Mim actually break the curse that has ruined lives for so many years?  Well, you will have to read the adventure to find out, I am afraid.

This is a fabulous story about a young girl who just doesn’t fit in to the world that she lives in. She loves science and finding things out, hates dressing up and wants to have more freedom, but I think above all she wants to be loved by those around her, especially her father.  There is magic and mystery, curses and creatures of myth for Mim to contend with, but with the help of her friend Smith and Miranda (the cursed grand daughter of the court alchemist) she battles to  overcome evil.  There is a wonderful lesson for us all about striving to be the best we can be, whilst also being true to our inner selves.  So often, this world tries to mould us into something we aren’t, so Mim reminds us to recognize our true selves.

What made you want to write for young people? Or was it a happy accident?

Susie Bower

By the time she hit her teens, Susie Bower had lived in 8 houses and attended 7 schools. This theme continued in her working life: she’s been a teacher, a tour-guide, a typist, a workshop facilitator, a PA and a painter. She formerly wrote and directed TV programmes for children at the BBC and Channel 4, for which she won a BAFTA Award, and she currently writes audio scripts. School for Nobodies, her debut novel, is also available from Pushkin Children’s. Susie lives in Devon.

Antigua de Fortune of the High Seas by Anna Rainbow and Oli Hyatt

This is the second book about Pirates that I have had the pleasure of reading in the last few months.  this one is aimed at a slightly older audience, age 8 years and above and definitely makes it onto the reading list for “Talk like a Pirate” day.

Tiggy (short for Antigua) wants to lead a life of adventure and perhaps even be a pirate.  She wants to spend time down by the harbour with her friends Marina and Felipe, but unfortunately, she is a young lady and has to wear long dresses and even attend her first dance at the Governor’s Ball.

During the celebrations to commemorate the freeing of the town’s boys, based around  a legend about the ‘Pirate King’ who had taken all the boys and turned them into Sea Golems in the distant past, history seems to repeat itself.   A band of sinister pirates and a giant squid, attack the island and make off with all of the young boys, including Tiggy’s younger brother; she and her friends decide to try and free the captives.  Mysterious mental messages from a mermaid and the fact that Tiggy’s friend Marina is the daughter of a Selkie helps them in their quest.    Importantly,  how can this threat be defeated?

Although there is no real location for the island on which they live, the authors have very strongly given the setting a feel of the Caribbean, but with strong links to Spain, with the use of Madre and Padre  as well as some of the characters’ names.  They have created a world that we can associate with, but which has magical elements that weave a wonderful  and complex place.  You can absolutely feel the heat and hear the sounds of the busy Caribbean Port, together with the rich diversity of characters that are found there.

This is a roller coaster of a story in which the Swash has never before been so Buckled!  It is a fantastic story for the KS2 reader and gives the opportunity to explore themes such as identity, belonging, family, as well as folk tales and legends.  There are wonderfully strong characters, so that this book will appeal to both girls and boys.  It is also a great starting point for some very creative art and writing.  I definitely hope that we will see some more adventures for Antigua and her friends.  Thank you to Anna for this short post that she has given, sharing the background to the Selkie theme that is so important in the book.

 

An introduction to Selkies

By Anna Rainbow

One of the oceanic myths of particular interest to Oli and me was that of the selkie. Unlike the better known mermaid, who is permanently a human with a fish tail, the selkie is a shapeshifter, most commonly a woman who can exist as a seal in water, and then upon shedding her seal skin, change into a human form on land.

A main theme of our book was trying to reconnect landlubbers with the ocean, and promoting the synergy between land and sea, so the selkie seemed to encapsulate this theme perfectly — a person (or a seal) who could live in and enjoy both environments. Someone who values both habitats equally is far less likely to dump plastics in the waves and destroy marine life with pollution.

But it wasn’t just this that fascinated us, it was the dark feminist twist on the tale, something we weren’t aware of before we started our research. A common tale about Selkies is that should a man steal her selkie skin, he can make her his bride. Perhaps symbolic of the power, the identity and freedom, taken from women when they become a wife, especially in the olden days. Or perhaps even deeper, the power taken from women they are born into a patriarchal society.

It was therefore important to us that the Selkies in our story were strong women who kept hold of their seal skins. It is no coincidence that Gabriella, a well known Selkie and Mother to Antigua’s best friend, Marina, is a single Mother who has kept her powers. On the flip side, woman generally don’t give their power away, it is stolen by men, so it was equally important that the men in our book did not steal our Selkie’s skin.

That is not to say that all men steal women’s power, of course not, but Antigua de Fortune of the High Seas is a feminist book, with a strong female lead who rescues all the boys of her island, and we wanted this reflected in our mythology too. It was important to us that we invented a world where Selkies keep hold of their own skin, and men don’t attempt to steal it.

ANTIGUA DE FORTUNE OF THE HIGH SEAS by Anna Rainbow and Oli Hyatt is out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)

 

About Oli Hyatt & Anna Rainbow
ANNA RAINBOW grew up and still lives in North East England and works as a Clinical Psychologist with people with disabilities. Anna loves music and has always been in various choirs, singing quartets, bands, and orchestras. In 2015 she was shortlisted for the Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition which led to Chicken House publishing The Fandom, her series for young adults (as Anna Day) – it sold in 24 territories and was optioned for TV development by Fox. This is her debut middle-grade novel.  Find out more at annadaybooks.com and follow her on twitter @annadayauthor

OLI HYATT is based in Kings Sutton and is the co-founder of BAFTA award-winning animation studio Blue Zoo. He is also the Director of Alphablocks Limited, the company behind the popular CBeebies phonics shows, Alphablocks and Numberblocks. He is also the chair of Animation UK and was awarded an MBE for his services to the animation industry. This is Oli’s debut novel. Follow Oli on twitter @HyattOli

Antigua de Fortune of the High Seas is Oli and Anna’s first co-authored book together.

Feast of the Evernight by Ross McKenzie

I absolutely loved the first book in the series, “Evernight” when it reached our shelves in early 2020.  It introduced us to a new world that we very quickly became engrossed in.  I was already a fan of the author, Ross Mackenzie through his series about the “Nowhere Emporium” and was delighted by this strange new world that he presented us with.  The main characters are the young girl Lara(belle) Fox and her friend Joe; both of them are Toshers and much like the ones in Victorian London, they make a living finding lost items in the sewer below the city of  King’s Haven.  When the country is threatened by the Everdark and the evil Mrs Hester, together with the Silver King, who rules the land, they link up with the Westerly Witches in an attempt to thwart their evil plans.  At the end of this book we get the impression that Mrs Hester has been eliminated and that a greater freedom is starting to seem possible for the general population.  But  is everything really better?

In this second book we find ourselves nearly a year further on in time; Lara has just passed her test and become a Witch, whilst Joe is getting over the death of his grandmother, as well as feeling rather out of place in the magical environment.  He decides to return to King’s Haven and the world that he knows, but he is asked to meet up with Rob, a ‘resistance’ worker, in order to carry out a secret mission.  At the same time Lara is also sent south, to work with another Witch and find out what has caused several mysterious deaths.  The friends make the first part of the journey together and end up helping a young girl, who is showing startling signs of  ‘out of control’ magic.  We have two parallel stories going on throughout the book, but we gradually come to understand that they are linked and that there are some deeply evil minds trying to destroy the witches and keep the population under their control.

This is an absolutely brilliant book and a worthy successor to the first in the series and whilst I am sure that people can dive straight in to this book, I think it is better to have read the first book, so that you are totally immersed in the world.  The cast of characters may be quite familiar, but they are having to cope with increasing danger and a whole range of villains. We see the young people mature as they have to cope with the terrifying events that surround them.  Luckily they have strong friendship bonds that give them the strength to carry on, despite the dangers.  I absolutely love the way that the author has created a world that is so different from our own and yet it is one that we can believe in.  The action is fast paced and at times quite hard hitting;  the author is not afraid to show that death can be a consequence of standing up to the evil that the heroes face.    The atmosphere really sparks the imagination and I can see the book being used in school  to encourage activities from writing and drawing, to music and drama.     It is yet another fabulous read for the older ‘middle grade’ reader and I know it will become yet another firm favourite not only in the home, but also in the classroom.  This is definitely a five star story.

 

Author Information

Contact: rossmacauthor@gmail.com

Local authority: Renfrewshire

Languages: English

19/10/18 . The Sunday Post, by Andrew Cawley.
Pics of staff designer Ross MacKenzie, who has written a children’s book. Location: Skypark, Glasgow.

I am a multi award-winning author of books for children, including The Nowhere Emporium, which won both the Blue Peter Book Award and Scottish Children’s Book Award.Stories have always been important to me. I can remember vividly how I felt as a child, curled up in bed, eager to set off on the next great adventure. I became a writer for children because I love the magic of great stories and my dream is that readers will one day feel the same way about my books.I regularly visit primary schools, libraries and literary festivals where I read from my books, discuss the power of stories and imagination, and hold Q&A sessions and writing workshops. I live in Renfrew with my lovely wife and two beautiful daughters – though I spend much of my time exploring other worlds.

thank you to Scottish Book Trust, who host this information

 

 

 

City of Rust by Gemma Fowler and Karl James Mountford

I have been a fan of science fiction since my teens, when I discovered authors such as John Christopher, with his Tripods trilogy.  Working as a library assistant when I left school gave me the opportunity to explore a whole range of genres and publishers and for Sci-Fi the lead publisher was definitely Gollancz (with their iconic bright yellow covers).  It as unfortunate that for many people the subject became less popular as we faced the reality of moving into space and the area of fantasy seems to become the replacement genre. Luckily there has been a move back towards Sci-Fi at all age ranges.

Chicken House, 97890655436

The story is set in a future world where humanity has found that the only way to deal with the amount of metal rubbish is to send it in to orbit around the earth, where it joins the space debris accumulated from satellites and rockets.  The heroine is Railey, a young girl who lives with her grandmother and has ambitions to be a champion drone racer, with the help of her bio-robotic gecko called Atti.  Things have been getting more difficult as her engineer/inventor grandmother begins to suffer memory loss and making a living is even more difficult.  When Railey is chased by a bounty hunter and thinks that her gran has been killed, she has to make a run for it; finding herself rescued by the members of a space junk vessel.  As they uncover a plot to  crash a huge ‘trash bomb’ into the earth, their loyalties are tested and they find themselves questioning the world that they live in.

The world that Gemma Fowler has created is one that has been completely overwhelmed by the amount of metal that has been discarded and it has become a dystopian place of those that have (and live in Glass City) and those that have not and live in places such as Boxville, named from the shipping containers which provide homes.  There is a real sense that we should be treating this as a window into our future if we do not do something to change the disposable world that we live in.  Scarily we have had news within the last week or so about a rocket crashing into the Indian ocean; very much a case of life imitating art!  There are elements in the plot that take me back to some of my favourite films, with the drone racing being very familiar to those who love the Star Wars series.  However this is a totally original take on the society that we live in.  There have been several books in the past that are situated in rubbish tips and but this goes several stages further and shows us as destroying the space that surrounds us.

There are some fascinating characters who are trying to find their way in this terrible world, but I think that my favourite has to be Atti, the gecko.  He is a mix of real animal ,but with the addition of bionic improvements, and he actually talks; above all he has a really positive attitude that you can’t help but love.  The ending of this story resolved the danger that the young people have faced, but we are left with the slightly open ending, which allows us to hope that we will have further adventures as they start their lives as ‘Junkers’, cleaning up the space around them.

 

Gemma Fowler

photographybytarik-GemmaFowler-Headshot-002.jpg

photo is on her website https://www.gemmarfowler.com/about

A world of Art

The various ‘lock-downs’ that we have had over the last year or so, has meant that many exhibitions have not taken place and there has been no opportunity to go to galleries in order to lift the spirits.  Thankfully so many museums and art galleries have taken up the challenge and have provided a wealth of material online.  There have also been a range of books that look at the world of art and hopefully these will encourage young readers to explore the creative world and to produce their own work in the future.  These are just some of the books that I have seen in the last year and they have greatly enhanced my appreciation of the talent that is there for us to admire, as well as to try and emulate.

Mention the War, 9781911255673

“Flying High in the Sunlit Silence: the aviation art of Jack Berry.  I came across the book when it featured on a programme on the TV and just had to get a copy for myself.  The author is a young autistic boy called jack and he was 13 years old when the book was published.  I was attracted to the book because it features aircraft, but it also has articles by a variety of aviation veterans, as well as the beautiful poem “Say Something Nice” by A.F.Harrold

Kingfisher, 9780753444542

“Who’s in the Picture?” by Susie Brooks  is a delightful look at 20 famous paintings and the images within them.  It is aimed at possibly KS1 children and encourages them to ask lots of questions.  It is a great introduction to the huge range of what we call ‘Art’.

Scallywag Press, 9781912650170

“A gallery of Cats” by Ruth Brown is a delightful and quirky look at art, as a young boy called Tom wanders through an Art Gallery.  Instead of the artists we see the works through they eyes of cats which have been placed in the paintings.  It gives a really fresh and original take on the images that we see.

Book Island, 9781911496151

“The bird within me” by Sara Lundberg is a remarkable look at the early life of the Swedish artist Berta Hansson.  It has been shortlisted for the 2020 Kate Greenaway Medal, which of course looks at the illustration in the nominated titles.  The publisher is the wonderful small company Book Island Books which is based in Bristol and specialized in picture books in translation; they are a favourite of mine.

Phaidon, 9781838660802

“Yayoi Kusama covered everything in dots and wasn’t sorry” by Fausto Gilberti is something of a surprise for me.  I could not believe that I had not come across the artist’s name before, even though she has been creating her work for most of my life.  It is amazing what someone can create using just one basic shape, but this artist brings colour, shape and design together to amaze us with her work.

“Bob goes POP!” by Marion Deuchars is the third in the series about the small black bird called Bob.  This time he is trying his hand at POP art and finds himself in competition with another artist called Roy.  How they overcome their differences and produce some very positive results makes for a delightful take on the modern art scene.

Laurence King, 9781786277718

“Lets make great ART: Colours” by Marion Deuchars is part of a series by this author in which she looks at different aspects of art.  Other works in the series include ‘Pattern’ and ‘Animals’. They are all aimed at the youngest of readers, as they gain confidence with drawing tools and the art of ‘Mark Making’.  The get the imagination flowing.

Usborne, 9781409598893

“How Art works” by Sarah Hull is aimed at the teenage and adult  reader, who want to understand more about the world of art.  It has to be said that for many this is a very difficult area to get to grips with, but this book asks the sort of questions that we all want to ask.

 

“Why do we need Art ?” by Michael Rosen and Annemarie Young asks us some of the major questions about Art.  It does not look at individual works of art in depth but does examine

Wayland, 9781526312587

where the concept of art comes from, what it means to us now and why do we need art in our lives.  It is very up to date, in that it looks at the impact of ‘Black Lives matter’ as well as the experiences of those who have been been outside of mainstream art; this includes poets, artists, sculptors and writers.

Thames and Hudson, 9780500652206

“Modern Art Explorer” by Alice Harman and Serge Bloch allows the reader to dip into some of the great artists of the 20th and 21st century.  The book include artists, sculptors, textile artists, and those who create large scale installations.  Some of the artists are household names, such as Pablo Picasso and Frida Kahlo but others are know to more specialized audiences.  This makes this book a good choice to dip into as a way of discovering new works.  The text is quite chatty in style and would be suitable for maybe young people over the age of 10 years.