A Discovery Disappears by Pip Murphy and Roberta Tedeschi

Whilst thinking about this blog post I considered what had made me interested in mystery/crime stories and what had been available when I was a child.  The answer seems to be a mix of film and television memories and then an introduction to authors such as Agatha Christie.  What I did not have was a wide range of children’s books that were written in this genre.  I am thinking about the early 1960s, so books tended to be historical, family and general adventure stories and although they were often well written, they did not offer the range of themes that we are used to today.

I am delighted by the range of mystery titles that are available now and particularly this move to writing for younger audiences.  This title is the first in a series called “Christie and Agatha’s Detective Agency” and is aimed at the 7-9 year age group.  the two heroines are twin sisters, but very unlike each other in character.  Christie is the scientific and adventurous one, while Agatha is the reader and dreamer; but put them together and you have the perfect detective team.  When they are invited to a special tea-party, they are excited about meeting Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but also a guest is Alexander Fleming, who is about to announce a new discovery.  When his evidence disappears it is up to the girls to find out what happened and retrieve the ‘mouldy sandwich’, which of course was harbouring penicillin, or as Fleming calls it “Mould Juice”.

I am delighted that the author has been kind enough to share some of her thoughts about the book, based on a series of questions that I asked.

Book Tour Questions for Pip Murphy

1. Have you always had an interest in mystery stories? If so, who were your favourite authors as a child?

Yes! I loved anything with mysteries and twists (and still do!). I of course read all of the Enid Blyton books and was particularly into her Adventure series with all the animals and exciting locations, like ruined castles.

I read my first Agatha Christie book (Murder on the Orient Express) when I was 11 and immediately ran off to the library and charity shops to track down the rest of her extensive mystery collection!

2. What makes twin sisters Christie and Agatha great heroines?

They’re both very relatable and they compliment each other so well!

Christie is outgoing and will ask questions and take action to move the situation along when Agatha would be too shy.

On the other hand, Christie sometimes leaps to impossible conclusions and can be too frank with her opinions, so she needs Agatha’s thoughtfulness and sensitivity to balance this out.

Both sisters recognise each others skills and trust each other a lot. I think it’s important to know and trust in your friends’ strengths, just like Christie and Agatha do.

3. How does your experience travelling inspire the settings in this series?

I love travelling by train so you might notice a few trains in future books! Being from a coastal town, the occasional seaside location is also a must. When I researched how long certain journeys would take, though, it made me very grateful for today’s speedier transport… although if you’re not in a hurry, taking in beautiful landscapes is a treat in itself!

4. Have you discovered any evidence that Alexander Fleming and Arthur Conan Doyle actually met in real life?

Unfortunately I don’t think the two ever did meet! Conan Doyle was already hugely famous when Fleming was still a child, and Fleming’s important discovery wasn’t really developed until after Conan Doyle’s death. I’m sure that, as a medical man, though, Conan Doyle would have been very interested in penicillin and supportive of its development.

One fun fact is that when the real Agatha Christie went missing, Conan Doyle tried to hire a medium to find her. It’s an extremely Conan Doyle thing to do!

The great writer also had connections to some other famous historical figures who you might well meet in future books…

5. I’m looking forward to the release of book 2, Of Mountains and Motors. What can we expect from the rest of the series?

Thank you! Well, the first two books take place in the British Isles but in future books we’ll also be crossing overseas to solve mysteries in mainland Europe and two other continents as well.

We’ll also be meeting exciting historical figures including inventors, aviators, composers, actors — and more scientists, too, of course! They all have baffling problems but luckily Christie and Agatha’s Detective Agency is there to lend a hand.

You should also look forward to seeing more of Auguste, the Belgian boy who is introduced at the end of A Discovery Disappears. He’s definitely one of my favourite characters in the series!

Author Biography
Pip Murphy is a British writer and lived her early life in England on the Wirral. She studied Classics at Edinburgh University, after
which she moved to Tokyo, Japan.
Pip is also an English teacher and has loved reading her whole life – some of the books that influenced and inspired her the most
were ones she read when she was little (she even read every book in her primary school, some of them more than once).

 

A Discovery Disappears
By Pip Murphy, Illustrated by Roberta Tedeschi
Publication Date: 02 September 2021
Price: £6.99
ISBN: 9781782268147
Format: Paperback
Extent 128pp
Reading Age From 7 to 9 Years
Series Christie and Agatha’s Detective Agency

 

Rita Wong and the Jade Mask by Mark Jones and Seamus Jennings

At the moment we are in a period that can only be described as something of a golden age for children’s books, but especially for the genre that surrounds crime and mystery writing.  When this is then widened to include beings such as dragons, werewolves and vampires, then you can expect to have an exciting time.

“Rita Wong and the Jade mask” encapsulates all of these characteristics, although it starts out being situated in the rather prosaic setting of Morecambe.  Somehow, despite it’s glorious Art Deco hotel and the associations with Morecambe and Wise, we cannot really think about this seaside town as being a centre of intrigue and a doorway to another world; yet, as Rita Wong discovers, this is exactly what it is.  13 (nearly 14) year old, Rita has moved to the seaside town with her parents, which is a bit of a difference from her previous home in Hong Kong and she is still struggling to make friends and settle into a new country.  Whilst waiting in a cafe for the library to open up, she sees something that intrigues and slightly confuses her and before she knows it, she is having a conversation with an eight foot green dragon called Lester Thyme.  He is visiting from a parallel world called Neon City, where crime is rife and there are more types of inhabitants than we are used to.

What happens thereafter is somewhat surreal, but Rita finds herself partnering Lester as a private detective, helping the local policeman, Inspector Donnelly, solve the theft of a variety of antique items.  The duo find themselves caught up in a mixture of crime and magic, which puts them both in danger and yet brings them a deep sense of satisfaction as they find challenges as well as new friends.

This really is a fantastic book for those who love their detective stories.  The two main characters have their imperfections, but they persevere in their enquiries, learn to make friends and also to balance out their individual skills and knowledge.  I really love the relationship between the two main characters and the humour that shows itself every now and again.

I particularly love the illustrations for this book.  The front cover puts me in mind of work by artists such as Satoshi Kitamura, David Roberts and Chris Riddell, with the use of very fine ink outlines and the use of shading to create the atmosphere and perspective.  There are other illustrations throughout the book, most of which introduce us to characters, or provide a sense of concern about what is about to happen.  This is very much about accepting people for themselves and realizing that being different can be a positive thing.  I am definitely looking forward to more adventures with this enterprising duo.

 

 

 

Mark Jones
Mark Jones is the author of poems and children’s books. He began writing for his college magazine, and later moved to Delhi. There he edited and wrote original stories whilst expanding his waistline with delicious Indian cuisine. He followed that with a job teaching English in Singapore, where he consumed large quantities of sushi. When he is not writing, he likes to travel to see someone he loves in Osaka.

from “Everything with Words” site

 

Seamus Jennings, illustrator

Seamus works as a political cartoonist and has work produced in The Times, The Guardian and The Independent, amongst other publications.  This is his first children’s book.  https://www.seamusjennings.com/9d665dcf17-gallery

Aarti and the Blue Gods by Jasbinder Bilan and Margaux Carpentier

This is the latest book from yet another fantastic graduate of the Bath Spa course on Writing for Young People.  It is Jasbinder Bilan’s third book and this time she takes us to a remote Scottish Island, which is hiding a secret.  Aarti has lived on the island for most of her life and can remember little else.  She is looked after by her ‘Aunt’ and life is extremely hard.  they are totally self sufficient, living off the vegetables they grow, the eggs from their hens and anything they can find on the island; the only friend that Aarti has is a fox that she calls Chand, although she doesn’t know where the name comes from..  However, as she grows older, Aarti begins to wonder if she is being told the truth about what happened to her parents and whether they are really dead.  There is also the mystery of a locked room that she is not allowed to enter, but when it is left unlocked one day, she goes in and discovers an old stuffed toy that brings back some long-lost memories.  One of the few things that Aarti has is a collection of stories about Hindu deities, hence the reference in the title to blue Gods; although why she has this is a mystery.

Unfortunately life takes a horrendous turn, when Aunt is killed as she tries to collect some sea bird eggs from the cliffs and Aarti is left totally on her own.  To begin with she thinks she can manage, but then her supplies are ruined by rain and she realizes that a young girl cannot live by herself.  Just as she is beginning to give up all hope, she finds a young boy floating in the sea and manages to save him.  Euan is a young Scottish boy and talks to Aarti about his family and whether they will be able to leave the island and get back to more inhabited land.  This raises the question of whether there is a boat on the island.  Aarti has never seen one, but they realize that Auntie would have needed some means to get her and Aarti to the island in the first place.  After lots of exploration they are finally successful in finding a small boat hidden away in a cave and eventually manage to bring it around to the small harbour.  The pair manage to escape from the island and head in what they think is the general direction of other islands and the mainland.  Thankfully the boat is rescued during a storm and the youngsters saved; however, that is when things take a very strange turn, because Euan is nowhere to be found and none of the rescuers had seen him on the boat.  What happens next totally changes Aarti’s life and  helps explain so much of her past, but it is her discoveries about Euan that will probably have the most profound impact on her future.

This is one of those books that keeps growing in its impact on the reader.  When you start thinking of the stresses of living in that environment and then the questions about family and lack of communication, it really does make you understand just how bleak the whole way of life would be.  This is definitely a five star read, for a whole host of reasons and I have become a great fan of Jasbinder’s work.  we also have a fabulous cover and inside  which draws together the two mythologies that are represented in the book.  Hopefully it will encourage the young readers to explore these and see how different cultures share connections.

His Royal Hopeless by Chloe Perrin and George Ermos

Every now and again you get someone who is the ‘black sheep’ of the family.  But in this story we have the opposite happening.  Young Robbie is the heir to the Sinistevil’s dynasty and whilst he tries very hard to live up to his mother’s expectations, it is obvious that he will never fit (both literally and metaphorically), into his dead brother  Brutus’s shoes.  The family are the most evil rulers that you can imagine, with a love of killing, looting and pillaging.  At the age of 12 years they are made to pledge their heart to a  jewelled sceptre, which re-enforces their desire for evil.  Nothing gets in their way and there is no such thing as family love or loyalty.  The problem is that Robbie really does not fit into this world.  He thinks he is evil, but in fact he is a real softy and even has a local peasant girl, Layla, as his friend.  When Robbie discovers that he has an artificial heart, after his mother had the real one removed when he was a baby, he decides to go and retrieve the real one, so that he can take the oath to the sceptre.  What follows is a funny and yet sad look at someone who is desperate for love and affection, but who cannot see the reality of the family that he is growing up in.  Thankfully there are people who want to help Robbie be the good person he is meant to be, although they have their own challenges in life.

What an absolutely magical story this is. I can’t imagine that anyone will not love Robbie despite the fact that he needs a bit of ‘backbone’.  However, with the strong-willed Layla and loyal servant Devon, he is able to overcome many dangers and eventually realizes that he does not want to be evil and much prefers being an ordinary person.  I think it is possible to come to the conclusion that we are not just the character we inherit from our family.  We definitely see that Robbie has an innate goodness that even his horrible mother cannot destroy.  There are so many instances where we wonder about the meaning of family; the Sinistevils take the meaning of ‘dysfunctional’ and then raise it by several notches.  Some of the other characters prove that money plays no part in the way that family love can work and are excellent role models for young Robbie to follow.  If you want a story of a lovable character, with the added ‘attraction’ of a really vile villain (hiss, boo!)  then this really is the book for you.  It is full of laughter, adventure and even the possibility of redemption at the end of the book.

 

“CHLOË PERRIN is a North Walian writer who currently lives in West London studying Creative Writing at Brunel University.

They love to feed crows, prefers Halloween to Christmas and was frequently told off as a child for reading in class. Chloë has previously worked as a youth worker, drama tutor and professional storyteller, having always believed that the best way to teach anyone anything is through a story.

HIS ROYAL HOPELESS was longlisted for the 2019 Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Prize and is their debut novel.”  Chicken House website.

HIS ROYAL HOPELESS by Chloë Perrin is out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)
Find out more at chickenhousebooks.com

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The Peculiar Tale of the Tentacle Boy by Richard Pickard and Maxine Lee-Mackie

I know that I am biased about this, because they are based in my part of the world, but anything published by the fabulous Chicken House is going to get my attention.  This title was even more noteworthy because it was the inaugural Chairman’s Choice prize winner at the 2019 Times/Chicken House competition.  Added to this is the totally original concept that we find in this heartwarming story, it is a real must-read for this summer.

Marina lives in the fishing port of Merlington, where there are probably more fish shops that anything else; unfortunately Marina really dislikes fish, but particularly since her beloved father (a fisherman) went missing 6 years before.  Life in the town appears  boring, so Marina resorts to storytelling to liven things up; unfortunately she can’t seem to limit the scope of her tales and it ends up with her being called a ‘liar’ by one of her classmates.  When she discovers  a mysterious young boy, with claws for hands and hair made of tentacles, no one believes her; not until the boy is found asleep on the beach the following day.  What follows is a quest to discover where the boy, called William, comes from and whether there is any link to her missing father.  There are are mysteries and a very evil villain, who is hiding in plain sight.

The first thing that came to mind when I started reading this story was that Marina was a little bit like ‘the boy that cried wolf’.  She was so in love with telling stories that she did not know when to stop and the consequences threatened to ruin her life in the town.  We all love stories, after all that is why we read books, but it is about recognizing  fact from fiction and also knowing how our stories will impact on our listeners.  This is a lesson that Marina has to learn and we are lucky to be able to follow her on this journey of discovery.  This is also a story about the importance of family and friends; as Marina needs the support of her mother and close friends to overcome the disbelievers and find the answers to her questions.

This is a fabulous book for middle grade children.  It is full of adventure and some amazing characters, especially Marina and William.  Not only will you want to visit Merlington for the various fish dishes, but you might even give Japanese ‘Sashima’ a try.  You will have to read the book to discover these delicacies if you don’t already know what they are!

******************************************************************

I am delighted to say that Richard Pickard has agreed to provide a guest blog about this book and I know you will enjoy it as much as I did.

 

MY WRITING SPACE

A short walk from Westbourne village, where you’ll find a gorgeous bookstore and the best fish and chips in the world, there is a small path that punches a shapely hole through a thick wall of hedging… This is the doorway to Alum Chine – a steep-sided valley that guides you down through the cliffs and toward a Bournemouth beach hut, where much of The Peculiar Tale of the Tentacle Boy was written.

Spending most of my time in London, where space is a premium and my own desk is the stuff of dreams, I find myself writing wherever I can – on trains, in cafés (pre-pandemic) and on my bed propped up by pillows. But my favourite place, where I’ve found much of my inspiration, has always been the beach hut.

The walk down Alum Chine is the perfect way to find the right headspace – the scent of damp pine needles filling your nose as a canopy of trees obscures the sunlight. Further along the pathway, a black iron fence shielding its steepest edge, a weathered bridge comes into view – the teal green paint flaking as it stretches across the deepest section of woodland. We call this ‘Summer’s Bridge’, a place to remember my dad’s beautiful border collie who was possibly the only being to love Alum Chine quite as much me.

The journey to the beach hut is punctured with memories such as these at every step. From the small hole at the base of a now-felled tree (my Granny Pat taught us this was the Dorset home of Winnie-the-Pooh), to the secret archways and snug stone staircases that twist through the undergrowth and lead up to unknowable places. An army of invisible birds call out through the trees which cover the steep banks at the mouth of the Chine, which we’d run down at full pelt and still would if it weren’t for the tightly packed vegetation that has claimed the slopes over the years.

Once the deep blue of the English Channel appears on the horizon, the most eager person calls out: “I saw the sea first!” and the sunlight breaks through at last. Sand mingles with a row of wild poppies as you pass the sprawling playground which felt so impressive at 3ft tall, and the newest beach huts rise from the promenade where an old stone amphitheatre once circled our childhood paddling pool.

Past the cloisters and three huts down you’ll find it. The place where my story took shape. A small, terraced cabin facing out onto the golden sand of Bournemouth’s prize-winning beach. Here I would sit, come rain or shine, in a squidgy deck chair with my leatherbound notebook from Portobello market and a thick mug of tea – which I’d brew on the small gas hob inside.

After the death of my beloved Granny Pat, this spring was sadly our last with the beach hut. But for more than thirty years it was the scene of so many happy moments. Eating bacon sandwiches on the morning of my dad’s wedding. The long evenings sat drinking a beer with my boyfriend Rob. The countless childhood summers spent visiting Granny Pat and Grandad, and of course, those happy days writing my novel. So, now that I’m drafting a second story for Chicken House, I’ll need to make do with a towel on the sand and a large thermos of tea. I’ll pack an umbrella, in case of weather-related disaster, plus extra jumpers in those colder months and a pack of biscuits to munch on after emerging from the sea to write…

Which actually, when I think about it, sounds like a pretty great alternative.

THE PECULIAR TALE OF THE TENTACLE BOY is out now, priced £6.99. Read chapter 1 on the Chicken House website!

 

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).