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.

 

 

Ten Little Dogs by Ruth Brown

I have to say, with no exaggeration,  that I have been a great fan of this author for well over 20 years.  I was lucky enough to meet her in the late 1990s, when she came to do an event for Bristol Libraries, talking to a large group of school children.  It is one of my earliest experiences of  an author event in a public library, but I think I have made up for it since then.

This link to an interview with the wonderful Jake Hope is a fascinating look at the author and her beautiful collection of work. https://www.cilip.org.uk/blogpost/1637344/354662/An-Interview-with-illustrator-Ruth-Brown

This latest book is a totally delightful re-working of the old counting rhyme that has been popular with young children for so many generations.  We start out with ten small puppies of assorted varieties and through the book we count down, as one by one they are caught out by their adventurous behaviour.  As you would expect, the text is in rhyme and I am delighted by the way that Ruth Brown has maintained the rhyming structure and yet has brought the language up to date.   I love the way that the author has moved the action between different pages; the backgrounds range from the seaside to the park and also the various back gardens.  We see the puppies playing with sticks, garden hoses, food bowls and even chasing butterflies, as well as being nipped by a crab at the seaside.  This gives a superb opportunity for discussion with the children about their experiences with puppies, or they might not have had any contact but will be fascinated by the antics of those they see on the page.

Anyone who has ever come into contact with small dogs will recognize the body language that the author portrays in her illustrations.  The images are full of energy and the excitement in life that young dogs have in abundance.  The situations that they find themselves in is very believable and I am sure that most dog owners will have seen some of these hilarious events.  The humour and the movement are elements that really stand out and make this a book that will become a favourite in years to come; both for reading to groups and  as a book to enjoy with a child or grandchild.

I was recently looking through a folder of old newspaper cuttings and came across the one relating to Ruth’s visit to Bristol Libraries; it was in the “Bristol Observer” for Friday 13th November 1998.  Ruth was there to help us launch the start of the “Bookstart” project in Bristol

Ruth Brown

Ruth BrownRuth Brown is the creator of some of Britain’s best loved children’s books. She was born in Devon and now lives in London and Kent. Ruth’s books are translated in many languages around the world, and she has won the Earthworm Award, the English Association Award, the Prix Sorcière and been shortlisted 3 times for the Kate Greenaway Medal.  Scallywag Press

“Brown, whose exceptional draughtsmanship makes all her books a feast, visits a gallery with a difference in this picture book about cats and artists. A book to lead readers to 13 painters from Mondrian to Munch and Kahlo to Klimt.” Sunday Times Culture Magazine

How to Save the World with a Chicken and an Egg by Emma Shevah and Kirsti Beautyman

I am delighted to say that this is one of a growing number of books that focuses on the world we live in and how we interact with the nature that surrounds us.  There has been an ever growing number of information books and television programmes that focus on the environment and it is so good to see so many young people becoming involved in raising the awareness of the situation.  This book provides a wonderful mix of adventure, nature and also the difficulties that people can have if they are perceived as being ‘different’ in any way.

Chicken House, 9781910655474

Nathaniel has grown up being looked after by his grandmother (although he attends a boarding school during term time).  When his grandmother dies, he was going to spend the holidays with his aunt and uncle, but then his mother, who has just returned from living in India decides that she wants to have him stay with her at the old family home at Southwold in Suffolk He finds living in such a chaotic surrounding a challenge and is on the verge of wanting to leave and go to the familiar surroundings of his other family.  A chance meeting a young girl called Ivy, who thinks she can communicate with animals of all kinds, gives him something to focus on; their common interest in the environment also helps both of them cope with a variety of issues. However, there is a secret from the past that is about to re-surface and the two Eco-warriors will have their work cut out to find a solution.
This is a beautiful story of two children who have had many issues in their lives. Nathaniel has Asperger’s syndrome and struggles to connect with others, while Ivy is living with very supportive foster parents but has undergone abusive treatment from her real father, who even sent her Thai mother back to Thailand. This moving tale shows how these two eventually begin to work together despite the major difference in the way that they interact with others. It also shows how they can connect with the adults in their lives, when the adults take the time to help them. It is a superb read for all children, whether they are aware of environmental issues or not.  I gradually became more engrossed by these seemingly eccentric characters and I would love to follow some more of their adventures; in fact I get the hint that there might be another real adventure in the offing.  Thank you Emma Shevah for such a fantastic read.

 

Emma Shevah is Thai and Irish and was born and raised in London. She is the author

Emma Shevah

of four Middle Grade novels published by Chicken House:Dream on AmberDara Palmer’s Major Drama (optioned by the BBC), and What Lexie Did and How to Save the World with a Chicken and an Egg, and an early reader for BloomsburyHello Baby Mo! She has lived and travelled in many countries but now lives in Brighton with half of her four children. She is Head of Year at Roedean, where she teaches English and gazes at the sea, wishing she was in it.  (Chicken House Books)

Flamingo Fashion by Samantha Hunter and Maggy Roberts; read by Michael Maloney

This is something of a departure for me, as I have not reviewed an audio book on this Blog before.  However, I don’t think this will be the last time that I look at this version of a book.  There are large numbers of readers for whom this is the best option and of course it also allows for the possibility of multi-tasking; after all doing the ironing can be a very boring option!

This particular story is a short picture book that last just over 5 minutes, making it a good choice for young children as part of their pre-bedtime reading.  The actual story line is about two flamingos, Freddie and Fifi,  who love their fashion and decide to set up a boutique, so that they can ‘style’ some of the other animals.  They are particularly fond of anything pink, frothy and fluffy and whilst that might work for them, it does not suit some of the others.  They are soon in trouble with the Lion, Crocodile, Hippo and Giraffe (among others) as the animals can no longer fulfill their natural ways of living and hunting.  Luckily the two fashionistas realize their mistakes and rectify them, bringing the other animals back to their natural state.  What they realize is that we are all special, but in different ways and that we should be kind and love ourselves as we are.  Which is a lesson that all of us can take on board, even from a very young age.

As a spoken word story it is greatly impacted by the audio part of the book.  We have a light and pleasant introductory music, which is then repeated at the end.  The introduction tells us about the author and narrator, so that we have a feel for what is coming.  The narrator is Michael Maloney and he uses an excellent range of voices, although his voice for ‘Fifi’ is somewhat irritating (perhaps this is on purpose?); however, his voice for the lion is an almost perfect reflection of the inimitable Kenneth Williams and is exactly right for the character.

I am delighted to say that  the publisher has created a place online, so that children can create their own activities and also follow some ideas that the author has come up with.   If children want to see the animals in all of their glory then you will need to look at the kindle version, as this does not appear to have been printed as a hard-copy at the moment.  However, I think the audio book is an excellent way of telling the story and enables the children to create their own interpretation of the animals and their fashions.

https://flamingofashionbook.squarespace.com/

About the author

Sam Hunter is a full-time mum, podcast host and entrepreneur. She started writing after the birth of her son in 2017 and self-published her first book – Flamingo Fashion – at the end of 2020.

Sam wrote creatively as a young girl on her weekends and during visits to her mum’s office in the summer holidays. All of her writing was about animals and it is no wonder that her first book is a children’s story set in an animal’s world!

Her first book, a middle grade novel called Freddie’s Fantastic Adventures, was inspired by a children’s t-shirt with a flamingo on the front and while out walking a few years later, the idea for Flamingo Fashion popped into her head!

Sam is passionate about developing both children’s and adult’s creativity and her writing is designed to inspire imaginations in a fun and playful way. Proceeds from the book are going to the LitWorld charity, who work to develop children’s creative confidence and literacy skills, through the power of storytelling.

Sam lives with her son, daughter and husband in Hertfordshire, England.

Opening the Box of Delights by Philip W Errington

 

I have been a fan of this wonderful story by John Masefield for the last nearly 40 years.  Despite having worked in libraries since the mid 1970s I had not read the book until the television series came along in the 1980s and I sat and watched with my two sons.

This is a story of deep fantasy, set during the Christmas period and with a young central hero who is pitted against some very dark and dastardly villains.  The story was written in 1935, so we have a real sense of time, although the place itself is totally fictitious.  The story centres around young Kay Harker  as he travels to stay with family at Christmas.  He meets with a mysterious old Punch and Judy man called Cole Hawlings, who gives him and old box to safeguard.  However, the villainous Abner Brown and his hired thugs are also after the box; because this box allows the owner to travel through time!  The story is full of action, adventure magic and fantasy and the twist at the end leaves you wondering if it was real, or just a dream.  You really have to read the book and make up your own mind about that.

The author of this book is a world renowned expert on the works of Masefield and his enthusiasm is evident in the way that he writes about the author and his work.  This work is a wonderful introduction to the life of Masefield and to his other works, but especially his role as the Poet Laureate.  I must admit that my knowledge was limited to reading some of his poetry at school in Abingdon.  It has just come as something of a surprise to discover that the great man was living only about 6 mile away, at Burcote, until his death in 1967 and that there is every possibility  that I could have passed him in the street without knowing.  We do indeed live in a very small world.

The book is extremely wide ranging, covering the life of Masefield, his works, the various illustrators, characters, adaptions of all kinds and his world building in his two Kay Harker books.  There are an abundance of illustrations, and this creates a sumptuous treat for avid bibliophiles who are spoilt for choice in deciding which is their favourite edition of any of the titles.  then of course we have the radio productions, audio books, TV series and stage production by Piers Torday.  Each of the chapters is given a two page spread, which allows the author to  include so many topics.  However I did find myself getting frustrated at times as there were chapters where I wanted more detail, but it does make you want to go and explore further.  Whilst there is no bibliography in this book, there are references to other books in the text itself and of course we have access to huge amounts of information via libraries and the internet.

This is a brilliant book for those who are interested in children’s literature, fantasy and Christmas and will have you poring over the fantastic images for hours, probably whilst you remember the first time you came across ‘The Box of Delights’.

 

The Magician’s Map; a Hoarder Hill adventure, by Mikki Lish and Kelly Ngai

If you are a fan of magical adventures, mixed with some very quirky and funny characters, then this is the book for you.  There are hints of other familiar stories as we are introduced to a parallel world of magicians and mythical creatures, but linked to our own mundane world.

This is the second adventure featuring Hedy and her brother Spencer as they spend another holiday at their grandparents’ house; only this time they are accompanied by their cousins, Jelly and Max.  The house is very far from normal, being full of magical artifacts, as well as a talking Bearskin and Stag’s head (otherwise known as Doug and Stan), who are the epitome of a comic duo; they are absolutely fantastic .  In this story the children manage to persuade their grandfather and  his neighbour Mrs Pal, to take them to a magical convention and competition called the Fantastikhana.  Initially they said no, but eventually changed their minds as the adults want to find a magical artifact that allows people to manipulate time; and they want to  keep it out of the hands of those who intend to actually misuse it.    When Hedy is accidentally linked to a ‘living map’ that seeps under her skin, things get exciting, as the map is a way of retrieving items that it has been linked to.  Before we know it, Hedy and the rest of the group are on a quest to find the mysterious ‘Verdandi’s loom’, but can they trust everyone they meet?

This is a delightful escapade and I am so sorry that I had not read the first in the series, so I have just bought a copy to fill in the gaps.  The new story dives straight in with all of the characters and it takes a few pages to get everyone sorted in your mind, so reading book one is definitely to be recommended.  The authors have created a world and set of characters that we are easily able to relate to and there is a great sense of humour that balances the tensions created by the lurking villain.  Whilst the theme of family is very strong in this story, not every group has the same closeness and we get to see that there are different kinds of family relationships; not all of them are good.    However we do see how special friendship can be and  this helps the children in their quest.  I am desperately hoping that we are going to see further adventures for this feisty set of individuals, as they are an absolute joy, but until then I am going to settle down and read the first of their adventures.

 

About Mikki Lish & Kelly Ngai

Australian co-authors Mikki Lish and Kelly Ngai create worlds together, even though they don’t live on the same continent. This means that when they video call each other, it’s not unusual for someone to be in pyjamas.

Mikki has worked with many musicians and actors and now lives in America with her husband, dog and cats.

Kelly lives in Australia with her two sons and loves waking up to the wild story ideas that Mikki has sent during the night.

 

The House on Hoarder Hill is their second collaboration and is being developed for television with Sam Raimi’s Ghost House and Wiip.

The Eye of Mogdrod by Derek Keilty and Mark Elvins

There is something quite fascinating about pirates and even ex-pirates; the stories have been sparking  the imagination of readers both young and old for many years.  As a child my first encounter with the idea was watching episodes of ‘Captain Pugwash’ on the television and then later on discovering the wonders of ‘Treasure Island’.  If I thought really hard about it, I am sure that there were other pirates in books, but I definitely remember those to be found in the swashbuckling adventures of actors such as Errol Flynn and Burt Lancaster; Sunday afternoon was full of old films that kept us happy on a cold winter’s day.  Today we have the whole range of films such as ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ and ‘The Goonies’, as well as a host of books for all ages.  As a librarian for a School Library Service I was constantly being asked for collections of titles about pirates and whilst there are lot of amazing titles about real-life buccaneers, it is also fantastic to be able to create imaginary worlds with a wide range of characters.  This would definitely have been part of my collection at work..

Flyntlock Bones is the unlikely hero of this series for all serious wannabee pirates.  He is the cabin boy aboard the vessel “The Black Hound” , but the crew are not what you might expect.  They are all ex-pirates and have become ‘Pirate Investigators’ who help retrieve stolen treasure.  This second adventure sees them asked to retrieve a precious gold goblet that has been stolen from Fergus McSwaggers, the chief of one of the clans in the Boglands; the only problem is that he is the brother of the cook on board the ‘Black Hound’ and they have not spoken for quite a while.  The plot deepens as they try and discover who has stolen the goblet.  The consensus is that it was probably a giant cat-like creature called the Mogdrod, that is feared but rarely seen and is said to love shiny things.  When Flyntlock, his friend Red and the rest of the crew are captured by Gretel the Sea Witch, they discover that Mogdrod is her ‘Kitty’ and that she had taken the goblet.  To further complicate the story, the treasure is then taken by the Ice Pirates and it is up to the crew to rescue it again.

This is a fantastic and very funny story for the young reader, who is just growing in confidence.  The author has this real ability to make even the most fantastic of stories seem real.  His previous series about an elfling sky cowboy called Will Gallows has been a favourite of mine for a few years now.  As you can see from the images, Mark Elvin has produced the most amazing illustrations that bring the story to life and which are so intricate that the reader can spend quite a bit of time working their way through all of the detail.

I was delighted to be asked to join in the celebrations for the launch of this brilliant book and I look forward to reading further adventures in the future.

If you love this story as much as I did, why not read some more pirate adventures and take part on “Talk Like a Pirate day” on Sunday 19th September this year.

 

Derek Keilty

Meet the author

Derek KeiltyDerek Keilty lives in Belfast and is the author of over ten books for children. His work has been translated into many different languages, selected for the Richard and Judy Club and shortlisted for the Children’s Books Ireland Book of the Year.

 

Mark Elvins Personal website

Derek KeiltyMark Elvins lives in Yorkshire. When he’s not drawing pirates he’s a print-maker and recently won an English Heritage competition to illustrate the displays at Whitby Abbey.

Vi SPY: Licence to Chill by Maz Evans and Jez Tuya

When you see the name Maz Evans on the cover of a book, you know that it is going to be a brilliant, exciting and extremely funny story.  The author has been thrilling us with her first series “Who Let the Gods Out” and I am sure that I was not the only person suffering from withdrawal symptoms when that series finished.  I need not have worried because she has come back with a complete ‘humdinger’ of a plot and a feisty and completely awesome heroine called Valentine Day (yes, really).

The plot introduces us to Valentine who wants to be a spy and follow in the footsteps of her mother, even though the latter denies that she has ever been an agent.  Her father is dead, according to her mum and it looks as if she is about to marry Vi’s teacher, Mr Sprout; providing Vi with  step-brother called Russell!  However at the wedding there is a problem, when the registrar turns out to be Vi’s father in disguise and he is also the world’s second most wanted super villain, his name is Robert Ford, aka Sir Charge (honest).  The plot begins to thicken as someone called Umbra wants to steal a mind control device in order to help them take over the world (you can almost hear the evil laugh can’t you?) and Vi is determined to stop them.  the problem is how will she achieve this and who can she trust to help her.  The world seems to be full of villains, recovering villains, spies and robowars aficionados. Vi also discovers that not only is her mum a retired spy but so is her grandmother and several generations before that; so it is no wonder that she has this need to investigate things. The plot moves at a tremendous pace and it really does need you to hang on to your hat as the action moves forward.

I think by now you will have been able to see the beautiful way that Maz Evans strews her plot with puns and jokes; so that if you are not laughing, you will probably be groaning.  However, despite all of this humour there is also the underlying look at more serious issues that we have come to know from the author’s previous work.  Both Vi and Russell are from families where the parents are no longer together and they are having to try and come to terms with the changes.  We also see that Russell in particular is subject to bullying at school; partially because his dad is a teacher but mainly because he is something of a science geek and is totally into robowars and has entered his robot ‘Agadoo’ for the Blitzbot competition.  This is a glorious story with the ability to make us all smile and laugh out loud in this difficult time.  I am so looking forward to reading more adventures with Vi and her new sidekick Russell.

 

Maz Evans Biog:

Still unsure how it happened, Maz Evans is apparently the author of the bestselling WHO LET THE GODS OUT? series, which has sold to 19 countries worldwide and has received over 20 award nominations, including the Carnegie Medal, Branford Boase, Books Are My Bag and Waterstone’s Children’s Book of the Year. She narrates the audiobooks for the series and her acclaimed live events have featured at Hay, Imagine, Edinburgh, Bath, Cheltenham, Bestival, Wilderness and countless literary festivals and primary schools around the UK.

Maz has contributed to RETURN TO WONDERLAND, THE BOOK OF HOPES and SWALLOWED BY A WHALE and her children’s poetry has been published in Caterpillar magazine. Her career began as a TV journalist, writing for The Daily Telegraph and TV Times magazine and she still regularly broadcasts her views on anything from politics to parenthood on BBC Radio 2 and the bus.

As a scriptwriter, her original musical H. R. HAITCH (with composer Luke Bateman) was produced at the Union Theatre, London in 2018. She has previously had shows produced at the Actors’ Church Covent Garden, Southend Palace Theatre and Bryanston Arts Centre and she was awarded places in the Holby City and Casualty BBC Shadow schemes.

As a songwriter, Maz won the Iris Theatre songwriting award three years in succession (with Luke Bateman) and her cabaret songs are regularly performed in the West End and beyond. As an author, she has won the hearts of thousands of children and as a nuclear physicist, she has frankly been completely rubbish.

Morgana Mage in the Robotic Age by Amy Bond

What a really great concept for a story.  The heroine, Morgana is a witch and lives in a world that has divided into the magical community and the non-magic; the latter have become a highly technical society and robots are used in order to do all of the more menial tasks in life.  The main problem is the absolute dislike that the two societies have for each other, it really is a case of “Ne’er the twain shall meet”.  The only reason that the magical community visits the city is to get supplies from the small magical community, who live in the ‘undercity’ and are looked down on by the non-magic.  Morgana is definitely different and has a fascination for robots; her magical abilities are nearly non-existent and she really wants to go to school.  When her father takes her on one of his trip to the city she is delighted and together with her friend Esther she makes several secret visits to the metropolis.  A turning point comes when school inspectors arrive in the village and she demands that she be allowed to attend school, something unheard of in the past.  The consequences not only put her at odds with her community, but it also puts her life at risk, when she and her new friend Jonathan find that robots have been changed and are ready to take over the world.

Isaac Asimov’s laws of robotics were first written down in 1942 in a short story called “Runaround” and state:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws

We are now living in a world where robots and specifically Artificial Intelligence are getting closer to having independent thought, something that this book actually addresses as we discover the importance of empathy, understanding and balance, both in the human and in the hi-tech world.  This book is full of so many issues that the young characters have to come to terms with, but we realise that the adults are the ones who really need to change their views; they need to be more flexible in the way they treat those with different beliefs.  It really is a message that needs to be passed on in as many ways as possible, particularly at the moment.

Although the underlying messages are quite serious there is still room for a lot of action and adventure and I am sure that everyone will love ‘kitty’ the robotic kitten that Morgana finds and repairs and which becomes her version of a ‘familiar’.  Overall this book is an absolute joy with its amazing mix of lifestyles.  It will open children to the possibility of creating their own world where just about anything is possible, but where actions have consequences.  What a stunning way to start the New Year!  On top of all this, the author is a Librarian, I am so happy!!

 

My Journey to Publication by Amy Bond

I had started books before, but abandoned them not far into the story. One I had finished, but once I had gotten to the end of the first draft, I wasn’t sure what to do with the mess of words and tangle of plot. The first draft of Morgana Mage in the Robotic Age wasn’t any neater, but perhaps I saw more potential, or had just learnt more discipline in the intervening years. I began to rewrite it, and rewrite it, and rewrite it until, at last, I could see some hope for it.

This hope was dashed, repeatedly, once I began to submit it to agents. There were a couple of manuscript requests among the rejection, which momentarily raised expectations, only to be brought down again. Some of their kind advice did help me finesse my work some more. All the time I had been keeping an eye out on the opening of the Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition. I had followed it the past couple of years as I tinkered away on my book. It seemed such a magical prospect, that you could send in your work and come away with a book deal from such a renowned publisher. Though I wasn’t feeling too optimistic at the time I entered, I reminded myself to be proud to have even got so far as to have something book shaped enough to submit.

It was coming to the end of the day in the office when I got the call to say I had made the longlist. It genuinely felt like a dream. I missed the call to say I had made the shortlist, but given the embarrassing squealing and dancing around my bedroom that took place listening to the voicemail, I am glad I wasn’t actually on the phone to Barry Cunningham, Chicken House’s Publisher. The announcement day in London is still a bit of a blur in my head, and while I didn’t come away with the book deal, I had some solid feedback from the judges and a new confidence in my writing. I got back to work.

Chicken House had kindly said that I could send them on any improved manuscript, so I did. I didn’t really think much would come of it, but no harm would come of it at least, and maybe some more feedback. I had to read the publication offer email several times before I let myself get too excited. Perhaps I had misunderstood. But no, I was going to have my book published.

A lot more work and writing, doubt and belief have followed this. A COVID-19 induced delay pushed the reality further into the distance. But it is really happening. I have held my own book, and it was just as amazing a moment as I had anticipated. The only thing more wonderful is to imagine it in the hands of children soon.

MORGANA MAGE IN THE ROBOTIC AGE by Amy Bond is out now, priced £6.99. Follow Amy on Twitter: @amylouisebond