Surviving lockdown

The last couple of months have seen huge changes in my ability to see forthcoming titles.  First we had London Book Fair cancelled and then the wonderful Federation of Children’s Book groups Conference.  This month I should have been attending the School Library Association Conference, but that is now online.  All of this has meant that I could not meet up with the fabulous friends in publishing and look at the amazing books that they bring to the various exhibitions.  However  I will say thank you to the many publishers who have kept on sending review copies when requested, it is greatly appreciated.  It has also been great to keep up with those books that appear as e-galleys on Netgalley and Edelweiss, this means that I am able to still read and promote the books that I think everyone will enjoy.

I am starting off with this look at some titles for younger readers and I hope they will enjoy this small group of titles featuring ghouls, vampires and witches.

Guppy Books, 9781913101060

“Ghoul Scouts, Welcome to Camp Croak!” by Taylor Dolan is the first in a new series about Lexie Wild, who finds herself at a summer camp called ‘Camp Croak’, because her grandma took a wrong turning on the road.  Finding herself sharing a cabin with a ghost, a zombie and a werewolf definitely was not what she expected, but turned out to be great fun.  This is a fast and furious story of a truly evil teacher and how the girls foil a plot to take over and then sell the camp.  I loved the amazing illustrations, they are totally weird and wonderful.

Egmont, 9781405293921

“Amelia Fang and the Lost Yeti Treasures” by Laura Ellen Anderson is the latest adventure of everyone’s favourite vampire and her assorted friends.  When they are all invited to the 350th birthday party of Florence the yeti’s great grandmother they did not anticipate that there would be a thief about, but finding the perpetrator and saving the Yeti mountain from collapsing will take all their ingenuity and see them facing great danger.

OUP, 9780192773579

“Victoria Stitch, Bad and Glittering” by Harriet Muncaster is not due for publication until September but it brings us a new heroine from the author of the ‘Isadora Moon‘ series; in fact we get two for the price of one, because Victoria Stitch has a twin sister called Celestine.  Victoria thinks she should be in line of succession to the throne of Wiskling Wood but finds herself in all sorts of trouble, especially when a strange girl called Ursuline offers to help her.  This is a delightful story about two girls who discover that, in general, people are a mix of good and bad and they just need to have the right motivation.  the author has produced some wonderful illustrations that have a truly witchy and gothic feel.

David Fickling, 9781788450522

“King Coo, the Curse of the Mummy’s Gold” by Adam Stower  is the second adventure for young Ben Pole and the unlikely hero King Coo who lives in the woods near his house.  When an ancient treasure is stolen from the local museum Ben’s mother is under suspicion as she is a security guard; so it is up to Ben to try and find the real thieves and save the day.  Yet again we have a hysterical tale of intrigue and adventure, where the totally incredible King Coo helps in their own inimitable way.  This is definitely for those who love to laugh their way through their adventures.

Piccadilly, 9781848127654

“Beatrix the Bold and the Curse of the Wobblers” by Simon Mockler introduces us to an exciting and feisty young heroine called Beatrix.  She has spent her life cooped up in a castle with her aunt and uncle, neither of whom seem the least bit interested in her.  She know that there is some mystery surrounding her but doesn’t know what, so eventually she decides to leave the castle and discover who she really is. Of course we have all guessed the secret well before Beatrix cottons on to being the QUEEN; the problem is her aunt rather enjoys running the country and Beatrix soon finds that she is in danger.  This is a funny fast paced and very enjoyable read for adventurous young people.

Andersen Press, 9781783448388

“Mermaid School, the Clamshell Show” by Lucy Courtney and Sheena Dempsey joins the surge of titles that have mermaids as their central characters.  this series is aimed at younger readers and centres around Marnie Blue and her two best friends as they get used to attending mermaid school.  This title tells us what happens when they are all auditioning to take part in a show, but then a new girl appears on the scene who wants the starring role by fair means or foul.  This is great fun and also is a good way to help young people understand the dynamics of school life.

Gecko Press, 9781776572717

“Hattie” by Frida Nilsson and Stina Wirsen is the story of a young Swedish girl and her first year at school.  It shows a very different life from that in the UK but the challenges of finding friends and learning about the wider world seem to reflect issues found around the world.  This is a charming look at a young person just finding their feet as they start school.

Usborne, 9781474972178

“Unipiggle, Unicorn Muddle” by Hannah Shaw tells the story of how Princess Pea (Peony) has to choose a unicorn to become the Royal Unicorn.  But Pea would rather be out playing and getting muddy instead of being dressed up in all her finery and sitting on a stage with her parents.  Things take a hilarious turn as a pig joins the parade of unicorns, but he also has a horn, and most importantly he seems to have a great sense of fun.  Of course Princess Pea decides that this creature, she calls the Unipiggle, has to become her companion.  What follows is a lot of humour and the beginning of a delightful relationship between the princess and her magical pig.

Five Quills, 9781912923045

“Bug Belly, Babysitting Trouble” by Paul Morton is definitely a hilarious story for those just beginning to read alone.  The main character is a frog called Bug Belly, who is called upon to look after his large number of nephews and nieces (tadpoles and froglets) whilst their parents are off at a frogspawn conference.  The story follows his adventures as he tries to avoid numerous enemies whilst also moving the young offspring to a safer lower pool after he accidentally created a hole in the upper pond.  Not only is this a great adventure but it also enables young children to understand some of the dangers that frogs encounter.  There are  great illustrations and lots of fun.

Piccadilly, 9781848127753

“Hotel Flamingo” by Alex Milway tells the story of young Anna Dupont who finds herself the owner of the Hotel Flamingo; unfortunately the hotel is rundown and the animals who are running it have run out of energy.  They are also facing competition from the hotel on the hill, called “The Glitz”  This is a great story about friendship, sharing and creating a sense of community.  There are some delightful characters and charming illustrations that bring the story alive.

OUP, 9780192773630

“Mickey and the animal spies” by Anne Miller is a fabulous story for those who like mystery, spies and some very unusual characters.  Mickey is a great fan of codes and spies and longs to follow in the footsteps of her hero Hildegarde L McTavish, so when she discovers a code taped to a bus window she just has to investigate.  Cracking the code leads her to a mysterious office where she discovers a spy unit  consisting of animals and called Cobra.  Further adventures follow as they try and save the pet of a famous pop star as well as preventing a jewel robbery.  This is an excellent first children’s book by the author and I was lucky enough to attend the book launch in London earlier in the year.

I do hope that you find some books in here that you would like to share with young readers.  At a time of such uncertainty it is good to have books that we can really enjoy and which take us away from the restrictions that we have to face.  I sincerely wish that we all have a happy and peaceful summer and that we can return to a new normal in the near future.

Readers find their wings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Building Bridges: Forging Connections and Growing Readers.

This was the Federation of Children’s Book groups Conference which was held over the first weekend in April. It was a very appropriate title not only because the conference was held in Telford, but also because it was about ways that we can connect with young readers and help them develop as reading enthusiasts.

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Exhibition heaven

I finally managed to arrive at the campus (part of the University of Wolverhampton) in time to get to my room and then hit the launch of the publishers’ exhibition at 5.00 pm on the Friday.  As always this is somewhat the height of any conference for me.  It was great to meet up with so many friends and to get a look at some fantastic new titles that are coming in the next few months, but of course this was only the first of many visits over the weekend.

Dinner was then followed by a talk by Katherine Rundell and she had us all mesmerized by her speech, but it was the last section that had many of us near to tears as she paid tribute to her sister and remembered  what it had been like to lose her.  I think we were all honoured that she was able to share her thoughts with us.  The evening finished on a much cheerier note as we took part in the Andersen Press Quiz- and Yaay!!  we eventually won after a tie breaker set of questions.  So thank you to my co-quizzers Zoe Toft, Amy McKay, Tricia Adams and Jo Humphreys-Davis.

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Curtis Jobling and Phil Earle

Saturday started early with the first session being at 9.00 am, thankfully it was a double act with the amazing Phil Earle and Curtis Jobling being chaired by Zoe Toft.  Both of the authors gave us a taste of what they do with groups of children and the room was soon filled with lots of laughter.  At coffee break I was able to start catching up with people and it was great to see Andrew Beasley, the author of the “Ben Kingdom” series, who lives in the south west.

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Harriet and Sara with Julia Bell

The rest of the morning was spent listening to three sessions with some new authors, Sara Bernard and Harriet Reuter Hapgood,  speaking about their teen books, Andy Griffiths talking about his hilarious tree-storey series and Horatio Clare and Mike Revell speaking about their new offerings.  Thankfully we then had a very good buffet lunch,  which was a much higher standard than you often get at conferences.

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Shane Hegarty

The afternoon continued the theme of excellence.  There were three seminars running in parallel, so you had to chose to hear either Joseph Coelho, Pamela Butchart or Shane Hegarty.  Having had the pleasure of meeting Shane last year I decided that it was time I listened to him speak in public and I am happy to say that he more than lived up to expectations.  He spoke about how he came to write children’ s books and his childhood in rural Ireland as well as talking about his amazing series ‘Darkmouth‘, the third part of which is just being published.  The series really is a great read.

Ali Sparkes

Ali Sparkes

We were then treated to the delightful and very talented Ali Sparkes, who had us in stitches with some of the cat images that she had found on the web.  If you ever have the opportunity to have her into your school or library then grab it with both hands as she is such a brilliant speaker.  the day was rounded off by cocktails from Walker Books, although Jill Murphy was ill and unable to attend the celebration for 30 years of “Five Minutes Peace”.  We then had Jenny Downham as the guest speaker at dinner.

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Prue Goodwin and S F Said

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S F Said and Jane Ray

Sunday is often a bit of an anti-climax at some conferences, but that was not the case with this one.  We started off with Daniel Hahn(translator extraordinaire), Jane Ray and S F said in conversation with Prue Goodwin.  This was a remarkably easy going session with all the speakers sharing the subjects and the comments, so there was a real sense of enjoyment for those of us listening.

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Piers Torday

The next event showed Daniel Hahn with one of the other hats that he wears, that of interviewer and he was in discussion with John Boyne who spoke about his new book ” The Boy at the Top of the Mountain” as well as “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas”.  After coffee and cakes we then had a talk by Piers Torday about his books “The Last Wild” trilogy which takes place in a world where all animals are supposedly killed by a deadly virus.  The final event was a little bit different in that it was given by Anna Conomos who has just won the Jean Russell Storyteller award for 2016.  Not only did Anna enthrall us with her storytelling but she also spoke about the place of story in our history and how it can help people with other parts of their lives.  This was yet another speaker that you know will be great in schools, so I hope we hear a lot more of her in the future.

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John Boyne and Daniel Hahn

I think we all owe a really big thanks to the organizers of this conference which was truly excellent.  The site was more than acceptable, although last year I would have struggled to move between the buildings because of the flights of steps.  However the rooms were fine, the food was good and the company was really lovely.  The publishers were, as always, so friendly and helpful and there were loads of new titles to keep an eye open for.  I am already looking forward to next year.