All The Things That Could Go Wrong – Q & A Stewart Foster

This week is Anti-Bullying Week and I’m delighted to welcome Stewart Foster to the blog today with a special Q & A about his wonderfully insightful book, ‘All The Things That Could Go Wrong.’ This is a book that tells two very different stories about Dan and Alex who both find the reality of everyday life a struggle. Dan is consumed by rage after his brother left, and unable to deal with his emotions he torments Alex, honing in on his weaknesses and taking out his pain on him. For Alex life was incredibly difficult even before Dan started to make his life a misery, his severe OCD makes it hard for him to live a normal life. But their paths are unwittingly thrown together when their mums make a plan for them to meet outside of school and finish the raft that Dan started with his brother. This is a really interesting book as it gives us an insight into the mind of the bully Dan and tries to understand why he behaves horribly towards Alex, whilst showing the reader the devastating effect bullying has on Alex’s life.

Stewart Foster – Q & A

Can you tell me what inspired you to write ‘All the Things That Could Go Wrong,’ which had bullying as one of the main themes?

The actual moment that inspired the book came whilst I was being interviewed to teach at a school in Essex. I was waiting outside the interview room, looking at the school notice board. Amongst the usual school trips, recitals and sports team announcements , I saw a section on mental health. This section included advice on OCD, exam stress, anxiety, depression and bullying, and I suddenly thought, god, the pressures we put our kids under these days. At that point I wanted to write something hard-hitting and realistic for middle grade readers, but at the same time I wanted to give them hope.

          Why do you think books are a useful resource in dealing with bullying?

I was lucky enough to grow up watching Grange Hill. I children’s programme that really did tackle the issues of growing up in a state school. I’m not sure there is any like that for children to watch anymore. So I think reading, especially for middle-grade readers, is a great way for children to both get informed, but also forge their own opinions. The issue of bullying was covered brilliantly in ‘Wonder’ and it’s promoted discussion in many schools I’ve visited. If my writing can do the same, and perhaps enable readers to see the issue of bullying from both sides, then I’ll consider that a success.

              In your book we get to see the story not only from the viewpoint of the child who is being bullied Alex but also from the side of the bully Dan. Why did you decide to include Dan’s point of view?

    Ha, well I started to answer this question at the end of the last. The reason I did Dan (the bully) point of view, first person was that I wanted to experience what it might be like to be a bully, and put the reader in that position too. It was very hard at first, but that was because I was concentrating on the awful things he was doing, and not on what type of kid he was. I may be naive but I link to think that there are grains of good in everyone, and that sometimes we just have to learn to understand them to help the good come out.

             The theme of this year’s Anti-Bullying Week is ‘All Different, All Equal’ which aims to promote difference and equality in schools. How do you feel both Alex and Dan stand out in school and how to they deal with this?

   Alex both stands out because of his physical appearance but his unseen mental torture flies under the radar. His teachers haven’t got the time to truly understand and help him and because he’s quiet he doesn’t demand attention. Dan is similar but because he’s louder he’s actually demanding attention but at the same time, he is like Alex, he trying to work his way through his problems and somehow discover his own identity. I think we’re so lucky as middle-grade writers because the age group we write for and about are smouldering volcanoes. In Dan’s case, the volcano erupts whereas Alex’s keeps bubbling, bubbling, bubbling, but both have very uncomfortable rides.

  I felt that your book was really empathetic and insightful. Did you deliberately write it with this in mind so that children who read it and hadn’t been bullied would understand the experiences more clearly?

I only thing I did deliberately was to set out to write a story about bullying and I wanted it to be real. I think if I’d set out looking for children to emphasise and be deliberately insightful then the story would have become contrived, unconvincing and children would switch off. All the things carries to important a message for that to happen, so I just wrote what was in my heart and let it bypass my head. Personally, I learn quite subliminally and I guess that’s how I write too because I care massively about both bullying and OCD and I hope it’s that that comes through in the book.

              ‘Bubble Boy’ featured a boy called Joe who is very different, do you think it’s important for children to meet a diverse range of characters in their books?

    I’m glad you say the characters are very different from Joe, because whenever I start a new story I have to get rid of my best mate from the last book and make new friends in the next. For that reason alone it’s good to have very different characters to keep me interested, but I think also that children need to meet characters that they may not come across at home or in school. We live in a big world, but for the first part of our lives we live in pretty small communities and don’t stray far from them. Meeting different characters in novels is a great way for children to see how other children live in cities in their own countries or even on the other side of the world.

             How important do you feel reading for pleasure is in developing empathy in children?

      Reading is a very intimate experience, it’s just you and the book and unlike watching a film you get to colour that book however you want. I don’t think reading for pleasure instils empathy, but as your question suggest, it develops what is already there. I’m not sure that in the early years a child could actually describe empathy, more that it comes out in their own behaviours and I’m pretty sure some of the great middle grade books are promoting this. Books offer children their own little private space, away from the influences of friends, school and TV.

A huge thank you to Stewart for inviting me to host this Q & A. You can find out more about Stewart by following him on Twitter and Facebook. ‘All The Things That Could Go Wrong’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop.


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The Street Beneath My Feet – Charlotte Guillain & Yuval Zommer

‘The Street Beneath My Feet’ by Charlottel Guillain and Yuval Zommer has to be my favourite non-fiction book of the year. Cleverly constructed, this concertina double-sided format allows you to unravel the story of the ground beneath our feet or unfold the whole book on the floor for a hands on exploration. On one side we learn about everything that happens beneath the city street from electricity cables, to underground trains all the way right down to the very core of the earth. Flip the book over and we see the contrasting side in our journey through the different layers in the countryside. Here we discover badger sets, dinosaur fossils, metamorphic rocks and minerals.

Not only is it packed with fascinating facts from Charlotte Guillain which will excite the most inquisitive child it is also visually stunning, with the most sublime illustrations form Yuval Zommer. With so many intricate details to spot you can spend hours pouring over this book and it is bound to be enjoyed over and over again. Managing to make complex information interesting and engaging, it’s perfect for newly confident readers  it’s captivating whilst still being accessible. Younger readers can enjoy exploring the illustrations, it’s ideal for sharing and discovering together.

This would make an ideal gift for any child who loves to ask questions and devours information books, it’s an absolute joy to read!

Thank you to Words and Pictures for sending me a copy of this glorious book, ‘The Street Beneath My Feet’ is available to buy from any good bookshop or online.

Cover Reveal – The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day by Christopher Edge

I’m really excited to be sharing with you today the cover of the fantastically talented Christopher Edge’s new novel. ‘The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day’  will be published on the 5th April 2018 by Nosy Crow books.

So without further ado here it is…….

I love this stunning cover, the fabulous artwork has been created by Matt Saunders who was also responsible for the covers of ‘The Many Worlds of Albie Bright’ and ‘The Jamie Drake Equation’, although this is my absolute favourite of the three. I’m a huge fan of Matt’s work he has a really distinctive style that I’m immediately drawn to, it manages to convey so much in a single image. It is definitely one of those covers that demands to be picked up and read and I was intrigued to discover more about what lies inside. And luckily for me those lovely people at Nosy Crow have sent me a very early proof copy and I devoured it in one sitting. I had planned just to read a few chapters and the next thing I knew I had read the whole story as I became completely lost in Maisie’s world. Yet again Christopher has created an incredibly, smart extraordinary story, an unforgettable heart-breaking story that you’re bound to love. So what is ‘The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day’ all about then, well let me tell you.

The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day

How do you know that you really exist?

It’s Maisie’s tenth birthday and she can’t wait to open her presents. She’s hoping for the stuff she needs to build her own nuclear reactor. But when she wakes up in an empty house with no sign of her mum, dad or elder sister, Lily, and then opens the front door to see a dense, terrifying blackness staring back at her, Maisie quickly realises that this isn’t going to be any ordinary day…

Trapped in an ever-shifting reality, Maisie knows that she will have to use the laws of the universe and the love of her family to survive. But as the house begins to erase itself around her, even that might not be enough…

 

Christopher Edge

Christopher Edge grew up in Manchester where he spent most of his childhood in the local library, dreaming up stories. He now lives in Gloucestershire where he spends most of his time in the local library dreaming up more stories. Before becoming a writer, he worked as an English teacher, editor and publisher – any job that let him keep a book close to hand. He also works as a freelance publisher and education consultant and has written several publications about encouraging children to read.

To find out more about Christopher you can visit his website or follow him on Twitter

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders is an experienced freelance illustrator based in London. Often rooted in the realms of fantasy and magic his work is versatile and continually evolving. For Matt it’s not just about creating visually unique images it’s also about solving visual problems. His illustrious client list includes HBO (Game of Thrones), M&S and J K Rowling’s Pottermore.

To find out more about Matt you can visit his website or follow him on Twitter

Thank you to Clare and Nosy Crow Books for inviting me to host the cover reveal.

Storey Street Series – Phil Earle & Sara Ogilvie

Regular visitors to my blog will know I’m a huge fan of the  Storey Street series from Phil Earle and Sara Ogilvie. I absolutely adored the first book, ‘Demolition Dad’ it featured in My Top 10 MG Reads of 2015 and subsequently raved about both ‘Superhero Street’ and ‘The War Next Door’ . Just last month I shared the last book in the series, ‘Scaredy Cat, Scaredy Cat‘ which is equally brilliant. The beauty of these books is they all take place on the same street but all work as genuine standalones so they interweave brilliantly. Storey Street on the surface seems like an ordinary unassuming place but he introduces us to people who underneath their outside persona have a whole realm of hidden depths, that we get to discover as the individual stories unravel. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last two years let me tell you a bit more about this extraordinary series.

Demolition Dad

‘Demolition Dad’ is the spectacular story of Jake Biggs and his dad, George. Jake and his Dad have a big secret. Whilst George spends all week knocking down buildings, he secretly spends the weekend knocking down wrestlers. He’s the Demolition Man, and Jake couldn’t be prouder. But when Jake hears about a pro-wrestling competition in the USA, and persuades his beloved dad to apply, things don’t quite turn out the way he expected. Brilliant characterisation and a plot full of humour and heart make this story a totally irresistible read. It reminded me so much of watching Big Daddy and Giant Hastings when I was growing up (younger readers may need to ask their parents about this), it’s pure comedy gold. Sara Ogilvie’s illustrations are smart, funny and packed with the most hilarious details. Together they’d be the winning combination in any literary fight!

 

Superhero Street

In ‘Superhero Street’ we meet Michael J Mouse whose life has gone steadily downhill since the birth of his twin brothers swiftly followed by triplet brothers. Virtually ignored by his parents, misunderstood and overlooked by his friends, the target of the school bullies it seems that Mouse is doomed for a life of misery. But his luck takes a dramatic shift for the better when his Mum unwittingly foils a diamond robbery and they find themselves thrust into the limelight.  Inevitably you will get caught up in the highs and lows of Mouse’s story as it unfolds. Whilst some of the humour is obvious who could resist a farting lullaby, crisps delicately flavoured with dandruff. It is the subtle witty observations captured by narrator’s voice which win me over every time. They give this book a real warmth and depth that I found truly delightful. Sara Ogilvie’s illustrations portray wonderfully the gauntlet of emotions that Mouse goes through from sadness to elation and finally the fear he feels when he faces a true villain.

 

The War Next Door

Masher is a menace, all of the children in Storey Street are terrified of getting mashed by him. No one dares stand up to him until one day the fearless Jemima rides into town on her unicycle threatening to end Masher’s reign of terror.  For the first time he goes into a battle without absolute confidence in his ability to win. And so begins the war, the war next door, a war like never before. Hilarious and heartfelt it’s really unusual to see the bully at the centre of the story. Instead of Masher being a one dimensional baddy, Phil allows us to see how his personality has been shaped and influenced by a dastardly, devious Dad. It has an emotional depth to it which I found really touching. Yet this story is still full of incredibly funny moments that will make you laugh out loud, although it is the more subtle humour again that makes me smile the most. Sara Ogilvie again provides the most energetic and magnificent illustrations that I have to applaud. I’m a huge fan of illustrations in books for older reader they allow the child to develop their imagination and stop them feeling overwhelmed by page after page of words.

 

Scaredy Cat, Scaredy Cat

Kay Catt is the most nervous and anxious girl that you could ever hope to met, she is so scared, even her own reflection when caught unexpectedly fills her with fears. But when a mysterious old man is spotted on Storey Street, an unlikely friendship forms and little does Kay know that he will be a catalyst for change in her life. Slowly as Kay comes out of her shell, the only reason she can think that this change is possible is that the old man – who has a fondness for wearing a cloak and a pointy hat –  is an actual real life wizard! There is more to Kay than just a simple figure of fun and derision, something more complex lies within her. Kay is convinced by a grieving father that the world is a dangerous place, so much so that her very life is fraught with anxiety wherever she goes. We see the emotional turmoil that she goes through as she tries to obey her Dad’s ridiculously strict and somewhat impossible rules, with her desire to start to make changes in her life. The grief lays heavily on them both but the story is not one of sadness but one of hope and Phil deftly mixes humour and heart to highlight their struggles through the healing process. Sara Ogilvie magnificently captures the hilarity, chaos and warmth of this story –  with special shout out for the cat disco scene!

So if you haven’t had a chance to read any of these books or maybe you’ve just read a few then I urge you to read them all. To celebrate the publication of the very last book in the series (sobs into my coffee) I have 5 copies of ‘Superhero Street’ to giveaway. To enter simply leave a comment on the blog or go over and retweet my pinned tweet on Twitter. Competition ends November 10th UK only.

Maudlin Towers: Curse of the Werewolf Boy – Chris Priestley

Today I’m helping to kick off the blog tour for the first book ‘Curse of the Werewolf Boy’ in the creepy, mysterious and downright hilarious new series, ‘Maudlin Towers.’ Maudlin Towers School or to give it it’s full and proper name Maudlin Towers School for the Not Particularly Bright Sons of the Not Especially Wealthy seems to be the most peculiar of places and it’s absolutely riddled with mysteries. When the School Spoon goes missing causing Christmas to be cancelled, Mildew and Sponge are determined to get to the bottom of the theft. But when a Viking has been spotted in the school grounds, a ghost is seen in the attic and their dull history teacher suddenly gets interesting, the boys soon realise that there is something very strange afoot in Maudlin Towers.

Bursting with bizarreness and stuffed with the most horrid humour this is a genuinely funny and clever story. Mildew and Sponge are the most unlikely of heroes, their bumbling natures cause more disruption than a box of frogs in a china shop. Their attempts to solve this strange mystery result in the most mind-boggling outcomes. Every time you think they’re close to discovering the truth another spanner is haphazardly thrown into the works causing more chaos and confusion. It has a brilliantly constructed plot that will lead to lots of smiles of recognition as the pieces of the puzzle are slotted together. A bold, vibrant cover mixed with hilarious illustrations make for a wonderfully appealing book. Gothic humour mixed with a madcap mystery make it a very engaging and enjoyable read.

Chris Priestley

Ever since he was a teenager, Chris has loved unsettling and creepy stories. He has fond memories of buying comics like Strange Tales and House of Mystery, watching classic BBC TV adaptations of M.R. James’ ghost stories every Christmas and reading assorted weirdness by everyone from Edgar Allan Poe to Ray Bradbury. He hopes his books will haunt his readers in the way those writers have haunted him. You can find out more about Chris on his Twitter, Instagram, Facebook pages and on his website.

Blog Tour

Why not join in with the rest of the blog tour for reviews, giveaways and guest posts.

 

Thank you to Faye and Bloomsbury for inviting me to take part in this blog tour. ‘Curse of the Werewolf Boy,’ is available to buy now from any good bookshop or online.

Spooktacular Picture Books For Halloween

There are so many spooktacular reads for Halloween this year. I have being sharing lots of different books for older readers on the blog, ‘Amelia Fang and the Barbaric Ball,’ ‘A Witch For A Week,’ ‘How To Bewitch A Wolf,’ ‘The Witch of Demon Rock,’ and ‘You Can’t Make Me Go To Witch School.’ Today it’s all about picture books and I’ve chosen a selection of my favourites that will appeal to even the very youngest of readers.

The Grotlyn – Benji Davies

A gentle and intriguing mystery is scattered throughout the pages of Benji Davies’s ‘The Grotlyn,’ of whispered sightings, missing items and misunderstandings of who it could possibly be. We catch glimpses of the enigmatic Grotlyn in darkened corners, on rooftops, in pantries scoffing all the cheese but still no one know who it is and what they could possibly want with all these weird and wonderful items. Yet readers do not worry, this is a playful, mischievous tale that will bring a smile to your face. The use of a muted palette creates an atmospheric read but the splashes of vibrant red give this book a warmth and joyous feel. Sublimely illustrated, with exquisitely crafted rhymes this is an absolute joy of a book.

 

Cat Learns to Listen at Moonlight School – Simon Puttock & Ali Pye

Miss Moon is taking her class on a magical moonlit nature walk to see what interesting things they can find. Instructing them to pay attention and not to wander off, unfortunately not everybody is listening. Searching all around Bat finds a swirly snail, Mouse finds a special starry leaf and Owl finds a swirly stone but Cat is lost in her own thoughts and follows the trail of a flittery firefly and soon discovers she is lost. We join her classmates on a hunt to find her, spotting the clues left on the way. An endearing, delightful tale containing a subtle message that it bound to capture the attention of younger readers.  The illustrations are charming and captivating with splashes of colour contrasting beautifully against the moonlit sky, making this a really appealing read.

 

A Werewolf Named Oliver James – Nicholas John Frith

Werewolves are not usually the subjects of picture books usually being the stuff of much older children’s fiction. Yet Nicholas manages to create a character who is more fantastical and funny than frightening. When Oliver James unexpectedly turns into a werewolf one moonlit light instead of being horrified he’s thrilled. It’s like he’s turned into a superhero – well one that people run away from – with incredible powers to run faster than a train, leap over buildings and lift delivery trucks with his bare hands. But his joy turns to dismay when he realises he has to get home in time for tea, will his parent think the changes are as amazing as he does. Superbly crafted with bold, vibrant illustrations that bound off the pages this is a wickedly funny story, that is totally irresistible.

 

Thank you to Harper Collins, Nosy Crow and Scholastic for sending me copies of this fangtastic books.

You Can’t Make Me Go To Witch School – Em Lynas & Jamie Littler

When Daisy (or Twinkle as they name her on arrival) is dragged kicking and screaming to Toadspit Towers – a school for witches by –  her granny she’s absolutely furious. She clearly is not a witch, she is in fact a serious Shakespearean actress whose whole career is about to be ruined if she doesn’t get to play Bottom at her ‘normal’ school performance. Exceedingly put out she is determined to do everything she can to escape from this terrible place, where she is forced to sleep inside a cauldron, earn ticks to eat more than gloop and the rooms are locked at night to keep them safe from the monsters who stalk the corridors. But when she starts to show an alarming gift for all things witchcraft, everyone starts to question her claims that she can’t possibly be a witch. In fact they think she might just be the best and brightest witch they’ve ever seen.

I grew up totally obsessed with boarding school stories so this story immediately captured my attention and what could be better than a magical school. Of course there are lots of magical boarding schools in stories but none as well frankly eccentric as Toadspit Towers, if I tell you the school’s headteacher is a cursed ghost you’ll have some idea what I mean. Daisy (or Ophelia as she calls herself, it’s definitely not Twinkle) is a brilliant heroine who is hilariously endearing, her refusal to conform in any way possible is infuriatingly funny as is her sheer determination not to bend to the will of the school despite everyone’s best efforts. Em has constructed a well thought out world with the most elaborate attention to detail. I particularly love the witchwood charms on the bracelets that can be turned into a variety of useful objects from pencils to torches. Jamie Littler’s illustrations are bursting with humour and attention to detail, capturing perfectly the warmth of this weird and wonderful story. And of course the best thing is that this is just the first book from Twinkle (sorry I mean Ophelia, or was that Daisy) and her friends in a marvellous new series, I for one can’t wait to read the next one.

 Thank you to Nosy Crow for sending me a copy of this fabulous book, ‘You Can’t Make Me Go To Witch School’ is available to buy from any good bookshop or online.