The House at the Edge of Magic – Amy Sparkes

Today on the blog I’m delighted to be joining in with the blog tour for Amy Sparkes debut middle grade adventure, ‘The House at the Edge of Magic.’ When pickpocket Nine steals an unusual house shaped ornament from a mysterious woman’s purse, little does she know she has set a wild and mysterious game in process. As she knocks on the door something completely unusual and magical happens that changes her life in the most unexpected of ways. Inside this higgledy-piggledy house she meets the most strange and eccentric creatures and finds herself caught up in their quest to break a terrible curse. Expect chaos, carnage and bundles of charm in this truly wonderful story that bowled me over with it’s wild imagination and quirky characters. It totally enchanted me and stole a little piece of my heart, leaving me with a warm glow inside. I think we all need a sprinkle of Amy’s magical storytelling in our lives right now.

To celebrate the release of, ‘The House at the Edge of Magic,’ I have a special guest post from Amy on writing her characters in this wonderful story.

Meet The Characters – Amy Sparkes

Until ‘The House At The Edge of Magic’, I had put off writing middle-grade despite having a million ideas. With an increasing handful of children and already enough writing work on my plate, I didn’t feel I could really give it the time it deserved, so I stuck with more bite-sized writing of picture books, chapters books and magazine articles.

The title of the book had tantalisingly arrived in one go, complete, a few years ago. I knew it was a story I wanted to write. But I didn’t want to write it yet. I started with a few notes about the concept and the characters, with the promise to myself to write it properly ‘one day’. At that point the main characters were twins, and it was set in the modern day. I even wrote the first three chapters where they discovered the House. However, I put the story to one side.

After the birth of my sixth child, I finally admitted there really was never going to be a good time to write a novel, so I might as well get on with it. I revisited my notes. The characters inside the House were already there from the earlier, contemporary version. Having waited years for me to write them, they were practically ready to burst onto the page. Flabberghast the Wizard had always been Flabberghast the Wizard, eccentric, highly-strung and fond of hopscotch. Eric the Troll had always been Eric the troll, too. My eldest son was and still is very into Scandinavian trolls and was annoyed how ‘trolls’ in children’s fiction were so often portrayed as baddies. So, I had created Eric, a troll who is probably the most gorgeous, wholesome character I think I’ve ever written, with a penchant for feather dusters and boiled sweets.

The only one who changed slightly was Dr Spoon. He was originally Agent Spoon, but my editor suggested changing him to something else. The idea of him being a scientist/professor/other-things-which-are-too-secret-to-disclose-right-now came quickly and my fingers were soon wiggling with excitement at the plot possibilities of this change. But his personality and voice stayed the same. Just a slight, definitely shady shift of profession. (I’m sure I heard him grumbling because he’d been called out).

But I still had the issue of the discovery of the House. That marvellous, magical discovery. My current, contemporary set up just didn’t feel right. It was ok, but it felt a little hollow. It didn’t sing to me. I scrapped the modern day setting and took it back 150 years. From that moment, the world felt darker, more mysterious, more shadowy and more fun. The twins and their modern dilemma instantly disappeared (sorry, guys Another time). Which left me, along with the residents of the House, eagerly awaiting to see who was going to find this magical House and knock on the door…

And then along came Nine. As soon as the setting changed, she marched in, somewhat impatiently, as if she’d been in the wings all this time, folding her arms and rolling her eyes, and waiting for her moment to arrive. The outside-the-House world then developed around this broken little pickpocket, and I started to ask her questions to reach through her tough exterior and see into her heart. There were secrets and sadness and so much hurt, but such resilience and determination in her soul. I knew she was ready for the House. Even if the House was possibly not quite ready for her!

The joy of having a book which straddles two worlds was that I got to create two villains: one in the real world, and one within the magical world. I’m not going to say too much because… spoilers. But, as anyone who knows me knows, I am wild about villains, so to create two was a dream. And I love these two villains dearly. Their voices were always so clear to me, bringing both humour and darkness. My core characters were created.  

What followed was a wild and unpredictable romp through my imagination. I planned very little, not only because I’m a very spontaneous person (and probably every editor’s nightmare), but also because that went hand-in-hand with the unpredictable chaos of the House itself. If a character opened a door in there, I didn’t plan what was behind it.  I discovered the answer at the same time as the character did, off the top of my head. That first, glorious draft was absolutely exhilarating and really connected me with the nature of the House. The characters were the anchor – the ‘constant’ in the waves of playful unpredictability. I knew who they were, what they wanted, and what they needed. And that guided the story throughout.  

This book is only the start of their journey. This world is only starting to reveal itself to me. There is so much more to come. And I can’t wait to discover more of these characters’ secrets, learn more about their pasts, and see how they grow and change as more marvellous, magical adventures come their way.

Thanks to Amy for this really insightful guest post, I love hearing from author’s how their stories have developed from their initial thoughts to what finally appears on the pages.

Blog Tour

Why not join in with the rest of the blog tour for more reviews and guest posts…

Thank you to Rebecca and Walker Books for inviting me to join in with the blog tour and for sending me a gifted copy of this magical story. ‘The House at the Edge of Magic,’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop. If you can please support your local independent bookshop you can find your nearest one here.

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The Ghost Garden – Emma Carroll, illustrated by Kaja Kajfež

Today I am delighted to share with Emma Carroll’s first novella for Barrington Stoke, ‘The Ghost Garden,’ illustrated by Kaja Kajfež. Regular readers to the blog will know I’m a huge fan of Emma’s writing so I’m thrilled that by partnering with Barrington Stoke her work will be accessible to so many more children. It’s June 1914, just before the outbreak of the First World War. When Fran unearths a bone in the garden of Long Barrow House on the same afternoon that Leo breaks his leg, it triggers a series of unsettling coincidences that leave Fran cold. Roped into keeping wheelchair bound Leo company, Fran is forced to listen to his absurd theories about the looming threat of war in Europe. But as the pair uncover more secrets, the garden seems to be showing them threatening shadows of the future and Fran begins to fear what they’ll discover next.

I was lucky enough to have an early read of this compelling story and shared it with the year 6 children at my school and they were completed captivated by this eerie and atmospheric tale. Despite only being 85 pages, Emma has managed to draw together all of her trademark strengths: superb characterisation; well constructed historical settings and moving storytelling to create a truly remarkable story. Although our time with Fran and Leo is brief she still manages to convey all the uncertainty of the period perfectly and gives us a real insight into the character’s hearts and minds. For the reader as the story unravels it becomes more poignant as we know the dark times they will soon face. It’s this sense of foreboding mixed with superstition that make for a really impactful and spine-tingling story. Kaja’s illustrations capture this sense of unease and spookiness of this tale brilliantly. A book that deserves to be in every school library, another absolute gem from Emma.

Thank you to Kirstin and Barrington Stoke for sending me a gifted copy of this wonderful book. ‘The Ghost Garden,’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop.  If you can please support your local independent bookshop you can find your nearest one here.

The Boy Who Sang With Dragons – Andy Shepherd, illustrated by Sara Ogilvie

Today I am delighted to share with you the fifth and final book in, ‘The Boy Who Grew Dragons,’ series. I have been completely captivated and enchanted by this series and, ‘The Boy Who Sang with Dragons,’ is the absolute perfect ending to this wonderful adventure. By now you would expect Tomas to be a fully fledged dragon expert but he is failing to keep the last seeds from the dragon tree alive. If only he could solve the final piece of the puzzle and discover the magical ingredient that will bring the seeds back to life and save the day. Together with his new friend Aura they are determined to uncover the truth but even he after all of his experiences isn’t prepared for what he discovers hidden away for many years as he embarks on the final exciting adventure.

For me this series has gone from strength to strength, every time I feel like Andy can’t possibly create more enchanting stories then along she comes and fills me with absolute wonder. I have a real fondness for Aura whose enthusiasm for dragons and life sparks something new in Tomas encouraging him to find out the key to saving his favourite flying friends. It’s filled with lots of ooh and ahh moments, that will keep children turning the pages. At the heart of these books is a wonderful message about being brave enough to be yourself and to embrace what is unique about you. Once again the characterisation is superb, I particularly love how family orientated these stories are, so many children’s books exclude the grown-ups but here they have a special role to play. Andy deftly mixes humour and heart and sprinkles her stories with magic and excitement which is captured superbly by Sara’s sublime illustrations. All of the elements of each book are drawn together creating a truly unexpected and charming finale which will absolutely delight fans of this series.

You can read an exclusive extract of the first chapter here:

Blog Tour

Why not join in with the rest of the blog tour to find out more…

This is the perfect book for sharing in class and Andy has loads of great resources on her website including ones ideal for parents home-schooling at the moment and a teacher’s activity pack –

Thank you to Piccadilly Press for inviting me to join in with the blog tour and for sending me a gifted copy of this wonderful book. You can get your hands on a copy of this and the rest of the book in the series now online or from your local bookshop. If you can please support your local independent bookshop you can find your nearest one here.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas – part two

To shamelessly steal a quote from a song but ‘it really is beginning to look a lot like Christmas’, slightly changing the next line to ‘books in every store.’ So if you like nothing better than settling down with a Christmas book or two, or if you’re looking for inspiration for gifts let me share with you today some of my favourites from this year’s releases from younger readers, all the way up to teens.

A Christmas in Time – Sally Nicholls, illustrated. by Rachael Dean (cover Isabelle Follath)

I hugely enjoyed the first book in this series, ‘A Chase in Time,’ so was thrilled to get my hands on the festive, ‘A Christmas in Time.’ Alex and Ruby are back in another time slip adventure and their aunt’s magical mirror has transported them to a Victorian Christmas. Meeting a familiar face makes things easier but they still have to figure out why they have been sent back in time. Despite the cheer and fun of the season, one of the cousins Edith is desperately sad, destined to be sent off to a horrible boarding school. Can Alex and Ruby find a way to save her from a terrible fate? Once again Sally has brought together superb characterisation with a richly, detailed journey to the past. I loved the chaos and disorder in the house and the wildness of the children who really know how to enjoy themselves which contrasts greatly with Edith’s inability to join in with the others. The attention to historical detail is richly imagined and fascinating. I particularly loved the scene where Ruby is getting dressed and is subjected to the horrors of the corset An absolute romp of an adventure that is bound to delight and entertain children, I’m so looking forward to the next books in the series coming next year.

Clifftoppers: The Frost Castle Adventure – Fleur Hitchcock

Fleur Hitchcock is back with the final instalment in the wonderful Clifftoppers series. In, ‘The Frost Castle Adventure,’ cousins Aiden, Chloe, Ava and Josh go on holiday to their grandparent’s cottages at Christmas. Witnessing a car crash they find themselves caught up in the Castle’s winter play where inevitably a mystery is unfolding. After a break-in, the car accident and the theft of a precious locker, the lead actress is convinced she is cursed. But the cousins are convinced that there is more to this than meets the eye and are determined to uncover the true culprit. As the snow falls heavily outside you’ll find yourself gripped by this race against time to find the locket and save the play. With twists and turns at every stage, it will keep you guessing to the end. Containing just the right amount of peril and danger for younger readers, this book brings this series to a glorious end. This series is rightly much loved by so many children at my school.

Trouble on Planet Christmas – Kate Saunders, illustrated by Neal Layton

The Trubshaw family are back in another fun-filled festive adventure when Santa has another crisis on the planet of Yule-1. Rogue toy dinosaurs are threatening to ruin Christmas be eating everything in sight and someone has turned Santa blue. Can Jake and Lucy discover who is behind this dastardly plan and prevent a Christmas catastrophe? This lively and fun tale is packed with chaos and comedy and will truly entertain younger readers. Kate and Neal make for a wonderful collaboration, his humorous illustrations capture her madcap storytelling brilliantly. More Christmassy than a mince pie and crackers , this definitely should be going in a child’s stocking this Christmas.

Tinsel: The Girls Who Invented Christmas – Sibéal Pounder, illustrated by Sarah Warburton

If there was ever a book that would get you in the festive spirit, then it’s, ‘Tinsel.’ This joyful reimaging of the Christmas story takes the reader on a journey to meet Blanche Claus aka Mrs Claus. We’ve always assumed that Santa is in charge of Christmas but what if we’ve got it completely wrong and it was actually Mrs Claus who wanted to spread joy and kindness to all. Hop onboard the sleight for a truly wondrous adventure where you’ll meet an over enthusiastic, dancing tree, a whole host of elves called Carol and a girl who is determined to overcome all of the odds to achieve her dreams. I loved the this vividly imagined world filled with so many wonderful details. The characterisation is superb, from the brave and endearing heroine Blanche to the despicable villain Mr. Krampus who you will love to hate, they bring the story to life magnificently. Sarah’s cover is absolutely sublime with such intricate details, I would have loved to have seen more illustrations from her featured in this book. Funny, warm and completely enchanting it has everything you need for a fabulously festive adventure.

Trouble in a Tutu – Helen Lipscombe

I was completely enthralled by the first book in the Swan House Ballet School mysteries, ‘Peril en Pointe,’ so was delighted to return to Swan House for another new adventure. When an incident takes place at a Christmas performance of The Nutcracker, Swan House is put on high alert. Could this signal the return of the dangerous criminal, the Mouse King? Milly’s mum is forced to abandon their Christmas plans to go off and investigate leaving her and the school in the hands of the charming Max Deverall. But Milly is convinced that Max and his perfect daughter Leonara are hiding something and is determined to expose them. Helen takes us on a fast-paced and thrilling ride full of thrills and spills as Milly tries to unravel the truth in a complex and exciting mystery. Cleverly plotted with lots of twists and turns, every time you think you’re getting close to the truth something else comes along to surprise you. An absolutely brilliant follow up which I will take great delight in recommending at school.

The Silent Stars Go By – Sally Nicholls

There are many historical books that choose to feature significant periods in history, with the World Wars being a favourite. But for me I’ve always been intrigued by the period of time after these wars. What happened to those left behind, the people whose lives where forever changed by the events that had taken place? Luckily for us Sally Nicholl’s has once again captured a slice of social history in the magnificent, ‘The Silent Stars Go By.’ When Margot’s fiancé, Harry, was reported missing in action she is left with a terrifying secrets which threatens to destroy her family’s reputation. Margot returns to her family to celebrate Christmas 1919 and is forced to confront her past when Harry who was later discovered to be alive returns and wants to rekindle their relationship. Can Margot tell the truth and risk ruining any chance of reunion she might have with Harry? The characterisation is flawless, Sally has a real talent for writing characters we genuinely care about. I love how it isn’t afraid to tackle difficult topics and does so in an uncompromising and unsentimental way. A bittersweet tale of love, loss and the damaging after effects of war. This compelling and thoughtful story of changing lives, hidden secrets and the importance of hope in the darkest of times is the perfect choice for the teen in your life.

Thank you to Andersen Press, Bloomsbury, Chicken House, Faber and Nosy Crow for sending me gifted copies. All of these books are available to buy now online by clicking on the the title. If you can please support your local independent bookshop you can find your nearest one here.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

To shamelessly steal a quote from a song but ‘it really is beginning to look a lot like Christmas’, slightly changing the next line to ‘books in every store.’ So if you like nothing better than settling down with a Christmas book or two, or if you’re looking for inspiration for gifts let me share with you today some of my favourites from this year’s releases.

Dogger’s Christmas – Shirley Hughes

I can’t tell you how excited I was to get my hand on a copy of, ‘Dogger’s Christmas,’ by the wonderful Shirley Hughes. Dogger is back in this gorgeous festive sequel which is bound to fill you with Christmas joy. Dave is growing up and his beloved Dogger is no longer his constant companion, overlooked in favour of new toys he’s abandoned and seemingly forgotten in the excitement of Christmas. But when Dave wakes up on Christmas Day night he looks to Dogger for comfort but he’s no where to be found. Can they find Dogger before it’s too late? This story is so beautifully illustrated and full of so much love and warmth on every page. In a year where we’ve realised how easily we’ve taken so much of life for granted, it celebrates the simple joy that can be had by sharing Christmas with family and friends. An absolute treasure of a book, I absolutely loved it.

The Twelve Days of Christmas or Grandma is Overly Generous – Alex T. Smith

Following on from the magnificent, ‘How Winston Delivered Christmas,’ Alex T. Smith is back with another fabulously fun and festive book that is guaranteed to entertain and engage younger readers. This hilarious take on the, Twelve Days of Christmas introduces the reader to Eloise and her overly generous grandma who lives to shower her in lavish gifts. At first things seem as normal but when snorkelling squirrels and balancing bears get involved you know you’re in for a heap of laughter. As ever Alex’s illustrations are intricately detailed and completely exquisite with each spread being a pure delight. This is an absolute joy to read aloud and you won’t be able to read without a giggle or two and the twist at the end is a really corker. Destined to be a Christmas classic, this is a must have gift for the child in your life.

A Dancer’s Dream – Katherine Woodfine, illustrated by Lizzy Stewart

‘A Dancer’s Dream,’ is a beautiful picture book adaptation of Katherine Woodfine’s, ‘Casse-Noisette,’ in the Winter Magic anthology. Based on the true story of The Nutcracker ballet, we meet Stana whose dreams come true when she is chosen to play Clara but her happiness is tinged with sadness as her sister Olga is gravely ill. Desperate not to let everyone down she tries to immerse herself in the ballet but finds her thoughts tangled up with the fate of her sister. Can Stana overcome her fears and dance like she’s never danced before? Katherine’s brings her gift of magical and atmospheric storytelling to life in this stunning book. It’s a truly thoughtful and heart-warming story, perfect for emerging readers or to share this Christmas. Exquisitely produced with delicately beautiful illustrations by Lizzy Stewart, it is completely enchanting and magical read.

Where Snow Angels Go – Maggie O’ Farrell, illus. by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini

I don’t tend to read very many books for grown-ups but I can never resist a book from Maggie O’ Farrell, so I was intrigued to discover that she had written her first book for children. ‘Where Snow Angels Go,’ is the extraordinary story of Sylvie who wakes up one night to discover a presence in her room, her very own snow angel that she unknowingly created and it’s here to save her life. She shouldn’t be able to see this being but somehow she can and despite being told she will forget about this night, she never does. Her mind is consumed by worrying about all of those people close to her, who have never created a snow angel, who will look after them? I loved how this story was completely magical but told in an honest and unsentimental way and still it brought tears to my eyes. It manages to be both witty and thoughtful and gives us an insight into the mind of Sylvie who has faced grave danger but doesn’t hide away from it in her quest to protect those she loves. Daniela’s delicate and exquisite illustrations are perfect for this story, she captures the wonder of Sylvie beautifully. This is a story that deserves to be loved and treasured.

Santa Post – Emma Yarlett

It’s Christmas Eve and Santa has a real life Christmas emergency. He’s received a letter from a little girl called Amy but it got burnt coming down the chimney and Santa can’t see what she wants. Despite thinking his very hardest, he can’t work out what she needs. He enlists the help from his friends, the elves, the polar bears and the reindeers. Will he manage to find the perfect gift in time for Christmas Day? Packed with letters and gifts to open this wonderfully interactive book is bound to delight younger readers. It is one of those stories that will be shared over and over again. Emma’s bold and vibrant illustrations are completely joyful, sprinkled with humour and a touch of Christmas magic this book is completely irresistible.

A Thing Called Snow – Yuval Zommer

Yuval Zommer’s books are a masterclass in capturing the beauty and wonder of nature, in ‘ A Thing Called Snow,’ he brings this talent to this lyrical story about the changing of the season. Fox and Hare were born in the spring, grew up in the summer and became best of friends by the autumn. When they hear a whisper of something called winter and with it snow they are curious to know what this thing might be. Together they set off on a quest to find it and on their way they meet many creatures and experience the true beauty of the Arctic. This book is a true celebration of nature seen through the eyes of those who have never experienced this new season emerging before beyond. Each spread is stunningly illustrated in a soft palette capturing the beauty of the natural world. A gorgeous book for curious minds, perfect for exploring and sharing.

Thank you to to Macmillan, Oxford Children’s Books, Penguin, Simon and Schuster and Walker for sending me gifted copies. All of these books are available to buy now online by clicking on the the title. If you can please support your local independent bookshop you can find your nearest one here.

All I Want For Christmas – Beth Garrod

I love Christmas, it’s my absolute favourite time of the year and there’s nothing I enjoy more than a Christmas story. ‘All I Want for Christmas,’ is a huge treat and is the perfect choice for the social media loving teen in your life. Holly is completely obsessed with Christmas but when a mortifying mix-up with her ex and some mistletoe happens it’s just the start of her plans going horribly wrong. Elle is on the other side of the world and is living her so called, ‘dream life under the spotlight of Instagram but the reality is far from the truth. Desperate to win a popularity contest she dreams up an extraordinary plan to swap lives with someone far away and guess who might just be the key to making this a reality? With both girls a long way from home for Christmas can they discover what they both really want from the festive holidays?

This book is a hugely feel good read but it’s not all sugar and spice. Underneath the tinsel and candy cane we see two girls who are a little bit lost and are trying to find their way to happiness. Beth is brilliant at making you laugh out loud as you witness both Holly and Elle going to extreme lengths to tick off their perfect Christmas lists. There are so many hilarious and cringeworthy moments as they both try to fully embrace the Christmas spirit even when they both know something is missing. She cleverly shines a spotlight on how social media creates this false image of reality, luring followers into believing what they see on a screen, when the truth can be so far removed. I think there is everything here you would want from a Christmas read, it’s funny and festive and is sprinkled with romance but it also tackles some difficult themes in a thoughtful way. She has a talent for creating characters that you genuinely care about it and that you’re desperately rooting for and hoping they have a happy ending. If you want to find out if they do, then you’ll have to read it for yourself. A perfect gift to pop in your favourite teens stocking this Christmas.

Beth Garrod

It’s officially Christmas-month! Finally. *scrambles for advent calendar* I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’ve been waiting since March. And now it’s December 1st, what a better time to unleash those jingle balls – and day two of the All I Want For Christmas tour.

All I Want For Christmas is all about two girls, Holly (Christmas obsessed) and Elle (Christmas way-less-Christmas-bothered) as they end up swapping lives for the holidays. But when Holly switches the UK for the States she doesn’t just want to get over her ex (and experience Red Cups in their spiritual home), she also wants to tick every single thing off her perfect Christmas list, including spreading a whole heap of Christmas cheer. And what better way to do it than sharing some of her favourite festive bops? So, every day on the tour we’ll be sharing just one of them – and for stop number two, it’s time for a tune that is new(ish) but still a certified Christmas banger….. (also, sleep check: 24 left. Woop).

Leona Lewis – One More Sleep:

Holly would describe this as a certified bop. Elle’s brother, Nick wouldn’t be so sure – but that’s because he’s never seen the visual delight of Leona Lewis performing it on the X Factor final in 2017 surrounded by dancing Christmas trees and person-sized presents.  A true festive gift. When Holly drinks multiple Christmas hot chocolates in a row, this is *exactly * the type of sugar-based holiday hallucination she’d have. But *maybe* it’s not just the song that Holly and Elle like – *maybe* they might be about to find out that Leona’s right, there is something magical about counting down to see someone extra special at Christmas. And *maybe* they might be about to find out who. But *maybe* that’s telling you too much…

Blog Tour

I do love Christmas and must confess to having put my tree up weeks ago and been playing Christmas music since the beginning of November, so I’m definitely like Holly. Why not join in with the rest of the blog tour for more Christmas songs and reviews…

Thank you to Harriet and Scholastic for inviting me to join in with the blog tour and for sending me a gifted copy of this festive treat. ‘All I Want for Christmas,’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop. If you can please support your local independent bookshop you can find your nearest one here.

Fascinating Fact Books – Exploring the World Around Us

There has been a wonderful array of brilliant non-fiction published this year and I’m delighted to share with you today some of my absolute favourites. While they explore a variety of topics what they do have in common is that they’re informative, engaging and feature marvellous illustrations.

Dosh – Rashmi Sirdeshpande, illustrated by Adam Hayes

‘Dosh,’ is one of those information books that all children (and probably a lot of grown-ups) need to read in order to make sense of something that has such a significant role to play in our lives. From the evolution of money to the practical side of how to earn it, this covers all of these areas in an interesting and thoughtful way. In the current climate, money is dominating the news and children are bombarded by alarming news of recession and predicted job losses, so this is a reassuring guide to learning how to budget and how to save for the future. I particularly love how it focuses on the positive ways we can give money away, focusing on famous philanthropists who choose to spend their money on charitable causes . Clearly laid out in an engaging and interactive format, it conveys a lot of important information in an accessible way. This is a must have for every child in your life and needs to be in every school library.

Building A Home – Polly Faber, illustrated by Klas Fahlen

‘Building a Home,’ is a narrative non-fiction book that explores the renovation of an old building on the edge of town. In a world where shiny, new things can seem to reign there is real joy to be had from turning something unloved into something truly beautiful. Polly brilliantly explores all the different processes that take place during the restoration, looking at the army of people it takes to make this happen, from architects and foremen to carpenters and plumbers. Every job is valued no matter how small and I love how this book is effortlessly diverse, challenging stereotypes about the building trade and showing children that anyone can aspire to these roles. The illustrations are informative and vibrant capturing the busyness of the site and the complexity of the build in an easy to understand format. True to life, it does feature spreads with lots of tea drinking and waiting around for things to be ready. An absolute joy of a book which will appeal to curious children who are fascinated by building sites.

The Homes We Build – Anne Jonas, illustrated by Lou Rihn

From houses that we see every day to exploring houses and habitats all around the world in, ‘The Homes We Build,’ offers a fascinating insight into how different the places we choose to live are depending on environment. How do you create homes that will adapt to extreme temperatures, challenging landscapes and varying resources. This book takes us on a journey around the world to discover the ingenious ways people have used in creating the most unusual and interesting homes. From underground villages, to towering skyscrapers and houses on stilts, there is so much to see and learn in this wonderful book. Stunningly illustrated this book is really absorbing, I was truly amazed and astounded by these brilliant and cleverly constructed homes. Living in a place where the climate is generally quite stable, it’s really eye-opening to see the challenges that people face when creating extraordinary homes for ordinary people.

The Extraordinary Elements – Colin Stuart, illustrated by Ximo Abadia

How do you take something as uninteresting and dry as the periodic table and turn it into something children want to read? Well the answer is here you enlist the help of some famous people like Alice Cooper, Freddie Mercury, Kurt Cobain and a whole host of weird and wonderful characters both real and imagined. You then personify each element and present all of it’s key components using a mix of facts and infographics and boom just like that you have an engaging and entertaining read. Presenting complex information in an accessible way isn’t easy but this book accomplishes this brilliantly. I think the inclusion of an elemental ranking will really appeal to children, it gives it a kind of ‘Top Trumps,’ feel that would encourage children to discuss and share facts. I think it would make a useful addition to a classroom or school library.

The World’s Most Magnificent Machines – David Long, illustrated by Simon Tyler

I’ve noticed a real obsession for information books on vehicles and machines recently and I’m constantly searching for new additions for the library and. ‘The World’s Most Magnificent Machines,’ fits the bill perfectly. Featuring 32 of the best machines in history this is a more detailed and thoughtful exploration of machines, looking at those whose imaginations created these marvellous inventions. Featuring familiar inventions like the Titanic and Concorde, it also spotlights lesser well known machines the Gossamer Albatross and the Monowheel. It’s a real celebration of the creative minds who have continued to push boundaries in their quest to devise new and exciting machines. Exquisitely produced, each spread is filled with the most glorious illustrations that are bound to delight readers. A highly covetable and intriguing read.

A Train Journey – Gerard Lo Monaco

‘A Train Journey,’ is in it’s construction alone is a thing of beauty, a real feat of paper engineering. This pop-up book takes the readers on a remarkable journey through history and across the world to find out more about the most magnificent trains ever to have been built. Starting with Stephenson’s Rocket revolutionary steam train and whizzing all the way over to Japan to meet the extraordinary record-breaking Shinkansen bullet train, this book tells us the most intriguing information. Discover how drivers and crew changed without stopping trains, how key features were inspired by nature and how feats of engineering have created the most safe form of transport. Delight in the glorious and intricate pop-ups whose illustrations are packed with the most fascinating details. An absolute must for train fans everywhere.

Professor Astro Cat’s Deep-Sea Voyage – Dr Dominic Wallman, illustrated by Ben Newman

I’ve long been a fan of Professor Astro Cat’s information books and, ‘Deep-Sea Voyage,’ is no exception. Presenting bitesize chunks of information that children will find highly accessible and wonderfully compelling, each page also features striking and vibrant illustrations. Delve deep into the ocean alongside Professor Astrocat and explore places that have never been seen by the human eye because of it’s vast expanse. Uncover hidden mysteries and meet remarkable sea creatures as you explore the world’s waters. From sea slugs to bubble snails there is so many tiny and enormous things to discover in the dark depths. This book is brilliantly designed making it easy for children to dip in and out of and it’s clearly signposted to help them to seek out answers to their questions when they have a burning desire to find out for themselves. A perfect book for curious minds, this would make a wonderful addition to any school library or classroom.

Thank you to Big Picture Press, Faber, Flying Eye Books, Hachette, Laurence King, Polly Faber and Thames and Hudson books for sending me gifted copies of these brilliant books. All of these books are available to buy now online by clicking on the the title. If you can please support your local independent bookshop you can find your nearest one here.

Crater Lake: Evolution Cover Reveal – Jennifer Killick

Following on from the success of Jennifer Killick’s brilliantly scary and strange, ‘Crater Lake’, I am delighted to be hosting the cover reveal for the second book in the series, ‘Crater Lake: Evolution,’ which will be published on the 20th May 2021 by Firefly Press.

So without further ado here it is…

Illustrated and designed by Anne Glen, this cover gives me proper chills. Declaring proudly once again on the front, ‘DONT. EVER. FALL ASLEEP,’ we are immediately given a sense of the spine-tingling story that lies beneath this cover. Wonderfully eerie and atmospheric, this looks absolutely terrifying and I can’t wait to read it.

Let’s find out what Jennifer has instore for us…

It’s five months since the Crater Lake Year Six alien invasion school trip from hell, and Lance and his friends have struggled with the transition to high school. But now things have got strange in their hometown of Straybridge: there’s been an explosion at the university, a mysterious creature has escaped, the town is under curfew and Lance’s mum is acting seriously weird. Cut off from help can Lance reunite Katja, Chets, Ade, Big Mak and new friend Karim, to tackle an enemy straight out of their worst nightmares…

I can’t wait to get my hands on this, it sounds amazing. If you haven’t read the first, ‘Crater Lake,’ book you can read my review here.

Thank you to Jennifer and Firefly for inviting me to host the cover reveal. ‘Crater Lake: Evolution,’ is available to pre-order now online or from any good bookshop. If you can please support your local independent bookshop you can find your nearest one here.

Another Twist in the Tale – Catherine Bruton

Today on the blog I am delighted to share with you the wonderful, ‘Another Twist in the Tale,’ by Catherine Bruton, a thrilling adventure inspired by Charles Dicken’s, ‘Oliver Twist.’ What if Oliver hadn’t been an only child but instead had a twin sister born just before him, who was tossed into the gutter left to die. Rescued by Baggage, Twill Test is brought to live in a gambling den, no life of luxury awaiting for her as Oliver found. But as she gets older she is forced to flee the den and ends up on the streets of London and encounters a group of girls who are robbing for themselves and not at the behest of a wicked master. Twill seems happy with her way of life until a chance encounter with some familiar figures makes her question everything she’s ever known about herself. This brilliantly imagined reinterpretation of this famous story is completely wonderful, I loved the contrast between the misery of Fagin’s boys and the Sassy Sisters. In this feminist take of the story we see how little value there is in the life of girls and how this merry band use this to their advantage and to ultimately challenge those who would threaten their existence. The characterisation is superb, the dastardly villains are truly evil and Twill is truly remarkable despite what life has thrown at her. An absolute triumph in storytelling that is bound to captivate and thrill readers.

To celebrate the release of, ‘Another Twist in the Tale,’ I have a special guest post from Catherine about why she chose to do a feminist retelling of this much loved story.

A feminist twist in the tale? – Catherine Bruton

My new novel ‘Another Twist in the Tale’ – a middle-grade sequel to Charles Dickens’ ‘Oliver Twist’, set in Victorian London and featuring Oliver’s long lost twin sister – opens with the line ‘Girls are worth less than boys!’ and closes with ‘The female fightback has begun – and our heroine is throwing the first punch’. So yes, this tale of Oliver Twist’s twin sister has a feminist twist! In fact, I’ll go one step further and say that  in this novel and my next ‘The Monster’s Child’ – a sequel to  Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ – I deliberately set out to give voice to the voiceless. And not just girls – my mission was to tell the tales of all those marginalised, silenced, overlooked characters from the classics.

Because, let’s face it, the canon of classic British Literature is overpopulated with voices and faces which are male, pale, straight and able. As Jane Austen put it ‘The pen has been in their hands’, and  the lack of diverse voices in the classic literary canon means that the stories which have been told for decades – for centuries – are inevitably limited in scope. The voices of the marginalised – not just of women but of those of different cultures, those who are differently abled, neuro-diverse voices, LGBTQ voices – are rarely heard.  Even if such faces exist in the classics we rarely get their perspectives – and their outcomes/ fates too often confirm unhelpful social biases.

But, I hear you cry, there are so many great female authors and so many fantastic female characters in the classics! And of course you are right: Lizzie Bennet, Cathy Earnshaw, Oliver’s Nancy, Miss Havisham, Estella, Jane Eyre, Tess of the D’Urbevilles, Anne Elliot… the list goes on. But the questions we need to ask are: Who are they? What do we hear of them? What – and who – don’t we hear?  And what happens to these women in the end?

I remember sitting in the glorious reading room of the Bodliean Library in my first week at university and picking up book called ‘The Madwomen in the Attic’ (Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar) which explores how the ‘socially unacceptable’ faces of female experience are forced into the ‘attic’ of many classic stories. The most obvious example is Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’ where the demure, obedient, submissive Jane is heard and praised, whilst the passionate, angry – non-European and neuro-diverse – Bertha is vilified by both her society and by the text – locked away, silenced, ultimately killed for her deviance to social norms. Gilbert and Gubar argue that such dichotomies populate 19th Century novels, by both men and women: female characters who fit an acceptable social mould are praised and allowed to triumph; those who don’t are silenced and punished.

Are they right? Is it true that girls in the classics are rarely allowed to be angry or disobedient or passionate or adventurous, and if they are they must either mend their ways or meet a sticky end? It’s certainly true that if they break the rules society laid down for women, nothing will save them! Nancy is brave and heroic – but she’s a prostitute so she has to die; Cathy Earnshaw is  passionate, wild and adventurous – but she has an extra-marital affair (even if only emotionally) so she has to die; Tess is pure and true of heart – but she has a baby out of wedlock (probably as a result of rape!) and so she has to die… Yup, to be honest, I struggle to name one Victorian heroine who breaks all the social conventions and is allowed to have a truly happy ending.

So how do we redress the balance? Well, one of my favourite novels of all time is Jean Rhys’s ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ which gives voice to the original ‘madwoman in the attic’, Bertha Rochester – telling the story from her perspective, making the reader think anew about ‘Jane Eyre’. Rhys – herself of Caribbean origin and having suffered from mental illness – gives us new insight into Bertha’s experience, not taking away from Bronte’s masterpiece, but rather complementing it, adding new layers of meaning to  the text. This first ignited my fascination with the idea of  giving voice to voiceless characters in literature, a rich tradition which has spawned so much incredible writing –  from Virginia Woolf’s Shakespeare’s sister, to Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘The World’s Wife’, the brilliant Netflix series ‘Enola Holmes’,  Imogen Russell William’s ‘The Women Left Behind’, Alice Randall’s ‘The Wind Done Gone’, ‘Ahab’s Wife’ by Sena Jeter Naslund, ‘Rosencrantz and Guilderstern are Dead’ by Tom Stoppard, ‘Foe’ by J.M. Coetzee and so many more!

So why did I choose to create a new Dickensian heroine? Well, I adore Dickens’ novels – writing ‘Another Twist in the Tale’, following in the footsteps of Oliver Twist has been the greatest privilege and adventure – but his presentation of women is … problematic!  Let’s think about Dickens’ women: we have perfect little cherubs like Little Nell and Sissy Jupe; and idealised ‘Angels in the House’ like Esther Summerson and Rachel from ‘Hard Times’;  on the other hand there are monstrous matriarchs, harridans and murderers Miss Havisham, Mrs Joe, Moll, Mrs Corney; oh, and there are saintly whores like Nancy – who we can sympathise with so long as they die. Girls in Dickens don’t seem to be allowed to be just flawed human beings, three dimensional. We don’t see them coming of age or going on adventures or growing up as people. We don’t see a female Pip or Nicholas Nickleby or David Copperfield. None of this takes away from the brilliance of his storytelling but it does mean that if a girl wants a role model in Dickens her options are quite polarised.

So I created Twill Twist, a heroine who is spirited and adventurous, prepared to challenge social norms, to take on the world and save the day. An orphan baby cast out into the snow (because she’s a girl)  and rescued by a young kitchen maid named Baggage Jones, Twill is raised surrounded by the beautiful butterfly girls from whom she learns that girls have to fight to survive in Queen Victoria’s England. And when she finds herself cast adrift on the streets of London she encounters the Sassy Sisterhood of Saffron Hill, an all-girl band of pickpockets and kickass little lady lawbreakers who take orders from no man, and welcome our brave heroine under their wing.  So Twill learns girl power, even as she fights against the laws of primogeniture and challenges the patriarchy!

As the plot thickens, Twill finds herself in a tangled web of intrigue involving child-catchers, a poison plot and kids who are turning mysteriously blue. It seems the only person who can save the day is Oliver Twist – but Oliver is nowhere to be found. If only there were another Twist in this tale to come to the rescue, along with a band of brave street girls, and a bit of help from the beautiful Butterflies, and Miss Baggage Jones  … after all, anything boys can do, girls can do better, right?

When I was a kid, acting out Oliver Twist with my kid brother, I always wanted to play the Dodger – the mischievous, adventurous rascal with the big bold heart. In Twill, I tried to create a female counterpart – a girl with agency and spirit and guts, brains and brawn and beauty, who saves herself and saves her friends and saves the day! So, whilst my novel draws on the Dickensian tradition  featuring a saintly Angel as well as the monstrous Madame Manzoni and spiteful Mrs Spanks – it also celebrates an ordinary collection of heroines – Baggage, Chelsea, Pearl, Sloane, Birdie, Anna Dropsy and Miss Twill Twist. Oh, and there are plenty of brave and brilliant boys in there too!

Young readers today face their own struggles over rigid gender definitions and expectations, and I hope ‘Another Twist in the Tale’ will challenge some of those and make them ask some big questions. But, most of all, I tried to follow in the rich Dickensian tradition of page-turning, cliff-hanging, unputdownable story-telling, so I hope all readers, regardless of gender, will love following this rip-roaring adventure to the very final thrilling twist in the tale!

Thank you to Catherine for this really insightful guest post, I absolutely loved Wide Sargasso Sea too so I loved how this helped ignite the idea for this story.

‘Another Twist in the Tale,’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop. If you can please support your local independent bookshop you can find your nearest one here.

Poetry For Everyone

As part of National Non-Fiction November I wanted to share some recent poetry books that I’ve enjoyed reading. As a primary school librarian I’m always on the look out for new books to help inspire a love of poetry in children and all of the books I’m sharing all offer something a little bit different. It’s really important that poetry is made to feel accessible and that children can understand that writing and reading poetry can be for everyone, it’s just making the right connection and allowing yourself the freedom to give it a try.

This Rock, That Rock – Dom Conlon, illustrated by Viviane Schwarz

Dom Conlon’s absolute passion for both the Moon and poetry shines through this book like the Moon shines through the night sky illuminating our world. The Moon is something that we see every day, sometimes it’s hazy behind a cloud, other times a thin slice of brightness pierces through the sky capturing our attention with it’s boldness and beauty. In this genius and entertaining collection, Dom’s poems cover a fascinating array of different facets of the Moon, from looking at our enduring interest in the Moon landings to exploring how cultures across the world view this magnificent presence in our lives. Entertaining and thoughtful they invite the reader to think about poetry can help you to understand and engage with things that may feel beyond our comprehension. I particularly love how Dom at the end invites the reader on a search to discover poetry that they will love even if they haven’t found it between these pages. Dom’s words together with Viviane’s lively and intriguing illustrations make this a must have for every school library.

Daydreams and Jelly Beans – Alex Wharton, Illustrated by Katy Riddell

‘Daydreams and Jellybeans,’ is a delightful collection of warm and funny poetry that is bound to delight and entertain younger readers. Some poetry is best savoured alone whilst these poems demand to be shared and read aloud. Poetry can be a fantastic way for children to express themselves and if they can see themselves within a poem then even better. None more so than Guilty where a child surreptitiously scoops up the dropped jellybean on the floor and eats it, despite it being covered in hairs. Beautifully illustrated by Katy Riddell this is a real feast for the imagination, I can just see this book being enjoyed in classrooms inspiring children to create their own versions and draw their visions of the different poems. A truly wonderful debut collection that mixes a variety of different styles highlighting to children that they don’t need to conform to a particular way to engage, enjoy and write their own poetry.

Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright – Fiona Waters, illustrated by Brita Teckentrup

Following on from the hugely successful, ‘I Am the Seed That Grew the Tree,’ Fiona Waters is back with another exquisitely produced and thoughtfully curated collection of poetry. ‘Tiger,Tiger, Burning Bright!’ features a wonderful array of animal poems from around the world, one for every day of the year. I often find that children at school are drawn to exquisite books featuring animals so it seems a natural leap to have a whole book dedicated to poems about a whole multitude of animals from galahs to alligators. Britta’s bold and vibrant illustrations capture the movement and personalities of the animals magnificently allowing the reader to become entranced by these stunning spreads whilst inviting them to discover the poems inside. It’s an interesting and thoughtful mix of well known authors such as William Blake to newer poets like Ftoun Abou Kerech, a teenage refugee from Syria. This collection is highly giftable and highly covetable and is an absolute treasure trove of a reed, that encourages the reader to keep coming back for more. Nosy Crow have also produced a KS2 resource pack for this and you can find it here

Honey For You, Honey For Me – Michael Rosen, illustrated by Chris Riddell

I absolutely adore Michael Rosen and Chris Riddell’s, ‘A Great Big Cuddle,’ so I was delighted to discover they were collaborating again.’ ‘Honey for You, Honey for Me,’ is a first book of nursery rhymes featuring some well loved rhymes like, ‘Jelly on a Plate,’ to more topsy-turvy versions like ‘Dickory, dickory dare.’ I read an article recently which suggested nursery rhymes are in danger of dying out with fewer children starting school being able to join and share them. If there was ever a book that was going to encourage a parent to share rhymes then this has to be the one to do it. Michael’s playful and entertaining collection is an absolute pleasure to read aloud with Chris capturing the mischievousness and hilarity of these selections marvellously. Children can’t help but being entertained by flying pigs, dancing sausages and hungry toads who run riot across the pages bringing fun and joy to the reader. A beautiful and charming collection that is bound to delight both children and adults.

A Poem For Every Winter Day – edited by Allie Esiri

‘A Poem For Every Winter Day,’ is part of a seasonal collection of poems curated by Allie Esiri. Winter is now upon us and while it may feel like we’re about to enter a challenging time as the light diminishes as the days grow darker but it is easy to forget that this season brings with it much beauty and joy. This collection invites the reader to embrace all the elements of the season from the joy of closing the curtains and wrapping yourself in a blanket and hiding away from the world to exploring the changes in nature that come in Winter, spying the Robin on the sparse twig and listening to the crunch of the frozen ground. I like how Allie takes the opportunity to introduce and discuss the poems connecting with the reader and inviting a conversation about how you can face the day and then reflect on what has happened as the night closes in. Thoughtfully and expertly created, this book is perfect for thinking and reflecting.

Thank you to Dom Conlon, Firefly Press, Macmillan, Nosy Crow and Walker Books for sending me gifted copies of these books. All of these books are available to buy now online (Daydreams and Jellybeans can be pre-ordered) by clicking on the the title. If you can please support your local independent bookshop you can find your nearest one here.