Crater Lake – Jennifer Killick

Regulars to the blog will know that I’m a big fan of Jennifer Killick’s funny fiction, so I was intrigued to discover she was turning her hand to something a little bit different in, ‘Crater Lake.’ There’s a huge demand for scary books in school and there seems to be a limited choice in the middle grade market. Hurrah for Jennifer who takes us on a terrifying trip to a year 6 residential, where something very strange and sinister is afoot. It could be the mysterious bloodstained man who tries to stop their coach, or the fact no one seems to be around at the brand-new activity centre when Lance and the rest of his class arrive for the Year 6 school trip, but something is definitely not right at Crater Lake! What follows is a fight for survival that sees five pupils band together to save their classmates from an alien fate far worse than death. But whatever happens, they must Never, Ever fall asleep!

It’s incredibly difficult to write scary stories that will satisfy those children who love to be scared out of their wits but won’t completely traumatise those who like a little scare but Jennifer manages to achieve this. Packed with just the right amount of peril, she sprinkles her distinctive humour throughout, giving a much welcomed twist. There is something very strange and compelling about this story that will have readers devouring it. It is more than just a straightforward horror story, Lance and his friends have to face their fears – as they battle to save their classmates – while overcoming their own personal challenges. I love the group dynamics as they all rally together and use their strengths to overcome the fearsome fiends who are determined to control them. Being pushed to the extremes gives them the courage to be truthful about their lives and allows Lance the freedom to finally tell his friends something that he has been hiding from them. Jennifer always writes so thoughtfully bringing real life issues into her books that reflect the realities of how people live. A brilliant mix of strangeness, silliness and scariness, ‘Crater Lake,’ is another absolute triumph from Jennifer.

Thank you to Firefly Press for sending me a gifted copy of, ‘Crater Lake,’ you can buy a copy now from you local bookshop (a list on indie bookshops still delivering) or online.

The Maker of Monsters – Lorraine Gregory Children’s Book Award

Today it’s my stop on the blog tour for the Children’s Book Award 2020. I am delighted to feature Lorraine Gregory’s, ‘The Maker of Monsters,’ which has been nominated in the Younger Reads Category.

The Maker of Monsters – Lorraine Gregory

Brat is a lonely and desperate boy who knows no kindness and love, trapped on an isolated island at the mercy of a cruel master who forces him to take care of a menagerie of vicious creatures. The only highlight in his terrible life is the unexpected friendship with two of his masters creations, Tingle and Sherman. This unlikely trio are forced to overcome their fears and venture out into the real world when a catastrophic incident means that only they can help prevent a terrible tragedy. Lorraine has a talent for creating characters that you can’t help but fall in love with and are desperate for them to overcome their fears. At the heart of this marvellous tale is the power of kindness and friendship to inspire and transform you in the darkest of times. Her world-building is exceptional creating a highly visualised setting that she brings to life magnificently. Filled with bravery and heart, thrills and danger, this story is an absolute joy from start to finish.

To find out more about, ‘The Maker of Monsters,’ we talked to the author Lorraine Gregory…

Lorraine Gregory

In this book I wanted to explore monsters in many guises. From the obvious vicious monsters stitched together and brought to life using necromancy, to the monsters in human form who do terrible deeds for revenge or power. I also felt it was really important to include creatures that may look like monsters but on the inside they are kind and good.

My favourite characters have to be the experiments gone wrong – Tingle and Sherman. I love their relationship with each other and with Brat and hoped that children would too.

It was huge fun certain the broken world of Niyandi Mor and tying current themes of conservation into narrative. Molly and the other outcasts are great examples of people living with the land and trying to heal it while those inside the dome have cut themselves off from it entirely.

There are sad scenes in this book and it does explore death and loss and fear but overall I believe, it’s far more about finding your way, loving your friend and embracing life.

Children’s Book Award

The Children’s Book Award is the only national award voted for solely by children from start to finish. It is highly regarded by parents. teachers, librarians, publishers and children’s authors and illustrators as it truly represents the children’s choice. Thanks to the support of the publishers over 1,000 new books are donated to be read and reviewed by our Testing Groups across the country every year, with over 150,000 total votes being cast in the process. At the end of each testing year, nearly 12,000 books are donated to hospitals, women’s refuges, nurseries and disadvantaged schools by our groups. To vote in this year’s awards head over to the website

Thank you to FCBG for inviting me to take part in the blog tour. To find out more about all the nominees, why not join in with the blog tour…

Find the Spy – Zoë Armstrong & Shelly Laslo

Today on the blog I have a brilliant new narrative non-fiction book that I’m really excited to share with you. ‘Find the Spy,’ by Zoë Armstrong & Shelley Laslo is a clever combination of real-life spy biographies and interactive spotting. Children will be able to explore the lives of eight fascinating spies whilst learning actual top-secret skills including the art of disguise, coding secret messages and writing in invisible ink. Zoë has packed this book with the most intriguing and interesting information, that will astonish and astound the reader it will satisfy the appetites of the most mystery loving child. Not only that it is a visual feast for the eyes with Shelley’s intricate illustrations which invite the reader to explore every page. A real highlight in non-fiction, this is an absolute stand out book.

To celebrate the release of this book I have a special guest post from Zoë about her journey to publication…

Journey to Publication – Zoë Armstrong

 

My mum told great stories when I was growing up. True stories, as she put me to bed, about her vegetarian, co-ed boarding school. And off-the-cuff adventures, on holiday, about ‘devil divers’ swarming the Mont Saint Michel.

 

There were beautiful board books and picture books too, at a time when far fewer were being made – Maurice Sendak, Judith Kerr, John Burningham, Helen Nicole and Jan Piénkowski. The rhythms of my first picture books have always stayed with me.

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I won a writing competition when I was eight. It was all very unexpected, and there was uproar from certain quarters of the classroom. I’d only written one side of A4, you see. Others had written five. Still, my essay on our class trip to the local nunnery (we stamped crosses on to communion wafers by pulling a big lever) was chosen by the nuns as the winner. My prize was a copy of Black Beauty and a sparkle of interest inside.

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I continued to enjoy writing – I even illustrated my words back then!

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I want on to work as a journalist, then as a publicity person for an animal charity. I taught English in Italy and media production in Derbyshire. But it wasn’t until my daughter was born that I began writing for pleasure again.

Being immersed once more in children’s books seemed to light up a part of my brain that I hadn’t used for a while. I began playing around with verse and making up little stories for my toddler. I loved that picture books are so full of possibility – how playful you can be with language, rhythm and ideas.

I was spending less time focusing on my paid freelance writing work, and more time on the writing that I really loved. My new ‘hobby’ was ruining us! I decided to take it more seriously: I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers an Illustrators.

All of a sudden, I was part of a huge network of people who felt the same way that I did about children’s books. There was access to information, guidance and workshops.

I was accepted on to the Golden Egg Academy’s Picture Book Programme. It gave me confidence and a determination to make space for my writing. I worked hard on my picture book texts, moulding the good ideas into better shape and letting go of the duds.

Then one day I decided I was ready to enter a competition. It was an international contest open to SCBWI authors from around the world. The wining text would be illustrated live by two artists at the Bologna Book Fair, in a kind of duel!

The judge was Emma Ledbetter who was, at the time, senior editor at Simon & Schuster’s Atheneum Books for Young Readers in the US. Somehow I won.

This was a massive boost. There are so many stumbling blocks for authors – having a stepping stone moment like this was just what I needed to keep going.

So I entered another competition: the SCBWI British Isles Slush Pile Challenge, set by Peter Marley, Senior Commissioning Editor of Picture Books at OUP. Unbelievably, I won that one too. Peter’s encouragement and advice, when I met with him at the OUP offices, was invaluable.

From there I was invited to read one of my picture book texts at the Golden Egg Academy’s Spring Social, in Bath. I was utterly terrified. Public speaking is not my thing, and this was in front of a room full of writers, agents, editors and publishers.

But I made myself do it. Which was a very good thing, because that was the day that I first met Alice Williams, who is now my agent.

After signing with Alice, things began to take off. A narrative non-fiction text, in particular, was receiving attention from editors. Puffin mulled it over but ultimately felt it would compete with other books they had in the pipeline. I was disappointed but picture book writers must get used to this so I tried not to think about it.

A few days later Alice received a phone call from a fantastic editor at Puffin called Emily Lunn. Would I be interested in writing something about spies? I didn’t hesitate, I just said YES!

So that was the beginning of Find The Spy. Emily calmly guided me through the process of making a book. We were delighted when Shelly Laslo was signed up to illustrate my words. It was a true collaboration – one of the many things that I love about picture books.

I’m currently working on a series with the wonderful independent publisher Flying Eye Books, which I’m very excited about.

 

Thank you to Zoë for this really insightful guest post and to Puffin for sending me a gifted copy. ‘Find the Spy,’ is available to buy now from your local bookshop or online.

 

 

Daring Detectives and Smart Spies

We have a lot of children at school who adore Harriet Whitehorn’s Violet mysteries and Fleur Hitchcock’s Clifftoppers series who are not quite ready to move on to more upper middle grade mysteries by Katherine Woodfine and Robin Stevens. I was struggling to find more lower middle grade mysteries, when I discovered that there was a whole new range of series due to be released. Today on the blog I’m sharing the first book in four brand new series perfect for any young budding detectives or spies.

Anisha Accidental Detective – Serena Patel, illustrated by Emma McCann

Anisha Mistry longs for peace and quiet so she can read her favourite science books but there’s no chance of that with her loud and madcap family. Her Aunty Bindi is in complete meltdown about her forthcoming wedding, so when a secret ransom note arrives demanding the wedding is called off, Anisha knows it’s up to her to solve the case. Together with her best friend Milo they must find out who kidnapped the bridegroom and stop the wedding being a complete disaster. Hilariously told, this is a funny and lively mystery that is bound to entertain readers. Serena has assembled an brilliant cast of characters who bring this story to life. I particularly liked Anisha’s mysterious and mischievous Granny Jas and the twins Mindy and Manny who are determined to be as miserable as possible. Emma’s humorous illustrations capture perfectly the loud and chaotic goings on of the Mistry family. It is perfectly pitched for younger mystery fans looking for a fun and entertaining read.

 

Mickey and the Animal Spies – Anne Miller & Becka Moor

Mickey is a code-loving, book-obsessed girl who likes nothing better than having a complex puzzle to solve. So when she spies a code written on a strange poster on a bus one day, she can’t resist trying to crack it. When she unjumbles the message she discovers an extraordinary truth. A secret undercover organisation Cobra is looking to recruit new members and Mickey may just be what they’re looking for. But there’s only one problem, this is no ordinary set of spies, they are animal spies! Mickey soon finds herself drawn into a dangerous world of diamond thieves and dog-nappers. Can she solve the mystery before it’s too late? This is such a fun and original concept that Anne has created. I love how the book gives children the opportunity to join along with cracking the codes. Becka Moor’s illustrations are just perfection as always and really enhance the story.  Fabulous and fun, this is a brilliant step into mysteries for younger readers.

 

Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Missing Diamonds – Annabelle Sami, illustrated by Daniela Sosa

Inquisitive Zaiba is always on the look out for suspicious activity, convinced there is a mystery just waiting to be solved. When she discovers a celebrity is staying at the hotel where her cousin’s Mehndi party is taking place she is determined to uncover their identity. Together with her best friend Poppy and her brother Ali, they begin their investigations  But when the celebrity’s dog disappears along with it’s priceless diamond collar, they soon find themselves caught up in a more complex mystery.  Can our clever trio save the day? I really enjoyed the mystery element of this story, the clues are nicely scattered through the story allowing the reader to piece them all together and help find the thief. The dynamics of the trio work really well and together they make for a resourceful and dynamic team.  Entertaining and engaging, a really satisfying mystery.

 

The Cure For a Crime – Roopa Farooki

Ali and Tulip do not like their mum’s new boyfriend Dr Sturgeon, he’s very odd and locks himself away for hours at an end. When their mum starts behaving very oddly and seems really sleepy and out of sorts, they are convinced he must have done something dastardly. Luckily for them having a doctor for a mum has allowed them to pick up some specialist sleuthing skills and they soon find themselves sucked into a sinister and strange mystery. Fast-paced and cleverly complex this is a mystery for more mature readers who want to get their teeth stuck into darker mysteries filled with danger and peril. The medical element of the story makes for an unique twist in this genre, encouraging children to become intrigued by the world of medicine.  Exciting and entertaining, this certainly keeps the reader enthralled right the way to the very last page.

 

Thank you to OUP, Stripes and Usborne for sending me gifted copies of these books. You can buy all of these books now online or from your local bookshop. Click on the title to buy,

Cover Reveal – We Made A Movie by Charlotte Lo

Today on the blog I am delighted to reveal the cover to the sequel to Charlotte Lo’s life affirming debut, ‘We Won An Island.’ We are back for a brand new adventure in , ‘We Made a Movie,’ which will be published on the 2nd July 2020 by Nosy Crow books.

So without further ado here it is…

This vibrant cover with it’s bold palette is really eye-catching and has been illustrated by Aviel Basil, It hints at the fun and joy that lies within the pages of this uplifting adventure. I’m sure this will be another entertaining and thoughtful tale as Luna and her family try to navigate the challenges of  family life on a remote island

We Made A Movie – Charlotte Lo

When Luna’s family won an island, their dreams came true – Luna opened a donkey sanctuary, her sister flew a plane, and her brother won a sheep pageant. But Luna’s new donkey has a mortal fear of beaches, her mum’s goat-yoga business is on the rocks, and her brother is weirder than ever! Luna’s got a brilliant plan to solve her family’s problems – it’s time to enter the movie-making business…

I have a special guest post from Charlotte about what she would do if she won an island in case you missed it on the blog last year. Follow the link to find out more…

Charlotte Lo Guest Post

Thank you Charlotte and Nosy Crow for inviting me to host the cover reveal. ‘We Made a Movie,’ is available to pre-order now online or from your local bookshop.

Cover Reveal – Another Twist in the Tale – Catherine Bruton

I’m really excited to be able to reveal for you today, the cover of Catherine Bruton’s new novel, ‘Another Twist in the Tale,’ which will be published on the 5th May 2020.

So without further ado here it is…

This gorgeous cover was illustrated by Thy Bui and designed by the inhouse team at Nosy Crow. For me this intriguing artwork hints at the exciting mystery that lies beneath the cover. Let’s find out what Catherine has instore for us in, ‘Another Twist in the Tale.’

Another Twist in the Tale – Catherine Bruton

You have heard, no doubt, the tale of Master Oliver Twist – that rags-to-riches boy; the parish orphan who became heir to the Brownlow fortune. But what few know is that there was a second Twist – a girl, brought into this world moments ahead of her brother. This is the story of Twill Twist, and her journey through the gambling dens and workhouses of London, as she attempts to make a life for herself, rescue her friends, and uncover the mystery of her past – while meeting some familiar faces along the away…

Catherine Bruton
Catherine studied English at Oxford University and has been juggling life as a teacher, children’s author and mum for the past fifteen years. As an English teacher at King Edward’s School, Bath, she sees first hand the impact stories can have on young readers – opening their eyes, expanding their horizons, making them ask questions and see the world differently. Her books tackle some of the big issues faced by young people today – terrorism, immigration, the cult of celebrity, the refugee crisis – in ways that are heart-breaking, often hilarious, but invariably hopeful. Her multi-award nominated debut We Can Be Heroes was recently made into a film starring Alison Steadman and Phil Davies and, as an ‘extra’ on the film set, Catherine got to realise her a lifelong dream when she actually got to spend a day living in one of her own stories! As her alter-ego Cate Shearwater, she is also the author of the much loved Somersaults and Dreams series.

Thank you to Nosy Crow for inviting me to reveal the cover. ‘Another Twist in the Tale,’ is available to pre-order now online or from any good bookshop. To be in with a chance to win 1 of 3 proof copies, head over to my Twitter page and check out my pinned tweet.

Flood World & Dust Road – Tom Huddleston

Today it’s my stop on the blog tour for Tom Huddleston’s futuristic dystopian adventures, ‘Flood World,’ and ‘Dust Road.’ Tom transports us to a world ravaged by a changing climate where society is in turmoil. These fast-paced and thrilling tales take us on a journey with Kara and Jo who are battling for survival in a dangerous and ruthless environment where they find themselves inadvertently caught up in the most deadly and perilous situations. Brilliantly dramatic and packed with perils, these books are a must have for adrenaline seeking readers who revel in edge-of-your-seat action.

To celebrate the release of, ‘Dust Road,’ I have a special guest post from Tom Huddleston about how he approached writing the sequel.

The Perils of Writing a Sequel – Tom Huddleston

My futuristic adventure story FloodWorld – set on the outskirts of the drowned city of London in a world after climate change – was always intended to be the first book in a series. Although I carefully plotted the ending so that it could, if necessary, stand alone, I always hoped that someone would want to commission a sequel. With the publication of DustRoad, that dream has been realised.

It’s great to be asked to write a sequel – it means that someone loved whatever you did the first time so much that they want you to do it all over again (in this case, it was my fantastic publishers Nosy Crow). But writing a sequel is like walking a tightrope. On one side there’s the Pit of Overfamiliarity, where you end up telling the same story again and boring the reader to tears. On the other is the Chasm of Complexity, where the new book is so exotic and challenging that the reader is left flummoxed. The trick is to stay right in the middle, offering up new locations, characters and situations without losing sight of the things readers enjoyed the first time.

For me, the big appeal of FloodWorld came from two things: the world, and the characters. The idea of a drowned earth has almost limitless possibilities, and I was really keen to explore more of this climate-ravaged future. DustRoad takes place largely in North America, a blasted desert continent that has been at war with itself for generations. Inspired by a series of real-life road trips through the southern states, I mapped out a journey from one coast to the other, through changing landscapes and all kinds of peril.

The characters, too, needed to change. The heroes of FloodWorld, street kids Kara and Joe, had learned a lot from their experiences. Their friendship had been tested, their horizons widened, and Kara had begun to wrestle with tricky questions of morality and conscience. Now they had to go further, to grow and develop just like real people. Throughout DustRoad, both kids are put in some extreme situations, they’re forced to make tough decisions and end up coming face to face with tragedy. Each of these experience will affect them – for better and for worse.

I can’t imagine wanting to write a sequel where all the same things happen – if it’s boring for the reader, it must be twice as dull for the writer. With DustRoad, I tried to take inspiration from some of my favourite sequels – The Tombs of Atuan, The Subtle Knife, The Empire Strikes Back – to craft a story that combines the fresh with the familiar, the surprising with the satisfying. Whether I’ve succeeded is a judgement for the reader. Now, what am I going to do in Book Three…?

Thanks to Tom for a really insightful guest post, I’m sure all writers out there getting ready to face the demon of a sequel will appreciate his words of wisdom.

Blog Tour

Why not join in with the rest of the blog tour for more guest posts and features.

Thank you to Tom and Nosy Crow for inviting me to join in with the blog tour. ‘Flood World,’ and ‘Dust Road,’ are available to buy now online or from any good bookshop.