Monthly Archives: September 2016

An epic adventure – Phonenix SF Said & Dave McKean

sf2  sf1

Last week on the blog I was extremely lucky to have the amazing SF Said on the blog for a Q & A as part of the YAShot blog tour which gave me the opportunity to read ‘Phoenix’ which I’ve been longing to delve into for a very long time. This story totally blew me away, I experienced a multitude of emotions as I was taken away on an epic adventure through the stars. Yet this book is so much more than a thrilling ride, there are underlying themes exploring ignorance, prejudice, and the devastating effect of war on mankind. It manages to be both magical and spiritual, inspiring curiosity and wonder about the world beyond our galaxy and opening our minds to new and exciting possibilities.

Lucky thinks he’s an ordinary Human boy. But one night, he dreams that the stars are singing – and wakes to find an uncontrollable power rising inside him. Now he’s on the run, racing though space, searching for answers. In a galaxy at war, where Humans and Aliens are deadly enemies, the only people who can help him, are an Alien starship crew – and an Alien warrior girl, with neon needles in her hair.  Together, they must find a way to save the galaxy. For Lucky is not the only one in danger. His destiny and the fate of the universe are connected in the most explosive way.

‘Phoenix’ is  tense and breath taking read that will hold you tightly in its grip until you reach the magnificent ending. After turning the last page I just sat contemplating this tale which had deeply touched me whilst totally enthralling me, a rare combination to find. Elements of the story filled me with sadness and outrage at the way the opposing races where treating each other. In particular the scene at the border controls where the Axxa’s humanity is stripped away simply because they are deemed to be ‘aliens’. In a world filled with fear and mistrust ‘Phoenix’ helps children understand how reality can become distorted when it gets caught up in political propaganda. Through Lucky’s journey, it reaffirms the belief that despite our differences, all of us are intrinsically the same.

Incredibly entertaining and exciting, ‘Phoenix’ is filled with the most complex and interesting characters from the feisty Bixa to the thoughtful Frollix, they defy stereotypes as they try to come to terms with their own destinies and what paths they must follow. Wonderfully, dark and menacing it is the fear of the unknown and unexpected which will captivate children’s imagination, how do you know who to trust in a world full of uncertainty. Just when you think the book can’t be surpassed, Dave McKean’s sublime black and white illustrations burst through the pages with a formidable energy. Conjuring up this unknown world before our very eyes and capturing the drama and danger of Lucky’s mission. A powerful and brilliant book that deserves to be in every school library, a truly stunning read.

To find out more about SF Said visit his website or follow him on Twitter @whatSFSaid

To find out more about Dave McKean visit his website or follow him on Twitter @DaveMcKean

Thank you to SF Said for donating a copy of ‘Phoenix’ to our school library.

King Flashypants – Guest Post Andy Riley

I am delighted to welcome Andy Riley to the blog today, author of the fantastically funny ‘King Flashypants and the Evil Emperor,’ for a guest post on his most frightening villain in children’s books.

Andy Riley4


The most frightening villain in children’s literature

Ever since I bought Moominland Midwinter from Woolworth’s when I was at primary school, I’ve been terrified of the Groke -a nightmarish creature which Tove Jansson created for her Moomin books and cartoon strips.

She’s a shambling, slithering, hillock shaped monster. She’s described as having legs but you never see them; they are underneath some sort of skirt which appears to be part of her body. She seems to move like a snail does, leaving a trail behind her – a cold, icy trail. Every living thing she passes over dies. And apparently she eats people.  Everybody in Moominland is terrified of her. So was I. She seemed to symbolise everything strange, threatening and unknowable. I was much more spooked by the Groke than I was by vampires or ghosts.

Then, in her last appearance in the books, in Moomipapa At Sea, Jansson hints at how lonely she is. Although she is a creature of the cold, she seems to be fascinated by light and warmth – but with her deadly freezing touch, she can never reach either. Maybe she’s not a villain at all, but a misunderstood, tragic figure. We never learn for sure. The Groke remains mysterious, unknowable, scary.

When I’m writing and drawing the King Flashypants books I think of the Groke often. Not for my main villain, Emperor Nurbison, who is more in the Ming the Merciless/Richard III mould, but for the mysterious fringes of the Flashypants world. I put in details on the maps, like an unexplored island and the ‘weird meadow’, to give me some riddles and unknowns to explore with readers later.  All stories need a bit of mystery. Children’s stories most of all.

To help me remember, the key to my drawing shed has a little cuddly Groke keyring I bought from the Moomin museum in Finland. If there’s a more eerie plushie keyring in the world, I’ve yet to see it.

IMG_5225 - Grog keyring for Most evil villains blog

Andy Riley

Andy is an Emmy award winning comedy writer and cartoonist, scriptwriter for BBC One’s ‘Gangsta Granny’ and ‘The Boy in the Dress’, as well as the hit animation ‘Gnomeo and Juliet.’ To find out more about Andy you can visit his website or follow him on Twitter @Andy Rileyish

Blog Tour

In case you missed the rest of the blog tour you can still join in with more fantastic guest posts.

Flashypants tour announcement

A huge thank you to Andy and Hachette for inviting me to be part of the ‘King Flashypants’ blog tour.


Feelings – Richard Jones & Libby Walden


‘Feelings’ is a unique, beautiful exploration of the power of emotions from Richard Jones and Libby Walden. Taken from a child’s eye viewpoint we are taken on an emotional rollercoaster through the gauntlet of feelings they experience in their life. This beautiful, lyrical tale guides the reader through positive experiences such as excitement and happiness but then explores more complex thoughts of feeling alone and being embarrassed.



It warmly reassures the child that ‘everyone is different and their feelings aren’t the same’ and allows them to feel that it’s absolutely fine to show their true emotions they don’t need to hide them away. Wonderfully empathetic it helps children to understand that when others are experiencing more complex thoughts we should try to walk in their shoes to make sense of why they may be behaving in a certain way. Using a varied colour palette to capture each emotion accompanied by soothing text it opens up a conversation between a child and a parent, offering them a safe place to express their feelings. The clever use of the die-cut child puts them at the centre of the book and the focus of the conversation. It recognises that they may feel unable to control their feelings and how difficult and frustrating that can be for them. Beautifully told with exquisite illustrations this stunning picture book is a truly special read.



A huge thank you to Little Tiger for inviting me to take part in this blog tour and for sending me a copy of this book.

Poppy Pym and the Double Jinx – Laura Wood

Poppy Pym and the Double Jinx

‘Poppy Pym and the Double Jinx’ is the fantastic follow up to Laura Wood’s debut novel ‘Poppy Pym and the Pharaoh’s Curse.’ This wonderful series is perfect for children who love adventures, mysteries and boarding school stories. Full of twists and turns which will test the skills of the very best amateur sleuths. Meet Poppy Pym a girl who was left at a circus by her mother and discovered when Marvin the Magician pulled her out of his magic hat. This is the kind of detail designed to capture children’s imagination and they will find themselves irresistibly drawn into this story. After growing up in a travelling circus, you might think that being sent to boarding school would mean Poppy’s life would be boring.  But fear not she manages to  find herself tangled up in mysteries along with her trusty pals Ingrid and Kip.

It’s Halloween at Saint Smithens and the school is hosting an amateur production of ‘Macbeth’ after an unexplained fire, but the play seems beset by one disaster after another. As the cast become increasingly spooked, they become concerned that there is a jinx on the play? Poppy is convinced that everything is not as it seems and is determined to uncover the truth with a little help from her friends. And when they hear a long forgotten tale of lost gold they find themselves tackling two mysteries at once. Have our super sleuths taken on more than they can handle this time?

Laura Wood has assembled a joyous cast of characters, who you can’t help falling in love with and reading this book will inevitably leave you with a warm glow inside. Ingrid and Kip are sterling friends the kind that you would risk everything for and they give her a much needed stability and support. Whilst Poppy’s circus family are full of warmth and humour providing many of the comic moments in the story, my favourite part being the weekly chaotic telephone conversations. I love how Poppy tells the story as if she is writing it herself, including pictures, articles and photos making it more appealing to younger readers. For me ‘Poppy Pym’ is an enchanting and marvellous read that is bound to charm and delight, I can’t wait for the next instalment to unravel the next part of the mystery.

Laura Wood

Laura Wood

Laura Wood is the winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing. She has just completed her PhD at the University of Warwick studying the figure of the reader in nineteenth century literature. ‘Poppy Pym and the Double Jinx’ is the follow up to her first novel ‘Poppy Pym and the Pharaoh’s Curse’.

To find out more about Laura you can visit her website, follow her on Twitter @lauraclarewood or on Facebook and Instagram

Blog Tour

In case you missed the rest of the blog tour you can still join in and read more reviews and fantastic guest posts.


Thursday 1st September

Rachel Bustin

An Awfully Big Adventure

Friday 2nd September

Bookish Outsider

Library Girl and Book Boy

Saturday 3rd September

Fiction Fascination

Sunday 4th September

Tales of Yesterday

Monday 5th September

Book Lover Jo

Big Book Little Book

Tuesday 6th September

Luna’s Little Library

So Many Books, So Little Time

Wednesday 7th September

Heather Reviews

Wonderfully Bookish

A huge thank you to Faye Rogers and Scholastic for inviting me to take part in this blog tour and sending me copies of the books.

YAShot Blog Tour – Q & A with SF Said




Q & A  – SF Said

I am delighted to welcome the brilliant award winning author SF Said to the blog today for a Q & A as part of the YA Shot Blog Tour. Today we chat about topics that we are both passionate about libraries, author visits, reading for pleasure and the Cover Kids Books campaign.

1. Unfortunately many libraries in the country are under threat of closure, why do you feel they are so important for the community as a whole?

 I’m totally thrilled to be taking part in #YAShot because I’m a huge fan of libraries.  I write in my local public library, so I see the incredible work librarians do every day for so many in the community, and most of all for young people.  They provide services that are life-changing, essential, and irreplaceable.

I don’t think libraries should be cut or closed under any circumstances.  I think they should be supported by law – and actually, they are!  The government has a statutory duty to provide public library services for all.  If you want to know more about this, there’s a brilliant campaign called #MyLibraryByRight:


2. Having seen the hugely positive impact on children at my school when we have had author visits, what have been your experience as an author and how do you feel children have benefitted?

I love visiting schools and libraries, and meeting readers of all ages.  There really is nothing more inspiring for an author.  Teachers and librarians have told me it’s inspiring for children too; often it’s the first time they’ve ever met an author in real life.  I just try and show them that they’re no different to me.  I believe all readers can be writers, because all writers start out as readers.  If you love stories, there is absolutely no reason why you cannot write them yourself.

3. You have visited many schools, do you think it is vital for schools to have libraries and librarians?

You can always tell when a school has a dedicated librarian with a well-resourced library, because the kids in those schools will be reading an amazing variety of books!  It’s much harder for children to get access to real range of literature if a school doesn’t provide those services.  So yes: I think libraries and librarians are vital, and if I was making the laws, they would be required by law in all schools (primaries as well as secondaries), just as they are in prisons.  It’s strange that prisoners are given rights by law that children are not.

4. How do you think schools can create a reading culture and encourage reading for pleasure?

I think the single most important thing is to let children choose what they read.  Everyone likes different things; there is no single right book for everyone.  So give them a good range to choose from, and then support their choices.  Of course, this will be much easier if you have a dedicated librarian to help them make those choices, and if that librarian has a good budget to stock and run their library!

5. As a parent walking into a library or a bookshop and choosing a book for your child can be a minefield, why do you think it is essential that the media cover Children’s books.

 Over 10,000 new children’s titles are published every year in the UK.  It really is impossible for anyone to keep up with that.  We all need expert guidance to find the right books for each particular reader, and that’s where the media should be helping us.

Newspapers currently give children’s books just 3% of their review space, but children’s books make up 30% of the market!  If newspapers gave children’s books a fair share of coverage, we would all benefit hugely.  I started a campaign this year to ask the media to #CoverKidsBooks more – you can read all about it here:

coverkidsbooks title icon hr

 As part of this campaign, I’ve written an open letter to all UK newspapers, asking them to cover at least one children’s book a week.  There are nearly 1,000 signatures on the letter now, including authors and illustrators like Philip Pullman, Neil Gaiman, Chris Riddell and Malorie Blackman, as well as many librarians, teachers, booksellers, publishers and so on.  If you’d like to read the letter and perhaps add your name to it, you can find all the information here:

6. What was your favourite book as a child, how did it impact on you when you were growing up?

I had many favourites, but Watership Down was definitely a book that changed my life.  I read it when I was 8 and thought it was the best book I’d ever read.  I also thought it would be amazing to try and write a book that was even half as good as that one day!  I’m still trying… but I can see the influence of Watership Down in everything I write.  I think the books we love when we’re young are the ones that really shape us, and stay with us forever.  That’s why I decided to write books for young readers myself.


7. Can you tell us more about your current work in progress Tyger, I know your fans will be eager to find out more.

Thank you!  I’ve just sent my agent draft  4(c) of TYGER.  This is the first time that anyone else has seen it, so it’s quite nerve-wracking!  It’s the first book in a series, and I’ve been working on the project since I finished writing Phoenix.  It has some elements in common with Phoenix, and also with Varjak Paw, but I think it’s a big step up on them both.  I think when it’s done, it’ll be the best thing I’ve written so far, by quite a long way.

8. Is there one piece of advice you can give to aspiring authors who feel that they are ready to take their first tentative steps into getting published?

As I say, every writer is a reader.  So just write the books you most want to read yourself.  And then do everything you possibly can to make them as good as you would want them to be.  It really is that simple, and that difficult!

SF Said


SF Said is the author of ‘Varjak Paw’, ‘The Outlaw Varjak Paw’ and Phoenix. SF Said is also active in the wider world of literature and arts.  He has judged the Whitbread Book Awards (now the Costa Book Awards) and the Amnesty CILIP Honour.  He has given talks at the British Library, the British Film Institute, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, and on BBC Radio 4.  He has written extensively about children’s and young adult fiction for both the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph.

To find out more about SF you can visit his website or follow him on Twitter @whatSFSaid.

A huge thank you to SF for taking the time to answer my questions, it has been a fantastic honour to have you stop by my blog.