Monthly Archives: April 2018

How To Bee – Bren MacDibble

‘How to Bee’ is one of those books that leaves an emotional footprint in your life with its moving and thoughtful story set in a future dystopian world. This is not a world that stretches beyond the realms of imagination, where children fight to death for entertainment or where robots secretly plot to rule mankind, this is a reality that could actually happen. Imagine a world where we have no bees and children in the grip of poverty are employed by farmers to scramble through fruit trees with feather wands to pollinate them and whose world exists only within the confines of the farm. Peony is nine years old and is desperate to be a bee, despite being a year too young she refuses to give up, adamant she will convince the foreman to let her have her way. But even someone with Peony’s fierce determination can’t control the world she lives in and she finds herself ripped away from her family and the life she holds so dear – despite its apparent bleakness –  by her estranged mother. Forced into service she meets the spoilt rich girl Esmerelda who in contrast with Peony has a perfect life but in reality is crippled by anxiety. Together they try to find a way to bring to each other the one thing they both desire.

This is such an emotional, moving story of the importance of dreams, family and friendship, exploring how people can find comfort in the smallest of things even when their life seems difficult. As a parent of a daughter who is the same age as Peony I find it exceptionally hard to read about the harsh life that she leads but this isn’t how she understands her life to be until she is taken away from it. In fact she struggles with this seemingly better quality of life where she has clothes and shoes to wear when all she wants to do is run free and wild in her bare feet, she desperately craves a return to her old life and her family. Her life experiences are quite brutal with some shocking scenes of domestic violence but I think as an adult I read this entirely differently to a child, I read beyond the words on the page and imagine more.

Bren has created an incredibly likeable character in Peony whose voice rings strong and true throughout the narrative. Her desire to be heard and break free from any social constraints will fill you with dismay and warmth in equal measures. She is a free spirit who refuses to be tamed and for that I love her. The intense loyalty she feels towards her grandfather, sister and the home they have created is just incredible and heart-warming. Although this is filled with many sad moments the story is ultimately uplifting and filled with hope, especially the ending which filled my heart with so much joy but made me weep at the same time. Bren combines beautiful storytelling with an underlying environmental warning about how we must look after the creatures of our planet so that we don’t lose them forever.

Thank you to Old Barn Books for sending me a copy of this wonderful book. ‘How to Bee’ is released on May 3rd but is available to buy online now or pre-order from any good bookshop.


What Lexie Did – Emma Shevah

I sat down to start reading ‘What Lexie Did’ thinking that I would just read a few chapters before doing all the other things on my to do list for the day but I just couldn’t put it down. I devoured the whole book in one sitting which for me is a true sign when I absolutely just love a book. My to read pile is filled with books of fantasy worlds promising to take me on epic adventures but when I spot a story featuring children just living their every day lives I can’t help but gravitate towards them. Even more so when they feature a cast of diverse characters and allow me to immerse myself in other people’s lives and cultures.

Lexie lives in London with her big, loud and very close Greek Cypriot family, they’re so big she has 28 cousins and she only knows one other person who has more cousins than her! They love nothing better than getting together to celebrate and spend time chatting non-stop whilst eating vast quantities of food. Although she is very close to her family she shares a special bond with her cousin Eleni, who is doted on by the entire family because of her heart condition. They are so close they have formed their own special language so they can communicate with each other without using words. So when Lexie in a fit of jealousy tells a terrible lie after the death of their beloved grandmother Yiayia, it tears her friendship with Eleni and the whole family apart. Wrapped up in grief nobody can see past this dreadful argument and the repercussions are incredibly damaging for them all. The only person who can mend this rift is Lexie but can she find a way to tell the truth without causing more hurt and pain?

It’s hard to put into words how much I loved this book, it’s such a joy to read. There are so many moments of joy, pain and grief all wrapped up in a compelling and dramatic storyline. Emma manages to cause a real emotional and physical reaction in the reader through her beautiful and thoughtful writing. Firstly I wanted to belong to this big loving family who make you feel like your enveloped in a huge comforting hug, even if at times it may be somewhat suffocating, you know they will always be there for you. Then contrast this with the desperate sadness of Lexie who is not only dealing with the grief of having lost her grandmother but knowing that she has caused this huge division in her extended family. Emma’s attention to detail and thoroughness in researching this culture shines through in the story providing many moments of comedy – my favourite being the toilet plant pots in the garden – as well as many poignant episodes. The characterisation is flawless particularly so in Lexie’s mother, Emma demonstrates the devastating effect the grief of not only losing her mother but her sister so wonderfully in the complete change of her personality so that she becomes a shadow of her former self. This is not just Lexie’s story but her families’ story as they’re inextricably bound together. Funny, sad and just absolutely marvellous, ‘What Lexie Did’ is a must have read.

Thank you to Chicken House books for sending me a copy of this wonderful book, it is available to buy now online and from any good bookshop. ‘What Lexie Did’ is Emma Shevah’s third stand-alone title featuring authentic and diverse young voices so if like me this genre of book is wonderfully appealing why not try, ‘Dara Palmer’s Major Drama‘ and ‘Dream on Amber.’

Imaginative Illustrated Fiction

Regulars to the blog will know I’m a huge fan of illustrated fiction books, they are perfect for newly confident readers allowing them to gain confidence without being overwhelmed by pages of text. I love watching children at school discovering new books and then going on to devour the whole series and pass them on to their friends. Today I’m sharing some new illustrated series that have been recently released, all guaranteed to enthral and entertain younger readers. They would make wonderful additions to any primary school library.

Max The Detective Cat: The Disappearing Diva – Sarah Todd Taylor & Nicola Kinnear

When Max swaps life from a red velvet cushion in the drawing room of a fashionable townhouse to the dark and dangerous of London streets after an unfortunate incident with a mouse, his life changes in the most unexpected of ways. Forced to seek shelter in the Theatre Royal his mouse-hunting skills soon make him indispensable but little does he know he’s about to get caught up in a truly intriguing mystery. Nobody can understand why legendary opera singer Madame Emerald is behaving so strangely, only singing in her dressing room and refusing to perform onstage. Max is a curious cat and carefully watches her becoming increasingly confused by her odd behaviour but soon enough the pieces of the mysterious puzzle start to slot together and he discovers something dastardly is afoot. I was utterly charmed by Sarah’s delightful storytelling and wonderful characterisation which combined with Nicola’s gorgeous illustrations make for a really enjoyable and entertaining read.

Horace & Harriet: Take on Town – Clare Elsom

‘Horace and Harriet’ is a quirky new series written & illustrated by Clare Elsom which is full of so much chaos, misadventure and humour that it’s bound to delight younger readers, with its many laugh out loud moments. Harriet can’t believe her eyes at the park, when she sees a statue come to life and climb off it’s pillar and sets off to investigate. Soon an unlikely friendship is forged between Lord Commander Horatio Frederick Wallington Nincompoop Maximus Pimpleberry the Third (or Horace as we’ll call him for a short) and Harriet, as she helps him navigate the confusion of 21st century life. I love the contrast between Horace’s rather formal language and behaviour with Harriet’s direct casual style and if perchance you young whippersnappers are confused by his splendiferous language Clare has deigned to give you a dictionary to help out.  Superbly illustrated with a wonderful attention to detail, I think this is a really fun and appealing book and I’m pleased to discover that you can also get your hands on the next title in the series, ‘Horace and Harriet: Every Dog Has it’s Day.’


Fabio The World’s Greatest Flamingo Detective – Laura James & Emily Fox

I’m a huge fan of Laura James’s Pug books so I was intrigued to discover she has a new hilarious series featuring one of the greatest minds of our time Fabio, who just happens to be flamingo. ‘The Case of the Missing Hippo’ is the first crime to be solved in ‘Fabio the World’s Greatest Flamingo Detective’ series. With the help of his giraffe sidekick Gilbert, Fabio must use his cunning mind, his powers of detection and a side helping of pink lemonade to discover the whereabouts of Julia the jazz-singing hippo who suddenly disappears in the middle of the talent show. Laura has a talent for creating eccentric and interesting characters who leap off the page totally capturing children’s attentions. Vibrantly illustrated in vivid tones of pink and green this book demands to be read.  Emily Fox’s illustrations are bursting with humour and life, this is a truly marvellous collaboration and I can’t wait for more crime solving capers with Fabio.

Homework on Pluto – Lou Treleaven

‘Homework on Pluto’ takes us back on a space adventure with Jon and Straxi who managed to save the entire planet in ‘Letters to Pluto,‘through the powers of letters as part of the interstellar penpal programme. After saving the planet surely Jon deserves to put his feet up and have a well-deserved rest on his holiday to Pluto but his teacher Mrs Hall has other ideas and sets him homework! In the process of dismally failing to avoid writing essays about life on Pluto, Jon discovers that contrary to general belief Pluto is a lot more interesting than he thought. But things take a turn for the unexpected when his little sister is kidnapped by the skwitches, Jon and Straxi find themselves having to come to the rescue once again. I really enjoy the originality of this series, the use of letters, posters and actual homework to tell the story is really engaging and different. Again it carries an underlying environmental message told in a very subtle manner that provides a starting point of conversation to share with younger readers.

The Great Telephone Mix-Up – Sally Nicholls & Sheena Dempsey

‘The Great Telephone Mix-Up’ is one of those gorgeous stories that just fills your heart with joy and leaves behind a warm glow inside. Sally Nicholl’s was inspired to write this charming story after hearing about a real life event where village phone lines got crossed creating much confusion. In this story the mix-up seems to be causing many problems, Margaret can’t run her summer fair, Jai can’t speak to his friend Aditi, although it’s great news for Will who is quite relived that nobody can ring his Mum and tell her what mischief he’s been up to! But this chaos soon becomes a force for good when neighbours have to go and actually talk to each other in person and they soon discover how working together and understanding each other better has a positive effect on their community. Sheena’s wonderful illustrations are full of warmth and humour capturing the nuances of each of the characters perfectly. Another treasure of a book from Barrington Stoke’s Little Gems collection.

Thank you to Barrington Stoke, Bloomsbury, Maverick Books, Nosy Crow and OUP for sending me copies of these books. All of the books are available to buy online now or from any good bookshop.


The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day – Christopher Edge

I was thrilled to host the cover reveal for ‘The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day’ in November last year and even got a sneak peek of an early copy. Now that this exceptional book has officially been released into the world it seems only fitting to read this book again in all it’s finished glory and share my thoughts with you on the blog. Christopher Edge seems to have cornered the market in writing incredibly smart and compelling books that totally stimulate my mind and interest in the scientific world which has never happened in my life before. From ‘The Many Worlds of Albie Bright,’ that taught me about quantum physics and made me look at life from a totally different perspective to ‘The Jamie Drake Equation,’ which opened my eyes to life beyond our planet, and managed to take my breath away. ‘The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day,’ completely expanded my mind, testing all of my pre-conceived notions whilst delivering an emotional punch that was completely unexpected.

It’s Maisie’s 10th birthday unlike most children her age she’s not looking for a bike, the latest gadget or toy she’s desperate to get the things she needs to build her own nuclear reactor. For Maisie is so far removed from a ‘normal’ 10 year old, she’s already passed her G.C.S.Es and A-Levels and is now studying for a degree in Mathematics and Physics. In fact her life has been far from ordinary but on the morning of her birthday it soon becomes clear that her life is now truly extraordinary and completely incomprehensible. She’s all alone in her house and when she opens her front door to look for her family there is nothing there just a dense, terrifying blackness. Trapped in an ever-shifting reality, as her world is consumed by the darkness, Maisie has to rely on the laws of the universe and her desire to be reunited with her family to save herself. And in the end even that might not be enough…

I’m not actually sure how to describe this book to you as it defies description with its mind-blowing original premise. As each layer is gradually unravelled through the story, you think you see light at the end of the tunnel and think you may have found the answer you have been seeking but each time Christopher cleverly turns the tale so that the truth is never quite within your grasp. Maisie’s loneliness and despair is desperately sad at times but she uses her gifted mind to try and navigate this complex and seemingly never ended problem. It’s a real emotional rollercoaster of a read with a huge revelation at the end that will leave you reeling with shock. As we near the end of the story you are literally holding your breath, physically willing events to take a turn for the better yet feeling this hope gradually slipping out of your hands. Yet again Christopher has created another compelling tale that will hold you tight within it’s grasp until the very last page, another thrilling, nerve-wracking adventure.

Blog Tour

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


To celebrate the release of ‘The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day I have a copy to giveaway, not only that but I’m also giving away a copy of ‘The Many Worlds of Albie Bright’ and ‘The Jamie Drake Equation,’ to one lucky reader. To enter simply comment on this blog post and for an extra entry pop over to my Twitter account to find out more. Ends midnight 22nd April UK only.

Thank you to Antonia and Nosy Crow for inviting me to join in with the blog tour. ‘The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day’ is availably to buy now online or from any good bookshop.

Kick – Mitch Johnson

Life has been so busy of late that I’ve struggled to fit in as much reading as I would have liked. Which if I was to be completely honest would mean that I would be reading for at least half of the day and then spending the other half writing. Sadly though this is not really realistic, as ‘adulting’ tends to get in the way of this somewhat flawed but brilliant plan. However being away on holiday and free from general distractions has allowed me to dip into books which have been lingering towards the top of my TBR (To Be Read) pile and ‘Kick’ by Mitch Johnson was right at the top demanding my attention. After hearing rave reviews on Twitter about ‘Kick’ I purchased a copy for my school library and without fail, every child who I have given it to has loved it. I’m so happy that I snuck it out of the school library for myself because it is easily one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Budi has a plan in life, one thing that he dreams of doing more than anything else in the world. He is going to play for the greatest team on earth, Real Madrid and be as famous as his idol Kieran Wakefield. His life couldn’t be anymore further away from this dream – but the impossibility of his wish doesn’t deter Budi. For Budi works in a sweatshop, stitching football boots that he could never in his wildest dreams afford, always conscious of the omnipresent cane threatening him and the other children from the factory foreman. Budi’s harsh reality means walking home with his pockets turned out so that nobody robs him; never eating dinner on a Friday as there is not enough food and living in constant fear of getting cut due to a congenital illness as his family can’t afford medicine. But his life becomes more desperate and perilous when one unlucky kick leaves him owing a favour to the Dragon, the most dangerous man in Jakarta.

Heart-breaking and wonderfully compelling in equal measures, ‘Kick’ is an incredibly adept debut from Mitch Johnson. He transports the reader into the brutal heart of Indonesia where the divide between the rich and poor is so immense, you can feel it pour out through the pages.  His wonderful descriptive writing stimulates all of your senses so that you can picture the chaos of the crumbling apartment blocks, smell the spicy, salty street food, hear the swish of the foreman’s cane and feel the oppressive heat of the unrelenting sun. Although Budi and this story is a work of fiction, the truth of the matter – which you can’t escape when reading this book –  is that for hundreds of thousands of children around the world this is the actual life they live. Mitch brilliantly balances the hopes and dreams of Budi with the harsh fact that his chance of escaping this vicious cycle of poverty and exploitation is virtually non-existent. He doesn’t shy away from the darkness of the world Budi inhabits and he doesn’t choose the easy way out and for that I have to commend him. Despite all of this, it is still primarily a story about dreaming big, about having hope in the darkest of times and never giving up even when the odds seem too high.  Brilliantly told and magnificently delivered, ‘Kick’ needs to be in every junior, primary and secondary library. If you ever want to encourage empathy and offer children an insight into the difficult lives of other children around the world, then let them read this story.

‘Kick’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop.


Rose’s Dress of Dreams – Katherine Woodfine, illustrated by Kate Pankhurst

Today I’m delighted to be kicking off the blog tour for the newest book in the Little Gem series ‘Rose’s Dress of Dream’s’, written by Katherine Woodfine and illustrated by Kate Pankhurst. I’m a huge fan of both Katherine and Kate’s work so I was delighted to hear that they were collaborating on this book and it’s just a gorgeous, inspiring read. Based on the inspiring life of Rose Bertin, the woman credited with creating haute-couture and a remarkable pioneer of fashion at the court of Marie Antoniette. . This beautiful story captures the essence and extravagance of this period wonderfully, enchanting the reader with Rose’s spirit and bravery. To celebrate the launch of this book I am sharing an exclusive glimpse of one of Kate’s illustrations from the book as well as a Q & A about her work.

So without further ado here is my sneak peek of one of the illustrations….

This stunning illustration offers the reader an insight into Rose’s daydreams as she imagines the most magnificent and splendid costumes for her friends and dreams that one day she will bring her creations to life.

Kate Pankhurst – Q & A

I’m a huge fan of Barrington Stoke’s Little Gem series, what was that appealed to you about working on this collaboration with Katherine Woodfine?

I’m a big fan of Katherine’s writing and how she makes history feel very much in the present moment. So when the opportunity came up to work with Katherine on some fun and flamboyant illustrations of 18th century fashion for Rose’s Dress of Dreams for the Little Gems series how could I refuse!? I love the production values of the Little Gems series, they really are beautiful little books.

I think you’ve captured the extravagance of 18th century fashion beautifully in your illustrations, how did you research the costumes and wigs for your designs?

I love gathering as much visual source material as I can for illustration projects. Picking out the small details to draw that will really bring a character to life is one of my favourite parts of the process. Katherine had put together a Pinterest board of her research which was hugely useful (I love Pinterest). I too basically went Pinterest crazy, pinning lots of stunning dresses and accessories from that era, there are lots of Rose Bertin’s designs in museum collections that have been beautifully photographed from all angles so you really get a sense for the detail and fabric. I also found lots of really gorgeous 18th century prints of fashion illustrations picturing ridiculously fancy hats shaped like ships and those amazingly gorgeous (and silly) wigs!

I love the illustrations of the stunning dresses that Rose designed, if you could create your own dream dress and money was no object what would it look like?

Maybe I’d go to town and embrace the whole Marie Antoinette feel. I loved watching the Sophia Coppola film Marie Antionette and have ever since quite fancied swanning around in a massive dusty pink wig draped in pearls and one of her enormous sugary pastel coloured dresses, and if I was going the whole hog maybe it would have lots of frills to!

Your books have featured women from many different periods of time, do you have a particular period in time you’ve enjoyed illustrating?

18th Century France has been a highlight and I also love 1950s fashion and the geometric patterns used in interiors from that time. It’s really good fun to dip my illustration toe into so many periods in history.

Your wonderful ‘Fantastically Great Women’ series feature women whose achievements have helped shape the world we live in. Do you feel that Rose Bertin was a pioneer whose designs have had an influence on the fashion world?

I think Rose was an inspiring woman and pioneering in lots of ways, she ran her own successful creative business which was unusual for a woman at that time anyway and the way that she dressed women for who they were was the beginnings of the fashion industry as we know it today. She is a fantastic character from history for young readers to learn more about.

Thank you Kate for taking part in this Q & A.

Katherine Woodfine

Katherine Woodfine is the author of ‘The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow‘ and sequels. She previously worked at the BookTrust, ran the YA Literature Convention, and now hosts the children’s book radio show ‘Down the Rabbit Hole’. She lives in London.

Kate Pankhurst

Kate Pankhurst is the author and illustrator of ‘Mariella Mystery Investigates’, ‘Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World‘ and ‘Fantastically Great Women Who Made History.‘ She is descended from Emmeline Pankhurst herself! When not drawing, Kate runs workshops for children. She lives in Leeds with her dog Olive.

Blog Tour

Why not join in with the rest of the blog tour for more illustration reveals, reviews and Q & As.

Thank you to Kirstin and Barrrington Stoke for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, ‘Rose’s Dress of Dreams’ is released on the 15th April and is available to pre-order online or from any good bookshop.

Cover Reveal – Embassy of the Dead by Will Mabbitt, illustrated by Chris Mould

Something very dark and spooky is happening on the blog today, prepare to be chilled and totally spooked by this exclusive revelation.  I’m really excited (and a little bit scared)  to be sharing with you today the cover of the fantastically talented Will Mabbitt’s first book in his new series, illustrated by Chris Mould. ‘Embassy of the Dead’  will be published on the 14th June 2018 by Orion children’s books.

So without further ado here it is…….

Oohh isn’t it just spooktastic and just a little bit terrifying, the strapline ‘Leave your life at the door (thanks)’ is intriguingly dark and I really need to find out more. Illustrated by the ridiculously talented Chris Mould with cover design by Sophie Stericker it certainly hints about the living and the dead being thrown together unexpectedly. I love how Chris’s illustrations are so intricately detailed and downright humorous capturing the spirit of the story with every brushstroke. Now I’m desperate to find out more,  so let’s see what the ‘Embassy of the Dead’ has in store for those who are brave enough to enter……

The Embassy of the Dead

The first book in a spookily funny new series, where the living meets the dead and survival is a race against time. Perfect for fans of Skulduggery Pleasant and Who Let the Gods Out.

Welcome to the Embassy of the Dead. Leave your life at the door. (Thanks.)

When Jake opens a strange box containing a severed finger, he accidentally summons a grim reaper to drag him to the Eternal Void (yep, it’s as fatal as it sounds) and now he’s running for his life! But luckily Jake isn’t alone – he can see and speak to ghosts.

Jake and his deadly gang (well dead, at least) – Stiffkey the undertaker, hockey stick-wielding, Cora, and Zorro the ghost fox – have one mission: find the Embassy of the Dead and seek protection. But the Embassy has troubles of its own and may not be the safe haven Jake is hoping for . . .

Will Mabbitt

Will Mabbitt has an overactive imagination. It used to get him in trouble but now it’s his job. His first book, The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones, was shortlisted for the Branford Boase Award. He’s achieved little of else note, preferring to spend his time loitering in graveyards. He can also be found wandering the streets of Brighton in a daze. He is probably having an idea. He lives with his family, in Lewes, on the south coast of England.

Chris Mould

Chris Mould has been a freelance illustrator. since graduating from Leeds Polytechnic in 1991. He went to art school at the age of sixteen. Chris lives with his wife and two daughters in Bradford, West Yorkshire. His work has can be seen in children’s books, magazines, newspapers and many other forms of printed matter.

A huge thank you to Dom and Orion for inviting me to host the cover reveal, I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy. ‘Embassy of the Dead’ is available to pre-order now online or from any good bookshop.

Running On Empty – S. E. Durrant Guest Post

Today I am delighted to welcome S. E. Durrant to the blog with a special guest post to celebrate the recent release of her latest book, ‘Running on Empty‘ illustrated by Rob Biddulph. AJ is a boy who just loves to run. Swept away on the belief and hope that anyone can achieve their dream after watching the 2012 London Olympics, all he wants to do is run on the hallowed track where he saw his idol Usain Bolt win gold. His incredibly running ability makes him different from most 11 year old boys but the thing that makes him really different, well that’s just too difficult to talk about. In fact if AJ tells the world why his life is so different it might just bring his world crashing down around him. Incredibly emotional and powerful storytelling makes ‘Running On Empty’ a truly, compelling read. 

Transition – S. E. Durrant

Trying to imagine a typical transition from primary to secondary school was a novelty for me because mine was anything but. One week I was in the final term of my final year in a Scottish primary, the next I had joined the end of the first year at a comprehensive in Leicestershire.  (Scottish children start secondary school aged twelve.)

The contrasts were stark: from playground games to smoking behind the bike sheds, from reading, writing and arithmetic to dissecting a pregnant frog (first day), from spending all day in a single class to watching lessons disintegrate the moment the bell went. There were the unexpected sanitary products in the toilets and the overflowing bins, the long bewildering corridors, and there was the agony of watching my form split off in many directions and wondering who to follow. I spent more than one lesson in the wrong class. I’m not sure anyone noticed.

Secondary school marks the time when eleven year olds make their first tentative steps into becoming the people they think they want to be. My attempt to recreate myself that day involved luminous tights, jangling bracelets and a huge orange pen – 30cm long – which I could scarcely hold. None of these were appreciated and none but the tights lasted the day.  My Scottish accent didn’t last long either. It was a case of reducing embarrassment.

And embarrassment is at the heart of AJ’s experience. It’s what made him so enjoyable and so painful to write. He is too tall, he is spotty, he wants to be an athlete but his circumstances force him to pretend he hates sport, his parents are not like other peoples’, he is poor.

And besides all this, he is grieving for his grandad who has died unexpectedly and left him with responsibilities he is too young to manage. He knows he needs help but is afraid to ask in case social services try to break up the family. He is torn between wanting to be invisible and wanting to show off his fantastic running ability.

My own children’s secondary school transition was certainly calmer. They went to local schools near their primaries and on their first day the school was open for their year only so they could find their way round. Like most of their friends they carried huge backpacks stuffed with kit (soon to be lost or discarded) and came home with bundles of forms, the sort of things AJ’s parents would struggle to deal with.

AJ has to cope with far too much for an eleven year old but the one thing that keeps him going is his sense of self. He has always been loved. It is the most important thing he has brought with him from childhood and the most important thing he will take forward.

S. E. Durrant

S. E. Durrant lives in Brighton with her husband and children. She has wanted to be a writer since she was a child and has always squeezed writing in around the edges of her life. She’s worked on a stall at Covent Garden market, sold paintings in Venice and taught art to children. In order to write AJ’s story, she extensively researched what life is like for child carers, and children growing up in the shadow of social services.

Thank you to S.E. Durrant for a really interesting guest post. ‘Running on Empty’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop.

Charlie and Me: 421 Miles From Home – Mike Lowery

When Martin and his brother Charlie embark on a journey from Preston to Cornwall without telling their parents, they’re going to end up in big trouble. Drawn back to St Bernards – a place that totally captivated Charlie – on a mission to see the dolphin  that visits the harbour. Martin knows that Charlie will be over the moon to return to this special place and well, Martin will do anything for his brother. Because Charlie isn’t an ordinary brother, he is truly extraordinary in Martin’s eyes. A brother born way too early but who battled for survival and despite the setbacks he’s faced in life and the restrictions it has placed on Martin’s life he couldn’t love him more. But that’s not the only reason Martin is making this epic journey, he is hiding a secret. A huge secret that once revealed, there’ll be no going back from.

I was initially drawn to this book by the stunning, vibrant cover illustrated by David Dean, it was this that made me buy a copy for my school library. This story just wrapped itself around my heart I just loved the relationship between Martin and Charlie. It was realistic and heart-warming without being overly sentimental, I think Mark got the balance just right. It could have so easily been an idealised journey filled with glorious views and special brotherly bonding moments. But Mark captures brilliantly the reality that it’s not going to be a piece of cake for a boy just to sneak out of the house with his brother and travel 421 miles unaccompanied without causing chaos and confusion on the way. It’s on the edge of your seat drama as they try to evade the authority and police who are trying to track them down, containing just enough peril and humour to keep the reader turning the pages. The characterisation is just marvellous, Mark has created characters that you genuinely care about. Not only are Martin and Charlie complex and interesting, but the introduction of juggler and non-comformist Hen gives the story another layer for the reader to unravel. I must confess I struggled to read the last few pages through my tears as I was crying so much. Funny, sad but ultimately uplifting, ‘Charlie and Me’ is a truly special book that I just want to press into the hands of children and encourage them to read.

‘Charlie and Me: 421 Miles From Home’ is available to buy online or from any good bookshop.

The Wardrobe Monster – Bryony Thomson Guest Post

Today I’m delighted to welcome Bryony Thomson to the blog as part of ‘The Wardrobe Monster’ blog tour. Bryony’s debut picture book is a gentle tale about the things that keep children awake at night.  Every night, Dora and her toy friends hear a knocking sound coming from the wardrobe and they’re afraid to go to bed and every morning they are grumpy through lack of sleep. Eventually, they summon up the courage to face their fear together and open the wardrobe door…what falls out provides a humorous and reassuring story for all children who imagine monsters in the darkness. With a sympathetically drawn cast of characters, Bryony taps into a childhood fear and converts it into a tale of mutual support. Sublimely illustrated and beautifully told, this story offers reassurance to children who may worry about noises and darkness at bedtime.

The Wardrobe Monster – Bryony Thomson

The idea for The Wardrobe Monster was floating around in my head for quite a while before I managed to get anything down on paper. It began with some doodles of the main character, Dora, not with any constructive purpose but just because I was continually mulling the story over in my head. In those first few drawings she wasn’t pink haired but this was something that became a fixture very early on in the artwork.

I then began to work on the actual story; this process generally involves writing first, along with some very messy drawings that are only intelligible to me. I end up with loads of tiny scraps of paper floating around the house, my car, my handbag, you name it there’ll be a part of the story there! I sometimes find that it’s best initially not to sit down at my desk and try and write the story from beginning to end but rather to let it sneak up on me – hence the paper jumble!

Once I had collected together my multiple bits of paper I was able to form a more complete script. By that point I felt like I had a good grasp on the story and a really clear idea had formed in my head of what one of the main spreads was going to look like and so I started to experiment with the artwork for that page. I find it helpful to do this quite early in the process as it enables me to get to know the characters better and I can start to imagine what the rest of the story will look like.

With a piece of artwork under my belt I then went back and did rough drawings for the rest of the book, placing the text alongside them so I could see everything working together. It was at this point that I approached Ruth at Old Barn Books and thankfully discovered she liked the story!

The process of working with Old Barn has been really great as they are very willing to listen to my ideas and have been really supportive of my overall approach. Much of the text and image compositions have stayed the same as my original dummy, the main change being the ending. The story originally ended on the “THUMP” page and Ruth made the very valid point that this is way too scary! Since she pointed this out I have come to appreciate that in children’s books, and picture books especially there needs to be a resolution as open ended questions create too much uncertainty; the audience needs to know that everything really is going to be ok in the end.

Once the ending had been resolved I then worked mainly with the designer, Mike Jolley, on the layouts, detailed roughs and finally finished artwork. Working with Mike was absolutely brilliant as he has so much experience with picture books and is a very reassuring presence! As a first time author/illustrator it was great to know that there was someone out there that I could call or email at any point with the most stupid question or problem; he was also great for bouncing ideas off as he really understood what I was trying to achieve. Mike handled all the text for the book, including the large, more pictorial “BANG’s” and “THUMP’s” as this was something I wasn’t overly confident doing and didn’t really feel I had the necessary skill set for; the end result looks great and really fits with the imagery.

Once the first draft of the artwork was complete there were then a few tweaks to be done, such as to the cover and minor changes to the wardrobe and then it was off to print; before I knew it the final book was arriving in the post – a totally surreal experience!

Thank you to Briony for a really interesting guest post, I really love seeing the development of a picture books from initial idea, to roughs, right the way through to the final creation.

Blog Tour

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

‘The Wardrobe Monster’ is released on the 5th April and is available to pre-order online or from any good bookshop. Thank you to Old Barn Books for sending me a copy of this delightful picture book and inviting me to join in with the blog tour.