Monthly Archives: July 2019

Cover Reveal – Shadowsea Peter Bunzl

I’m really excited to be able to reveal for you today, the cover and title of the fourth and final Cogheart Adventure by Peter Bunzl, ‘Shadowsea,’ which will be published on the 9th January 2020 by Usborne. Following on from, ‘Cogheart’, ‘Moonlocket‘ and ‘Sky Circus‘, we embark on another enthralling adventure with Lily, Robert and Malkin.  The lovely team at Usborne have created this incredible animated cover for the reveal today so you’re in for a huge treat!!

So without further ado here it is…….

This stunning cover has once again been designed by Katharine Millichope at Usborne, and illustrated by the brilliant Rebecca Stadlanter. I love how this animated cover hints at the murkiness lying in the depths of the ocean as we see Lily, Robert and Malkin plunged into another dark and perilous mystery. Let’s find out what Peter has instore for us in this stunning adventure.



Swept into the bright hustle and bustle of New York, Lily, Robert and Malkin discover shadowy secrets lie beneath its surface. For there are chilling goings-on in their hotel…

A strange boy held captive, haunted by an undersea mystery; and a revengeful villain with a treacherous plan.

Searching for clues, Robert and Lily are plunged into deep water… But can they reveal the deadly truth before the secrets submerge them?

Join Lily, Robert and Malkin on a fantastic voyage of terror and triumph, in the fourth and final Cogheart Adventure…

Peter Bunzl

(photo credit Thomas Butler)

Peter grew up in South London in a rambling Victorian house with three cats, two dogs, one sister, an antique-dealer dad and an artist mum. He is a BAFTA-winning animator, as well as a writer and film-maker. Like Lily and Robert, he loves adventures and reading penny dreadfuls, but wishes dearly that he had a mechanical fox called Malkin. Shadowsea is his fourth novel.

Thank you to Peter and Usborne for inviting me to host the cover reveal. ‘Shadowsea,’ is available to pre-order now online or from any good bookshop.


July Reads

And so after what seems like the longest school year ever the summer holidays are finally here. Having been struck down by a horrible infection over the last two weeks I’ve been forced to just sit down a read, so have managed to squeeze in quite a few books which I’m sharing with you today. I have something for everyone from 7 years with Emma Read’s debut, ‘Milton the Mighty,’ all the way up to 100 years with Laura Wood’s delightful, ‘Under A Dancing Star.’ So I digress, I’m sure you’re here for the books not an update about my general health (I’m nearly recovered now in case you’re wondering) so let’s let the books do the talking.

Top Marks For Murder – Robin Stevens

For me a new ‘Murder Most Unladylike’, book is always a highlight of my book calendar so I was thrilled to get my hand on an early copy of, ‘Top Marks For Murder.’ Sadly I was yet again forced to wait until my fellow Detective Society member had read it first as she insisted she would be much quicker, which was entirely true as she devoured it in three hours. After our sojourn to the theatre, Wells and Wong are back to their stomping ground of Deepdean where inevitably they find themselves deeply embroiled in a murder during the school’s fiftieth anniversary weekend, with parents all around there’s no chance of a cover up and the scandal is threatening to close their beloved Deepdean. Horrified at the thought of being separated forever our dynamic duo are on the case but this time Robin has made it as difficult as possible for them (and us the reader) to unravel the truth amongst a plethora of old grudges, family secrets and bitter rivalries. This series has gone from strength to strength gaining quite rightly an army of detective society members who are desperate to read the next adventure and this one is definitely worth the wait. So notebooks at the ready it’s time to discover can you solve this clever and complex mystery, I know I failed miserably yet again!

Under A Dancing Star – Laura Wood

Despite getting my hands on an early copy of, ‘Under A Dancing Star,’ I had to force myself to wait to read it when I had the luxury of time to savour every page and just lose myself in Bea’s world. Following on from Laura’s triumphant and stunning Young Adult debut, ‘A Sky Painted Gold.‘ she has managed to create another truly divine story that I completely adored. Bea lives a very small existence, suffocated by her family who are desperate for her to marry well so that she can save the crumbling ancestral pile. Her ambitions and desires are squashed, her life is mapped out against her will until one decision to send her away for the summer offers her one last chance of adventure before her fate is sealed. Sent to live with her uncle in Italy, Bea experiences for the first time a place where her opinion is valued, new freedom and an opportunity to mingle with some bohemian artists who are far removed from her stiff upper lip family. When she meets Ben, she finally meets her match in both wit and intellect and sparks fly. When they’re challenged to enjoy a summer romance without falling in love, it changes them both in the most unexpected of ways. Deliciously romantic, sublimely imagined this is a story that truly stole my heart. Inspired by Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing,’ Laura captures the relationship between Bea and Ben so magnificently, emphasising the joy of the  funny and frustrating banter that flies between the pair. Aside from this, the reader feels the balmy heat of the long hot days and the beauty of the idyllic surroundings through the rich and elaborate descriptions that she creates. A dreamy and gorgeous read, I was totally enchanted by ‘Under A Dancing Star.’

Get Me Out of Here – Andy McNab & Phil Earle, illustrated by Robin Boyden

So regulars to the blog will know I’m a huge fan of Phil Earle’s writing, so when I heard he was teaming up with Andy McNab to write a new children’s adventure I was as excited as Danny is in this book to go on a Wild Out residential trip. That’s where the parallel end as Danny is beset on problems all around, where as I just needed to find some time to sit down and read it. What with having to raise £150 to pay for the trip and oh avoid his big brother who is determined to beat him into a pulp at every opportunity, life is tough. Fortunately by some small miracle and with only a few disaster along the way, Danny succeeds. But our dastardly writers (you know who I’m talking about Andy and Phil) decided to throw another spanner into the works when at the very last minute his brother has to come along too. Just when you think things can’t get any worse, they soon learn the camp leader is about 132 years old and they have to deal with compost loos, not to mention no WiFi. How will Danny every survive the trip and keep his mind and body in one piece. Fast-paced, bonkers and downright hilarious this book is packed with so many comic moments, I for one will never be able to look at stinging nettles in the same way again. Robin captures the carnage and chaos brilliantly in his hilarious illustrations. A rollercoaster of a ride with lots of laughs and nail biting moments, I thoroughly enjoyed, ‘Get Me Out of Here.’

New Class at Malory Towers – Enid Blyton, Patrice Lawrence, Lucy Mangan, Narinder Dhami and Rebecca Westcott, illustrated by Pippa Curnick

Enid Blyton’s ‘Malory Towers,’ series where the books that made me a reader. As a child growing up I read these books under cover by torchlight desperate to indulge in a midnight feast and play lacrosse, despite having no sporting ability. I felt I’d been dealt a cruel blow by not being allowed to go to boarding school, that is the power of books their ability to transform your hopes and dreams. So for me the chance to return to Malory Towers was filled with a real mixture of dread and excitement. What if it didn’t manage to conjure up this place that was magical to me in the same way? I’m delighted to tell you that this book completely surpassed my expectations. It captures all the joy of the original series but brings something fresh and new in these four short stories with a real mix of interesting characters. I’m not sure Darrell Rivers and co. have ever seen such an intriguing mix of girls and for that I will always be truly grateful. Naturally I have a soft spot for the bookworm Evelyn who is mercilessly teased by some of the girls but manages to show Darrell the magic that lies between the pages of the books. I would love to see more of these stories and I’m hoping the lovely guardians of the Blyton estate will commission some more. All of the Malory Towers series have been reissued with new covers from Pippa Curnick and I think they would make a glorious addition to any child’s beloved book collection.

Milton the Mighty – Emma Read, illustrated by Alex G. Griffiths

Milton the false widow spider is more than happy with his existence feasting on ladybird juice and hanging out with his pals big hairy Ralph and spindly daddy-long-legs Audrey until a case of mistaken identity throws his life into chaos. Branded a deadly spider by an internet article sponsored con-incidentally (or maybe not0 by infestation company BugKill, Milton must find a way to expose the truth but the clock is ticking fast. His only hope appears to be Zoe the house-human is suspicious of these rumours but is worried about being branded a spider freak. Can Milton find a way to convince Zoe and her arachnophobic Dad to help save the day? Gently humorous Emma takes us on a journey of discovery to help challenge our spider phobias and fear of creepy-crawlies in this charming and entertaining debut. Milton is the exact type of hero the reader wants to root for with this mixture of fear and bravado and his less than convincing plans. Cleverly introducing children to the concept of fake news and exploring how easy prejudice and panic can set in, this is a brilliant story to ignite important conversations with children. Alex’s hilarious illustrations add an extra element to this story creating an accessible format for young readers embarking on middle grade stories for the first time. Original storytelling and fantastic characterisation make for a really fun debut.


Thank you to Chicken House Books, Hachette, Phil Earle, Puffin and Scholastic for sending me gifted copies of these books in exchange for an honest review. All of these books are available to buy now, except ‘Top Marks for Murder,’ which is released on August 8th. To buy or pre-order click on the links in the title.

Moon Landing 50th Anniversary

Unless you’ve been living in outer space you can’t have failed to notice that this week marks the 50th anniversary of the first ever moon landing. Our televisions are filled with documentaries recounting how we got to this significant moment in history, when Apollo 11 bravely launched into space resulting in Neil Armstrong being the first man to have walked on the moon. So there is a natural curiosity about how mankind was able to achieve this extraordinary goal with technology less able than the computer I am writing this blog on today. A plethora of books to celebrate the 50th anniversary have been released, each looking to take us on a different journey of discovery to understanding how we made it to the moon.

Neil Armstrong First Man on the Moon – Alex Woolf, illustrated by Luisa Uribe, George Ermos & Nina Jones

Most people are familiar with the name Neil Armstrong, after all he was the first man to step on the moon. But how did this man become the one chosen to take the most momentous steps in history? Long before that day Neil was dreaming of journeys above the clouds, from making model planes as a child to gaining his pilot’s licence aged just 15. This fabulous new book, the first in a brand new ‘Trailblazer,’ series is packed with little-know trivia and fascinating facts about Neil Armstong. Who knew that he nearly missed out on becoming one of the most famous men in history when he sent his astronaut application in late and that they were saved from being stuck on the moon by a felt tip pen? Lively black and white illustrations make for an engaging and informative biography.

Counting on Katherine – Helaine Becker, illustrated by Dow Phumiruk

While Neil Armstrong’s name is synonymous with space travel, until the film ‘Hidden Figures,’ was released little was known about the mathematicians who careful calculations made the moon landings possible. In particular the story of Katherine Johnson, an African-American who worked for NASA and despite being a mathematical genius faced racism and sexism to have her voice heard. Her determination and her desire to learn everything about the universe drove her to challenge the institutions that would hold her back. This picture book biography gives us an insight into Katherine a child who loved to count and was fascinated by the world around her and the journey she took to becoming a crucial part of America’s space programme. Beautifully illustrated with accessible information, this is a truly inspirational read.

How To Be An Astronaut – Dr Sheila Kanani, illustrated by Sol Linero

If you talk to children about what they want to be when they grow up, being an astronaut is bound to be a popular answer. But what do you need to do to become an astronaut and what other jobs are there in space? ‘How to be an Astronaut,’ aims to answer these questions in this bright and bold book bursting with interesting things to discover. Vibrant illustrations sit alongside insights such as the history of space exploration, what astronauts actually do on the space station and how the moon actually feels. There are so different space jobs to discover, from discovering new planets to becoming a spacecraft engineer this book uncovers the complexities behind space travels allowing us to understand how it truly happens. Encouraging children to embrace their passions and showing them a world of opportunities awaits, this book is a unique take on space exploration.

Field Trip to the Moon – Jeanne Willis, illustrated by John Hare

I’ve been on many trips with school but never before have I blasted off for an adventure to the moon. This quirky and humorous picture book takes a class to the moon where the humans in silver space suits are observed by the occupants, who are scared of these strange beings. One girl sits down to imagine who lives in a place like this and the occupants are entranced by her rainbow coloured sticks. But tragedy strikes when she becomes separated from the rest of the class. She soon discovers that reaching out a hand of friendship and embracing the unknown can lead to the most unexpected of discoveries. Jeanne’s gently lilting rhymes make this book a joy to read aloud, while John’s stunning illustrations invite the reader to use their imaginations to think about what lies beyond our world.

The Usborne Book of the Moon – Laura Cowan, illustrated by Diana Toledano & designed by Zoe Wray

One of the most disappointing aspects of the moon landing was the terrible discover that the moon after all is not made of cheese. But what do we actually know about the moon? Usborne takes us back in time to discover ancient legends about the moon’s creation, through the Space Race and offering us thoughts of a future world with a moon colony. This narrative non-fiction offers an insight into the role the moon has played through humanity, giving us gems such as moon rabbits, angry suns splattering the moon with mud and whites of eggs creating the moon and stars. I love how the illustrations vary when capturing the different essences of this book, it’s a real joy to pour over the pages. Fascinating facts mixed with ancient beliefs give this book a really distinctive feel that I found really appealing. Usborne have produced some brilliant resources to accompany this book.

Balloon to the Moon – Gill Arbuthnott, illustrated by Chris Nielsen

‘Balloon to the Moon,’ takes space travel back to its origins to October 1783 when the Montgolfier brothers became the first people to experience controlled flight with the help of a sheep, a duck and a rooster. Counting down through history to Neil Armstrong’s first steps and imagining a future world where we could go to space on holiday, this book has it all. In a world where we take air travel for granted, its hard to imagine that the original pioneers would have such a long lasting effect on our ability to travel through space. An in depth examination of the technologies, innovations and stories that led to the moon landings. Exquisitely produced this book has a real retro feel with its muted palette and sophisticated illustrations, it truly is a thing of beauty.

The Darkest Dark – Chris Hadfield & Kate Fillion, illustrated by Eric & Terry Fan

Inspired by the life of real-life astronaut, Commander Chris Hadfield tells the story of the moon landing through his eyes watched next door on the only television on their tiny island. It’s hard to imagine a world where you had to go next door to watch something unfold when everything we see now can be found at the touch of our fingertips. Yet for Chris who has this fear of the dark, a place where aliens are hiding away ready to spring upon him this opens his eyes up to a universe where the darkness we see is only the tip of the iceberg. He realises for the first time that his dreams of an astronaut and travelling space are a real life possibility and that he has the ability to make his dreams come true. A gently exploration of facing your fears and embracing your dreams, this is an uplifting and inspiring story sublimely illustrated with detailed pencil drawings.

The BIg Beyond – James Carter, illustrated by Aaron Cushley

‘The Big Beyond,’ captures the excitement and thrills of space travel through  beautiful narrative poetry which flows magnificently as it begins its examination of mankind’s thoughts about the world around us. Asking fundamental questions, how deep is space, how far are stars and does Mars have life like ours, this feels like stepping into a child’s curious mind. When reading aloud it allows the reader the fun of blasting off into space, then asking questions to create discussions whilst reflecting on everything we have achieved in space exploration. Vibrant illustrations meet playful rhymes in this delightful narrative non-fiction read.

Odd Science: Spectacular Space – James Olstein

‘Spectacular Space,’ is a quirky and informative guide that celebrates the moon landing by assembling weird and wacky facts about space that are wonderfully appealing to children. James takes mind-blowing information like one million Earths could fit inside our Sun and presents them concisely in a humorous and unforgettable way. This is more than just a homage to the moon landing, instead it seeks to inform and entertain with diverse and daft facts, who knew that there is a WiFi hotspot on the Moon, it means my children would be more than happy to go on holiday there! Stunningly produced, featuring retro illustrations that will appeal to both children and adults this is an absolute gem of a book.


Thanks to Big Picture Press, Macmillan, Nosy Crow, Pavilion Books, Stripes Publishing and Usborne for sending me gifted copies of these books in exchange for an honest review. All of these books are available to buy now online (click on the title) or from any good bookshop.

Peril En Pointe – Helen Lipscombe

Regular readers to the blog will know I’m a huge mystery fan. My literary taste has been greatly shaped by my local library and its shelves filled with Famous Five, Secret Seven and Nancy Drew when I was growing up. Since becoming a librarian it is the books of Robin Stevens and Katherine Woodfine that have rekindled my passion for mystery books. So naturally when I hear of a new mystery series bubbling away on Twitter I am determined to seek it out and Helen Lipscombe’s debut, ‘Peril En Pointe,’ looked wonderfully appealing. But I must confess to having incredibly high expectations and I’m thrilled to say that this brilliantly surpassed these standards. Before starting the book I hadn’t read the blurb, instead my 10 year old daughter had spied it in my review pile and after devouring it and declaring it the best book she’s read this year,  I jumped straight in. I can highly recommend this course of action because when the initial twist came early on in the story it was a complete surprise to me and really enhanced my enjoyment.

Milly has grown up in the shadow of her prima ballerina mother never quite managing to impress her mother and her peers, instead the dreaded Willow Perkins steals the limelight causing her nothing but embarrassment. She yearns for her Mum’s approval but when she messes up during the biggest performance of her life, her mum disappears leaving no trace. Convinced her mum is ashamed Milly sinks into the depths of despair, until one day a mysterious invitation to join the Swan House Ballet School gives her a glimmer of hope that she may be able to redeem herself. But this school is not what Milly is expecting and she finds herself pushed to the very limits in her quest to uncover the truth about her mum’s disappearance.

This is such a clever and surprising mystery, that completely enthralled me from start to finish. Helen has created a story that will ignite children’s imaginations with its futuristic imaginings and twists and turns. It has all the necessary ingredients to make it a roaring success, a hapless heroine who you can’t help cheer for, unorthodox and brilliant sidekicks who will leave you smiling, as well as dastardly villains who will stop at nothing to get what they want. It bristles with intrigue and just the right amount of peril to keep readers turning the pages to try and discover exactly what is happening behind the scenes. A story that is bound to excite and entertain mystery lovers, with it’s unexpected and eventful ending. I can’t wait to go back to ballet school with Milly in the next mystery!

Blog Tour

Why not catch up with the rest of the blog tour for more reviews and guest posts.

Thank you to Laura and Chicken House for sending me a gifted copy of this book in exchange for a review. ‘Peril En Pointe,’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop.

Check Mates – Stewart Foster

A new book from Stewart Foster is always something to look forward to, he has a knack for getting into the hearts and minds of his characters connecting them superbly with the reader. ‘Check Mates,’ is a compelling and thoughtful read about one boy’s struggle to fit into a world in which is impossible for him to fit into because he is unable to conform to others expectations of what it is to be good. Felix’s ADHD makes it incredibly difficult to concentrate making his teachers frustrated and his parents are already under an enormous strain and can’t take much more. Left alone with his grandad whilst his parent work long hours, he feels like he is trapped, stuck in the house with an old man who is locked in his own personal grief. Both stubborn with their own agendas firmly in place they battle to have their own way. But a game of chess agreed to reluctantly teaches Felix the most unexpected of lessons and shows him for the first time there is an alternative for him.

Once again Stewart has delivered a story that is truly remarkable and surprising. He has an incredible ability to see the world so clearly through the eyes of his characters that you feel you’re genuinely having a insight into their lives. His characters feel so real and authentic they appear before your eyes having their conversations right in front of you. He is never afraid to tackle difficult issues or shy away from the impact they can have on all family members, nothing is seen in isolation. I particularly loved Felix’s grandad who though is terribly grief stricken sees there may be a way to help Felix even it means confronting a horrific past that he has kept secret for decades. Cleverly mixing the past with the present gives this story an added poignancy and keeps the reader guessing to the very last pages. It’s ultimately a story of having hope when all seems lost, facing your fear and embracing your dreams even when they appear in the most unlikely of places. Another powerful and empathetic read from Stewart, I can’t recommend it enough.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster for sending me a gifted copy of this brilliant book. ‘Check Mates,’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop.

The Last Spell Breather – Julie Pike

Today I am delighted to welcome Julie Pike to the blog to talk about her debut, ‘The Last Spell Breather.’ Having heard so many wonderful things about this book, I decided to save it for a time when I could totally savour it rather than read it in quick snatches here and there. So with no expectation of reading the whole book, I sat down and before I knew it three hours had passed and I’d completely devoured it, captivated by this believable world filled with spells and magic. Rayne is a reluctant Spell Breather, no matter how hard she practices things always get in a muddle and she can’t bear the responsibility of keeping the village safe. Instead she longs to be at school with her friends, enjoying a care free existence. Her life becomes more intolerable when her mother has to leave Penderin after a mysterious stranger gets a glimpse into their secret world. Rayne is forced to confront her fears and embrace her role as Spell Breather, but one clumsy move causes a catastrophic chain of events. Can Rayne find a way to save her village from the monsters that threaten its very existence.

The first thing that struck me about this book was the originality of the premise, the notion of spell breathing is really intriguing and gives an interesting twist to this magical element. We feel a real resistance from Rayne, who at only twelve years old has this immense responsibility laid on her shoulders that she can see no escape from. Yet when she is put to the test after the disastrous incident Rayne soon discovers a fierceness and incredibly bravery inside when she is tested to her very limits. I love how the world-building seems effortless, Julie transports us to this rich and lush place that appears before our eyes as we set off on this thrilling and dangerous adventure with Rayne.  Ultimately it is a story of friendship, courage and the power of believing in yourself, a truly impressive debut. Superb characterisation meets sublime storytelling in this magical and delightful tale.

To celebrate the release of this wonderful book, I have a special Q & A with Julie and her editor Liz Cross.

   Q&A – The Last Spell Breather 

Julie – Where did the idea for The Last Spell Breather come from?

The idea grew from the seed of a writing prompt given to me on an Arvon week in Devon. The course was tutored by authors Steve Voake and Gillian Cross. It was a marvellous week, playing with words and learning story craft.  On a sunny Thursday afternoon, Steve hosted a writing workshop in the old barn called ‘Gothic Pick ‘n Mix’.

From a list of settings, props and characters, we chose one of each and were tasked to write a gothic story. I chose: a lost girl, steps inside a tower, and a fox fur. The girl told me her name was Rayne, and the fox told me his name was Frank. She tried using her magic skills, but didn’t know how. So, she draped Frank around her shoulders and set off up the steps in search of her mother.

Liz – What attracted you to The Last Spell Breather?

My first encounter with the story was in the Bath Spa MA anthology. At that time it was called The Mud Book, and I remember being quite intrigued by it. Then I met Julie at the anthology launch event and instantly liked her – she talked so interestingly about her book, and about the authors she admired, and I came away with a really strong impression that she’d be someone who would be a pleasure to work with. That just meant that when she sent me a draft of her book a little while later, I was really receptive and knew it would be worth spending some time on. As for the book itself, I was attracted by the accessible and compelling voice, the interesting magic system, and the quite classic yet original feel of the book.

Julie- How long did it take before you initially started to write The Last Spell Breather to publication day?

The first words were written in October 2012. The last edits were completed December 2018. The early years were spent learning how to write, so the plot was slow to develop. The biggest stumbling block was devising the magic system. I wanted the reader to know how it worked so they could follow Rayne into danger and worry if she would succeed. My breakthrough came when I put a call out on the SCBWI Facebook page for help with magic systems, which led me to Brandon Sanderson’s excellent essays.

The first draft Liz Cross saw was during the summer of 2017. She liked it, but said (and I knew this too), it needed more work.

Liz – Is it usual for a publishing house to suggest edits before acquisition? What were the main edits you could see were needed before making an offer?

This really varies from book to book, and depends on all sorts of things. Do the changes you’re suggesting feel essential to the book really working? Are the changes structural, do they relate to specific events, or to the underlying themes, or to the narrative voice? How confident do you feel as an editor that the changes are likely to be made successfully? In the case of The Last Spell Breather, I could see there was something really special there, but it felt as if there was a lot of work to be done on bringing the characters’ arcs and the themes to the fore, and giving the story the power and shape I thought it could have. It felt too big a risk to commit to publication before exploring with Julie how this might be done. Happily, she was fully prepared to dive back in and see where she could take the story.

Julie – How did you approach the edits? What were the main changes you made from the original submission to the final draft?

Liz’s edits gave me a huge boost of confidence and narrowed my attention to the specifics of what wasn’t working. She asked questions about why certain things were so, and whether I could think of other ways to achieve a better result. Ways that led me to deepen my characters and bolster the themes.

After three months of mulling over our conversation I formed a clear plan of what I had to do, which involved re-writing the beginning (again) AND re-writing the end (fortunately, the middle didn’t sag).

The biggest edit was back in the magic system. The original ending Liz saw didn’t have any magic in it. I’d become hooked on the hearsay that magic wasn’t supposed to solve a character’s problem. And this is true, EXCEPT when the character’s arc is all about them accepting that they can perform magic. Eureka! When I finally understood that (after Liz had nudged me twice) everything fell into place.

Liz – What was your reaction to the final draft? What were the main differences that stood out from Julie’s original submission?

Honestly – I was absolutely blown away by the final draft. Julie had taken on board everything we’d talked about, and really thought through how she wanted to take it forward. She hadn’t tried to fix things with little tweaks here and there, and hadn’t tried to get away with the minimum amount of work possible – she’d plunged right in and got to the heart of everything. It was such a pleasure to read.

Julie – What are your top tips for aspiring writers?

Keep going. Creating something new, from scratch, is hard. So many established authors talk about this. Stories don’t come with a ‘how to’ guide. When it comes down to it, it’s just you and your story, inching forward in the darkness, one scene at a time. If I’m worrying, ‘I don’t know how to do this’, then I reassure myself I must be creating along the right lines.

Reading author blogs, going to their events and taking onboard feedback from trusted critique partners is invaluable. Last month I was at the Winchester Writer’s Festival where Katherine Rundell talked about story craft. She talked about transferring The Explorer from manuscript to screenplay. Because films are expensive to shoot (say $80 million for 80 scenes), she now asks herself, ‘is this scene worth a million dollars?’

Liz – What advice would you give writers to help them stand out in submissions? What are the qualities you are looking for when deciding whether or not to publish a book?

We’re looking for books that we think will delight and entertain children and – crucially – that we think we’ll be able to get into their hands widely. We’re looking for books that have a clear point of interest or point of difference, that we can confidently shout about – and we’re looking for authors that we can work with collaboratively, over the long term. To stand out in submissions I guess my best advice would be – have a clear sense of what your story is about, and how you can communicate that most pithily and enticingly. Be open to feedback without losing that clear sense of what you want your work to be. And don’t give up!

Julie Pike

Julie grew up on a council estate, nestled between the forests and foothills of the Welsh Valleys. She is passionate about adventure stories, and volunteers in local schools and libraries in Dorset, helping children find stories that excite them. She is passionate about real-life adventures too, and has crawled inside the great pyramid of Giza, travelled to the peak of Kilimanjaro, and camped on the Great Wall of China in a lightning storm.

Blog Tour

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

Thank you to Julie for inviting me to join in with the blog tour and to OUP for sending me a gifted proof copy of this fabulous book. ‘The Last Spell Breather,’ is available to buy now online and from any good bookshop.

Anna at War – Helen Peters

As you can imagine I read a huge amount of children’s books in a year. Often it is moments snatched between working or when my children disappear and I have a precious half hour to myself. But sometimes a book comes along that demands your full attention, insists that you just lose yourself in the story and before you know it you’ve read it from cover to cover with hours having passed by. ‘Anna At War,’ is one of these rare books, hauntingly beautiful and utterly devastating I devoured this in one sitting, totally compelled to sit still by Anna’s story. Children today are taught about the atrocities of the Holocaust and the horrors of World War Two but I’m not sure how much these facts teach them empathy about the experiences of those who lived and died during this horrific time. I shared an extract from ‘Anna at War,’ focusing on The Night of the Broken Glass,’ and I think hearing a personal account -albeit a fictional one- conveys the sheer terror for those who experienced persecution just because they were Jewish. This is why it’s so important that we share stories like these with our children today so we never forget.

Now on the surface it looks like Anna is one of the lucky ones, she escapes Nazi Germany on one of the last of the Kindertransport to England and is welcomed by a truly kind family. Despite missing her parents desperately she carries on the best she can, relishing any communication she has from her parents, relived that they are alive. But not everybody is welcoming to Anna. Her life at school becomes intolerable when war breaks out between England and Germany, isolated and accused of being a spy she becomes a virtual outcast. Yet when fate inadvertently puts her in the path of an injured soldier Anna is determined to prove to everyone that she can be trusted and soon she is caught up in dangerous web of betrayal and secrecy. Can she risk everything she loves to prove whose side she’s on?

This thrilling adventure contains just the right amount of fear and danger to enthral children, it is really compelling as we watch Anna risk herself to protect those who have taken her under her wings. Despite everything that has happened to her she is resilient and fearless. Anna is the kind of character who you lose your heart to and become inextricably bound to her story. You feel her pain and I found myself weeping throughout this book at the horrors and injustice that took place. I was utterly moved by this extraordinary story, it highlights so starkly how easy it is for our very neighbours to turn their backs on us. Hateful rhetoric is so influential when times are tough and it’s important for children to understand how easily people can be manipulated by lies. Prejudice and mistrust can appear in the most unexpected of places.  Helen has created a thoughtful and powerful story that shows that courage and bravery can succeed in the darkest of times.

Thank you to Nosy Crow for sending me a gifted proof copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. ‘Anna At War,’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop.

The Dinosaur Who Lost Her Voice – Julie Ballard

Today I am delighted to welcome Julie Ballard to the blog with her picture book debut, ‘The Dinosaur Who Lost Her Voice,’ illustrated by Francesca Gambatesa. This charming tale tells the story of Milly Jo, a dinosaur with the most beautiful singing voice whose life is turned upside down when an accident causes her to lose her voice. Feeling like her identity has been robbed she feels complete despair until all of her friends rally around to try and cheer her up by singing to her instead. Realising they’re terrible Milly Jo sets out to teach them how to sing and despite numerous hiccups she manages to create a beautiful sound with them. I love the gently lilting rhymes of this tale and how Julie doesn’t take the easy route by giving an expected happy ending. Instead she allows the reader to explore the idea that we can let our talents shine in different ways and don’t need to be defined by the one thing we do brilliantly. Life can deliver new happiness in the most unexpected of ways. Francesca’s illustrations capture the ups and downs of Milly Jo’s journey brilliantly, I particularly love the characterisation of the different dinosaurs she is able to convey so much through their expressions. A heart-warming and uplifting story which is perfect for sharing.

When Life Gives You Lemons…Make Lemonade – Julie Ballard

If you’d have asked me what picture book of mine I could have first envisaged being published, it would not be the one that is being published today!

Having written countless funny rhyming picture books – the type I would make a beeline for in my local bookstore, knowing my two small sons would enjoy – I was somewhat surprised that my offer of a book deal came for a tale with an altogether different feel.

“The Dinosaur Who Lost Her Voice” is a story with a disabled protagonist at its heart. Not only does Brontosaurus Milly Jo become disabled during the book, she never recovers the beautiful singing voice for which she is famed in the forest.

But fear not. Whilst the central character is injured, it is her capacity to pick herself up and forge a brighter future, with the help of her friends, which provides an ultimately uplifting and, I hope, positive message. The central themes are ones of kindness, friendship, resilience, adapting to change and focussing on one’s strengths.

What many people do not know about this story is that my youngest son was the inspiration for it.

At an early age he was diagnosed with a severe neurological speech disorder.

In addition to dietary changes, medical help outside the UK, countless hours of speech therapy and MAKATON training to help him communicate, we started thinking about his long-term future.

Were he never to speak, we began considering career options he could excel in which wouldn’t involve words – such as the visual arts.

His Grandmother gave him a camera and allowed him to snap away. At one point, one of his photos was used on the front cover of a local senior citizens’ magazine. When the Editor phoned seeking to credit the photographer, she was surprised to discover it was a three-year-old boy!

Luckily, over time, my son did learn to speak but it was a long, uphill struggle. He now speaks so clearly no one would guess he’d had difficulties.

With hindsight, those days when I felt sick to the stomach wondering if my beautiful child would ever speak, were painfully dark.

However, I was determined not to let him down and to concentrate on what he could do, in addition to what he was struggling with.

Theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking famously said: “Look up at the stars, not down at your feet…and however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t give up.”

Milly dinosaur is metaphorically thrown lemons in my debut picture book with Egmont. Rather than giving up, she gets on and makes lemonade.

I won’t spoil the ending. That’s for you to discover.

My wish is that this story of triumph in the face of adversity may help one child realise there is a silver lining to every dark cloud. It may not be visible at first, but it is there!

Thank you to Julie for asking me to host this really thoughtful guest post about her inspiration behind her picture book debut. ‘The Dinosaur Who Lost Her Voice,’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop. Thank you to Egmont for sending a gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.