Monthly Archives: October 2019

Spooktacular Reads

As Halloween approaches there’s nothing I enjoy more than turning out the lights and reading spooky books by torchlight. I have a Spooktacular selection of books on the blog today for children (and adults) of all ages, that are perfect for sharing or as an alternative to a bucket full of sweets. From reluctant vampires, to imaginary friends that come true, there’s definitely something for everyone to enjoy here.

Dracula Spectacular – Lucy Rowland & Ben Mantle

Lucy Rowland and Ben Mantle are back with another wonderful collaboration which celebrates kindness, bravery and learning to accept who you really are. Dracula’s parents don’t know what to do with their little boy. He’s happy and content, doesn’t like wearing black and would rather befriend humans than scare them.  Despite their best efforts, he refuses to be like them but he wants to try and keep them happy, so he tries his best but it makes him really sad. A chance encounter with a little girl makes for an unexpected friendship that shows Dracula boy and his family that they should embrace their differences. Told in Lucy’s trademark bouncy rhymes which are a joy to read aloud, this is such a fun book to share and offers the opportunity for lots of thoughtful conversations with children. Ben’s illustrations capture brilliantly the contrast between the traditional darkness of the Dracula family and the shiny technicolour that the boy desperately craves. A lively story filled with heart, the perfect spooky book for younger readers.

Hansel and Gretel – Bethan Woollvin

I’m a big fan of Bethan Woollvin’s fairy tale retellings with their humorous and dark unexpected endings. Her version of Hansel and Gretel features Willow a good witch, who lives peacefully all alone in her gingerbread cottage until one day two wicked children come along and create total chaos. Despite their appalling behaviour, Willow does her very best to be kind and patient, trying not to loose her temper and conjuring them up delicious treats. But no matter how hard she tries, they continue to be beastly and boisterous.  Brilliantly told, this is a deliciously dark and frightfully funny fairy tale, which is bound to fill children with glee. Beth’s signature vibrant artwork is creepily compelling and perfectly enhances this story filled with magic and mayhem.

Picklewitch & Jack and the Cuckoo Cousin – by Claire Barker, illustrated by Teemu Juhani

I just loved the first book in the ‘Picklewitch and Jack,’ series so I was excited about getting my hands on this proper dandy new adventure. Capturing all the mayhem and charm of the original story, Claire cunningly throws some more mischief into the mix of Jack’s life with the arrival of Pickliwitch’s practically perfect cousin Archie Cuckoo. Jack is completely swayed by his immaculate manners and encyclopedic knowledge and thinks he may have found a true ally at last. But he soon discovers Archie is not all he seems, and a strange darkness descends over their lives threatening everyone they know and love. Can Picklewitch and Jack find a way to outwit this cunning cousin? A fiendishly funny and hilariously heart-warming tale, sprinkled with just enough peril and peculiarity to keep the reader completely engaged and entertained. Claire and Teemu make for a wonderful combination, together they have created something stuffed with so much magic and charm that completely enchanted me. Teemu’s illustrations capture magnificently the transformation of Archie into something really rotten. It just crackles with naughtiness and energy and I just can’t get enough of this brilliant series, another triumph in storytelling.

 

Skeleton Keys: The Unimaginary Friend by Guy Bass, illustrated by Pete Williamson

Ben Bunsen has spent his life being shunted from one seaside town to a next and struggles to settle and make friends. When not one single person turns up to his birthday party, Ben is lost and confused and turns to the one person he can rely on, his imaginary friend Gorblimey. But his desperate desire for a real friend sparks of a chain of events that leads to a whole lot of trouble and mayhem for everyone who knows him when our narrator Skeleton Keys knocks at his door. For Skeleton Keys is convinced that when imaginary friends become unimaginary,  his job is to find them and cast them into the far off world of Oblivion but for once his intuition is so far away from the mark, he fails to spot the real danger. Can Ben protect Gorblimey and stop the unimaginary friend who is truly a threat? Packed with thrills, spills and spooky imaginings, this is wildly inventive children’s writing at its’ best. Guy and Pete Williamson have created a truly collaborative and intriguing tale which invites you to suspend everything you believe in and open your mind to a world that just bubbles below the surface. Excellent characterisation meets funny and playful storytelling in this spooky and entertaining tale.

The Ghouls of Howlfair – Nick Tomlinson, artwork by Kim Geyer

Molly Thompson is the thorn in the side of the residents of Howlfair. Her mind is filled with questions and she is determined to investigate all of the scary legends, even though it causes embarrassment and despair for the townsfolk. Despite her lack of success she’s convinced something strange is afoot and the death of her Dad is somehow linked. But when her meddling causes too much upset, she is banned from the library and her attempts to uncover the truth is thwarted at every corner. Undeterred she needs to find a way, alongside her best friend Lowry and Gabriel the cat to keep Howlfair safe. This is genuinely one of the most entertaining and ghoulish books I have read in a long time. I loved the mix of mystery solving and ghoul busting, Molly is a truly wonderful character whose willingness to carry on when everyone else around her doubts her plans is truly marvellous. I think it’s spooky enough to satisfy those children who want to be scared but not completely terrified and I predict it to be a huge hit at school. Funny, smart and downright compelling this is a joy of a read, Nick is definitely a debut author to watch out for!

Thanks to Faber, Macmillan, Stripes Publishing, Two Hoots, and Walker for sending me gifted copies of these books. You can buy all of these books now online (click on link in title) or from any good bookshop.

The Mist Monster by Kirsti Beautyman

When Penny and her Dad move house, she isn’t sure, despite her Dad insisting it’s the start of a brand new adventure. She can’t go adventuring without her Mum’s explorer hat and when her dog Peanut runs off with it, Penny is forced to follow him. Lost and unsure in the mist, she stumbles upon a monster who is surprisingly kind and they dash off on a hunt for the hat, sharing lots of fun on the way. A gentle tale of reassurance offering comfort to children who may be experience difficulties, showing them that friendship can be found even in the most unlikeliest of places. Exquisitely illustrated by Kirsti, every spread is rich with details and the muted tones add to the charm of this read. Magical and mystical in every way, this is a truly delightful and heart-warming tale.

As part of ‘The Mist Monster,’ blog tour I’m delighted to share with you a special guest post from Kirsti.

Rough and Final – Kirsti Beautyman

I find it really interesting to see other artists dummy books and roughs so thought I would share one of the final approved roughs for The Mist Monster with you! I often find looking at roughs just as exciting as seeing the final pieces. I visited Seven Stories (National Centre for Children’s Books) archive years ago when I was still in university, and I was so intrigued by the dummy books and roughs they had in their collection for some of my favourite children’s books. There was something very real and beautiful about seeing the development between a rough and a coloured piece. Whilst the line work for my approved roughs was quite neat (it did NOT start out this way, this was after many rounds of pencil sketches, but goodness knows where all those loose sheets of paper have gone!), there is still a good deal of difference between the roughs and final piece, things being moved etc and also the development of Dad as a character! ‘

Blog Tour

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

Thank you to Louisa and Scholastic for inviting me to join in with the blog tour and for sending me a gifted copy of this wonderful book. ‘The Mist Monster,’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop.

Christopher Pumpkin by Sue Hendra & Paul Linnet, illustrated by Nick East

When a wicked witch brings a batch of pumpkins to life, she’s determined to enlist their help in organising the scariest Halloween party ever! What she hadn’t anticipated was one pumpkin, Christopher being the least spookiest pumpkin in the history of pumpkins! Her demands for ghastly decorations, disgusting food and a howling playlist are continually thwarted by Christopher’s jolly bunting, pink cupcakes and gentle guitar music. But when the witch threatens to turn Christopher into soup, he needs to find a way to scare them all, in his own trademark style. A hilarious tale filled with the most disgustingly delightful details that will engage and entertain children. Nick East’s humorous and energetic illustrations complement Paul and Sue’s marvellous rhymes, making this a perfect book so much fun to share and read aloud.

 

 

Make your own Christopher Pumpkin fairy cakes

As part of the blog tour we (actually my teenage daughter) decided to make our very own Christopher Pumpkin style Halloween treats and chose these delicious cupcakes to bake.

 

Ingredients

for the cakes: 115g butter, 115g caster sugar, 2 eggs, 115g self-raising flour, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

to decorate: 85g butter, 225g icing sugar sifted, 1 tablespoon of milk, pink or red food colouring, Haribo hearts

Preheat the oven to 180c

Beat the butter and sugar together in a bowl until pale and fluffy, then beat in the eggs, one at a time. Sift the flour into the mixture and fold in, then stir in the vanilla extract

Spoon the mixture into paper case and bake for 18 minutes or until risen

When cool decorate the cakes, put the butter into a bowl and beat until smooth and creamy. Add the sugar, milk and vanilla extract and beat together. Add a few drops of  food colouring until you get the desired colour and stir well.

Pipe the top of the cupcakes with icing and pop on the Haribo hearts (you can then eat the rest of the bag of sweets)

If you don’t fancy making something so perfectly pink, how about trying your hand at a rat’s tail pizza with curried slugs and fried spicy snakes.

Thank you to Alison and Hachette for inviting me to join in with the blog tour and for sending me a gifted copy of this Spooktacular book. ‘Christopher Pumpkin,’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop.

Grace Ella: Witch Camp by Sharon Marie Jones, illustrated by Adriana J Puglisi

I am so delighted to be sharing with you today, the follow up to Sharon Marie Jones’ enchanting debut, ‘Grace-Ella: Spells For Beginners.‘ Grace-Ella and Mr Whiskins are back in a brand new magical adventure, ‘Grace-Ella: Witch Camp,’ illustrated by Adrian J Puglisi, that is bound to entertain younger readers. Grace-Ella is excited but nervous to go to Witch Camp but she needs to get there first. After solving the riddle she finds herself with fellow young witches, Dilys, Mati and Aisha and they’re determined they will win the coveted best coven award.

The only problem is Dilys appears to be the worst witch her family has ever had and when her broomstick flying goes wrong, Mati convinces them that the only way to help her is to go into the forest at night, breaking the rules they’ve sworn to keep.

Grace-Ella soon discovers the rules are there for a reason. But after disaster strikes she has to face her fears and find a way to save her friends before it is too late!

Sharon has created a joyful sequel which is really appealing to lovers of witches, who may want to explore magical worlds in a gentler way. Although there are tiny sprinkles of peril, ultimately this is a tale about learning to accept yourself for who you are and embracing your talents. Grace-Ella and her friends are characters that children will be able to see themselves in, despite having magical powers they still face the every day worries that non-magical children do. Adriana’s illustrations wonderfully enhance this story capturing perfectly the wealth of emotions our young witches experience with their first taste of independence.  Bubbling with magic, bravery and friendship this is a charming read. Grace-Ella Witch Camp will cast a spell over you with its enchanting and captivating storytelling.

Thank you to Meg and Firefly for sending me a gifted copy of this enchanting book. ‘Grace-Ella. Witch Camp,’ is available to buy online now or from any good bookshop. I think it’s a perfect story for sharing with years 2 – 4 and Sharon has created some online resources to help support teachers sharing the book in their classrooms.

Catch That Cough – Bonnie Bridgman & Louise Forshaw

Today on the blog I have a special guest post with the author Bonnie Bridgman to celebrate the release of her debut picture book, ‘Catch That Cough,’ illustrated by Louise Forshaw. This lively and engaging picture book is a wonderful way to talk to children about the importance of learning to catch their coughs because if they don’t all sort of problems could happen as Maisie soon finds out! When Maisie’s fails to heed her Mum’s warning and ‘catch her cough,’ it escapes out of the window and starts to create havoc, spoiling all her plans. Annoyed, she’s determined to catch her cough and put things right. But once a cough has escaped it can be incredibly difficult to get it back again and we watch her frustration as the cough keeps outwitting her. Louise’s joyful and hilarious illustrations brings Bonnie’s story to life wonderfully. After reading it with seven different classes at school this week, I can confirm that it is highly entertaining and is a real fun story to share. Although it did seem to cause an outbreak of coughing afterwards, I’m not convinced they were genuine coughs though! Definitely a book that needs to be in every school library!

Bonnie Bridgman – Journey to Publication

I am very excited to be on Jo’s blog today. This is a writing goal right here! Jo was one of the first people I followed on Twitter and she has been an inspiration ever since. Thank you so much Jo for having me!

One thing I’ve learnt in this whole writing malarkey, and something I need to be reminded of continuously, is that you should celebrate every writing achievement along the way. It could be finishing that first draft (which is actually a MASSIVE achievement), second draft, third (you get the gist), receiving the first rejection, getting back up, coming up with an idea, the first full manuscript request and finally that first ever so elusive….yes.

My debut Picture Book came out this September with the lovely Louise Forshaw. I managed to get my ‘yes’ from Tiny Tree Children’s Books as an un-agented writer. I saw a post from Lou Treleaven detailing which publishers were accepting unsolicited manuscripts. So I submitted to Tiny Tree and then came … The Wait.

Every writer is familiar with The Wait and the feelings that go along with it. As soon as you press send, you become an emotional wreck. Ping! An email! It must be The Email! Nope. It’s an email telling me about some clothes I can’t afford. Ping! Could it be? Nope. It’s an email I just sent myself reminding me to pick up milk. Ping! Etc… it’s a long old wait until finally you get the email you’ve been waiting for and it’s a…..rejection. Sigh.

Except this time it wasn’t. Tiny Tree liked the story. They wanted the story. My story. My words! I shrieked! Then I called my husband. No answer. I called my mum, no answer. Why was no one answering their phones???!!! Finally I got through and there was a lot of high pitched shrieking that only dogs could hear.

Fast forward two years and hey presto! I’m holding a book in my hands with my name on it. A real life actual book. I’m signing my own name in it. With a Sharpie!

Events are a whole new world. Reading my words to children and having them join in is a dream come true. To see their reactions to Louise’s fantastic illustrations is brilliant. I can’t resist pointing out some of the details that she’s put in, they gasp and giggle particularly at the Cough’s bottom! It feels incredible (when children join in, not the Cough’s bum!).

One thing that has taken me by surprise is the amount of support I’ve received. And how generous everyone is with their time. I’ve been so touched by the comments, reviews and support at events.

I’m so lucky to have Tiny Tree as my publisher, they’ve taken great care of me and I now have the incredibly talented and extremely lovely Helen Boyle of Pickled Ink as my agent who’s been wonderful.

It’s been a tricky road for me. I’ve documented the pain I’ve experienced over the past nine years on my own blog. There were times that I wondered how I was going to pick myself up and walk out the door. But I did. Writing has been my lifeline. The light in the darkest of tunnels. And whilst I know there will be lots more ups and downs along the way, I have a team on my side, words in my head, my book in my hand and pride in my heart. I’m a writer.

Thank you to Bonnie for this really insightful guest post. ‘Catch That Cough,’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop.

The International Yeti Collective – Paul Mason, illustrated by Katy Riddell

Today it’s my stop on the blog tour for this brilliant new ecological adventure, ‘The International Yeti Collective,’ by Paul Mason, illustrated by Katy Riddell. Ella is tracking through the Himalayas excited at the prospect of uncovering the truth about the existence of yetis, with her explorer uncle. But as they get closer to tracking down these illusive creatures, Ella begins to doubt the ethics of their quest. Despite Tick’s mum being banished for coming into contact with humans, he can’t resist the chance to see what fascinated his mum so much that she gave up everything she loved. Their actions spark off a chain of events that could threaten the entire yeti species. Can they find a way to right their wrongs? I particularly enjoyed the dual narrative aspect of the tale so we see how the humans and yetis both feel about this life changing event for both of them, It enriches the tale giving it a really thoughtful edge. Fast, frenetic and downright thrilling, this book will keep you gripped until the very last page. A heart-warming and clever tale that invites the reader to think about the consequences of our actions and  is bound to intrigue any inquisitive child

To celebrate the publication of ‘The International Yeti Collective,’ I have a special Q & A with illustrator Katy Riddell.

Drawing on Yetis: An interview with Katy Riddell

1.      The International Yeti Collective is beautifully illustrated. What drew you work on this story?

Thank you! Well, as soon as I read the story I knew it was something I wanted to illustrate and I had so much fun. I’ve always loved drawing make believe creatures and monsters so this suited me quite well.

2.      Who were your favourite illustrators when you were growing up?

I read a lot of Jacquline Wilson when I was younger so I loved the illustrations of Nick Sharratt. Also the illustrations of Maurice Sendak and Lisbeth Zwerger were absolutely captivating for me growing up.

3.      What are the three main things a reader will find in your illustrations?

Hopefully a sense of character, joy and humour.

4.      Did you always want to be a illustrator? Have you had different jobs before you were an illustrator? Do you think a variety of work experiences has helped you to draw?

All I’ve ever done is draw and its one of the things I enjoyed the most! I always knew I wanted to do something creative. At first I thought that it was painting and I wanted to be a fine artist but after my art foundation I realised that putting pictures to words and giving my drawings a context worked better for me. I’ve had various jobs in hospitality whilst growing up just to earn some extra spending money but I am now pleased to say that illustration is my one and only job!

5.      Where do start when interpreting a character?

I always start by just sketching what I feel immediately after I get given the brief or I’ve finished reading about the character. This always helps get any first impressions out of my head and into the page.

6.      The environment and conservation are main themes in The International Yeti Collective. How hard was translating the highly emotive real-world issues into artwork?

I actually found it really enjoyable rather than hard. Paul has done such an amazing job in incorporating these themes in a really easy to understand way for children. These are issues that I am incredibly passionate about in my personal life so to be able to illustrate this book was such a joy for me!

7.      How much of Katy Riddell is reflected in your illustrative style?

I guess it depends on what kind of job I’m doing, but I mostly like to do things that resonate with me. People have said they can see a certain style in the way I draw things but sometimes it hard to see it In your own work.

8.          You are in an art class with a 10-year-old who claims that they “can’t draw”… Where do you start with advice to try to change their mind?

This has actually happened to me a few times. I use to volunteer in an after school art club so I got many children coming to me and saying they couldn’t draw. I always found that once I’d sat down with them and we had drawn together it stopped being about what they ‘can’t do’ and just about having fun. its important to give lots of encouragement and to make it as relaxed as possible. Every child can draw and as we get older we get more self conscious about what people will think or if we are doing it right. It’s so hard to hold on to that childlike imagination and very easy to lose it if we aren’t given the space and motivation to let it grow.

9.      What’s the best and worst things about being an illustrator?

The best thing about being an illustrator for me is that I am able to do the one thing I have always done and absolutely loved as my career. I get to read and draw everyday…i don’t think many people think I’m even working!

The worst thing would be no one believes I’m working!

10.      Do you have any advice for budding artists?

I would say what my dad always said to me as I was growing up and that is to always keep a sketchbook/sketchbooks! And fill them up and draw like nobody is watching or going to judge it. Its just for you and you’ll be surprised at some of the amazing things that come out of that.

QUICKFIRE QUESTIONS

1.      3 words that describe you: Sleepy, Hungry and Moody…

2.      Favourite time of the day? Dinner time

3.      3 random facts about you: I’ve just climbed Kilimanjaro. I’m learning Italian. I have a fear of holes (trypophobia)

4.      Go-to snack? Anything peanut butter related.

5.      The best advice you ever got: Always keep a sketchbook

6.      “If I could go anywhere in the world right now, I’d head for…” Italy!

7.      “If I could time-travel, I’d set the counter for the year …Because… about 100 million years BC because I would like to see dinosaurs.

8.      An easy way to be a bit more green: Go Vegan! (or just eat less meat in general)

9.      Your dream place to take your sketchbook? Whilst travelling round Europe in a van (i will be doing that next year!)

10.  The 3 artists you admire the most: Edward Gory, Posy Simmonds, Qin Leng

 

Blog Tour

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

Thank you to Leilah and Stripes for inviting me to join in with the blog tour and for sending me a gifted copy of the book. ‘The International Yeti Collective,’ is released on the 17th October and is available to pre-order now online or from any good bookshop.

 

Invisible in a Bright Light – Sally Gardner

From the moment I read the opening lines of, ‘Invisible in a Bright Light,’ by Sally Gardner I knew that this story was going to be something special and I was completely enthralled. This dark and magical fairytale begins deep in the watery depths in the cave of dreamers and then swiftly transports us to the Royal Opera House in 1870. A girl finds herself trapped in a cruel game, the Reckoning, with an impossible riddle to solve. She holds the fate of her family and friends in her hands and nothing makes sense. Haunted by a past she can barely remember, her mind is in a haze. Can she find away through the gutter of time and outwit the man in the emerald suit who is controlling her destiny?

I was totally spellbound by this story, such exquisite, intricate storytelling that is bound to delight readers. Sally’s doesn’t make this story easy for the readers, echoing the girl’s experience, we find ourselves lost and confused at times. But for me the bewilderment we experience, truly enhances the enjoyment of the book. You never know what is going to happen next, there is an element of foreboding that runs throughout keeping you firmly on the edge of your seat. The characterisation is sublime from the truly awful Madame Sabina, to the brave and resilient Celeste, it’s a magnificent cast. Wonderfully atmospheric and incredibly poignant in parts, we feel her struggle so intensely as time begins to run away with itself and it looks like all could be lost. For me this is a really unique and intriguing tale, that completely captivated me from start to finish.

Blog Tour

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

Thank you to Jade and Head of Zeus for sending me a gifted copy of this gorgeous book and inviting me to join in with the blog tour. ‘Invisible in a Bright Light,’ Is released on the 17th October and is available to pre-order online or from any good bookshop.