A Sky Painted Gold – Laura Wood

I’ve long been a fan of Laura Wood’s glorious writing having loved her wonderful, ‘Poppy Pym,’ series with it’s mix of delightful characters and clever mysteries seamlessly woven together in the most marvellous of stories. So I was intrigued to discover that Laura was embarking on new writing adventure with her first YA debut, ‘A Sky Painted Gold,’ and the lure of devouring it proved impossible to resist. Nothing could quite prepare me for this truly exquisite and enchanting tale with it’s allure of glitz, glamour and endless parties with something dark bubbling beneath the surface. Lou is a passionate writer always looking for the stories hiding in places. Growing up she wonders about the grand Cardew House which has stood empty for years. Like a moth to a flame she is drawn to it’s faded elegance as it lies separated from the rest of the village by the tides covering it’s causeway. She feels a compulsive attachment to this house derived of occupants as it’s left neglected feeling an almost sense of ownership. She is dismayed when the new owners arrive for the summer and the house is restored to it’s glory days but finds that she can’t keep away. Soon she is unexpectedly thrown into this new and thrilling existence and as she gets closer to the Cardews, her relationship with them becomes all consuming leaving her old life behind. But what will happen when the summer is over, how can Lou exist outside of this intoxicating and exotic world.

Let me shout from the rooftops just how much I adored, ‘A Sky Painted Gold,’ nothing I will write in this review will ever capture the sheer triumph of Laura’s stunning writing. Intricately detailed with the most elaborate descriptions this book oozes beauty, elegance and excitement from every page, with a hint of danger just looming in the background. We see Lou transformed as she tries to understand the purpose of her life and completely understand why she embraces something completely different. Who could resist this sophisticated and spoilt world that she previously could only dream about. Emotionally we see her torn between her old life and new life whilst confusion about her feelings for Robert Cardew, as he plays hot and cold with her. The reader can see why she is inextricably drawn to this family, yet their relationship feels fragile and finite. I felt on edge in the very best of ways when reading it, waiting to see if the bubble would burst for Lou. Laura has assembled the most delectable cast of characters from the reserved cautious Robert to his effervescent but delicate sister Caitlin who he fiercely protects. I particularly loved Laurie her warmth, compassion and sheer boldness truly delighted me. Laura has captured magnificently the changes to society that were emerging in the 1920s which felt at the time wildly outrageous and daring, this book reflects this mood perfectly. An outstanding, gorgeous read that left me breathless, Laura has created a spectacular book.

Thank you to Scholastic for sending me a proof copy of this wonderful book. ‘A Sky Painted Gold,’ is released on the 5th July and is available to pre-order now online or from any good bookshop.


Just Jack – by Kate Scott, illustrated by Alex Gunn

Kate Scott has a real knack for capturing the emotional rollercoaster of children’s thoughts that buzz away in their minds and that we might not see unless we look closely. In the brilliant ‘Giant,’ we met Anzo a boy who struggled to be heard amongst his family who are larger than life both physically and in personality. She allowed us to gain an insight into Anzo’s frustrations at being too ordinary for his family and not quite fitting in at school and his heart-breaking quest to be taller thinking that it will solve all his problems.  In ‘Just Jack,’ Kate explores similar themes of needing to belong and fit in, in order to be happy. We meet Jack, who after moving house five times since his Dad left is desperately trying to make himself fit in rather than stand out in the crowd. Even if that means not being true to himself. Jack is exhausted by keeping up appearances and trying to do the right thing to be liked and not having a true friend. Whilst at the back of his mind is the constant worry that this new house and school will be temporary and another upheaval is around the corner. But when smart, funny and incredibly inventive Tyler comes along he throws Jack’s plans for blending in into disarray.  Jack soon discover that being himself might just be the best route to happiness.

Kate uses a precise combination of heart and humour to deal with tough, emotional issues that children face in every day life. She offers a really thoughtful insight into the impact that parents behaviour has on a child’s emotional state. We see Jack’s Mum struggling to come to terms with her own feelings so much so that she doesn’t recognise the pain that the chaos and disruption is causing for Jack. However when Jack meets Tyler his life begins to change for the better despite his best efforts not to become involved in a genuine friendship. There are moments of pure joy and happiness for Jack as they bond together over Tyler’s invention of Skater-Flyer shoes but just like real life, the path to friendship doesn’t run smoothly and hiccups are thrown in their way. The characterisation is just marvellous, Kate creates the most endearing characters who you genuinely care for and become involved in their lives.  Whilst Alex Gumm’s illustrations brilliantly capture the humour of this tale and the ups and downs of Jack and Tyler’s friendship, making it really accessible for younger readers. Funny, emotional and the perfect mix of joy and sadness, this story is an absolute gem of a story.

Thank you to Kate for sending me a copy of this wonderful book. ‘Just Jack,’ is available to buy online now and from any good bookshop.

Joseph Coelho – Empathy Day Guest Post

Today I am delighted to welcome Joseph Coelho to the blog for a special guest post about his brilliant new poetry book, ‘Overheard in a Tower Block,’  illustrated by Kate Milner. In celebration of Reading for Empathy Day on June 12th this year, this incredible book features in the 2018 Read for Empathy guide. A powerful poetry collection about growing up. The agonies of missing an absent Dad, the grief of a mother and the stresses of city life touch our emotions told brilliantly through Joseph’s potent but approachable voice. A must have addition for any primary or secondary library.

 Want To Be An Astronaut Who Studies Animals In Space! – Joseph Coelho

The world has seen better days, fear seems to rule and ignorance is celebrated. We fear each other and are ignorant in our understanding of each others lives. We are becoming increasingly insular existing in tight little bubbles alongside digital ‘friend’s that believe what we believe, go where we go, have experienced what we have experienced. Anyone outside the bubble is wrong, dangerous, feared.

Our ability to empathise is lacking but maybe we can improve this ability for the children under our charge and restore a bit of our humanity. Empathylab’s Empathy day feels like a move in the right direction – a list of books that encourage us to see through the eyes of another to walk in their shoes.

Having worked closely with children for the past sixteen years I know that children have no problem empathising with one another – it’s natural to them it’s us adults that have the problem, something goes wrong as we grow, as we download cues from society but we can remedy this, we can celebrate each others differences and search for understanding of each others needs.

A little girl put up her hand at a book event I was running recently to tell me she will be an astronaut who studies animals in space when she is older. The adults laughed, she did not, she was serious. The fact is that as adults we have no idea of the jobs, challenges, opportunities young people will face in ten years time let alone twenty or thirty years time. They will meet people from all over the world (possibly all over the solar system!) brought up in all kinds of scenarios and circumstances with challenges we cannot even imagine.

But, we can gift them the tool of understanding, of listening first and responding (not reacting) later.

When writing my latest poetry collection ‘Overheard In A Tower Block’ I wanted to add depth to the ideas we have of family and tower blocks and working class kids, I guess I wanted readers to see me – not me personally but to see a kid like the kid I was, and to see that kid fully, someone with: thoughts, fears and worries, to see something other than the working class ‘estate’, ‘urban’ narrative that tends to be constant and everywhere and limiting and was never something I could fully identify with when growing up. I grew up on an estate but was never involved in drugs nor were my friends, there were no gangs, there was poverty and families struggling to get by, families that go upset and would laugh and feel joy like any other family in any other situation. I wanted my readers to find empathy with the humans that live on estates, with families that might look or be different from their own, to challenge the stereotypes that make judgement so easy.

Empathylab’s #ReadForEmpathy list has a host of books to broaden young minds and help us all see that there are far more things bringing us together than keeping us apart.

I very much hope you get to enjoy these wonderful books and to share your own #ReadForEmpathy recommendations.

Joseph Coelho

Joseph Coelho is a children’s author and poet. His latest poetry collection ‘Overheard In A Tower Block’ (illustrated by Kate Milner and published by Otter-Barry Books) is featured on the Empathy Labs #ReadForEmpathy List and was long-listed for the 2018 Carnegie Medal and is currently shortlisted for the CLPE CLiPPA Poetry Award.

 You can find out more about Joseph and his books by visiting his website or follow him on Twitter.


Empathy Day – June 12th 2018

Empathy Day was founded in 2017 by EmpathyLab. With hate crimes at their highest level since records began, it uses stories to help us understand each other better, and highlights empathy’s power in our divided world. (https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/hate-crime-statistics). 

You can get involved in the following ways:

READ – because reading in itself can make us more empathetic

SHARE – because sharing perspectives through books can connect us in new ways

DO – put empathy into action and make a difference in your community

 If you are a school or library that wants to become involved you can get a free toolkit from info@empathylab.uk or use the ideas and free downloadable resources at  http://www.empathylab.uk/empathy-day-resources

Share ideas for empathy-boosting books on Twitter using #ReadForEmpathy @EmpathyLabUK


 Blog Tour

Why not join in with the rest of the blog tour to hear the powerful voices of the authors and illustrators involved.

Thank you to Joseph for his interesting blog post and thanks to Fritha and Miranda for inviting me to take part in this blog tour.

It’s A Wrap – Guest Post Perdita & Honor Cargill

It was with great anticipation and trepidation that I opened up my copy of ‘It’s A Wrap’, the final instalment in the ‘Waiting for Callback‘ series by Perdita and Honor Cargill. I have so much love for these wonderful books and I felt really emotional that it’s coming to an end, but would it have the ending that I desperately crave? Well I can confirm that it totally satisfied my desire, it is in fact sheer perfection. Smart, clever and oh so funny it is a total joy from start to finish, I just loved being back in Elektra’s world again. Perdita and Honor’s strength is that they are genuinely funny writers who provide a witty social commentary that is brilliantly entertaining and leaves you desperate for more. I’m so sad to see this series come to an end but they have ended it in a very fitting and honest way that feels just right for Elektra and I just adored it. Today it’s my stop on the ‘It’s A Wrap,’ blog tour and I have a special guest post from Perdita and Honor on collaboration,


                   3 Tips for Collaborating…without killing your collaborator –                            Perdita & Honor Cargill

We like writing together otherwise we’d have stopped – we’re family, we couldn’t risk it. We’ve been lucky – it’s been a joy to be able to share everything (well, it’s been a joy to share the good bits, it’s been a relief to share the not so good bits!).

Nobody, however many names end up on the book cover, can get a book out all on their own. but we all get help – editors, agents, teams of people to make our work better.

How do you share the task of getting the story down in the first instance?  There are some great collaborators out there in teen (shout to the wonderful Corr sisters, Lucy Ivison and Tom Ellen and we’re excited to read Floored with some of the best names in YA) and we all do it differently but here’s what works best for us:

Listen to each other. A collaboration where one person is driving every decision isn’t going to be much fun… And the whole point of collaborating is to draw on two or more stores of creativity, leave space for that to happen. We also leave physical space – we don’t work sitting side by side because then we actually would kill each other… Comparing our first author photos with our second (two years later, more SPACE) makes us laugh.

Play to your strengths. An equal collaboration doesn’t mean you need to do the same thing.  We both work on all the chapters (other collaborators, for example, work with different voices) writing over each other’s work until we barely know who first wrote a particular scene but we have different strengths. Honor loves writing dialogue but is dyslexic (there’s probably a connection there). Our books are dialogue heavy. She does more of the original writing but less at later stages of editing (and she skips proof stage altogether…).

Criticism is brilliant – if it’s done constructively. We couldn’t collaborate without criticising each other’s work but equally we couldn’t collaborate without respecting each other’s work. This has been and always will be key to making it work.

Try it!

Thank you to Perdita and Honor for this fantastic guest post and to Simon and Schuster for inviting me to take part in the blog tour. ‘Casting Queen,’ ‘Take Two,’ and ‘It’s A Wrap,’  are available to buy now online and if you order through The Big Green Bookshop you can get a signed copy and have a chance to win a fabulous prize.


Ottoline and the Purple Fox – Chris Riddell

In case you’re like Ottoline’s parents Professor and Professor Brown and spend all your time in far flung places looking for strange and unusual objects to fill your home, you might have not heard about Chris Riddell’s glorious ‘Ottoline’ series. So let be the one to tell you just what you’ve been missing! Ottoline lives on the 24th floor of a building that looks like a large pepperpot and in the absence of her travelling parents she lives with Mr. Munroe, who is small and hairy and comes from a bog in Norway. Now you might be thinking by now, well this doesn’t sound live an ordinary story and well, you would be quite right. Ottoline is must definitely not ordinary, she is in fact quite the most extraordinary girl who along with Mr Munroe likes to get herself mixed up in lots of adventures. And she’s back in another tale filled with mystery, fun and peculiarities a plenty in ‘Ottoline and the Purple Fox,’ which has just been released in paperback.

When Ottoline and Mr. Munroe decides to organise a dinner party they realise they need to do some serious decluttering as her parent’s collections are causing serious overspill. During their clear out mission, a chance meeting with the dashing Purple Fox, sees our fearless duo embark on a midnight urban across Big City, learning all about the animals that live nearby. But as their journey continues the friends uncover a mystery – someone has been leaving anonymous love poems stuck to lampposts across the city. Can Ottoline and Mr Munroe discover who the melancholy poet is – and help them to heal his broken heart? I have to say this is delightful addition to this spectacular series that has been a big hit with my daughter and the children at my school. My absolute highlight in this story Ottoline reading, ‘Goth Girl,’ one of Chris’s other brilliant series and dreaming of meeting Ada Goth in real life. The illustrations spreads capturing her dream as the two worlds meet are just sublime and left me with such a warm glow inside. Wonderfully accessible, brilliantly entertaining and sumptuously illustrated the Ottoline series is a must have read for any child who loves to let their imagination roam wild.

Chris Riddell

Chris Riddell was the UK Children’s Laureate from 2015 – 2017. He is an illustrator, artist, political cartoonist , and the recipient of multiple awards including the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal an unprecedented three times. His other work for Macmillan Children’s Books includes the bestselling Goth Girl series, The Emperor of Absurdia , and, with Paul Stewart, Muddle Earth and the Blobheads series. Chris lives in Brighton with his family.

You can find out more about Chris by following him on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.


To celebrate the release of ‘Ottoline and the Purple Fox,’ in paperback the lovely people of Macmillan have given me a signed set of the complete Ottoline series to giveaway and a limited edition print. You can enter by commenting on this blog post, retweeting my pinned tweet on Twitter or by commenting on my Facebook or Instagram posts. To increase your chances of winning you can enter in more than one way. UK only ends 2nd June, winner will be selected at random.

Thank you to Fritha and Macmillan for inviting me to host this giveaway and for sending me a copy of this fantastic book. ‘Ottoline and the Purple Fox,’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop.

The Boy Who Grew Dragons – Andy Shepherd & Sara Ogilvie Book Trailer

It’s been a year since I revealed the cover of Andy Shepherd’s debut, ‘The Boy Who Grew Dragons,’ illustrated by Sara Ogilvie and in a few short weeks you’ll be able to get your hands on a copy of this magical and wonderful book. In anticipation of the release I am thrilled to exclusively reveal for you today the trailer of the book which brings  the magic of Andy’s words and Sarah’s magnificent illustrations to life in a truly special way.

So without further here it is…….


Imagine if you could grow dragons in your very own garden……

When Tomas discovers a strange old tree at the bottom of his grandpa’s house, he doesn’t think much of it. But he takes the funny fruit from the tree back into the house – and gets the shock and delight of his life when a tiny dragon hatches! The tree is a dragonfruit tree, and Tomas has got his very own dragon, Flicker…

Tomas soon finds out that life with Flicker is great fun, but also very…..unpredictable. Yes, dragons are fiery, fantastical and dazzling, but they also set fire to your toothbrush, singe your porridge and leave your pants hanging from the TV aerial. Tomas has to learn to look after Flicker-and quickly. And then something extraordinary happens – more dragonfruits appear on the tree. Tomas is officially growing dragons…..

Thank you to Andy and Piccadily for inviting me to host the book trailer reveal. ‘The Boy Who Grew Dragons,’ is released on the 14th June and is available to pre-order now online or from any good bookshop.

The Secret of the Night Train – Sylvia Bishop & Marco Guadalupi

I must confess I’ve always longed to board a sleeper train and travel across Europe, it would be such a joy to go to sleep in one country and wake up in a whole new place. So when I opened up my copy of ‘The Secret of the Night Train,’ I was instantly captivated at the thought of travelling with Max from Paris to Istanbul and that’s before I knew she was about to become deeply embroiled in a complex crime-solving expedition. Beautiful storytelling meets compelling mystery unravelling in a tale of diamond smugglers, thieves and undercover detectives. Sylvia has a special talent for creating the most intriguing and wonderful characters who you can’t help but fall in love with and Max is no exception. I was totally charmed and entertained by this exciting whirlwind of a story that had me devouring the whole book in one sitting. Marco’s illustrations are beautifully detailed capturing the sheer joy of this great journey and the thrill of the chase as Max tries to uncover the true identity of the diamond thief. An irresistible and breath-taking read, I’m really hoping there is more to come from our delightful heroine Max.

Today on the blog I have a special guest post from Sylvia Bishop where we embark upon a journey from Munich to Budapest aboard the Kalman Imre.

Train no. 2: Kalman Imre (Munich – Budapest) – Sylvia Bishop

In my new book, The Secret of the Night Train, Max Morel takes a journey from Paris to Istanbul on four trains. She is accompanied by a nun called Sister Marguerite, and must solve the mystery of a smuggled diamond. I was lucky enough to do this journey myself, and wrote a lot of the book on board. In this series of blog posts, I talk about my real journey, and how it informed the book. 

So here we are at stop number 2 with Book Lover Jo (AKA Munich – Budapest)

I had never been on a sleeper train before, and it was a lot smaller than I expected.

This creates all sorts of etiquette problems. There isn’t room for everyone to stand in the couchette cars at the same time, but at some point you all have to get in there to put the bedding out on your bunk and stow your luggage (which there is not really space for). Add to this the fact that everybody speaks different languages. Get ready to smile winningly a lot.

Maybe all the smiling winningly tricked my brain, or maybe it was the delicious pizza I had eaten at Munich station, but I was having a great time. (In the original draft of this chapter, Max eats pizza too. My housemate told me off. This is the only scene set in Germany, he pointed out; at least try and be a bit German with your detail choice. So now Max wants pizza, but is marched off for schnitzel by Sister Marguerite. The moral is, if you have the temerity to offer me edits, I will fictionalise you as a bossy nun.)

It was already the middle of the night when we left, so the bunks were folded out. On the Kalman Imre everyone gets a bunk that isn’t big enough to sit up in, and a brown blanket that you have to wrap about yourself like a cocoon to get warm enough. The train guard asks if you want orange juice or apple juice for the morning, then pulls a juddering concertina door shut across your car.

I didn’t think any amount of winningly smiling would win me forgiveness for shining a light at that point, so I couldn’t write. But I could lie there imagining a little girl sneaking around in all that darkness. So I did.

Join us for the next stage of the journey tomorrow on Get Kids Into Books’ blog 

Thank you to Oliva and Scholastic for sending me a copy of this marvellous book. ‘The Secret of the Night Train,’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop.