The Violet Mysteries – by Harriet Whitehorn, illustrated by Becka Moor

I’m a huge fan of mystery stories, I wait patiently for the next instalment in a series to be released and try to follow the clues and solve the mysteries before the culprits of the crime are identified. There are so many fabulous middle grade series of books from the wonderful ‘Murder Most Unladylike,’ by Robin Stevens to the brilliant ‘Sinclair Mysteries,’ by Katherine Woodfine. But luckily for young detectives getting ready to move on from Clara Vulliamy’s fabulous ‘Dotty Detective,’ series and Kate Pankhurst’s ‘Mariella Mysteries,’ we have the marvellous ‘Violet,’ books written by Harriet Whitehorn and illustrated by Becka Moor. Exquisitely produced and sublimely illustrated these books are a real thing of beauty. The attention to detail in Becka’s illustrations is completely delightful, she captures the sense of mystery and the subtle humour brilliantly. You can feel the love and care that has gone into each detail and illustration that is scattered throughout the books. Today on the blog I’m going to be sharing with you a flavour of all of the books in this intriguing series. Filled with the most marvellous eccentric characters and beautiful descriptive writing these are the most sublime adventures, I can’t recommend them enough.

Violet and the Pearl of the Orient

‘Violet and the Pearl of the Orient,’ introduces the reader to the quick witted and smart Violet. You know Violet is not your ordinary type of girl when you learn that she lists speaking fluent French, mixing a perfect cocktail and playing poker as some of the unusual things she has learned in her life so far. She’s the kind of girl who notices when strange things are afoot, so when the Count and Countess Du Plicitous move into her neighbourhood she finds them very odd and fails to fall for their charms like all of the grown ups. When her fabulous neighbour Dee Dee Derota precious jewel is stolen Violet suspects that the Count and Countess are to blame. Of course nobody will listen to the protests of a small girl, so it’s up to Violet and her friends to come up with a cunning plan to expose the thief.  A brilliant mix of bumbling adults and keen eyed children make for a truly enjoyable story that will entice and entertain mystery lovers.

Violet and the Hidden Treasure

In ‘Violet and the Hidden Treasure,’ we are transported to India where Violet is on holiday with her godmother Celeste. Harriet tantalises all of our senses to give the reader a real flavour of the country, from delicious food, brightly coloured silk clothes to intoxicating scents we can see why Violet falls in love with India. On her travel she meets the Maharajah and his faithful companion the lively parrot, Maharani who takes a real shine to her. Back home Violet is surprised to discover the Maharajah’s butler on her doorstep asking her to look after the parrot. Strangely the parrot holds the key to the Maharajah’s fortune and someone is out to bird-nap her to get their hands on the treasure. Can Violet and her friends discover the true culprit before the treasure is lost forever. This case proves to be more tricky to solve, with very little clues, numerous suspects and the crime-solving matrix that they usually rely on proving to be little help. Violet and her friends must use all of their skills to create a scheme that will outwit the crafty adults who will stop at nothing to get their hands on the treasure. Exciting and enthralling, full of twists and turns this is an absolute gem of a read.

Violet and the Smugglers

With two solved mysteries under their belts Violet and her friends are always on the lookout for wrong doing wherever they go. So when Violet’s Uncle Johnny invites them on a sailing adventure you know it won’t be long before they find themselves in the middle of another crime. Our young friends might have bitten off more than they can chew this time, when they find themselves caught up in a smuggling ring and they don’t know who they can trust. Their plans are constantly thwarted by well meaning grown ups who don’t think children should get mixed up in dangerous crimes but unable to resist they are determined to find out who is the ringleader. Harriet has a brilliant ability to allow the reader to feel like they have been whisked away on these adventures, we are given a real sense of the place. I particularly love the celebration of the joys of Italy in the wonder of Violet and the huge variety of ice-cream flavours available, these are the kind of nuggets that fascinate children. A little bit more dangerous and thrilling than previous adventures, our friends are really put to the test in the complex and exciting case.

Violet and the Mummy Mystery

I have long been fascinated by Ancient Egypt and the pyramids so was really looking forward to embarking on an Egyptian adventure with Violet and her friends in ‘Violet and the Mummy Mystery,’ and I wasn’t disappointed. When Violet receives a postcard from Cairo sent by her Aunt Mathilde a famous Egyptologist she is thrilled to discover they are coming to visit. Her aunt thinks she has found a link between an Egyptian Mummy and the unknown whereabouts of Queen Nefertiti. But disaster strikes when the Mummy is stolen from the British Museum, who is behind the Mummy-Napping? It’s up to Violet and her friends to navigate a confusing array of clues, an alarming amount of suspects and some dastardly grown ups in order to save the day.  A real page turner of an adventure, that keeps the reader on the edge of their seat to the very last page.

Violet and the Mystery of Tiger Island

How do you convey the enormity of travel to a child? If you say a story takes place on a tropical island how do you explain just how far your characters have travelled? Well in the case of ‘Violet and the Mystery of Tiger Island,’ Violet and her friends travel by the Tube, a train, a big aeroplane, a small plane and a speedboat! You can imagine how excited they are to undertake this incredible journey to celebrate their friend’s wedding. It wouldn’t be a trip without an element of mystery thrown in, so when they unexpectedly bump into their old enemies the Count and Countess Du Plicitous they have a feeling that a crime is bound to happen. Sure enough a valuable statue is stolen, so obviously they must be guilty. But Violet and her friends should know better, things and people are not always as they seem and the obvious answer is not always the right one. With everything at risk and a hungry tiger on the loose, it’s a race against time to make sure the big day goes to plan and the real criminal is discovered. A charming end to a brilliant series, I have totally fallen in love with this wonderful cast of characters and stories. Harriet and Becka have created a series that will surely captivate the hearts and imaginations of children. Superbly written with gorgeous illustrations they are a real treat for any would-be detectives looking for a tricky case to solve.

Thank you to Olivia and Simon and Schuster for sending me copies of the entire Violet series, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading them. All of these wonderful books are available to buy now online (click on the title to buy) or from any good bookshop.

Advertisements

Dragon Post – Emma Yarlett

In the days of emails, WhatsApp messages oh and even the odd text messages it is becoming a rarity to receive an actual letter in the post. There is something really exciting about opening an unexpected envelope to discover something hidden inside. I grew up writing letters to friends when I was studying for my exams, away at university and living far away from everyone after university. In my loft I have boxes full of letters that make me laugh, smile and feel warm inside whenever I reread them. So for children today opening a letter is a really magical thing and a book full of letters like the ones in Emma Yarlett’s, ‘Dragon Post,’ waiting for them to discover is just completely delightful. I shared this gorgeous book at storytime this week and the children were completely entertained and enchanted as we opened up and shared each of the replies to Alex’s letters, in his quest to understand the best way to deal with a dragon as a pet.

As Alex opens each letter he is hoping for some sage advice to help him take care of his new friend, but he doesn’t have much luck. The fire brigade are extremely nervous about the thought of having a dragon on the loose, while the butcher seems more excited about the thought of eating, rather than meeting the dragon much to the amusement of the children at my school. The inevitable noisiness and smoke that the dragon brings causes consternation and an official warning, it seems like its only the World Animal Welfare who can offer any sensible advice. A prescription they recommend for a daily flight seems to do the trick, yet Alex know his time with his new friend is running out. It takes words of wisdom from his very best friend Hillary for Alex to realise it’s time to say goodbye and we watch him deal with his loss brilliantly and bravely. There is plenty of humour for children in Emma’s gloriously funny and vibrant illustrations and she sprinkles the story with many funny references for us grown ups to enjoy. This books is a triumph in storytelling, sumptously produced it will prove irresistible to children young and old.

Letter to an imaginary friend…

Growing up did you have an imaginary friend? When I was young, at the end of my garden was a huge tree, that thanks to Enid Blyton’s ‘The Magic Faraway Tree,’ I was convinced was full of fairies and magical creatures. One day I came home from school and was horrified to find the tree had been cut down to make way for a shed. Where would all the people who lived in the tree go now? I dreamed that one day the tree would force itself up through the ground turning the shed into a treehouse for me to live in and then all of the creatures would return. Here’s the letter I would write to them now…

Dear Fairy Folk

I am so sorry that you had to go away, I had no idea that the tree would be chopped down and that you would have nowhere to live? I loved the days I climbed up the tree and we had picnics using rose petals to make that special tea that we shared whilst reading stories together. After you had gone I still left out treats for you to find in case you returned, did you ever come back and find them? Perhaps you went to live with all the other fairy folk in the Enchanted Wood or found another child to look after you. Whenever I see a fairy door hidden in a tree, I would really love to shrink down so that I could squeeze inside and maybe find you there. But I know deep inside that you will only let children see you so it’s not likely I will find you again. Thanks for all the happy hours we spent together, hope you’re happy wherever you are now!

Love Joanne

Thank you to Kirsten and Walker Books  for sending me a copy of this wonderful book, ‘Dragon Post,’ is available to buy now online and from any good bookshop.

The Lost Words – Robert McFarlane & Jackie Morris

A year ago today an incredibly special book was released into the wild which has turned out to be something of a publishing phenomenon. ‘The Lost Words,’ a glorious collaboration between Robert McFarlane and Jackie Morris takes us on a journey of discovery to seek out words that appear to be disappearing from the language that our children use. We’re incredibly lucky that we live in the countryside and my children on the way to school every day can see nature in all its glory. We walk past a beautiful river, spy bluebells and brambles, pick conkers and very occasionally see the allusive vibrant kingfishers that nest near the bridges. Yet we live in an increasingly urbanised world where some children are ferried around in cars from here to there and never have the chance to explore the true wonder of nature. ‘The Lost Words,’ seeks to claim back that wild childhood challenging children to go outside cast a spell and find hidden treasures that they may never have encountered.

Exquisitely produced and filled with the most sumptuous spreads that I have ever set my eyes on, ‘The Lost Words,’ is a true masterpiece in every sense. It is one of those books that is so covetable that it demands you pick it up and stroke the sublime pages allowing the words to cast a spell over you. Robert McFarlane and Jackie Morris have created a truly unique celebration of the wild, that is completely mesmerising and totally irresistible.  I really feel that it needs to be every school in the country and you can feel that so strongly when you realise just how many successful crowd funder campaigns to get it into schools that there has been. To embrace this desire in schools to use this book as an incredible teaching resource Penguin have created a wonderful set of Challenge Cards to encourage children to explore the world around them. From creating nature spaces to finding out how to befriend birds, these offer a wealth of learning and development opportunities for primary school children.

Thank you to Jenny at Shapes For Schools and to Penguin for sharing these resources with me and for sending me a copy of this glorious book. You can access the Challenge Cards here and ‘The Lost Words,’ is available to buy online now or from any good bookshop.

Snowglobe – Amy Wilson

Today I am thrilled to share with you the latest magical book from Amy Wilson as part of the ‘Snowglobe,’ blog tour. I was completely spell bound by Amy’s debut, ‘A Girl Called Owl,’ which was followed up the captivating, ‘A Far Away Magic,’ so I was thrilled to get my hands on an early copy of ‘Snowglobe.’ Amy has the most wonderful ability to seamlessly link contemporary and magical worlds, effortlessly transporting her readers to places crackling with darkness and enchantment. Clementine is a loner and outsider, she knows that she is different and her life is full of unanswered questions since the disappearance of her mother. Her life changes unexpectedly when she is pushed to her limits by the torments of the school bully. She discovers a hidden power within her that sparks something inside her, allowing her to see for the first time a mysterious house in the middle of the town that was never there before. Drawn to this strange place, she feel that it is inextricably linked to her mother and unable to resist she goes inside and discovers rooms full of snowglobes swirling with stars and snow each containing a secret. Little does Clementine know that by unleashing her power she has put everything she loves at risk in the battle to unlock these mysteries.

I was totally bewitched and enchanted by ‘Snowglobe.’ Amy’s beautiful, lyrical writing cast a spell over me and I became lost in this mysterious world. Filled with wonder and mystery the reader is placed at the heart of this story travelling alongside Clementine as she battles dark forces and unexpected barriers on her quest for the truth. Amy conjures up the most extraordinary of places where time is distorted and people are trapped in illusions in a bid to control their abilities and keep them from the outside world. She reflects on the loneliness of not fitting it, recognising how being different can alienate and isolate people and understanding how easy it is to for people to use fear to create division. Wonderfully atmospheric and stunningly told, ‘Snowglobe,’ is bound to delight lovers of magical tales.

 

I am delighted to share with you today an extract from ‘Snowglobe,’ to give you a small taste of the magic that lies within these pages.

Snowglobe – Amy Wilson

There were three sisters, named for Jupiter’s moons: Ganymede, Callisto and Io. As they had blood in their veins, so they had magic, fine and strong as a spider’s web. They lived in a house of white marble, and the tower stretched to the sky and speared the clouds, searching, they said, for the moon. They filled it with miniature worlds, set whole galaxies spinning, caught within glass spheres. And then they hid in their house while the world changed. That was their lot. But lots can change, and change can be chaos. Callisto was the first to go: she left for love and the laughter of a boy with hair as red as fire. Io was next: she left for solitude, and found her home in a place none could ever change. 2 Ganymede was left alone in the house of infinity. She stalked the marble corridors, ruling over everything they had created with a hard eye. The world never knew of these sisters. Their house went unseen, their stories unheard. And then came chaos.

I hope you enjoyed this sneak peek of this wondrous tale. ‘Snowglobe,’ is released on the 18th October and is available to pre-order now online and from any good bookshop. Thank you to Amber and Macmillan for inviting me to join in with the blog tour and for sending me a copy of this enchanting book.

How Rude! by Clare Helen Walsh, illustrated by Olivier Tallec

Today it’s my stop on the ‘How Rude!,’ blog tour a hilarious picture book collaboration written by Clare Helen Walsh and illustrated by Olivier Tallec. I’m a big fan of picture books that can be used to inspire conversations and ask important questions. It’s so much easier to share a story and talk to children about how they feel after listening to a story, rather than just talk at them. In ‘How Rude,’ Clare and Olivier have created a hilarious and chaotic story about the carnage that happens when good manners are quite outrageously thrown out of the window. When Duck turns up at Dot’s tea party Dot is seriously dismayed that Duck just rudely barges through the door. Little does he know that this is just the start of a litany of bad behaviour, which makes Dot increasingly more and more cross. Things go from bad to worse when Dot can’t take any more, will their friendship survive the afternoon?

Clare cleverly demonstrates the importance of manners by making Duck’s behaviour so appalling and shocking that the reader can never be in doubt that Duck is completely pushing the boundaries of acceptability. The repetition of ‘How Rude,’ throughout the text emphasises the poor manners that are being used, making it easy for younger readers to understand what is happening. Dot is surprisingly patient at first accepting Duck’s erratic behaviour as just a part of his personality, but there is only so much that anyone can stand and Dot eventually breaks. Brilliantly Duck is horrified when the table is turned and cannot believe how Dot has reacted. Our dreadful duo soon realise the errors of their ways and harmony is restored. Olivier’s sparse but bold illustrations draw your eye to the images allowing all the focus to be on the bad behaviour and perfectly capture the carnage ensuing. I particularly like how he’s managed to capture the incredulous feelings of Dot and Duck in their facial expressions. Funny and thoughtful in equal measures, this is an excellent story for sharing with children at home and in school.

Blog Tour

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

Thank you to Clare and Quarto for inviting me to join in with this blog tour and for sending me a copy of this funny book. ‘How Rude!,’ is released on October 4th and is available to pre-order online or from any good bookshop.

The Clockwork Crow – Catherine Fisher

When orphan Seren discovers she is to be taken under the wing of her father’s oldest friend Captain Jones, she can’t wait to embark on her new life and the kind of Christmas she has always dreamed about in the orphanage. Alone in the waiting room of a train station a mysterious stranger entrusts a strange parcel to her, feeling he is being watched. Life takes an even stranger twist when she arrives at Plas-y Fran and discovers the Captain and his wife have moved to London leaving her alone with a few servants.  When she tries to enquire about the whereabouts of his son Tomas, she is met by anger and secrecy at every turn. Armed only with a magical talking bird and a determination to uncover the truth about Tomas, Seren sets off to a dark and dangerous world where nothing is quite as it seems.

Intriguing and enticing, ‘The Clockwork Crow’ is a truly compelling story filled with unanswered questions, impossible conundrums and sprinkled with a touch of  darkness. I adored Seren, a bold and brave heroine who stubbornly refuses to accept any constraints or rules that the world around her wants to hold her in. Catherine’s storytelling is wonderfully atmospheric, you can almost feel the chill of this cold, dark house devoid of love and hope with secrets hiding amongst the shadows. The relationship between the impossibly strong-willed Seren and the equally feisty crow is one of distrust and begrudging respect which transforms as they both become to rely on each other.  Catherine has created a spellbinding tale, glistening with magic and mystery that completely enchanted me. So wrap up warm, make yourself a warming drink of hot chocolate and allow yourself to be swept away by this irresistible story. A perfect treat for lovers of magical wintry stories.

Thank you to Penny and Firefly for sending me a copy of this marvellous book, ‘The Clockwork Crow,’ is released on October 4th and is available to pre-order online or from any good bookshop.


 

The Bookseller Children’s Conference – A Blogger’s thoughts

The thing about being a lover of children’s books is that it can seem quite bizarre to those outside the Twittersphere that I like to emerge myself in. Whilst people lament the damaging effects of social media and the evils of Twitter (these points are incredibly valid by the way) for me it has always been a positive experience as I surround myself with fellow booklovers. Alas when I step outside my bubble into real life and start chatting about children’s books incessantly this has been know to create this strange phenomena, where people’s eyes glaze over and they try to change the subject. So when the lovely people at The Bookseller gave me the opportunity to attend this year’s Children’s Conference I leapt at it, I couldn’t imagine anything better than spending a day in a room with people who are as passionate and enthusiastic about children’s books as me!

So I found myself on Monday surrounded by some of the most interesting and influential people in the book world. It was a real mix of people from the publishing industry: publicists, CEOs, editorial directors and marketing managers to name just a few. There were representative from brilliant organisations such as the wonderful Booktrust, CLPE, National Literacy Trust and the School Library Association. I spied bestselling authors, a former Children’s Laureate, librarians and book publishing legends, it was a veritable smorgasbord of delegates. It was a day filled with interesting information and fascinating facts, I could write for hours about the things I heard but here are the things that really resonated with me as a children’s writer, book blogger and librarian.

1 in 8 disadvantaged children in the UK don’t own a book

 

Maz Evans (author and founder of BookBuddy) shouted from the rooftops about the importance of children having access to books yet shockingly 1 in 8 children disadvantaged children don’t own a book according to the National Literacy Trust. But as Maz says not to worry we have public libraries for children to borrow books from, oh small problem there these are closing at an alarming rate with even more at risk. I have a house full of books and still we use the public library every week because I can’t keep up with my children’s voracious reading demands. We’re very lucky, despite living in a tiny town we have our own library this isn’t the case for everyone. Growing up there was little spare money for books but every week I went to the public library, sadly that library no longer exists. Well if children can’t access a public library at least they can use their school library. Again sadly not true! Schools are facing huge challenges with budget cuts, Maz discovered when visiting schools that a lot of them are desperate for books and that’s why BookBuddy was founded. She says while there has been an overwhelming positive response there has been some backlash in the publishing industry. With so many influential tweachers (teachers who tweet) with large twitter following publishers could be missing a trick to work together and use this avenue to promote books. If we want our children to thrive then we have a responsibility to ensure they can access books on a equal playing field.

4% of Children’s Books Published in 2017 featured BAME characters

 

Since the CLPE published it’s ‘Reflecting Realities,’ this year the subject of diversity and most specifically lack of diversity has been a much discussed topic in the book world. Both CLPE and Knights Of talked about this shocking statistic in their sessions and delved into greater problems that this report has highlighted. Knights Of was created by David Stevens and Aimee Felone because they were frustrated at the lack of diversity in the publishing workforce only 8% are BAME and the lack of diversity in books. As an inclusive publisher they didn’t just want to make books but create a community which they have succeeded in doing with over 3 million hits on their website and numerous BAME books donated to schools through crowdfunding initiatives. CLPE strongly reminded us that it has to be about quality representation in books not token inclusion, every child has the right to feel safe and valued especially in the current political climate where marginalisation is heightened. If the only book a child sees themselves in is an old picture book set in Africa, how does this effect their self worth and how others see them. Interestingly Hannah Otero from Lonely Planet Kids said in the U.S if books were not diverse, they would be called out by reviewers especially from the school library community. This is why school librarians are vital to creating an inclusive space and access to diverse resources for all children.

Children’s Book Sales are thriving whilst average author’s earnings are low

  

Last year children’s print book sales where worth £383 million but Owen Atkinson from ALCS says the average mid range author earned £10,500 last year. He feels that more transparency is needed for authors and illustrators in relation to rights, they feel a lack of power when undergoing negotiations. What other factors have an effect on author’s earning potential? If you look closely at the best selling books by volume you can see that 7 out of the top 10 books were written by David Walliams he is getting a huge share of the market and retail space perhaps limiting the space available to other authors. The top selling MG debut last year was ‘Kid Normal,’ from celebrity DJs Greg James and Chris Smith but Rebecca McNally from Bloomsbury said that while their fame in the UK may have played a part in its success, it didn’t account for its popularity in other markets. But if you look at best selling debuts over the last 3 years the influence of being chosen as Waterstones Children’s Book of the Month seems greater than a celebrity background. Whilst there has been criticism of this on social meida it has introduced brilliant authors like Maz Evans, Lisa Thompson, Peter Bunzl and Kiran Millwood Hargrave to the wider public and for that I have to be thankful. I’ve found it really pleasing to see more established authors like Emma Carroll and Abi Elphinstone chosen in the last year, it recognises their hard work and talent. For bookshops this gives them a brilliant opportunity to share these authors backlists which will inevitably generate sales But in the age of heavy discounting and the dominance of celebrity authors in the book market it is increasingly difficult for writers to make a living.

So while I have so many other thoughts about the day I feel that I’ve taken enough of your time. If you want to get more of a flavour of the day then head over to Twitter and catch up on the hashtag #KidsConf18

A huge thank you to The Bookseller for inviting me to come along and join in with this fabulous conference.