The Boy Who Grew Dragons – Andy Shepherd illustrated by Sara Ogilvie

Last year I was thrilled to host the cover reveal for Andy Shepherd’s debut, ‘The Boy Who Grew Dragons,’ and now the time has finally come to release those dragons into the wild with the launch of this gorgeous story on Thursday. This is the first book in a gorgeous, funny new series that is bound to captivate and delight children.  When Tomas finds a mysterious tree at the bottom of his grandpa’s garden with strange fruit nestled between orange and red fiery tendrils little does he know that a dragon is hiding inside just waiting to hatch. So with no expectation of any excitement Tomas pops one of these ripe fruits into his pockets and that’s when the fun begins. Because the one thing you need to know about growing dragons, is well, there are lot more naughty and a lot more difficult than say cucumbers or tomatoes, as Tomas soon finds out.

 ‘The Boy Who Grew Dragons,’ is a total delight from start to finish, a truly endearing debut. I’m particularly fond of stories where magic can be found in the most unexpected of places and there’s probably nowhere quite as unexpected than trapped under some overgrown weeds. Andy cleverly combines real life and fantasy as we discover that as much as Tomas is filled with excitement of owning his very own pet dragon, the realities of keeping this a secret is incredibly tricky. How can he possibly explain, scorch marks on his PE shorts, flying books and toothbrushes that spontaneously catch fire? There’s only so many times he can blame his gargantuan cat TomTom or his mischievous little sister Lolli. 

  Andy deftly mixes humour and heart with many heart-stopping moments when the reader feels for certain that Tomas’s secret is about to be discovered. After being looked after and wrapped up in cotton wool his whole life now Tomas has to take responsibility for someone else and he has to learn how to do it very quickly. Flicker gives Tomas the courage to be brave and bold in a way that he hasn’t had the chance to be before. There are so many comedy moments that will make you laugh out loud and cringe inside for poor Tomas. Yet this is so much more than a funny, magical story it is filled with so much warmth and love especially in the relationship that Tomas has with his Grandad.  Sara Ogilvie’s sublime illustrations bring this story to life capturing perfectly the gauntlet of emotions Tomas experiences as Flicker blasts his way into his life. They sprinkle a layer of wonder and excitement over the story making this a truly joyous read. Bursting with chaos, hilarity and magic aplenty you can’t help but be enchanted by this glorious tale.

Thank you to Andy and Piccadily for sending me a copy of this delightful book, The Boy Who Grew Dragons,’ is released on the 14th June and is available to pre-order now online or from any good bookshop.


My Dad, The Earth Warrior by Gary Haq, illustrated by Mark Beech

Today I have Gary Haq on the blog with a special guest post to celebrate the release of his debut eco-adventure, ‘My Dad, The Earth Warrior.’ It tells the tale of Hero, an ordinary boy who wants nothing more than to have a normal dad. But his Dad is only interested in reading his books and filling his head with useless facts. One day his Dad has a freak accident and wakes up claiming to be an Earth Warrior sent to protect the land from a ruthless energy tycoon. Hero is forced to go along with his Dad’s new personality. But when Gran mysteriously disappears, Hero and his Dad embark on a dangerous adventure. Can Hero save Gran and get his old dad back before it’s too late? My Dad, the Earth Warrior is a heart-warming tale of a boy and his dad who reconnect their distant relationship and set out together on a mission to save Mother Earth. It is a story of personal growth, environment and discovering the warrior spirit that lies in all of us – written with humour sure to make children laugh out loud.

Fact and Fiction –  Gary Haq

My Dad, the Earth Warrior is a story about the relationship between a little boy called Hero and his dad. Since the death of Hero’s mother two years earlier, Hero and Dad have grown apart. Dad has become obsessed with updating an encyclopaedia collection and constantly drowns Hero with his facts. Hero wishes dad would change, and one day he does.

As a researcher, I can’t help but be inspired by facts that I come across in my work. So, here are five themes that run throughout the book based on fact and fiction

Being the Change

‘Be the change you want to see’ was Hero’s Mum favourite motto from the Indian activist Ghandi. Remembering these words inspires Hero to take action.

The Weather

Heatwave Blistering Bertha is affecting Hero’s home town of Leaford but this is soon replaced by flooding. The frequency of extreme weather events are expected to increase as the climate changes.

Earth Warrior

When Hero’s dad wakes up after a bump to the head claiming to be an earth warrior, Hero is forced to go along with his dad’s new persona. An earth warrior is seen as nature’s soldier fighting for the planet.

Mother Earth

Dad wants to gather a tribe to protect Mother Earth, which symbolises the life-giving and nurturing aspects of nature embodied in the form of the mother.

The Web of Life

Dad explains to Hero the importance of the Web of Life. This is a metaphor used to describe nature as a complex interconnected, interdependent functioning system where humans beings are just one part of it.

Gary Haq

Gary Haq is an earth warrior whose day job is saving the planet. He is an associate researcher at a prestigious global environmental think tank and a research scientist at a European research centre. He tries his best to be the change he wants to see in the world and hopes to inspire others with his stories. When he’s not involved in his own eco-adventures, he likes to write, read, learn languages and explore new cultures. Gary lives with his wife and young daughter, and spends his time between York, England and Laveno, Italy. My Dad, the Earth Warrior is his first children’s book.

You can find out more about Gary by following him on Twitter or Facebook.

Blog Tour

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

Thank you to Gary for his special guest post and to Hannah Cooper for inviting me to take part in the blog tour. ‘My Dad, The Earth Warrior,’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop.



Me and Mister P: Ruby’s Star – Maria Farrer Guest Post

Today I am delighted to welcome Maria Farrer to the blog today with a special guest post to celebrate the release of her wonderful new book, ‘Me and Mister P: Ruby’s Star,’ illustrated by Daniel Rieley. I just adored, ‘Me and Mister P,’ it is warm and funny in equal measures. Paddington Bear meets Nanny McPhee in a delightful story about acceptance with an unlikely but charming friendship and I’m so glad our loveable polar bear is back and about to get involved in more hilarious antics. This time Mister P comes crash bang into the life of Ruby, who since her Dad left finds herself increasingly responsible for looking after her brother Leo and her Mum. Maria captures brilliantly the frustration Ruby feels towards her Mum and the sadness she experiences about her Dad’s absence. With Mister P’s help she soon discovers that by sharing her problems and not hiding them it will make her life more manageable. Daniel Rieley’s glorious illustrations brilliantly highlight the incongruous situation that Ruby and Mister P find themselves and the emotions that they all experience throughout the story. Who could resist a tale featuring a skate boarding polar bear who is determined to be helpful even when you don’t want him to be!  I was totally enchanted by this new adventure, this is such a wonderful series.

Living Many Lives – How stories help to teach us empathy – Maria Farrer

How many lives can you live in a day, a month, a year? That all rather depends on how many books you read. Every time we pick up a book and become absorbed in a story, we have the chance to live a different life and become part of a new world. You can go forward in time or back in history. You can journey to different places either at home or abroad or you can go into a fantasy world that exists nowhere else but in a book. Even more exciting is that no two readers read a book in exactly the same way. Our imaginations each do something different with the words on the page so every story becomes unique to ourselves. If 30 children read the same book, they will, in effect, read 30 slightly different stories. This makes the combination of story and reader very powerful, both individually or collectively when reading and discussing as a group.

In all good books, authors and illustrators work hard NOT to tell us everything. They like to leave space for readers to ‘insert’ themselves and interact with the text on various levels. Understanding goes way beyond the words or pictures on the page and the importance of inference cannot be understated for it is at the core of effective comprehension (both in spoken and written language). Empathy and inference are closely linked. Empathy often results from inferring how a person is feeling from their tone of voice or body language in addition to what they may or may not be saying. So when a writer says that a character blushes, sobs, slams the door or shrugs we infer that they may be embarrassed, sad, angry or couldn’t care less (or perhaps just pretending that they couldn’t care less). We relate this to information we have about the situation they are in and the decisions they need to make. Inference makes our imagination do an extra leap, forcing us to actively engage with the story and luring us into empathising more fully with characters and events. Precisely what we infer and how closely we empathise will depend, to some extent, on our own life experience. But this also works the other way round. Reading helps us to develop empathy and empathy, in turn, can help to develop inference. When a child becomes immersed in a story, they align themselves so closely with characters and events that they actively live the story as if it is their own and, in so doing, learn and develop new emotional competencies and resources on which they can draw in their own lives. Thus, stories can play an important part in helping children understand both themselves and others. The more we interact and engage with a story, the more strongly that story will make us FEEL and the more strongly we feel, the more we will interact and engage with the story. This is the power of story. This is how we can learn empathy.

(Illustrations ©Daniel Rieley 2018)

The Mister P series places a lot of emphasis on empathy. All children face challenges in their everyday life, both at home and at school. For some these challenges can become overwhelming. It is hard to see how the arrival of a polar bear will help … but then Mister P isn’t just any old polar bear—he has a natural capacity for empathy and also elicits empathy by being hilariously hopeless and hapless as he adapts to life in an alien environment. Empathy isn’t about being good or perfect. It is about being open-minded and non-judgemental, it’s about understanding and working things out. Mister P and the children he visits learn and make mistakes together and ultimately move towards finding solutions.

Chris Riddell says that “A good book is an empathy engine”. Stories drive the ability to see and understand things from many different perspectives in a variety of situations. Some children need more help than others in developing emotional literacy and shared or group reading and discussion are wonderful ways in which to explore why characters act or react in the way that they do and what we might do in the same situation. The more we can read and discuss and learn, the better our understanding and responses will be in every aspect of life. Empathy goes way beyond stories. It is a core life skill. It is what makes us better people and the world a better place.

(Illustrations © Daniel Rieley 2018)

Maria Farrer

Maria Farrer is just settling into a new life in the Yorkshire Dales. A keen lover of the outdoors and mountains, she is enjoying exploring the fells with her family and her ever-energetic black labrador. Her dog has played a vital role in the writing of the Mister P series as he been teaching Maria all she needs to know about how animals and humans communicate.

Maria writes for children and young adults. She loves to laugh and is usually up for a chal-lenge (which is lucky as life with Mister P is mostly quite funny and sometimes quite challenging). She studied Speech and Language Therapy at UCL and has an MA in writing for young people from Bath Spa. She started life as a speech and language therapist and specialised in working with children with language and literacy difficulties both in the UK and overseas.

In her work in schools, she likes to share interesting facts about polar bears and to raise awareness of their increasing fight for survival. One day she dreams of visiting polar bears in the wild.

Blog Tour

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

Thank you to Maria for her insightful guest post and to Hannah and OUP for inviting me to take part in the blog tour. ‘Me and Mister P: Ruby Star,’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop. If you want to win a copy of both books in this series simply comment on this blog post or head over to Twitter and RT my pinned tweet.

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. ( 

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 or use the ideas and free downloadable resources at

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.