Moon Landing 50th Anniversary

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

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

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

Counting on Katherine – Helaine Becker, illustrated by Dow Phumiruk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The BIg Beyond – James Carter, illustrated by Aaron Cushley

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

Odd Science: Spectacular Space – James Olstein

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


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

Peril En Pointe – Helen Lipscombe

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

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

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

Blog Tour

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

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

Check Mates – Stewart Foster

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

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

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

The Last Spell Breather – Julie Pike

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

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

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

   Q&A – The Last Spell Breather 

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

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

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

Liz – What attracted you to The Last Spell Breather?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julie – What are your top tips for aspiring writers?

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

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

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

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

Julie Pike

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

Blog Tour

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

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

Anna at War – Helen Peters

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

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

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

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

The Dinosaur Who Lost Her Voice – Julie Ballard

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

When Life Gives You Lemons…Make Lemonade – Julie Ballard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Cousin is a Time Traveller – Guest Post David Solomon

Four years ago on a planet not far away from here (okay it’s actually here but you know go with me on this) as I was just starting my blog I stumbled across a book in Waterstones that really appealed to me. Imagine if you will the most superhero obsessed boy – that’s Luke by the way – missing out on being bestowed with superhero powers by an alien just because of a badly timed wee. The thought of this made me properly chuckle and I couldn’t resist buying a copy for my school library and having the first read. Immediately I knew that this book would be hugely popular at school, it was totally hilarious and completely irresistible. Fast forward into the long and distance future (okay actually now, but let’s not split hairs) it was with a heavy heart that I sat and read the finale in the series, ‘My Cousin is a Time Traveller.’ And for me it confirmed what I always suspected that David Solomons is indeed a comedy genius. There were so many hilarious moments , I laughed so much and even shed a tear. This explosive finale turns Luke and Zack’s world upside down when they go to battle with a toaster that wants to take over the world. Nothing is what it seems and as the stakes get higher it seems that they may have finally met their match during an epic battle with their deadly enemy. I don’t want to give too much away but I can confirm that the ending is just so clever, utterly brilliant and deeply satisfying. I have loved everything about this series and if you haven’t had any chance to read any yet, well lucky you because you have five whole books to look forward to.

Let’s find out what David has to say about the final countdown…


And Now the End is Near. But not that End – David Solomons

Let’s start at the beginning, because it got away from me too. My first attempt at writing a novel for children was a disastrous error of judgement. It was meant to be a fun, exciting ghost story, but I chose a character to narrate it who was, in effect, a middle manager in a dead-end job going through a mid-life crisis. Turns out kids (and children’s publishers) aren’t so interested in that.

My ghost story didn’t connect with its intended readership (although I suspect that out there somewhere is an audience of world-weary middle-aged executives who’d find it hi-la-rious). But the experience pointed me in the right direction. My next attempt was the first book in the My Brother is a Superhero series. When his older brother is bestowed with superpowers and told to save the world, Luke Parker is outraged! An eleven-year-old boy furious that he isn’t the Chosen One? Something about that seemed inherently funny. And it gave me an angle – a way in to every scene. I knew immediately I had something to work with.

And now, five books later, I’ve come to the end. My Cousin is a Time Traveller is the final instalment in the series. In the near-future, following a 30-degree Eco wash, a smart washer-drier becomes self-aware and instigates a very domestic apocalypse. Learning about the potential fate of humankind from his cousin and eponymous time-traveller, Dina, our hero, Luke, along with the usual gang, has to contend with an uprising of appliances, a deadly celebrity-authored children’s book, and a villain from the past.

So, here’s the thing. This was not the ending I envisaged. Way back at the beginning I sketched the final outing for my characters. But I didn’t really know them back then. They are loud and insistent and made me do a rewrite to suit the people they’ve become. And I’m glad I listened. Yes, I could’ve forced my original ending on them, but they would’ve sulked and it would’ve rung hollow. Writers are often asked if they are ‘planners’ or ‘pantsers’. I am a ‘hopper,’ bouncing from one to the other as the story – and my protagonist – demands.

I’ve written myself into this book too. Early on, there’s an author visit at Luke’s school, except that he mishears and thinks that the writer’s name is Arthur Veezat. But it’s me. This way I get to bid farewell in person to my lovely cast of characters. They’re rude about me to the end. Thanks anyway. It’s been amazing.


Thanks to David for this really interesting guest post, I definitely get the impression having read the whole series that the characters are very forthright about getting their own way. I have to say that the Arthur Veezat mix up is a real highlight of the books that made me laugh out loud so much during the story.

Blog Tour

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

Thank you to Clare and Nosy Crow for inviting me to join in with the blog tour and for sending me a gifted copy of the series finale. ‘My Cousin is a Time Traveller,’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop.

The Adventures of Harry Stevenson – Ali Pye

Today is my stop on ‘The Adventures of Harry Stevenson.’ blog tour with a special guest post to celebrate the release of the first book in this hilarious new young fiction series from Ali Pye. Meet Harry Stevenson. He doesn’t live in a castle, or a witch’s cottage, or anywhere exciting like that. His home is in a flat with seven-year-old Billy and his mum and dad. At a first glance, Harry doesn’t seem any different from
your average guinea pig. He has ginger fur and sparkly black eyes and likes
nothing more than snacking on a piece of broccoli. But don’t be fooled! Harry may just want to sleep and eat (and then eat some more) but somehow he always manages to get swept up in adventures: whether it’s surfing the Pacific on a picnic plate or accidentally attaching himself to a helium balloon. This marvellous madcap adventure is bound to appeal to emerging readers with it’s witty and entertaining stories and vibrant, hilarious illustrations. I can see this series being hugely popular at school.

Top Five Animal Friendships in Children’s Books – Ali Pye

Friendship is an important theme of ‘The Adventures of Harry Stevenson’: Harry lives with the Smith family and his best friend is seven-year-old Billy Smith. Harry and Billy will do anything for each other, even though they can’t understand each other’s language. I’ve chosen my top five books that touch on the theme of friendships – three are between animals and humans, but I’ve included two between animals and animals because I think they’re such special books.

The Last Wild series by Piers Torday

This is a three-book series set in a dystopian future, where animals supposedly no longer exist as they have been wiped out by a virus. Twelve-year-old Kester, stuck in a prison-like children’s home, discovers two things: one, there are still animals in the world, and two, he can talk to them. Kester is rescued by a flock of pigeons, who fly him deep into the countryside to meet the last surviving creatures: the ‘last wild’. He sets out with a group of animals to mediate between animals and humans in order to find a cure, forming friendships with a bossy cockroach, a plucky wolf cub and a noble stag along the way.

Squishy McFluff by Pip Jones and Ella Okstad

Squishy McFluff is the gorgeously fluffy and very cheeky star of several young fiction books. He’s in invisible kitten, who appears to an equally cheeky girl called Ava as she plays in the garden one day. Together they cook up all sorts of mischief, which can always be blamed on Squishy. Ava’s parents are driven to distraction, until they bring in clever Great Grandad Bill, who outwits the naughty pair. Pip Jones’ funny rhyming text is perfectly matched by Ella Okstad’s adorable characters.

The ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ series by Cressida Cowell.

I liked the ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ films but I prefer the books because (of course) the characters are more complex. Hiccup is much less a natural hero, while his dragon Toothless is more stubborn and anarchic, not to mention a total drama queen. It’s enjoyable to see the two of them grow in stature over the series, as ‘Hiccup the Useless’ and his supposedly ‘Common or Garden’ friend face trials and tribulations together to become great heroes, the hard way.

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White and Garth Williams

‘Where’s Papa going with that axe?’ asks eight-year-old Fern, as her father heads out to kill a runty piglet born overnight. So begins this classic children’s novel, which addresses themes of loneliness, friendship, death and love in the most beautiful, clear and true language. The book tells the story of a lonely piglet called Wilbur, who is saved from being slaughtered by his friend Charlotte the spider. Charlotte weaves words about Wilbur into her web, bringing fame to the farm and saving Wilbur’s life. It is unsentimental and addresses sophisticated topics while being charming, funny and accessible, resonating with children and adults alike.

Bartholomew and the Bug by Neal Layton

This is the first childrens’ book I bought as an adult, just for me, because I loved it. It tells the story of Bartholomew, a chilled out bear who lives at the top of a mountain. Sometimes he looks down at the city below and wonders what it’s like, but never gets around to visiting. His indolent life is disrupted by the arrival of a manic bug who is desperate to reach the bright lights of the city as he only has one day to live. Bartholomew helps him. When the two friends eventually reach the city they are disappointed because there are no lights – but then it gets dark, the lights start to twinkle, and soon ‘the whole place was awash with luminescent glow’ (I love that sentence).  Thousands of bugs arrive TO PARTY! I won’t spoil the rest of the story for you; check it out for yourself, it’s great. The illustrations are brilliant, so free and full of joy, and the text is wry and funny.

Thank to Ali for this lovely guest post, some fab recommendations of books to read.

Ali Pye

Ali Pye is the author and illustrator of a number of picture books,
including You Can Never Run Out of Love and Rosie Is My Best Friend. The
Adventures of Harry Stevenson is her first fiction series and was inspired
by a real-life guinea pig (who turned out to be a girl and was re-named
Harriet Stevenson). She lives in Twickenham with her husband,
children and two guinea pigs: Beryl and Badger.


Blog Tour

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

Thank you to Olivia and Simon & Schuster for inviting me to join in with the blog tour and for my gifted copy of this charming book. ‘The Adventures of Harry Stevenson,’ is availably to buy now online or from any good bookshop.

Cover Reveal – The Somerset Tsunami Emma Carroll

Regular readers of the blog will know that I’m a huge fan of Emma Carroll, who is quite rightly known as the Queen of Historical Fiction. Emma’s storytelling genius lies in her ability to transport the reader back in history and gives them such a sense of time and place that you find yourself right there, within the story watching it unfold before your very eyes.  So I’m thrilled to be sharing with you today the cover for Emma’s latest historical book, ‘The Somerset Tsunami,’ which will be published on the 3rd October by Faber.

So without further ado here it is…

Hinting at the drama and adventure that lies within these pages this stunning cover has been illustrated once again by Julian De Narvaez, and has been designed by Margaret Hope at Faber. Let’s find out more about what Emma has in store for us in this dark and thrilling tale of mistrust, witchcraft and unnatural weather.

The Somerset Tsunami – Emma Carroll

A sinking boat…

A girl in disguise…

A disappearing sea…

When Fortune Sharpe carves a boat from a tree with her beloved brother, Gem, she’s only having a bit of fun. But now is not the time for a girl to be drawing attention to herself. She is sent away to find work dressed as a boy. Luckily a rich manor house is hiring.

Yet Barrow Hill’s inhabitants harbour dangerous secrets of their own, the suspicious owner is hunting for witches, and the house itself is a little to close to the sea…


Emma Carroll

Emma Carroll was a secondary school English teacher for many years. The Somerset Tsunami is Emma’s ninth novel for Faber: she has also written the highly-acclaimed Frost Hollow Hall, The Girl Who Walked on Air, In Darkling Wood, The Snow Sister, Strange Star, Letters from the Lighthouse, Secrets of a Sun King and When We Were Warriors. She lives in the Somerset hills with her husband and two terriers.

Julian De Narvaez

Julian is one of Faber’s more unusual artists and not surprisingly  his work is quite striking. He usually begins with pen and China ink, and then colours and manipulates the images using advanced digital techniques. Julian specialises in contemporary, eclectic illustrations that nonetheless convey a fine, traditional quality. This quirkiness has found success in many industries and formats.

Thank you to Emma and Faver for inviting me to host the cover reveal. ‘The Somerset Tsunami,’ is available to pre-order online or from any good bookshop. To win 1 of 5 early copies head over to my pinned tweet on Twitter to find out more.





Sophie Johnson: Detective Genius – Guest Post Ella Okstad

Sophie Johnson is back in a new adventure which is bound to delight fans of the first book in this gorgeous series. Now that Sophie has mastered being a ‘Unicorn Expert.’ it’s time to try her hands at something new. She’s studied very hard, read all the books, watched all the tv shows and therefore she is now perfectly qualified to become a detective. So when Lion’s tail goes missing Sophie is swiftly on the case, searching for clues and interrogating suspects. She is far too busy to train up her erstwhile assistant Bella who is a truly awful detective and keeps trying to distract her from her investigation. Morag’s tale is completely hilarious, it’s a joy to watch Sophie so caught up in solving this terrible crime that she fails to spot what is going on underneath her nose. Ella Okstad’s vibrant and intricate illustrations are filled with humour and compliment Morag’s brilliantly clever storytelling perfectly. The story is wonderfully interactive and is a delight to read aloud, especially if you pretend to be as oblivious as Sophie to what’s really happening!

To celebrate the publications of ‘Sophie Johnson: Detective Genius,’ I am thrilled to have the talented and lovely Ella Okstad on the blog with a special guest post.

Ella Okstad – Studio Tour

Hi there!

This is where I work! It is a spacious room in the first floor of my house with a big window overlooking the garden.

After the kids have all gone off to school in the mornings, I sometimes go for a little walk (pretend I’m walking to work, which is actually quite important when working from home). When I get back I give the cat a cuddle, make myself a nice cup of coffee, put the radio on and I´m ready for work!

I love my desk. It is an electric one that can be raised to a standing position whenever I’m tired of sitting.

I always start my projects by sketching on paper trying to find the right look/movement/body language of the character I’m drawing. I find this easier with a pencil on paper than with a digital tool. When I go to finals I use ordinary food wrap paper (I really should get myself a light box) to trace over my sketches and then scan lines to get the hand drawn quality I want. I colour digitally using photoshop.

I work until around 4.30 pm when it`s time to make dinner for my hungry family. Whenever a deadline is approaching (which happens quite a lot) I spend my evenings in the studio before going to bed.

I love my studio!

Huge thank you to Ella for letting us nosy around her studio, I have serious desk envy.

Thanks to Olivia and Simon & Schuster for inviting me to host this blog tour and for sending me a gifted copy of this glorious book (and a fab tote bag) in exchange for an honest review. ‘Sophie Johnson: Detective Genius,’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop.