Saturday, 26 October 2013

Half Term Shenanigans!

Half term has arrived and with it the promise of weather that makes you want to curl up and stay indoors or jet off for some Autumnal sun, whichever your choice be sure that you have a good book or tow, perhaps even three to see you through the week.  I have…

In fact I have a very large pile, books from picture books through to YA and even adult along with some non-fiction for good measure – cooking and crafting that I will be reporting on in the Winter edition of the magazine which will be here before we know it!

So back to the fiction, I am sure and I hope that you are wondering what is in my pile?  Well let’s start with the YA and work down.

For older teens there is some truly excellent reading material available.  I recently discovered Sarah J. Maas.  An evening at Bloomsbury to mark not only the publication of her novels but a rare visit to the UK put copies of books 1 and 2 - Throne of Glass and Crown of Midnight - into my hands and had me enthralled by their mix of fantasy and reality, the blurred lines of love and loathing, the thrill of the assassin, the fear of the dangers presented by some real threats and above all else the fluidity of the writing, I was gripped and I am sure many of my readers will be too.  I must now admit that I don’t read as much YA and teen fiction as I should – partly from working in a prep school and not necessarily having the time to fit it in with all the younger fiction I need to read!

However I have enjoyed another series, or again the first two books in, this one
by Maureen Johnson (Suite Scarlett, Hot Key Books) who again I was lucky enough to meet, this time at an event at Waterstones Piccadilly where she shared the stage with James Dawson (this is the subject of another Blog to follow soon).  Maureen’s books are unashamedly teen stories are great for those who love the nitty gritty of teen romantic angst, family trials and tribulations and some great, down-to-earth story telling that they can relate easily to.  

Finally for teens a book for the Christmas list.  The One Safe Place by Tania Unsworth (Orion) is not published until January 2nd but is a book that will be well worth the wait.  The mysterious Gabriel H Penn Home for Childhood looks like the answer to the prayers of the street children, offering a roof, safety and food.  However looks can deceive as Devin and his friends are about to discover, will they find a safe way out or be trapped forever in a very disconcerting fairytale life?  Suspenseful and full of adventure, a book to wait for and then devour!

Now to those younger readers who need to get their teeth into something fun for half term holidays.  My reading pile has been particularly extensive where these readers are concerned with something for the various ages and both genders too.  Rainbow Beauty: Blueberry Wishes by Kelly McKain (Usborne) is the third book in the Rainbow Beauty series and takes us back to the Rainbow Beauty Parlour where things are looking up for Abbie and her family or are they, will competition and a celebrity mean a its all change for the girls?  

On a completely different note we take to the high seas, or at least would like to, with Hilary Westfield.  Wannabe pirate Hilary is about to be sent off to Miss Pimm’s Finishing School, having been rejected by the Very Nearly Honourable League of Pirates but she has very strong views and a determined plan.  If you love swashbuckling adventure, the thrills and spills of a pirate life then this is most certainly going to be a book you will love so look out for Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson (Simon and Schuster).  Not satisfied yet?  Not yet found something for this half term holiday reading, well as Halloween features in this holiday why not consider something spooking and ghoulish?  

William Alexander author of the brilliantly narrated and cleverly conceived Goblin Secrets has once again put pen to paper for a companion title.  Ghoulish Song (Much-In-Little) begins ominously with the last day of Kalie’s life, it then becomes more upbeat before we discover that without her shadow Kalie will die but not be dead.  Making sense?  It will when you start to read and learn how Kalie and her shadow must conquer a certain flute and a band of travelling goblins to save themselves and Zombay too.  

If you love this then you will also love the next Sesame Seade mystery Gargoyles Gone AWOL by Clemetine Beauvais (HodderChildrens) finds Sesame and her friends on the trail of the mysteriously disappearing gargoyles in Cambridge University – can Seasame’s detective skills solve the crime or will the mysterious new arrival and the strange footprints continue to baffle?  Get your sleuthing hat on and get ready for a great detective adventure with lots of laughs!

Now to those picture books which I also mentioned I have been reading and two of my very favourite authors have delivered some fantastic reading for the youngest of my readers this half term (and any older ones who just can't get enough of gorgeous books).  
The first comes from Debi Gliori Dragon Loves Penguin (Bloomsbury) is a charming story showing how the most unlikely of pairings can be the best.  Touching, clever, amusing and delightfully illustrated in a new style - for the author who has turned to charcoal and loose watercolour, this book is not only stunning to look at but a sheer delight to read.  Children and adults alike will love the story of a lonely egg and a mummy figure.  

If your little one is scared of monsters then Debi Gliori's book will soothe them, Adam Stower's Troll and the Oliver (Templar Publishing) may at first scare them until they realise that this is a story all about the troll who tries to eat Oliver but never manages to for Oliver is just too fast and too clever ... until one day ... but that would give away the story.  Suffice to say there is a happy ending and children will love this book, once again a great story and stunning illustration combine to make a book to add to the every growing collection of bedtime and anytime stories.  Two perfect picture books to round off a fantastic selection of half term reading choices!

Monday, 7 October 2013

Picture Books Galore

Its a fabulous time for picture books, they have been finding their way to my desk in vast quantities recently which has been lovely for not only are they always a delight to read they are a delight to recommend too!

Following a wonderful event with Scholastic Books at Daunt Books on Holland Park recently where we celebrated the launch of Cerrie Burnell's charming story, Snowflakes, illustrated by Laura Ellen Andersen a story about a mixed race family, it has been lovely to read Look Back! by Trish Cook, illustrated by Caroline Binch and published by Papillote Press.  This small independent publisher has taken on a big book - one that is magical and one that celebrates other cultures, in this instance the Caribbean culture.  In the story the reader is treated to a tale of magic adventure in the rainforest but is not quite sure whether the story is all in a grandmother's imagination or a true adventure.  Does it really matter?  probably not for the adventure takes us on a glorious journey through brightly coloured
foresty jungle and into the heart of storytelling.

A very different but equally colourful book comes from Tor Freeman.  The Toucan Brothers, published by Macmillan finds the intrepid plumbing brothers- Sammy and Paul - vying for business when a new plumber arrives in town.  The biggest problem however is not the competition but the fact that the new plumber is just no good!  Can Sammy and Paul save their reputation and their town?  A brilliant story with rhyming text making it perfect for reading aloud and pictures that just add so much to the words ...

Next it is back to grandparents with the charming How to Babysit a Grandad by Jean Reagan, illustrated by Lee Wildish, published by Hodder.  Filled with instructions for how to look after your granddad in the best possible way this will have children, parents and grandparents giggling as they discover that entertaining consists of somersaults, scary plays and muscles whilst drawing means pirate-shark battles and puddle pictures!  Remember to clear up all the mess and that when it is time for goodbye you need to check when they are coming again - utterly charming!

Of course we all love our parents and grandparents and quite often our brothers and sisters too but for anyone in any doubt I Love You by Giles Andreae and illustrated by Emma Dodd should help...  Here is a celebration of love, an exploration of everything in the world of a child that they may love - ice cream, puppies, teddies and more,  Funny, lively, rhyming and just gorgeous!

Of course sometimes children are not wonderfully charming, they don't always clean up their mess and of course it was not them that made it in the first place - it was the gorilla!  Ding Dong Gorilla by Michelle Robinson, illustrated by Leonie Lord , published by Orchard Books, is a wonderfully messy celebration of the imagination of a child - what happens when you answer the door to a gorilla- mischief and mayhem of course.  Hilariously funny and anarchic picture book with cheeky illustration too!

Last but by no means least I will leave you with a question, posed by Alison Green and deftly illustrated by Adam Stower - What Can You Stack on the Back of a Yak? I most certainly don't want to spoil the surprise but can assure you that you will be amazed and will enjoy the surprise when you turn every page ...

A wonderful selection of picture books, really and truly offering something for everyone, the child, parent and grandparent, lots of laughs a riot of colour and the beginning of a great reading adventure!

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Comic Book Capers for Key Stage 1

Bridget Carrington reports for Armadillo on some innovative new titles for Key Stage 1 readers...

New from American publisher Blue Apple Books come two Balloon Toons titles aimed at Key Stage 1 readers. Combining simple(ish) text and typical zany cartoon strip set out and characters, they are aimed at early readers, and offer more zany humour than is often found in books for this age group. Their hard covers also give them a feeling of importance which will attract new readers.

My Friend Fred the Plant (Daniel Cleary and Kanako Usui) is a funny but gentle look at friendship, imaginary friends, and learning to understand others. A cat (in a hat) has a pet plant. He takes it out for a walk on a small wagon and meets another cat (on a skateboard and wearing a helmet) who scoffs at him, and words like ‘weird’ and ‘jealous’ are  exchanged.  Skateboard cat is left in charge of Fred while hat cat goes to get some water, and winds up caring for it as if it were his best friend! Clear, bright, funny illustrations add immeasurably to the very simple but punchy text.

The Radically Awesome Adventures of the Animal Princess is only one of several Balloon Toons titles written and illustrated by Pranas T. Naujokaitis. Three separate stories about the enterprising Princess show us how she rescues her royal parents from a Tri-wizard (don’t ask), overcomes the attack of the Rainy Day Cupcake Monster (a delicious tale), and earns enough money to purchase a Super-max Hoverboard 3000 by undertaking the Dragon’s Quests. There’s a secret to the Princess’s name, and her awesome powers, and it’s all to do with her pyjamas.  The Dragon’s ‘quests’ are great, and may well give adults some ideas to encourage youngsters to help out with the household chores!

Altogether this is a splendid series, offering cool reading for new readers, and for those who prefer their words extra well supported by humour-laden cartoon strips.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Celebrating Difference

As the summer holidays - for teachers and children at least - draw to a close what better way to be invigorated for the academic year ahead than by reading?  The government may be doing all that it can to encourage reading in all the wrong ways but thankfully authors, booksellers, readers, reviewers. librarians and many teachers are continuing to ensure that children of all ages develop a love of reading that will stay with them for life.

By Celebrating Difference in teen fiction three writers are ensuring that the older readers have plenty of story as well as many issues to get to grips with.

R J Palacio, Sally Gardner and Laura Jarratt were interviewed by Catherine Woodfine from the Booktrust and grilled by an audience of new and avid fans at an event held at Waterstones Piccadilly (London) on Wednesday 14th August.

R J Palacio had quite literally just stepped off a train from Edinburgh where she and Sally Gardner had been part of a panel event.  Laura Jarratt and her husband were just in London for the event and a short overnight stay, the first without the newest addition to their family!  All were wonderfully enthusiastic and full of insightful thoughts on children's literature and how to celebrate difference.

Beginning the evening with a challenge - how to get on the very comfy but high chairs - certainly broke the ice for all and was followed by a brief introduction from Catherine Woodfine to the authors, their books and the concept of celebrating difference - looking at characters who are profoundly different from those around them.

For R J Palacio it is Auggie a 10 year old boy with a cranial facial difference.  Sally Gardener introduces Standish Treadwell, a severe dyslexic and Laura Jarratt uses Jenna, an average teen who wants to fit in and Ryan a traveller boy.  The books, Wonder, Maggot Moon and Skin Deep are all fantastic reading, gripping from page one despite an apparent lack of quest, detective or spy thriller or even vampirical theme!  It just goes to prove that great writing is great writing and can be gripping for itself.

Back to the books and the discussion ...

In Wonder Auggie feels that he is normal, and RJ explores the way in which he faces a world who do not know how to react, this theme of courage is one that is shared by all the books.  So what motivated the authors?  For R J it was personal experience - not knowing how to react when her son was upset at seeing a girl with a facial deformity.  for Sally it was having become so cantankerous when on a diet that she had to shut herself away and write whilst for Laura it was pastoral work with children.

In each book the celebration of difference becomes a strength for the character in question, they begin to accept themselves, gain more empathy with those around them and think outside of the traditional box.

Writing outside the 'box' is however not easy.  R J explained how she had a book about gay characters rejected as marketing were not convinced it would sell and Sally explained how she felt many were too quick to judge.  Read and understand, allow writers to challenge and children to think from within the safety of fiction - this is the message.  A message that is beginning to break through, certainly for R J who has seen a shift in the US book market towards a celebration of difference that does not mean turning into a vampire or werewolf!

For the authors exploring and celebrating difference is not only important for their audience it is important for them too.  Readers can use the books to explore, find themselves, have fun, be individual.  It is a challenge, to create a character who, on the surface appears not to fit in but in reality with a little work, does.  In effect all fiction is about difference, it is the way in which authors approach it that really matters.  Difference is a common theme in humanity and deserves to be celebrated.

So to all those in the audience and now to those of you reading this Blog the message was to be a good writer extrapolate.  Write about what you feel from the gut, imagine.  Believe in your story, tell it over and over again until you get it right and when it burns inside you don't ignore it - write it!

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Holly & Kelly Willloughby & their School for Stars!

With the summer holidays almost upon us what better time to think about ur ideal schools?  Perhaps you are looking back at the best year you have ever had or thinking about how exiting the year to come will be?

School is a wonderful place full of amazing opportunities to shine in many things and School for Stars: First Term at L'Etolie (Orion Children's Books) by Holly and kelly Willoughby is no exception   The children here may all have a super talent and be yearning to join the stars but they all still experience lessons, teachers they love and those they like a little less, friendship ups and downs and a variety of other challenges.  The love and closeness of sisters is a theme in the book, reflecting the closeness of its authors, but there are many other moments to make you laugh and sharply intake breath at the audacity of the children.  This book is fun, it is bright, cheerful and loving.  Holly and Kelly seem to have had great fun wiring it and it is the first in a promising series.  Here they explain a little more about how and why they wrote it and reveal a few things about themselves too ...

When did you know you first wanted to write a children’s book together?
Holly: We’ve always wanted to write a story together ever since we were kids.  When we were little we were always making up plays and every Saturday or Sunday, and if we had family or friends over, we would all get together and make something up to perform to them.

Kelly: I can remember having chats together about maybe one day writing these plays down on paper and then I actually started writing a book after I left university - I just woke up one night as I couldn’t sleep and started writing a story and it was one of the ideas Holly and I used to talk about.  I remember phoning Holly and she was so excited and we promised each other one day would we see if we could actually get something published.

How did you find writing together?
Holly: It was great fun, but sometimes we had quite contrasting ideas and we’d have to fight about which way a story would turn. 

Who would win?
Kelly: It was never one of us who always got our way - we would end up compromising - it wouldn’t be a straight win – we are sisters!

Where did you write:
Holly: Usually over dinner with a glass of wine to get away from the kids!  Or in the back of a car.

Kelly: Often while Holly is cooking dinner in the kitchen and we just sat and talked about all the ideas and quickly got them all down. Or my favourite time for writing is when I’ve just got up in the morning, sitting in bed, in my pyjamas on my laptop with a cup of tea.

Why do you think reading is so important?
Kelly: I read loads when I was growing up - all the Enid Blytons – Secret Seven, Famous Five, Mallory towers and Nancy Drew books, but I think it’s different now – kids watch a lot of TV or they’re on iPads, computers, the internet. But it is so important to read as your imagination is used best when you’re sat there with a book inventing the pictures in your mind, rather than looking at them.

Was your school like the school in your book, School For Stars?
Holly: No, sadly not! Obviously there will be elements of similarity because you can’t help but draw on your own experience when writing, but we certainly weren’t singing and dancing every day!

Kelly: It was particular places we remembered the most - so writing about the school hall or the dining room we pictured where we both went to school and used that.

Holly: Do you remember how terrified we were of the head dinner lady?

Kelly: Yes!  And we used that for a story in the book!

The main characters in the book are twins, did you ever wish to be twins?
Holly: We’re quite close in age so it’s always felt like we are practically twins.  Our Dad always called me ‘Rose-White’ and Kelly ‘Rose-Red’ because we’re sort of the same.

Kelly: But I’m brunette and white skinned whilst Holly is blonde and tan-skinned.

If you could have one super-power, what would it be?
Holly: I would be invisible for the day and have a snoop around Buckingham palace and see what goes on there. I want to go through the Queen’s wardrobe!

Kelly: To fly.

What’s in your handbag?
Holly: I have two Thomas the tank engines because they are there to keep Harry and Belle entertained in emergencies. I have my purse, my phone loads of make-up and loads of unidentifiable objects floating around at the bottom which have been there probably for about 4 years.

Kelly: Toys! I had a baby just before Christmas so there’s always something to chew on – and baby bottles.

What’s your best make-up tip?
Holly: Always curl your eyelashes before putting mascara on. Heat your eyelash curlers up with a hairdryer (but always be careful you don’t burn your eyes) as that makes it last longer.

Kelly: I’m never without a black liner on my eyes. My husband says put your liner on and you’ll feel normal!

What’s your guilty TV indulgence?

Holly: Made in Chelsea, I’m obsessed with it. I didn’t watch it right from the beginning but I’ve watched all 4 series on catch up in about 3 months and I love it!

Kelly: Colombo on a Sunday afternoon. Sad but true. Again, a real treat since having a baby because you don’t get the chance to watch anything anymore.

Holly and Kelly in school uniform
What celeb would you most like to be stuck in a lift with?
Holly: Rupert Penry-Jones for obvious reasons.

Kelly: Michael Buble for all the wrong reasons.

One piece of advice to your childhood self
Holly: Practice makes perfect.

Kelly: Be confident.

Holly & Kelly’s favourite things:
Favourite children’s book:
Kelly: Matilda by Roald Dahl

Holly: At the moment it’s the Gruffalo because both my children absolutely love it.  My favourite adult book is Pamela des Barres Im with the Band, it’s a really good story set in the 60s about the original groupie.

Favourite song:
Holly: Paul Weller’s English Rose – first song at my wedding

Favourite musical:
Holly and Kelly: Blood Brothers. The only musical our dad is obsessed with, and won’t whinge all the way through.

Holly: It’s just a really good story and it makes me cry every time I see it even though I know what’s going to happen.

Favourite meal:
Holly: Roast chicken, roast potatoes and tons of gravy - but it has to be my gravy, because I’m the best at making gravy!

Kelly: I’d say fillet steak or chateaubriand with mashed potato.

Favourite holiday:
Holly: My honeymoon to the Maldives. It’s the most beautiful place on earth. It’s the only place on earth that looks like it does in the postcards.

Kelly: Sunshine anywhere - I’d love to go to the Maldives as I haven’t done it yet.

Either / Or
Home cooked meal or takeaway
Holly: Home cooked meal every time

Kelly: Home cooked meal

Film or theatre
Holly: Can’t choose

Kelly: Film

Corrie or Eastenders?
Holly: Corrie

Kelly: Corrie, probably

Night owl or morning bird?
Holly: Morning bird - otherwise I’d be in trouble with my job

Kelly: Morning

Cosmopolitan or Coffee
Holly: Cosmopolitan

Kelly: Cosmo

Personal trainer or yoga
Holly: I’ve been to yoga once but I’m beginning to quite like it

Kelly: Yoga