Tuesday, 22 December 2015

A Christmas Round-Up

What a wonderful selection of Christmas books have been made available this year for readers of all ages and whilst for the younger members of our audience many of these have a Christmas theme some are just very good books that Christmas allows the leisure of time to read!

It is with enormous thanks to Macmillan books that I present you with the first part of my selection, a wonderful parcel of goodies that arrived in my office just this week , part two is a pair of books from Hot Key Books and Picacdilly Press' Christmas highlights, then if you head over to Armadillo Magazine you will see a great selection from a variety of publishers to read this Christmas (these are featured as a round-up in the Also Out section but don't forget all the other great books that we feature too!)

Now back to my current selection, sitting next to me on the desk and begging for readers just like you are ...

The Macmillan Alice, Advice for Modern Women: What Would Alice Do? with a foreword by Lauren Laverne.  In this wonderful pocket-sized book are selected quotes from Alice on the themes of Inspiration, what to do when having a bad day or a tough day at work - keep your sense of humour and remember that each day will come to a natural end!.  And so it goes on with plenty of wit and humour these selected quotes will help you get through the day and maybe even encourage you to read Alice all over again, a real treat and beautifully illustrated too.

If getting through the day means having a good colouring in or doodle session then Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: A Colouring Book could be just what you need and in fact is featured in the Winter edition of Armadillo.  Or why try something from our current Children's Laureate, Chris Riddell's Doodle a Day should keep many a doodler happy for an entire year ... packed with Chris' own illustrations and plenty of tips and hints this book could create some master doodlers in a year's time!

Three stories in one slim book make up the very special The Christmas Star: A Festive Story Collection from Eva Ibbotson.  Read and discover how a young Viennese girl discovers the magical meaning behind the family celebrations or how the words of a fortune teller can change the life of a family and finally a heroic fish who, destined for the Christmas dinner plate wins over his would-be eaters!

For comedy at Christmas try William at Christmas by Richmal Compton or for comedy of a non-christmasy but still very funny type why not pick up Mooneboy: The Fish Detective by Chris O'Dowd and Nick V. Murphy, the hardback has a great front cover cut out feature and the story - well it is just a laugh a page!

A Thousand Nights by E. K, Johnston is a classic re-imagining of the famous 1,001 Arabian Nights story and has been reviewd in Armadillo so I won't go into detail again here suffice to say it is an arresting, clever and unusual read.
Another title already mentioned in our main magazine is Julia Donaldson's What the Ladybird Heard Next with its glorious glittery cover this is a must read for fans of the little ladybird and the wonderful creative imagination of Julia Donaldson and her illustrator Lydia Monks.

From Hot Key and Macmillan not only two charming books but they were in a delightful red envelope complete with snowflakes and a mini candy cane, quite charming.  snowball: The Baby Bigfoot is a delightful addition to The Secret Animal Society series by Ruth Symes and illustrated by Tina Marchington.  The story is perfect for younger readers with its mix of fantasy and reality, the delightful characterisation and the warm appealing story.  Lily and the Christmas Wish by Keris Stainton is a magical Christmas story abut how wishes really can come true, in the most unexpected of ways.  This magical story of mix-ups is a delightful read, perfect for sharing at Christmas and ideal for helping to realise that there are many ways in which wishes can come true - not always for the best ...

To conclude this blog two very Christmasy titles, from Macmillan imprint Campbell books Busy Santa a board book introducing the youngest of readers to the busy time that Santa has every Christmas with plenty of options to 'push, pull and slide' keeping little fingers busy... then The Best Christmas Present Ever by Ben Mantle with its glorious glittery snowy cover and wonderful story of love and friendship at Christmas what could be a better way to round off this Blog?

As always your comments welcomed...

Monday, 7 December 2015

Barrington Stoke at its very best

A round-up of titles from Barrington Stoke …

In this week's Blog, reviewer and teacher Simon Barrett rounds-up and reviews a selection of some of Barrington Stoke's excellent titles...

Barrington Stoke's latest publications offer great reads for young people with a reading age of eight.  There are a number of books aimed at young readers from eight to twelve years old.  As ever, it includes new stories by great authors, this time including Jonathan Stroud (The Ghost of Shadow Vale) and Terry Deary (The Hat Trick), not reviewed here but certainly recommended reads. 

A book I do want to tell you more about is written by Tony Bradman and tells the story of the legendary king, Harald Hardrada in Harald Hardnut.  Harald had fled Norway when he was fifteen, using his sword to carve out a fierce some reputation.  With his comrades-in-arms Ulf and Haldor, Harald became a bodyguard to the Emperor himself, before winning the hand of a Russian Princess.  Upon becoming King of Norway, Harald eventually became bored of court life.  Then, he accepted one last challenge, to take the throne of England.  Harald couldn’t have been happier than meeting Harold, son of Goodwin in battle at Stamford Bridge in 1066.

In addition there a number of books of interest to teenagers: Dream OnThe Return of Johnny Kemp and The Devil's Angel and The Diary of an (Un) teenager.

In Dream On, Baljit dreams of being a football star.  His teacher thinks he is good enough even to go for trials at Leicester City.  Baljit’s parents however want him to stop dreaming.  They think he should focus on a doing well at school and getting a good job.  Then his cousin Mandip comes up with a brilliant idea of a school trip to fool Baljit’s parents, allowing him to go to the trials.   Baljit however will have to overcome racism off and on the pitch if he is to prove he is the better player.  It also means lying to his parents.

Dan, in The Return of Johnny Kemp, is in deep trouble.  The school bully – Johnny Kemp – is back and Dan is the one who was responsible for him being excluded for two weeks.  The message from the Baxter brothers and all his classmates is that Dan is a dead man.  No one seems to listen and no one is on his side.  So it is up to Dan to face Johnny.  There can only be one winner.  This is a brilliantly written story about school bullying with one surprising twist at the end.
The Devil’s Angel by Kevin Brooks explores the growing friendship between Jack and new bad boy in town, Dean.  In an intense summer, involving drink and drugs, Jack and Dean seem to relish the rock and roll life, until Dean picks a fight with the wrong people.  It is an interesting story of a band nearly making it and an unlikely friendship, beginning and then drifting apart.  This book will interest teenage readers with a reading age of 8.

Spencer is in shock.  His best friend Zac turns thirteen and changes into a skater, complete with a hoodie and a skateboard.  Spencer is thirteen in a few weeks, but vows to not change.  He is going to be an (un) teenager.
Diary of an (Un) teenager by Pete Johnson is the hilarious story of Spencer refusing to change.  His lego and model airplanes are firmly staying in his room.  Neither is he going to buy new trainers, when his old (and slightly smelly) ones are perfectly suitable for a kick about in the park.  Spencer's resolve is however fully tested when he receives an anonymous birthday card and a badly drawn heart in the corner.

Spencer is back in Return of the (Un) teenager.  This time Spencer has to contend with the fact his voice is breaking and that his best friend Zac has made loads of new friends on Facebook, including his new girlfriend Sarah.  Spencer's relationship with Emily is not going very well. Return of the (Un) teenager is another comic story of miscommunication.

The anniversary of WWI has inspired a number of novels from Barrington Stoke.  The two latest books by Alan Gibbons and Tony Bradman fictionalize their own personal, family histories relating to WWI and WWII.

Street Corner Dad by Alan Gibbons tells the story of Jimmy and his sister Molly who are forced to meet their father secretly on a street corner when a family tragedy tears the family apart.  Their Dad’s promise that nothing will keep them apart in this world or the next seems ill-fated as news arrives that his ship has been torpedoed.  This is an excellent story aimed at a reading age of 7 and an interest age of 7-12 years old.

ANZAC Boys by Tony Bradman is based upon the lives of his Grandfather Bert and his brother Frank.  Orphaned, the boys are transported by priests to the otherwise side of the world.  Upon arrival Bert’s promise that he will always look after Frank is quickly broken as Bert is sent to Australia and Frank to New Zealand.  Bert tries with no success to find Frank, until remarkably, they meet up by chance preparing for the WWI battle of Gallipoli.  Sadly the reunion is not the happy one Bert intends.  This is a story for a reading age of 8 and interest age of 9+.

Also published is a new story by Malorie Blackman illustrated by Matthew Griffin entitled Robot Girl.  The author brilliantly subverts the genre as Claire becomes jealous of her father’s new creation.  Once again he is spending hours in his laboratory, working on a new project to create an artificial intelligence, using Claire’s own brain patterns without her permission.  Claire’s new friend Maisie is the only person who seems to understand.  The story is intended for a reading age of 8 and an interest age of 8-12 years old.

Quite a selection so hopefully something for everyone and a great variety too!

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Starting Summer with a Celebration!

I love a summer celebration and there have already been a few with more to come … these have been celebrations of the book launch and party kind, for new books in the meantime however there are also celebrations of old books to note this summer.

Well when I say old, I mean the books are having their anniversaries and as such there are in fact new editions and spin offs to celebrate.

Let us start with Thomas the Tank Engine, he must be everyone’s favourite little engine I am sure and so it is only right that we celebrate 70 years of being able to enjoy his stories with a charming new series of picture books and a wonderful slipcase, hardback edition of the first and absolutely classic title.  This wonderful celebratory edition introduces us to Thomas and friends in a classic story that has withstood the test of time and includes too photographs and sketches that have not been seen before and will delight fans and enthusiasts old and new.

An older book is Alice in Wonderland, which, this summer is celebrating 150 years in print and there have been a wealth of titles published to help the celebrations along.  A Little Folks Edition puts the story into the smallest of hands in a charming hardback edition with wonderful watercolour illustrations.  This miniature was in fact first published by Macmillan in 1907 and at only a sixth of the length of the story is perfect for the youngest reader as an introduction to the story.  Then there is the story with a foreword by Hilary McKay in a charming classic edition from Macmillan Classics, this is a hardback book for collectors to treasure.  The Nursery Alice, first published in 1890 as the very first colour edition has been faithfully reproduced and adapted for the younger reader to enjoy an then for the very youngest there is a board book complete with holes to poke fingers through, sliders and even flaps giving a wonderful interactive feel to the story.  Busy Alice in Wonderland  is a delight!

If all this is not enough to fill your book case then look to Andersen Press who also have an Alice title, this one retold and illustrated by Tony Ross.  The Andersen Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a perfect abridgement of the original story magically retold and stunningly illustrated.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Brandon Robshaw's Guest Post

The author Brandon Robshaw, who has recently has his book The Big Wish published by Chicken House, writes here for us about his experiences of Writing for Children.  Before you read his piece however a few words about his charming book.  The book features Sam, a young boy who is given what many children may consider the best gift ever, unending wishes.  The trouble is he soon learns that you really do have to be careful what you wish for and that perhaps this gift that keeps on giving is not really what he wanted...

Children hate being bored. Everybody hates being bored, of course, but when we are young there is something peculiarly painful and intolerable about it. I can remember as a child being ready to scream with boredom on long car journeys, or in afternoon lessons where time seemed to have stopped. And I didn't put up with boring books. If a book was boring I threw it aside and found something else to do. On the other hand, if the book was interesting it could put me into a trance. I would lose myself in it completely.

If you want to write for children, it's important not to forget this. An adult reader might put up with a few boring pages, and be prepared to wait for the good bits. But a child reader, justifiably enough, wants it all to be good bits, starting from page one. This is even truer today than it once was, for now there are far more rival attractions than there used to be. Kids can spend their time playing Minecraft, or surfing the net, or going on social media instead of reading books. So reading has to be fun, if it's going to compete.

What makes reading fun, then? I'd say there are four important things:
1)    The book has to be written from the heart. If a writer thinks, ‘I know, I'll write a book about superheroes because that's really popular with kids’, it's unlikely that the book will be very interesting. But if the writer thinks, ‘I wonder what it would be like to really have superpowers, that would be amazing!’, then the book will come from the heart, and that will carry across to the reader.
2)    The language. It has to be fresh and clear and bright. No waffling. Descriptions should be vivid but short. Dialogue should be quick and punchy – no long speeches – and it should sound natural. This doesn't mean the vocabulary has to be simplistic. Children like learning new words, and they like silly, quirky, made-up words, too.
3)    The pace. It should be swift. Something happening on every page. Enough said.
4)    The story. Children have a strong sense of wonder, and they like stories with wonderful, crazy, unlikely or impossible events – as long as the author can make those events feel real. ‘What if’ is one of the most powerful engines to get a story going. What if my best friend turned out to be a spy? What if I could go invisible? What if there was buried treasure under my house and a gang of criminals found out about it? What if my dreams came true? Whether the story is a realistic one or a fantasy, whether it's serious or funny, children want to be able to satisfy that sense of wonder.

But the secret of writing a book that children want to read isn't to tick off these four things one by one. It's to get them all working together at the same time!

Sunday, 14 June 2015

A guest reviewer writes ...

I asked Armadillo reviewer and writer Bridget Carrington to review a book by Kathryn James so that we could mark a special event this month and link it to YA fiction.  The following is Bridget's contribution:

All over the UK June is Gypsy Roma TravellerHistory Month, and perfectly timed for this comes Kathryn James latest novel, Gypsy Girl (Walker Books). Kathryn writes from in-depth experience of this very special and widely misrepresented group, as she worked for years in a variety of jobs which supported the traveller community. 

In an interview she has written:
When I met up with the Gypsy girls we’d worked with in the past, they moaned that there’s never any books or stories about their lives. They and I both wanted a kick-ass Gypsy girl heroine. Sassy. Gypsy smart rather than School smart. And true to what the girls are really like.  

Sammy-Jo Smith is just that. She’s a prize-winning fighter, but can’t progress to the official adult fights because she’s too young. Her big sister wants a big wedding, so Sammy-Jo secretly earns money in illegal cage fights to pay for it, and remains unbeaten against all-comers. But this year when the Smith family pulls onto the field they’ve always stopped on they find they are no longer welcome, and Sammy-Jo discovers there’s far more to that than meets the eye too. And she’s fallen in love with a gorger, whose father owns the field, although she’s expected to marry a cousin, who seems to be mixed up in something illegal. Sammy-Jo is an unusual heroine, and her world will be unfamiliar to many readers, except via the discriminatory reports in certain areas of the media. Through her we learn much about the close family units, about the history of the people and their traditions, and how they’re both the same and different from us – the housed. All this comes through a fast-paced, exciting, and frequently funny, mystery-adventure-romance with an engaging heroine. 

There’s a hint that we might see more of her – I certainly hope so!

There’s an excellent Guardian picture article in which Kathryn James shows the sources for some of the ideas in Gypsy Girl, and a piece on the GRTHM site about a traveller who competed in the boxing in the 2012 Olympics.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Wychwood Festival 2015 .... Part 1 - Pre Festival Excitment

So here I am, three days away from attending the Wychwood 2015 Festival and I have to say I am excited.  What is there to be excited about I know you are wondering.  And what does it have to do with Armadillo?

Well, the two questions can be answered in one.  It is because Wychwood has a dedicated Chlidren’s Literature Festival running alongside the music and workshops.  Not only is there a packed programme of authors for children to meet and listen to but also they have the opportunity to attend classes and workshops and enjoy performaces too.

Wychwood is a an incredibly family friendly festival and I know that any children who attend will not only be inspired by the authors they listen to and meet but they will gain from their experience fond memories of a wonderful weekend and some inspirational encouragement to read and maybe even be writers themselves one day.

Lots of thought and hard work, considerable effort, goes into the planning of these events and I know that my first trip to Wychwood 2 years ago was a great opportunity to meet some wonderful people and the Children’s Literature Festival was there, in its own marquee, roving popular but looking at the programme for this year I can see that even more authors are involved, there are even more big names and there is likely to be very little room left in the children’s tent for the whole of the weekend!

So just who will be there – fantastic authors galore …Ali Sparkes (think Monster Makers, Shapeshifters, Dark Summer) offering something to children aged 7 and upwards; Petr Horacek with his marvellous picture books appropriate for all ages.  I don’t know Giancrlo Gremin but am excited that I may get a chance to meet this new name along with the also unkown First Draft and local author Karen Langtree.

Steve Anthony will be there and I am hoping he will show off his fantastic illustration skills.  Friend of mine Steve Cole will be there and he could be talking James Bond, Egyptian Adventures or even dinosaurs in space – watch this space to find out.  The bearded giant that is Philip Ardagh is likely to have his audiences in stitches, John Dougherty will hopefully play his guitar whilst Anna Wilson, Tracey Corderoy, Paul Strickland, Chris Edge and Cathy Cassidy not forgetting Matt Brown, Paul Strickland and Tony de Saulles.

Phew I think I need a sit down now but maybe that will have to wait until this weekend when I park myself in the Children’s Literature Tent at Wychwood for an inspirational series of events.

If I have time in my busy schedule I may pop along to listen to some music on one of the 4 stages, learn more about what Wychwood are doing to go green, hone some belly dancing skills. Listen to some comedy … the list of things to do is endless. 

Whatever your plans were for this coming weekend change them and get yourselves over to Cheltenham Racecourse for the stunning Wychwood Festival.