An interview with… Sarah Aspinall

For my Research Secrets slot in Writers’ Forum issue Sept 2021 #236 I interviewed Sarah Aspinall about her memoir Diamonds at the Lost and Found: A Memoir in Search of My Mother, published by Fourth Estate and inspired by her glamourous, yet eccentric mother, Audrey Miller, later known as Audrey Aspinall.

Sarah knew she had to find a way of writing this book as every time she told the story of her childhood adventures people would gasp and say, ‘you have to write that, it’s such an incredible story.’ The word incredible always worried her a little, as she’d sometimes wonder if it all really happen as she remembered it.

“My memories were vividly of a wild harum-scarum life, travelling the world with my glamorous but eccentric mother, Audrey. We wound up in various strange exotic destinations around the world; sometimes we were in luxury hotels and fantastic mansions, other times we lived in cabins of cruise ships, or a cheap scruffy motel in the Killdevil Hills of North Carolina. We often stayed with people we’d just met. Many of these people were men, as the purpose of these trips seemed to be for my mother ‘to find true love.’”

Sarah Aspinall

Sarah revealed when she started writing she had no contacts as she knew most of the people as ‘Auntie Sadie’ or ‘Uncle Les.’ She had no idea how to start her research and all she had to go on was a big chocolate box full of photographs, some had dates and names scribbled on the back. There was also a battered address book held together with rubber bands, in which nothing was in order in its alphabetical pages. It was stuffed with scraps of paper with barely legible names and numbers. Yet, Sarah had spent most her childhood listening to her mother regale people with her amazing stories. These people would have heard them all and may be able to fill in the blanks.   

“I think even a simple memoir is a way of passing on something precious as everyone has a story to tell.”

Sarah Aspinall

Audrey’s own childhood in Liverpool was easy to write about, as Sarah told me she had already vividly conjured the sights, sounds and smells of the coal-yard belonging to her Uncle Charlie where she and her mother lived after being deserted by her father. Memoirs such as Helen Forrester’s story of her desperately poor childhood in Depression-ridden Liverpool of the 1930 were brilliant for details of daily life.

On Facebook there are pages such as Liverpool Hidden History, which has 42,000 members. Her queries about the lives of a bookie’s runner got many helpful responses from people whose own parents told them stories of illegal back street gambling.  She used some of these personal for moments such as Audrey’s description of running back from the pubs with all the bets and hiding under the big tarpaulin in the yard when someone had tipped off the police. Similarly with accounts of the evacuees getting on trains Sarah borrowed from real memories of people:

‘…as the train crowded with children pulled out of Lime Street station, some of the little ones were screaming for their mothers. I saw one mother being sick on the platform, but mine managed to stand tall.’ 

Extract from Diamonds at the Lost and Found: A Memoir in Search of My Mother

Sarah explained she was aware of Audrey being very much the family star from the photos of her at the time in dance clothes, or leading the Orange Day parades or as the May Queen. She found accounts of these big celebrations of a working-class Liverpool childhood on social media. Watching archive from Pathe news on YouTube was useful gave a sense of the crowds watching a horse parade and the nodding heads of the horses. Sarah said there are hundreds of wonderful Pathe news clips online which really transport you to the past and spark the imagination. 

For her mother’s eventful voyage to America just after the war when she was twenty, Sarah bought James Steele’s book Queen Mary, which is rich in images that show the fabulous décor of the ballrooms and cocktail lounges and gives you a sense of daily life for the different class of passengers. She also signed up to ancestry.co.uk to look for clues to her parents’ family histories and was thrilled to find it has passenger lists for sea voyages. 

“Discovering her name handwritten on the list was magical. Revealing she had written in one column she was a ‘journalist’ I’d known she had a social diary in the local paper, Talk of Many Things by Audrey Miller but was disappointed to find no records for those years.”

Sarah Aspinall

Sarah told me that travelling back to places in the book was the most powerful way of reaching back to the past. Scents and smells are amazing at unlocking memories. Walking the streets of New York helped her to write about the city Audrey discovered in 1946. Although the air would have been a little different then, many things would not have changed. Sarah knew she would be dreaming of something more thrilling than her godmother’s small flat in the suburb of Jackson Heights. Using this memory, she wrote:

‘Of course, in my fantasies I was in the New York of the Movies.. off sipping Martini at the Copacabana Bar with Cary Grant, not sitting each night in Mike and Sadie’s little apartment with our TV dinners on a tray.’  

Extract from Diamonds at the Lost and Found: A Memoir in Search of My Mother

A lightning bolt of memory came when her childhood friends reminded her of the stuffed snake toy she’d named Sabet Sabescue. Sarah divulged she suddenly remembered this was the name of the man who had taken them on the felucca boat down the Nile. HIs smile remained like the Cheshire Cat, long after the rest of him had vanished, hovering at the edge of my memory, along with the thrill of driving too fast in his open car with the wind in my hair. This is perhaps the most exciting thing about researching a memoir – the finding of these tiny keys that unlock a secret storehouse of forgotten memories.

For writing any book, and particularly a memoir Sarah’s advice is to get a good editor, or friendly reader to find cuts to make in your writing. Every line of a memoir can feel precious to you, because it is so intimately your story. She rarely read drafts of people’s books which wouldn’t benefit enormously by a tough edit. Writers must invite it, or even insist on it, as friends hate to tell the awful truth. You need to insist ‘be brutal, find me whole sections to lose, not just a few lines here and there’.  

Trims and tightening can help a lot, but the painful truth is often whole chunks of story just need to go even though they may have taken a lot of time and be beautifully written. Sarah elaborated that she cut three last chapters out completely, although they represented months of work because two trusted friends both said the same thing ‘it is better without them; the story really ends earlier.’ They were right. This is when she found a publisher.

Her research tip is to interrogate friends and family about tiny details of what they remember, as the name of an old toy can bring so much flooding back. Use the sense of smell to unlock the past. Sarah explained that if she smells Youth Dew her mother’s perfume whole scenes come back to her. If you can revisit places close your eyes and breath in, as it may allow you to time travel.

Sarah is happy for anyone wanting writing tips or advice to contact her via Facebook or Instagram. She doesn’t use twitter much. 

You can find Sarah Aspinall on Facebook @sarah.aspinall.355 and Instagram @sarahjaspinall

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of Sept 2021 #236 Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Research Secrets or Writing 4 Children interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

Book Review: Amazing Mum

Title: Amazing Mum

Written and Illustrated by: Alison Brown

Published by: Farshore Books

With Mother’s Day only a month away in the UK on Sunday 19th March 2023, Amazing Mum, is the perfect book to buy for your kids as it showcases all the incredible, versatile and diverse things mums do to care for their family, which are often taken for granted. It provides a much needed glimpse into the world of being a mum today.

This rhyming picture book aimed at three to six year olds portrays a wide variety of strong, independent mothers as they go about their everyday roles as parents from juggling careers, repairing things when they break and being there to watch their children in their school performance to meal times, bath times and story times.

Alison Brown’s gorgeous illustrations have a snuggly, fluffy feel to them providing the ahh-factor that will get the children of all ages turning the pages. Mums and carers all over the world will most definitely recognise themselves in these adorable anamorphic illustrations. Amazing Mum

Amazing Mum was released on 2nd February just in time for Mother’s Day and is the first in a series with Amazing Dads being launched in April 2023 – yes you’ve guessed it – just in time for Father’s Day on Sunday 18th June 2023.

You can buy copies of Amazing Mum or pre-order Amazing Dad both written and illustrated by Alison Brown from your local bookshop, or online at uk.bookshop.org, an organisation with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops.

Book Review: Rain Before Rainbows

Title: Rain Before Rainbows

Written by: Smriti Halls

Illustrated by: David Litchfield

Published by: Walker Books

Rain Before Rainbows by Smriti Halls and David Litchfield

Rain Before Rainbows was published in 2020 just as we were emerging from lockdowns and the scary time of Covid was behind us. It was released by Walker Books in conjunction with Save the Children to raise awareness for the ‘Saves the Stories’ campaign. It is a beautifully colourful picture book, which is easy to read and leaves the reader with a magical feeling of love and a positive outlook for the future.

Our female protagonist and her fox friend are forced to leave their home and most combat the fierce wind and rain in the dark. They encounter raging storms and symbolic scary dragons travelling across the sea before reaching a brighter new world full of promise and new friends.

This is a clever well-crafted picture book where every word is there for a reason. There is a rhythmic quality that builds around the theme of hope. So there may be ‘rain before rainbows’ and ‘clouds before sun’ but with a little patience and determination we can all survive the bleakest times and scariest of dangers. The illustrations are full of poignant details that add to the atmosphere of the book.

It is the ideal picture book for discussing hopes and dreams in a PSHE lesson giving young children a chance to reveal their own desires. It will also be perfect for talking about refuges having to leave their homes.

A great edition to bookshelves and libraries.

You can buy copies of Rain Before Rainbows by Smriti Halls and David Litchfield from your local bookshop, or online at uk.bookshop.org, an organisation with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops.

Book Review: Saving Neverland

Title: Saving Neverland

Written by: Abi Elphinstone

Illustrated by: Geraldine Rodriguez

Published by: Penguin Books

Saving Neverland is another exciting adventure based on Peter Pan by J M Barrie with the added addition of an excellent range of stunning illustrations by Geraldine Rodriguez. The main character is ten-year-old, Martha Pennydrop. She has recently moved to Number 14 Darlington Road with her younger brother, Scruff and their over-worked father. Their mother left to go backpacking in Thailand never to return. Nana has been replaced by Fluffington the nonchalant cat and Scruff does not go anywhere without his trusty teddy None-the-Wiser. Martha has taken on parental responsibility in an effort to grow-up after the ‘Terrible Day’ six months ago. She has even relegated her favourite toy, Armageddon, a large woolly mammoth shaped beanbag, to the attic.

Beautifully written Saving Neverland hooks you into the up-and-coming adventure from the start. Their exploits are cleverly foreshadowed by the discovery of some mysterious gold dust in the bottom of the bedside drawer in their shared room. That night Peter Pan returns through their bedroom window needing the children’s help. He believes only Martha and Scruff can save magic from the icy grip of a dreadful curse cast by Captain Hook. Martha is our reluctant hero but when Scruff is kidnapped she realises she must rediscover all the imagination, magic and belief she has buried deep inside herself for so long to save her brother – and Neverland.

It is a superb contribution to all previous Peter Pan stories and sagas, complimenting the books and movies perfectly. Abi Elphinstone has obviously done a lot of research as it met all my hopes and expectations for a novel based on the incredible world of Peter Pan with some brilliant imaginative twists. She has created a fantastic cast of well-rounded and believable new characters, including new Lost boys and even a new Fairy called Muddle.

I particularly like the way Peter Pan has been kept in character from the original book in that he is as arrogant as ever and there is still the underlying theme of the transition from childhood to adulthood. I also loved the complete move away from the gender stereotypes of the original novel written in 1911. It made my laugh out loud when Martha puts Peter in his place when he expects her to resume the duties Wendy used to do.

Saving Neverland will draw you back into the magical world you remember reading as a child. I recommend this book to all Peter Pan fans. It is a great addition to the permanent bookshelf. I can see Saving Neverland and this ingenious quest becoming a new Peter Pan movie.

I have previously reviewed this book on NetGalley, Goodreads and Amazon.

You can buy copies of Saving Neverland by Abi Elphinstone from your local bookshop, or online at uk.bookshop.org.

An interview with… Delores Gordon-Smith

For my Research Secrets slot in the February #251 8 Feb 2023 issue of Writers Forum I spoke to Delores Gordon Smith about how she researched her radio play based on the mysterious death of Charles Bravo in 1876.

Delores told me writing a story set in 1876 was a bit of a new venture for her, as all of her novels are murder mysteries set in the 1920’s. Murder, Charles Bravo: A Radio Play, published by Williams & Whiting, is very different.  

In the phonetic alphabet ‘Charlie’ stands for the letter C and ‘Bravo’ for the letter B.  Which may lead anyone to suppose that a murder mystery with a character called Charles Bravo as the victim must be fiction. It isn’t.  The murder – or, perhaps, more accurately – the death of Charles Bravo was one of the most notorious unsolved mysteries of Victorian England.

On Tuesday, the 18th April 1876 Charles Bravo, a young barrister aged thirty, came home to his beautiful and wealthy wife, Florence, who he’d married four months previously.  That night he was taken gravely ill and, after three days of agony, died on Friday the 21st.  After his death the autopsy revealed that Bravo had taken a dose of between twenty and thirty grains (about half a teaspoon) of the poison, antimony. But who gave him the poison?  That’s where the mystery lies.

Like many avid readers – and most authors are avid readers – some of the very first grown-up books Delores read were the Sherlock Holmes stories. She explained Sherlock Holmes’ background is so vividly depicted that, almost without knowing it, any child reading the stories will accumulate a substantial store of knowledge about Victorian England – hansom cabs, steam trains, the gas-lit streets, the huge gaps between rich and poor, the old rural way of life and the smoky industry of the city; all that’s in Conan Doyle, a foreign but familiar landscape. 

The Charles Bravo mystery fits right in – it’s a Sherlock Holmes story without Sherlock, populated by an arrogant young barrister, a damsel in acute distress, a mysterious elderly doctor, a foreign companion who evidently has a secret of her own and a kindly, alert lawyer. The mystery has intrigued many writers from Agatha Christie to Julian Fellows.    

However, as any writer knows, the finished book or play is the tip of an iceberg of research. That sounds very daunting but it’s easier to get your head round the idea if you break it into the various steps. 

First of all, the setting, period or the subject – preferably all three – have to be something that you’re interested in anyway. Victorian England and an unsolved murder mystery?  Yes, that box was ticked. I think this initial interest is really important because you’re going to be spending a lot of imaginative time in this world that you’re creating. 

Incidentally, it’s where the story’s set that is probably the most important. If you think about the books that you’ve really enjoyed, the chances are it’s the setting, along with the characters, that’ve drawn you into the book. Delores advocates you should try to discover the real facts about the time, place and subject and don’t rely just on what you’ve seen on TV or read in popular novels. 

Those have their uses but wherever you’re setting a story try and make it real.  This rule applies as much to stories set now as to historical fiction and as much to a story set locally as to some exotic destination. If you’re interested enough in your home town to set a story there, then you’ll include the sort of detail that’ll make it come alive for the reader. How? Well, if you want to set a story in your home town, for instance, you’ve got a huge advantage as you know your town inside out. However, try and see the town or city through a visitor’s eyes. What would strike a visitor as unusual?

She told me the descriptions of Holmes’ London are so realistic many readers think they know the place, but the interesting thing is that Conan Doyle wasn’t a Londoner. He came from Edinburgh and gives his impressions of London as they’d strike a visitor. One little clue is Sherlock Holmes’ address, 221B, Baker Street. That “B” isn’t a London way of numbering apartment, flats or rooms; it belongs to Edinburgh. Then, of course, as your story develops, you’ll be able to add to your initial knowledge by the close-up detail you’ll need to make an individual scene come alive. 

Delores discovered the landmark book on the subject is How Charles Bravo Died by Yseult Bridges, published in 1956.  Here, she recounts in great detail, the story of the two inquests (the case never came to trial) that were held, as well as giving a plethora of fascinating background detail on the various people involved. This book is one of those great things that occasionally happen to a writer, an absolute gift for anyone interested in the subject. 

“I didn’t think the Bravo case could be turned into a novel. With the transcripts of the inquests so faithfully recorded by Yseult Bridges, the story seemed tailor made for a radio play. I wasn’t making up dialogue but using (and, obviously, editing) what was actually said. Okay, so I had to make up some dialogue but I tried to keep that well within the bounds of what the various characters are recorded as thing and feeling.”

Delores Gordon-Smith

Her tip to writers wanting to write their own radio play is to not only research the subject matter but to also do the research into the genre.

“A radio play – at the risk of sending obvious, it’s all got to be done in speech. Obviously you can have a character’s voice-over as an intimate chat to the listener – a sort of breaking the fourth wall.”

Delores Gordon Smith

She elaborated how Inner thoughts can be given as a voice-over and the sound effects (buzz of conversation from a crowd in court) etc help to set the scene as, unlike a novel, you can’t fall back on straightforward description. Delores said signalling to the listener that we’ve moved onto a new scene can be tricky and recommends a couple of tricks, such as having the narrator say words to the effect of, ‘It was later that day when Mr X came to see me..’ etc.  

Other than that – the technical side of remembering it’s all spoken word with no visuals or description – the process is much the same as writing a novel. That’s imagining yourself in the lives of these characters and bringing them to life as best you can.  

Discover more about Delores and her books on her website: www.doloresgordon-smith.co.uk.

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #251 8 Feb 2023 Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Research Secrets or Writing 4 Children interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

Book Review: Every Bunny is a Yoga Bunny

Title: Every Bunny is a Yoga Bunny

Written by: Emily Ann Davison

Illustrated by: Deborah Allwright

Published by: Nosy Crow

Every Bunny is a Yoga Bunny by Emily Ann Davison and Deborah Allwright

Every Bunny is a Yoga Bunny is written in a fun and loving way. The main character, Yo-Yo, is a hyperactive bunny who finds it extremely difficult to stay still during quiet times. She is an adorable protagonist whom both children and adults will easily identify with. The rhythm of the words correspond to Yo-Yo’s excitable nature. The illustrations by Deborah Allwright are beautiful and capture Yo-Yo’s feelings perfectly.

To help Yo-Yo her Grandpa teaches her and her siblings, Roly and Flo, some yoga moves to try and help her calm down when she gets over excited. But as any hyperactive person and teacher and parent of a hyperactive child will know, it is hard to concentrate when you are feeling restless and are easily distracted.

However, this does not mean the information has not been absorbed as author, Emily Ann Davison, cleverly demonstrates when Yo-Yo feels lost and alone in the forest. Rather than panicking Yo-Yo tries a few of the yoga moves her Grandpa taught her. The vocabulary used by the author becomes more calm and reassuring as Yo-Yo manages to control her rising anxiety.

Every Bunny is a Yoga Bunny is a great book for teaching children how to manage anxiety and stressful situations. It would also be great for children with anger management issues. I particularly like the brilliant addition of the bullet-pointed instructions for some of the yoga poses at the back of the book. children of all ages are bound to ant to give them a go.

I would recommend this book for reading times at home and at school. It would also be ideal for stimulating a discussion on techniques for dealing with anxiety as part of a PSHE and empathy lesson.

You can buy copies of Every Bunny is a Yoga Bunny by Emily Ann Davison and Deborah Allwright from your local bookshop, or online at uk.bookshop.org, an organisation with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops.

You can read my author interview with Emily on my blog here: An interview with… Emily Ann Davison.

An interview with… Tim Collins

For the #251 8 Feb issue of Writers’ forum I interviewed Tim Collins about creating children’s book with unique selling points.

Tim has recently launched a series of puzzle adventure books. His new Sherlock Bones series combines a detective story with puzzles, such as mazes and spot-the-difference illustrations. The puzzles are inspired by the text, but readers don’t need to solve them to continue with the story. More confident readers can keep going and come back to them later, while those who want a break can stop and complete them.

He explained when writing for children it’s worth considering whether your story could be told in a different way. Could some of the action be told in cartoons? Could some of the dialogue be in speech bubbles? Could you box out some of the text as ‘top tips’ or ‘life lessons’? There must be hundreds of ways to mess things around that haven’t been done yet. His advise to othr authors is to experiment with format. Breaking up chapters with unusual elements can help young readers engage with books, especially if they’re put off by large chunks of text.

When Tim was writing th series he aimed to get a balance of mystery chapters and action chapters in the book, to vary the storytelling. For example, Bones and Catson crack a secret code in one chapter, and chase a suspect in the next.

“Whatever genre I’m writing in, I try to think about how much of the story will be mystery plot and how much will be action plot.”

Tim Collins

Tim said when you’re writing a detective or mysteery story where your characters follow a series of clues try to end each chapter on a cliffhanger. Many children will be in the habit of reading a chapter, or having a chapter read to them, before bed, so you need to leave them wanting to know what happens. If you’re struggling to end a chapter on a cliffhanger, you can always have your character reflecting on their goals. Anything that makes the reader imagine what’s coming next.

The series is inspited by Holmes and Watson. Tim explained J M Barrie, Mark Twain, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Anthony Burgess, Michael Chabon, and Nicholas Meyer have all written pastiches of Holmes, so it’s a great tradition to be part of.

“It was fun to build a fantastical world with animals in place of humans, though I had to work out its exact rules first.”

Tim Collins

As the majority of Holmes stories are narrated by Watson, he wrote his series from the viewpoint of Doctor Catson, using first person, which is an imtrigal part of the original stories, even though third person limited is more common for this age group. The first book is set in an animal-populated London. A bloodhound police inspector calls at Barker Street to tell Bones and Catson that the crown jewels have been stolen. Their investigation takes them everywhere from Buckingham Kennel to the secret tunnels beneath the city.

Anthropomorphic animals can be a great source of humour, especially when there’s a clash between their animal nature and the sophisticated roles they’re assuming. In the book, Sherlock chews rubber bones rather than smoking a pipe when he’s mulling things over, and Catson is easily distracted by string. It’s great if you can find a source of humour for young readers that doesn’t rely on puns. Publishers will be looking for something that can work in foreign editions, and puns are tough to translate. Admittedly, I’m being hypocritical here. The book, after all, is about a dog called Sherlock Bones who lives in Barker Street. But there are some you can’t resist.

Tim’s advice to someone writing a series for younger readers is to know what happens after book one. Even if you just write paragraph outlines for the next two books, you’ll know you have something more than just a good one-off.  So much of this is down to having two or more central characters with a relationship that’s easy to write to, and keeps suggesting new adventures.

Writing series fiction for younger children can be very rewarding. Your books could be the ones that convert a child into a confident, independent reader. And if you think of an interesting way to present your story, it could help to draw more young people into reading for pleasure.       

You can find out more about Tim and his books on his website: http://www.timcollinsbooks.com/

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #251 8 Feb Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Writing 4 Children or Research Secrets interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

Book Review: Detoxing Childhood: What Parents Need To Know To Raise Happy Successful Children

Title: Detoxing Childhood: What Parents Need To Know To Raise Happy Successful Children

Written by: Sue Palmer

Published by: Orion Books

Detoxing Childhood by Sue palmer

Detoxing Childhood is geared to parents of the twenty-first century. The book is divided into three distinct sections. Sue Palmer provides a range of easy-to-follow tips and strategies to help parents solve the complex problems of child rearing. This book combines common sense with up-to-date research.

The first section is full of excellent and practical advice about eating habits, sleeping habits, family life and play. The second section leads parents through the various stages of child care and education, which would also be useful reading for all educators. The third section is dedicated to how to avoid the dangers of electronic devices. In this final section, Sue Palmer suggests we re-evaluate our modern life to overcome our bad habits and virtual addictions.

Although, her observations and advice are spot-on, I feel most modern families would be reluctant to put it in to practice. In some cases, I can foresee there will be a need for a new kind of support group.

Book Review: The Best Bear Tracker

Title: The Best Bear Tracker

Written by: John Condon

Illustrated by: Julia Christians

Published by: Templar Publishing

The Best Bear Tracker by John Condon and Julia Christians

The Best Bear Tracker is another ingenious picture book from John Condon with a great twist at the end. This is definitely a book that children will want to read over and over again. The young girl is a highly likable, curious character full of hope and determination.

From the start she is talking straight to the reader, teaching them the rules of bear tracking and how to be brave if you are set on completing your quest. I love the duplicity of the story with the text telling a totally different story from the illustrations, creating a truly interactive experience.  Great for extending the children’s observation skills. Young children will enjoy spotting the bears she has missed.

In the classroom this picture book would be fantastic for stimulating discussion about bravery and when they may have felt afraid and how they reacted. You can discuss when it is good to persevere and when it is better to stop.

The Best Bear Tracker could also be used to help children think about what things they need to take with them when setting off on a journey from a walk to school in the morning to what they may need to pack when going on holiday. They can compare the items they think they will need for different activities compared to the items that the young girl took with her to hunt  for a bear.

This is a must have book  for school book corners and a great book to read aloud to your child at bedtimes. I would highly recommend this book.

You can buy copies of The Best Bear Tracker by John Condon and Julia Christians from your local bookshop, or online at uk.bookshop.org, an organisation with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops.

You can find out more about John and his picture books on Twitter @John_Condon_OTT, Instagram @john_condon_author, Facebook @john.condon and on his website: www.johncondon.co.uk.

To read my exclusive interview with John Condon to celebrate the release of The Best Bear Tracker in August 2022 go to: Special Guest: Q & A with John Condon

You can read my review of The Pirates are Coming! by John Condon and Matt Hunt here: Book Review: The Pirates are Coming!

You can discover more about John and his writing tips in another interview I did with him, this time for the September 2019 Writing for Children slot in the national writing magazine Writers’ ForumAn interview with… John Condon

Also discover the highlights of John Condon’s book launch for The Pirates are Coming! here: John Condon’s book launch

Book Review: When Plants Took Over the Planet. The Amazing Story of Plant Evolution

Title: When Plants Took Over the Planet. The Amazing Story of Plant Evolution.

Written by: Dr Chris Thorogood

Illustrated by: Amy Grimes

Published by: QED Publishing

When Plants Took Over the Planet. The Amazing Story of Plant Evolution
by Dr Chris Thorogood and
Amy Grimes

When Plants Took Over the Planet. The Amazing Story of Plant Evolution documents a concise history of plants from the first water plants that have been estimated to have appeared around 500 million years ago and through their amazing journey onto land. There is also an excellent timeline of their evolution from the Palaeozoic era to the Cenozoic era.

Dr Chris Thorogood has put his reputation as a botanic field guide writer to good use to create a visually dynamic non-fiction picture book for young people that can be used as a means for identifying different plants and guide young readers through the key aspects of the life of plants, from early ferns which were most certainly munched on by dinosaurs, to carnivorous plants that snap and ‘attack’ their prey, or powerful medicinal plants that can heal ailments and boost health. It even includes how to pronounce the difficult looking Latin words.

The snippets of bite-sized narrative weaves its way through how the multitude of magnificent and mysterious variations evolved into the vast array of adaptations that populate our planet today. It provides examples of how they can be used in medicines, the animals, including humans that need them to survive and also touches on the damage humans are doing to this fascinating resource.

Amy Grimes’ illustrations are bright and bold vinaigrettes inspired by the colours of nature and the natural world. Any child will want to spend hours just pouring over the illustrations to determine the plants similarities and differences.

This large-format, highly illustrated non-fiction picture book could be used to support topics taught at the top end of primary school in particular, living things and their habitats and evolution and inheritance. It will inspire budding young gardeners and botanists to discover more about the world of plants and maybe even go on to grow some truly bizarre and extraordinary plants for themselves.

This book was originally reviewed for Armadillo Magazine.