Feel Good Friday – British Library Tour hosted by The Educational Writers Group

As part of the EWG social gathering on Friday 23rd September, we met at the new Society of Authors headquarters where we enjoyed a delicious buffet lunch and I must say I was particularly enamoured with the couscous which was delicious. this was the first time I had been to the new building and I was impressed at how spacious it was. We had time to meet other members of the EWG some whom I had not seen since before the lockdowns and I met several new faces.

Society of Authors (c) Tim Gallinger

After lunch, we had a short walk to the British Library. At the library we were met by curator Helen Melody who gave us an introduction to the British Library’s Contemporary Literary and Theatrical archives with her colleague Rachel Foss.

The materials they presented included a volume of handwritten correspondence with John Masefield from the Society of Authors archive. John Masefield was Poet Laureate from 1930 and President of the society from 1937. One of the letters was asking about suitable wording in a contract to give permissions for his poems to be put to music in the US and also included in anthologies. There were also a Ted Hughes Birthday Letters notebook for us to look at. Of course, we had to ask for each page to be turned to read the handwritten letters but this added to how special it was.

I was also able to see the autographed manuscript of J. G. Ballard’s Empire of the Sun showing his alterations, two beautifully illustrated poetry notebooks by Lawrence Durrell, an autographed playscript by Victor James de Spiganovicz, an annotated typescript of To Sir With Love by E. R. Braithwaite, one of the largest scrapbook volumes from the P. G. Wodehouse archive and the autographed manuscript of In Praise of Love and Children by Beryl Gilroy .

British Library archives –
manuscript of J. G. Ballard’s Empire of the Sun

But my personal favourite archive exhibit was the six Little Nippers Books written by Beryl Gilroy, which I spent way too long looking at wanting to read every page. The Little Nippers Book series are humorous early readers tackling issues of race designed by Leila Berg in reaction to the middle-class Ladybird Peter and Jane books. She worried too many young readers would see, ‘…no reflection of themselves, nothing that tells them they belong in this world.’

Beryl Gilroy was the first black headteacher in London. She is heralded as one of the most extensively published Caribbean writers of her time. Her Little Nippers Books were based on her experience with children she taught in Camden. They were published in the 1970’s and depict children of different ethnic origins. For more information on Beryl Gilroy see: The British Library – Beryl Gilroy. Other contributors to the Little Nippers Books include Jaqueline Wilson, Shirley Hughes and George Him.

When we had finished looking at the archives, which went way too quickly, we were given a tour of the library itself led by librarian and tour guide extraordinaire, James Hughes. He told us a bit about the history of the building and how it was built to amalgamate the arts and the sciences for the first time. I was particularly impressed that a large part of the building is eco-friendly using recycled materials, down to the white oak shipped from a US sustainable forest which was not available in the British Isles.

James told us some interesting facts about the eight levels of archives in the basement. I learnt how they have been especially designed to prevent damp and any excessive water is pumped into the River Fleet and the books are they kept at a constant temperature of 15C. Our next stop was the Alan Turin Centre where we saw the original Enigma machine and letters from Lady Lovelace to Babbage.

Enigma machine at the British Library

Then we were taken behind the scenes and allowed to sit in £400 seats especially deigned to support the majority of people sitting for long periods of time and we learnt the lighting in the reading rooms is designed to prevent flickering. After this we looked at the King George III archives, which includes the King’s Maritime collection of sea charts.

Next we went to my favourite room of all – The Treasures room. Here the lights are kept low to help preserve the books and documents. There were so many things to see in this room that at first I felt a bit overwhelmed at the sheer wonder of it, as it hosts many sacred texts from around the world.

As well as the Guttenberg Bible and the history that surrounds it, I particularly liked the desk Jane Austen wrote her novels given to her by her father in 1794, some of the original writings from Charles Dickens and Shakespeare’s First Folio compiled in 1623, seven years after his death and published by Isaac Iaggard and Edward Blount. I also liked Florence Nightingale’s original Diagram of the Causes of Mortality in the Army in the East that had convinced the authorities of the importance of hygiene in the army hospitals.

We ended the tour by taking a look at the Magna Carta. This peace treaty was first issued by King John in 1215.

On the whole this was one of the best events I have attended at the Society of Authors so far. I would highly recommend it.

Book Review: I Love You with All My Heart

Title: I Love You with All My Heart

Written and Illustrated by: Jane Chapman

Published by: Frances Lincoln

I Love You with All My Heart is a lovely sentimental picture book about the unconditional love between a mother and her child. Little Bear breaks her Mum’s favourite flower whilst playing and is worried Mum will be angry. Mum explains that she loves her no matter what. There are several memorable lines that will reassure and help young children throughout the good times and the bad times. My favourite being:

“My love will always be with you, wherever you are.”

Mum’s reassuring words help Little bear when she loses the race and when her kite sails away and again when she slips in the muddy puddle. At the end there is a heart-melting twist when Mum is upset she has burnt the cake and baby bear says the iconic line:

“Even when things go wrong, I still love you.”

Little Bear has truly learnt the meaning of unconditional love.

Jane Chapman’s illustrations support her text and portray Little Bear’s emotions perfectly from the joy of playing drums with Mum’s pots and pans, to the look of concern when the sunflower stem snaps and the sheer determination when she manages to retrieve her kite from the tree. I particularly like the end pages which show Little Bear’s house in the woods and you can see the balcony and the sunflower. When you turn to the title page and first spread you can then see the balcony and pot garden close up. This was a great touch that I think children will enjoy exploring.

A beautiful book to read aloud at story and bedtimes, which young children will want to hear it again and again.

I Love You with All My Heart by Jane Chapman is available to buy through all bookshops, large or small, and all the usual outlets online. 

An Interview with… Paul Anthony Jones

I interviewed Paul Anthony Jones about his research into positive words for his book, The Cabinet of Calm for the #237 Oct 2021 issue of Writers’ Forum.

Paul has been writing about language in some form or another for nearly a decade. His background is in linguistics, and based on that he wrote a book on the origins of words back in 2013. Around this time, he started a Twitter account, @HaggardHawks, to tweet about words and word histories that he had discovered in his research.

The Cabinet of Calm is his seventh language book – eighth book overall. He told me it feels different from other books he has written. The focus isn’t on the meanings and histories of words, but on how they can be interpreted or considered. Paul confessed it was an interesting book to compile but a real challenge to put it together.

“The idea for writing a book to bring together little-known calming and reassuring words began when I sadly, lost my mam at the end of 2018 and my dad a few weeks later at the start of 2019. I and my family were floored by what happened. I explain in the introduction to the book I’d initially resolved to take some time off when my publishers approached me with the idea of The Cabinet of Calm, exploring how language ties into tough times like I’d experienced.”

Paul Anthony Jones

Paul revealed he was in two minds about whether to take them up on their offer, until spring 2019 when he walked into the city centre in Newcastle to clear his head, and was wandering aimlessly around the shops when he spotted a shirt his dad had worn hanging in a clothes shop.

“It all came flooding back—and just as quickly as it had struck me the grief was gone again – I was back to normal. I remember walking out of the shop, going to get a coffee and thinking there’s a word for that.”

Paul Anthony Jones

A few years earlier he had written a blog about a word, stound, he had found in an old dialect dictionary. It’s defined as a wave of grief or emotion when a loss is suddenly remembered. He explained this was precisely what he’d experienced and knowing a word for it somehow made it easier because it meant that someone somewhere at some time had experienced precisely the same feeling, to such an extent they’d coined a word for it. It was at this moment he knew he had to write the book, and set to work brainstorming ideas for how it might come together.

Paul has blogged and written about language for so long now, he has accumulated quite a database to mine—besides an ever-growing collection of old dictionaries and glossaries he has picked up from second-hand stores and online sellers over the years.

One of Paul Anthony Jones’ bookshelves

He explained he raided all these for words to make interesting topics. After a few weeks’ work he had a list of about 300 possible entries. It took another month to cherry-pick the most interesting ones – those with the most intriguing meanings and histories – until he had trimmed the original list down to a shortlist of around fifty.

He divulged whenever he starts work on a new book, there’s three ways it comes together. First, something he already knows gives him the gem of the idea – in this instance the word stound. Secondly, there’s all the other words and etymologies he is already familiar with through his work to fit the same brief. Then there’s everything else: words and etymologies he does not already know, found from researching the new idea. Paul told me this is the best part and makes up the vast majority of material in the final draft. The initial idea forms the foundations, his research builds the rest of the book.

“In The Cabinet of Calm, the first chapter I wrote was actually for a word I found while searching specifically for topics to do with feeling overworked or overwhelmed: cultellation. I’d never spotted this word before; derived from an old surveyor’s tool, it describes the process of cutting a larger task into smaller more manageable jobs. It was the right mix of a brilliant-sounding obscure word, a perfectly appropriate meaning for what I was compiling, and a fascinating and very unexpected etymology.”

Paul Anthony Jones

Paul’s tip to anyone interested in writing about language or words is to track down reliable sources. It makes for much more rewarding research and raises the reliability not only of your work but of this genre of book as a whole. This makes the finished work more robust. You’ll know yourself what constitutes a reliable research source – even then, try to back everything up.

Paul explained The Cabinet of Calm went through quite a difficult draft period, with both himself and his publisher approaching the idea from two different angles. Initially, he wanted to bring together lots of much shorter dictionary-like entries, and divide the book in two halves—the first listing words for worldly problems, and the second for calming, reassuring words to act as their solution. His publisher had a different idea, and pushed him towards writing fewer chapters of more detail and content. It took quite a few attempts to get it right and Paul is happy how the final format works well.

The Cabinet of Calm: Soothing Words for Troubled Times
by Paul Anthony Jones

He advocates, no matter how you find yourself researching, that’s the best way for you. Many writers – especially when they’re first starting out, are overly self-critical, and feel they are not taking their writing or research seriously if they don’t fit the romanticized idea all writers are forever carrying a notepad, jotting down ideas in coffee shops, and pouring over piles of books in libraries. If this is how you work, great! But if it isn’t, it’s fine too.

“Work out what works best for you, and stick with it. By all means take ideas or inspiration from other people, but don’t compare yourself unnecessarily to them. We all have our own ways of doing things, and your writing will be happier and more fruitful if you allow yourself time to figure out what works best for you.”

Paul Anthony Jones

To find out more about Paul Anthony Jones you can follow his personal account on Twitter @PaulAnthJones and his professional account @HaggardHawks. You can also check out his websites: www.haggardhawks.com and www.paulanthonyjones.com.

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #237 Oct 2021 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: Sid’s Big Fib

Title: Sid’s Big Fib

Written by: Roo Parkin

Illustrated by: Irina Avgustinovich

Published by: Maverick Books

Sid’s Big Fib by Roo Parkin and Irina Avgustinovich

Sid’s Big Fib is one of the best picture books I have read this year. It is an extremely engaging and relatable picture book with a unique, fun concept that to be honest I wish I came up with myself. This brilliant story focuses on two children desperately trying to outshine each other. Sid is frustrated his friend Stella is always doing things ‘better’ than him, which drives him to launch a fib of epic proportions. Each fib will keep the children laughing and turning the pages eager to know what he will say next. 

Sid’s fibs gets bigger and bigger until eventually the whole charade is discovered and he has a lot of explaining and apologies to make. I like the way Roo Parkin shows us at each stage of the fib getting more extreme, that he thinks of a way to get out of it and stop the lie but even so still can’t help himself continuing with the fib. I believe young children will be able to identify with Sid’s actions and how difficult it is to back down and tell the truth. I also think it is great the way Roo Parkin shows there are consequences for his actions.

I enjoyed the use of different font size and boldness and speech bubbles to add variation to the text. Irina Avgustinovich’s illustrations also help to bring the Sid’s fibs and exaggerations to life. The use of bright colours, background stars and planets and the hilarious expressions on the character’s faces complement Roo’s portrayal of the characters and events completely. 

At the end of the book Sid discovers it is more fun to do things together without making up exaggerated stories to outdo each other.

With underlying themes of honesty and friendship, this is the perfect book for reading aloud to a class. or during quality time with your child. I would recommend Sid’s Big fib for use in discussions about telling fibs and thinking about the consequences and the right thing to do.

You can buy copies of Sid’s Big Fib by Roo Parkin and Irina Avgustinovich from Maverick, or from your local bookshop, or online at uk.bookshop.org, an organisation with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops. It is also available at:

Book Review: Indigo Wilde and the Creatures at Jellybean Crescent

Title: Indigo Wilde and the Creatures at Jellybean Crescent

Written and Illustrated by: Pippa Curnick

Published by: Hachette Children’s Books

Indigo Wilde and the Creatures at Jellybean Crescent by Pippa Curnick

Indigo Wilde and the Creatures at Jellybean Crescent is the first of a new series from author/illustrator Pippa Curnick, aimed at the 7+ age range. The humour is similar to David Walliams books.

This ingenious story is about Indigo and her little brother, Quigley, who is deaf. Their parents are famous exploders who go on a lot of expeditions to the known and unknown lands leaving them home alone. They post Indigo a unique assortment of orphans and misfits, such as the yeti twins, pink Ollie and blue Umpf, whose luminous coloured fur make them highly conspicuous in the snow and the ferocious looking but kind-hearted Queenie, the sharp-clawed goblin. They all live in a massive house that is different to any of the other houses on Jellybean Crescent but none of the neighbours seem to notice. That is none but Madam Grey and her pet dog Pebbles who lives opposite.

Forty-seven Jellybean Crescent is a sanctuary where the Monster Mail deliveries can belong without being bullied or afraid. They are all listed in The Abracadarium, an incredibly imaginative compendium of sketches with How To Train your Dragon style notations of Indigo’s observations on the magical creatures she has encountered.

The book opens with a newspaper style article of when the Wildes found Indigo. We then meet Indigo at the age of about ten when she receives some new Monster Mail that sends the comparatively peaceful household into chaos. All the inhabitants have to pull together to solve the problem of the missing creature and the complaints from the nosy neighbour.

Indigo Wilde and the Creatures at Jellybean Crescent is jam packed full of beautiful illustrations guaranteed to capture even the most reluctant readers attention and bring Pippa’s characters to life. There are some amazing double-page spreads for young readers to explore. This book would be ideal for all primary school book corners.

This book was originally reviewed for Armadillo Magazine

Blog Tour – Phyllo Cane and the Magical Menagerie by Sharn W. Hutton

Today is my stop on the Phyllo Cane and the Magical Menagerie by Sharn W. Hutton blog tour.

Phyllo Cane and the Magical Menagerie by Sharn W. Hutton

Sharn W. Hutton is the author of The Adventures of Phyllo Cane series, the first of which, Phyllo Cane and the Circus of Wonder, was hailed by the judging panel of The Booklife Prize to be ‘dizzyingly bewitching, articulate and intoxicating.’ The sequel, Phyllo Cane and the Magical Menagerie, was released on July 31st 2022.

In Magical Menagerie we Join Phyllo on his next apprenticeship with the Circus of Wonder – a brand new adventure with the fantastic beasts of the Magical Menagerie and a race against time to save their lonely dragon from destruction. But what if the fire-breathing dragon won’t come out of its pen to perform? What if the Ringmaster thinks it’s worth more in the apothecary chop-shop than as part of the troupe?

The Beast Whisperer of the Circus of Wonder must bring her beloved dragon back up to its performing peak fast, if she’s to save it, and she thinks she knows what to do. The unhappy creature needs a mate, but the male sand dragon is a rare beast indeed, and she’ll never be able to catch one alone. Time for Phyllo to become the Beast Whisperer’s apprentice…

Before venturing into the realms of upper middle grade/YA magical fantasy, Sharn wrote cosy mystery based around the irrepressible Angel Drake, in Angel Drake is Going Solo and the short story, Nothing Ventured. Her first novel, It’s Killing Jerry, was a standalone mystery.

Sharn W. Hutton

Based in Bushey, Hertfordshire, Sharn works from home in the tiny office at the back of the house, which makes up for what it lacks in size and warmth with a rather nice view of the garden. When she isn’t hitting the keyboard (laptop, not piano) she does enjoy a trip to the theatre or cinema and pretends to use the very expensive exercise machine rusting in the summerhouse. One day she plans to also learn how to play the piano.

I have interviewed Sharn W. Hutton about her Phyllo Cane series for my stop of the blog tour. So let’s take a look at what Sharn had to say:

*****

What inspired you to write a magical adventure series set in the circus?

I’ve always loved magical stories, Charlie N Holmberg, Pratchett, Gaiman and, of course, the Potters and when I decided that I wanted to create my own magical world, I knew I wanted it to be rich with detail. The circus is so full of possibilities. Death defying acts, incredible strength, impossible feats – it’s full of magic before you even get to any kind of wand waving.

I also knew that I wanted the Circus of Wonder to feel like it was from another time, travelling around today’s countryside, playing to charmed and ordinary audiences alike. That opens the stories up for all kinds of possibilities.

We live in such a ‘convenient’ world. Everything is available at the touch of a button. You can buy pretty much anything online and search the internet to find any information you need. The tradition of the circus pushes back against that. If you’re lucky enough to catch it, it comes to town once a year. You might get a ticket, if it’s not already sold out. The acts could be anything and they probably aren’t safe. I love how illusive, mysterious and dangerous it is.

Have you been on any literary pilgrimages and if so what were they?

I’m all about the research at the moment, plotting the next story, and have become a member of the British Library. Real life stories about the circus world are sometimes stranger than fiction and are an excellent source of ideas. I love books, really old ones and spanking new, you never know where what’s inside might lead you.

I bought a book about circus food which led me to discover Giffords Circus, which not only feeds the troupe in its restaurant tent, but a lucky few punters as well, if you can get yourself a seat. When I saw that Gifford’s route was going to come unbelievably close to where I live for the first time, what choice did I have but to book myself in for the show and some dinner?

Visiting Giffords felt a lot like visiting the Circus of Wonder. Small by the grand circus tent size terms we often see, but perfect to get enough people in the crowd for atmosphere in their themed and moodily lit big top. There were traditional acts where acrobats summersaulted on horseback and knife throwers terrified us with a crossbow. Then flyers who walked in the air above the crowd gripping silks, just like Ezio did in the Circus of Wonder. It was an incredible experience that felt totally real in a world of special effects and TV trickery.

The restaurant was a series of long plank tables with the only choice being vegetarian or not. Everyone had the same. People were served in groups, whether they knew each other or not and by the end of the evening we all felt like family. I’d go again in a heartbeat.

Perhaps a pilgrimage should take more effort – that particular one was a joy.

What are the underlying themes of your novel, Magical Menagerie?

In Magical Menagerie Phyllo learns about the impact of his society upon the natural world and about taking responsibility for his actions. I wanted to touch on this in a way that might inspire a reader to consider if the practises around them, considered to be the normal, are really worth their cost.

There are new characters introduced too, one of whom I am particularly enthusiastic about, Schlepper. He is Contraptionist (that’s an inventor of contraptions to you and me!) who, as a wheelchair user, invents leg alternatives for himself. He is a hugely positive and engaging character inspired by my father, who never once allowed his physical challenges to slow him down.

All this along-side a romping good adventure of course!

Do you think it is more difficult or easier to write a sequel?

I think that depends on your plan from the start. Before writing the ‘Adventures of Phyllo Cane’, I wrote a cosy mystery called ‘Angel Drake is Going Solo’. I fully intended for Angel Drake to be the star of a series of mysteries, but that first book was the entire story I had in my head at the time. Getting ready to write book two was difficult because I felt like I had to reinvent her.

With the ‘Adventures of Phyllo Cane’ it’s completely different. When I came up with the idea it formed as a series of stories, seven in total. When I finished book one, I knew that really the story was only just beginning. Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t have every single detail planned out, but I know broadly where we are heading and I’m excited to tell the next part of the story.

Now I’m plotting out the third and I don’t think that’s anywhere near as daunting as it might be otherwise.

What is the first book that made you cry?

I had to really think about this and honestly, I don’t read books that make me cry. I like to escape into my stories and if I think that place is going to be one of tears (or horror) then I’m not going.

Having said that, I did shed a tear when Phyllo completed his task with Tamer Venor and was flying home – it had all been such a struggle!

If you could meet your characters, what would you say to them?

I’d tell Phyllo not to give up or lose heart. He’s got a challenging road ahead.

I’d ask Tamer Venor to teach me how to meld with a dragon.

I’d ask Marvel to make me something in the Confectionary that brought back memories of rolling down grassy hills in the sunshine with my childhood friends.

What writing advice would you give to people aspiring to be a children’s book writer?

Know you audience and how they consume stories. I specifically sought out an editor with lots of experience in the area I wanted to write in. Their advice was invaluable.

Is there anything else you would like to tell readers about your books and writing for children?

Phyllo Cane is an imperfect hero. He’s struggling to meet the expectations of his troupe, but will never give up. He’s got kindness at his core and in the end that will be the making of him. The Adventures of Phyllo Cane are tales of growth, discovery, magic and adventure and I hope that they will resonate with young and older readers alike. They are suitable for children, yes, but I like to think of them as fantasy with a PG rating, rather than being babyish in anyway.

Thank you Sharn for agreeing to be interviewed on my blog today as part of your tour.

Thanks very much for taking an interest in my stories about Phyllo Cane. I really hope you enjoy them. Best, Sharn.

*****

The Adventures of Phyllo Cane are available as ebook for Kindle and are included in Kindle Unlimited. Paperbacks are available for order from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Waterstones. Most book stores will be able to order it in. If you visit the Amazon pages you will be able to see full descriptions and the possibility of downloading a free sample for kindle. The international book link to the series is: mybook.to/PhylloCane

You can find out more about Sharn W Hutton and her book Phyllo Cane and the Magical Menagerie on her website: www.sharnhutton.com, Facebook: @SharnHuttonAuthor and Instagram: @sharnious

I would also like to thank Anne Cater from Random Things Through My Letterbox for organising this blog tour and inviting me to take part. Thank you.

You can visit the rest of the blog tour here:

My book review of Phyllo Cane and the Magical Menagerie by Sharn W. Hutton is scheduled to appear next month, on Wednesday 26th October, so please keep an eye out for it.

Blog Tour – Petra and the Sewer Rat by G J Kemp

My stop on the Petra and the Sewer Rat by G J Kemp blog tour today, will take the form of a book review.

*****

TitlePetra and the Sewer Rats

Written by: G. J. Kemp

Cover illustrated by: Andrei

Published by: TB5 Publishing

Petra and the Sewer Rats by G. J. Kemp

A quick and easy read. Petra and the Sewer Rats is the story of a young girl who dares disobey the town of Fairacre’s rules to save its unwanted orphans. The town is ruled by men who treat women like property. Petra is a plucky and persistent character who has to deal with being entered into an arranged marriage and then discovers she is pregnant by another man.

This novella provides a fascinating peek into a dark and dangerous world. I found there were a lot of characters to keep track of in such a short book. These characters may have been more familiar to me and easier to identify with if I had read some of the other books. Most of the action is moved on by speech which moves at a rapid pace.

Petra and the Sewer Rats is a story of discovery and determination. I can imagine it as a play performed on the stage, Oliver Twist style.

I would like to thank Anne Cater from Random Things Through My Letterbox for inviting me to take part in this blog tour. Thank you.

You can follow the rest of the tour at the stops below:

You can find out more about G. J. Kemp on his website: www.gjkemp.co.uk and follow him on Twitter @tb5publishing, Instagram @tb5publishing and Facebook @tb5publishing.

Book Review: Am I made of Stardust?

TitleAm I made of Stardust?

Written by: Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock

Illustrated by: Chelen Ecija and Jade Moore

Edited by: Frances Evans

Published by: Buster Books

Am I made of Stardust by Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock and Chelen Ecija

Each double page spread of this hard-back, colourfully illustrated non-fiction book answers some of the greatest questions about space. It is packed with fabulous facts that will keep curious young minds engaged. The bold, eye-catching illustrations and backgrounds by Spanish illustrator Chelen Ecija will also keep young children flicking through the pages.

Author Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock is a space scientist and pioneering figure in communicating science to children and adults alike. She has inspired generations of astronauts, engineers and scientists to follow their dreams. Her expertise and love of all things space orientated materialises form every page. I also like the addition of her robot assistant IQ and the useful glossary at the back of the book to provide definitions and extend the children’s science vocabulary.

In Am I Made of Stardust? the secrets of the solar system are revealed. You can follow the life of the International Space Station, be amazed at how stars can change into planets and discover why we don’t live on other planets yet, what would happen if I fell into a black hole and how to become an astronaut.

Aimed at key stage two, the writing style is accessible for readers from about 7+. there are over seventy questions in total split into three chapters. Starting with the wider picture there is a section on The Universe. We get closer to home with a section on Our Solar System. Then closer still with the final chapter Humans in Space, which covers such subjects as current space exploration and developments in the future with questions like ‘Could we grow plants in other planets?’, ‘Could I use my phone in space?’ and ‘Will everyone be travelling to space in 100 years from now?’

Am I Made of Stardust? will make an ideal gift for any child fascinated by space and all it entails. Children will enjoy discovering Astro facts and phenomenal ideas to try at home, which will inspire enquiring readers to explore and discover more about the earth and beyond.

This book would also be a great addition in the classroom to support a topic on space and/or technology and would be perfect for World Space Week on the 4th -10th October 2022.

I would like to thank Alice Furse from Michael O’Mara Books for sending me a hard-back copy of Am I made of Stardust by Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock and Chelen Ecija to review on my blog.

For a change I am going to end this book review with a topical space joke:

Q. Why do restaurants on the moon get such bad reviews?

A. There’s no atmosphere.

Feel free to comment with some of your own space jokes.

An interview with… Roo Parkin

For the #247 21 Sep issue of Writer’ Forum I spoke to Roo Parkin about how research is core to success as a picture book writer.

Roo’s debut picture book Sid’s Big Fib focuses on two children desperately trying to out-brag one another. While Sid’s pretty good at showing off, Lulu’s skills are simply stellar, driving Sid to launch a lie of epic proportions.

She explained a combination of things inspired the story’s themes: children’s propensity to wind up friends or siblings by claiming their ice cream is definitely the biggest, whippiest, chocolatiest etc and, secondly, the amount of ‘braggy’ truth distortions out there on social media platforms.

Roo said she realised a story exploring where showing off and fibbing could lead would resonate as much with parents reading the book to their children as it might with the children themselves. Her challenge was to make the brags, fibs and comeuppances themselves completely child centric.  

When she started drafting Sid, she read some psychology articles on children bragging to help her understand what was motivating her characters. Through this research she discovered, Dr Susan Engel observed while younger children are happy to just imagine they are the fastest kid in the world, an older child realises it’s not good enough just to think that – they have to prove it. This really helped Roo escalate her story and push it into another phase. She elaborated that Sid and Lulu start off just boasting, but Sid takes things one step further, concocts an enormous lie and then gets himself into a big knot trying to prove the lie is real. from that point onwards her story’s plot and the extent of Sid’s fibs escalate.

Roo beleives doing proper research for picture books is as important as it is for any genre. Not only should length, word choices and structure fulfil expectations, but the content should be ‘correct’. That doesn’t mean you can’t create completely fantastical worlds and characters. They are great hooks but it is important not to mislead children and for the story to still makes sense.

She told me the importance of researching the content was drummed home quite dramatically.

“Sid concocts an outlandish story about his dad’s fictional space rocket and the things he brings home from those adventures. Dad is supposed to be going deeper into space with each trip as the lie evolves, but in actual fact, I had completely rearranged the galaxy with planets and moons quite randomly distributed in a nonsensical order. After researching the correct order, I quickly sorted this out.”

Roo Parkin

Another example or necessary research Roo told she required was for the part when Sid’s nemesis, Lulu, claims she can swim underwater for so long she grows flippers. she explained her art note requested she be depicted as half dolphin/half childbut when doing the art note research for her fantastic illustrator Irina Avgustinovich, she had a crisis about whether dolphins had flippers at all, or if they were actually called something else.

“I knew there was a TV series called Flipper but, really, I had no idea whether that was because the starring dolphin had them or because he could ‘flip’ in the air. A call to my young godson, whose animal knowledge is off the scale, sorted me out: ‘Yes, of course dolphins have flippers… and a fin, a fluke and a melon’. A fluke is apparently the tail, and the head bulge is the melon.”

Roo Parkin

Roo also explained it’s important to get character voice right because you need to hook the reader in straight away. Children simply won’t stick with a book, even one that’s being read to them, if they don’t identify with or recognise the characters in any way.

“Libraries are an absolutely brilliant resource for writers. I spend hours in my local library analysing picture book themes, characters and their voice, story arcs and endings. I was pleased to find that while there obviously were books in existence touching on similar topics as ‘Sid’, it wasn’t an overly cluttered market.”

Roo Parkin

One of her research tips to other writers is to havea good trawl through the internet to help widen your research of the genre you are writing. Ideally, you don’t want to be submitting something with the same title as another book or to a publisher who has just released something on an identical subject.

She also suggests children’s book writers should visit the fantastic children’s book exhibits available. There have recently been big, glitzy exhibitions in London on Alice in Wonderland, Paddington Bear and Beatrix Potter and her favourites are the small Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Great Missenden.

You can follow Roo Parkin on Twitter: @RooParkin and Instagram: @roogirl73.

You can buy a copy of, Sid’s Big Fib by Roo Parkin and Irina Avgustinovich, direct from the publisher Maverick Publishing, from your local bookshop, or you can also purchase a copy online at uk.bookshop.org, an organisation with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops. 

I would like to thank Abi Reeves at Maverick for sending me a copy of Sid’s Big Fib by Roo Parkin and Irina Avgustinovich to review on my blog.