Monthly Archives: April 2019

Book Review – The Scallywags

Title: The Scallywags

Written and illustrated by: David Melling

Published by: Hodder Children’s Books

The Scallywags

This is a one of my favourite all time picture books. The Scallywags are a bunch of messy, noisy wolves who find it difficult to behave. They soon discover nobody likes bad manners and to be accepted by the other animals they will have to change their ways. David Melling’s illustrations of the wolves and their expressions will have you laughing in your seat.

His use of bold and patterned text are not just there for the sake of it but, compliment his wonderful illustrations. It is a brilliant book for reading aloud to the class or to your own children. Each of the wolves has its own distinct character, which make them stand out as individuals and extremely lovable.

The children will enjoy searching the pictures for the different ways the wolves try to improve their manners. But, I particularly liked the ending when all the other animals decide they preferred the wolves just the way they were at the start.

This book is ideal for sharing and would make the perfect addition to any book corner.

An interview with…NJ Crosskey

In my Research Secrets column in the national writing magazine, Writers’ Forum, this month I interview NJ Crosskey about her ‘decidedly dodgy’ research for her debut novel, Poster Boy.

Research Secrets - N J Crosskey photo2

Poster Boy is about Rosa who is at her brother’s funeral with a bomb strapped to her chest. The story unfolds as a flashback showing Rosa growing up with her brother Jimmy and the events that led up to his death and ultimately turning him into a reluctant hero. This novel demonstrates how easy it is to manipulate and spin opinion using social media and fake news and how Rosa is able to see through the lies and the fear they are purposely creating.

NJ Crosskey explained to write this book she needed to know about making bombs, planting explosives, security details for government ministers, clandestine communications and specific locations. She told me:

“Research is the foundation that makes a story like Poster Boy credible. But just like the foundations to a building, it should be largely unseen. Whilst it may appear to the reader that the hours I spent online researching the construction and effects of suicide vests resulted in only a single line:

‘I’ve got the semtex and shrapnel to contend with.’

The truth is that knowledge drove the entire scene. Knowing the range, weight, and aesthetics of the device is what made the whole image plausible.” NJ Crosskey

She used Google street view to find perfect locations which she knew little about and was able to talk to experts by asking around amongst friends and on online writing forums. Her advice to other writers is to think outside the box when it comes to researching your novel. Facts are important, of course, but real human experiences and opinions are equally vital for ensuring your story comes across as authentic – no matter how fantastical your plot!

“There are so many tools these days for writers seeking information, we really are spoilt! As well as all the obvious places to find information (Google searches, newspapers and journals, text books etc), there are a whole host of other resources. You can find TED Talks by experts on almost any subject online, is invaluable for those writing historical fiction, and sites such as Quora allow you to ask questions that can be answered by experts all over the world.” NJ Crosskey

Poster Boy_High res (1)

Poster Boy was published April 1st 2019 by Legend Press.

You can find out more by NJ Crosskey by following her on Twitter @NJCrosskey, or visiting her blog:

Combine Speech with Action

People rarely stand still and speak. They wave their arms, they pace, they scuff their feet, check their nails, get distracted or even make a cup of tea. I know these are all rather cliched examples but they serve the point. When writing dialogue have your characters do things whilst they speak.

child drinking

Spend some time people watching and observe for yourself the things they do when they talk. Keep in mind Anne fine’s words:

 “Don’t write about people you know, write what you know about people.” Anne Fine

And what better way to find out about people than to watch them.

“A rough estimate would be one third dialogue, one third action and one third introspection.” Diane Doubtfire

Introspection are the character’s inner thoughts.

“A character’s thoughts can greatly enhance a story: deepening characterisation, increasing tension, and widening the scope of a story.” Nancy Kress

So next time you are out and about observe some of the little actions people do that hint at their character. It all adds to the story.

Book Review – Pink!

Title: Pink!

Written by: Lynne Rickards

Illustrated by: Margaret Chamberlain

Published by: Wacky Bee Books


Pink! is a heart warming picture book about challenging stereotypes. It would be a great way to stimulate a discussion about gender both for parents at home and teachers in school. Patrick the Penguin turns pink overnight. His parents try to reassure him that it is OK to be a boy who is pink, but the other penguins tease him.

Discussing the issue of teasing and bullying could be used to encourage compassion for others and also empathy for people who have experienced sudden change. Patrick was not born pink and it was not a gradual change of colour over time. He just woke up one morning and discovered he had turned pink. This must have been a very traumatic experience for Patrick. Suddenly he is different and not because he wanted to be different he just woke up different.

Patrick does not like being different, so he decides to run away to Africa to be with the pink flamingos. But he soon discovers he is not suited to the African environment so returns home where the other penguins are eager to learn about his adventures.

Again from a teaching point-of-view this book would be useful in the classroom to discuss animal adaptations and climates in different parts of the world. The children can compare the features of Antarctica’s penguins with African flamingos and how they are suited to their environment.

The book was first published in 2008 by Chicken House. Pink! Is also a musical. Pink! The Musical, written in collaboration with Hopscotch Theatre, has toured over 200 Scottish primary schools.

This book is empowering for children and demonstrates that the colour pink is for everyone regardless of gender. I believe it will encourage children to be more confident in themselves and the way they look.


An Interview with… Mo O’Hara

For the last few years I have been interviewing authors, illustrators, editors and fellow bloggers about their love of stationery for the Papers Pens Poets blog. The blog was not my idea it was my friend’s Jo Franklin‘s idea. But I am excellent at working to a brief so I have taken the idea and ran with it. Since March 2016,when we launched the blog, we have made — posts and most of them have been interviews.

In July 2016, I interviewed children’s book writer, Mo O’Hara. She told me:

“Like so many authors I am a bit of a stationary nerd.  I am notebook and file obsessed but pens aren’t really something that I gush over.  I’m definitely not a fountain pen girl (I’m far too messy).” Mo O’Hara

When she starts a new project she generally allows herself to splurge on a new notebook as a treat.


Also if she is going to a conference or retreat she always start with a fresh notebook but she also takes her thought notebooks and her project notebooks along too. She said:

“It’s more about the feel of a notebook for me and not the look.  I always buy them in shops and not online because I need to pick up the book and hold it. I’m very kinaesthetic like that.” Mo O’Hara

little notebookss

Mo O’Hara writes the My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish series, published by Macmillan.

All Zombie Titles Pic

She launched a brand new series My FANGtastically Evil Vampire Pet in September 2018. the second in the series, Space Cat-astrophe was released in February 2019.

space vampire

Mark is off to Evil Scientist Space Camp, which is being led by the totally epic evil astronaut Neil Strongarm who is looking for evil apprentices for his next space mission!

You can read the complete interview on the Papers Pens Poets blog.  You can find out more about Mo O’Hara and her books on her website is: and follow her on twitter: @Mo_OHara. 

More on Market research

When I first started out I found market research extremely difficult. But, the more I tried to do it the better I got. I have been published in several national magazines.


The ones below are just a small selection. I now automatically pick up a magazine and look at the adverts, the letters page and the way the stories and articles are written, to get an idea of who the readership the magazine is aimed at, are.

I ask myself questions like:

  • Whose viewpoint is it from?
  • How long are the sentences?
  • How long are the paragraphs?
  • Is it in first or third person?
  • What tense is it written in?
  • How much dialogue is used?
  • Is slang used?
  • Is compression used (i.e. i’ll, we’ve)?
  • Are there any sentences beginning with And and But?
  • Are there any swear words?

I believe this was excellent training and has helped me to launch my career into writing for children because, although the writing and market is different you still need to consider who the target audience is and whether you are meeting the requirements of the in-house style.

So my advice is to anyone who wants to get published, whether it is in writing for magazines, writing for children, adults, your publisher, or a specific editor – do your market research. Know who you are writing for.

If you are interested in writing for magazines, get hold of the contributor’s guidelines. These are often available online.

Book Review – Adventures of the Steampunk Pirates

Title: Adventures of the Steampunk Pirates (series)

Written by:  Gareth P. Jones

Illustrated by: Artful Doodlers

Published by: Stripes Publishing

If you like pirates and you like robots you’re going to love this series of books. In fact, how can you not love robot pirates?

Captain Clockheart and his crew are renegade robot servants who have been liberated by the Admiral’s daughter. In The Leaky Battery Sets Sail, the first book of the series, the robot pirates take to the high seas and have to avoid being captured by the evil Iron Duke, who is human and not made of Iron at all. The Duke has his beady eyes on the king’s reward for the steampunk pirates’ capture.

In Clash of the Rival Robots they face their old nemesis the evil Iron Duke again but the Attack of the Giant Sea Spiders finds them facing a new antagonist, the dreaded Captain Inkybeard and his wife Nancy (who is a squid that Inkybeard carries around under his pirate hat).  In the Rise of the Slippery Sea Monster, the steampunk pirates get a taste of their own medicine when the Leaky Battery is raided by a sea monster that’s greedy for gold. This is just a taste of the wacky plot lines and characters in this dynamic series.

These fast-paced reads are littered with author asides. Gareth P. Jones takes you on a roller-coaster ride through waves of pirates’ escapades, fuelled by their desire for gold. I like the way each chapter is summarised at the beginning. The stories are enhanced by the brilliant sea shanties at the beginning and end of the books and the amusing illustrations by Artful Doodlers.

I enjoyed reading these books. They are fun! A must for every school book corner and library. Excellent bedtime reading for your children. If you crave excitement these are the books for you.

An interview with… Fiona Barker

In the latest issue of Writers’ Forum I have interviewed picture book writer, Fiona Barker for my Writing for Children column. She talks to me about her road to publication and how she was inspired to set up a children’s picture book club for adults.

Writing 4 Children - Fiona Barker and Picture Book Club3

In the feature she mentions how she is inspired by John Shelley’s one inch drawings and #ukpbchat which meets online each month on Twitter. Fiona recommends that aspiring picture book writers should follow key children’s book bloggers such as Book Lover Jo, or even me.

The Picture Book club meetings are usually held in a bookshop, often Waterstones in Reading but they are moving around the country. they also broadcast the events live on the Picture Book Club Facebook page. To stay up-to-date with locations and dates the events are running you can follow the Facebook page @picbookclub

Fiona told me:

“At a typical PBC meeting, members pay £5 ‘membership’ on the door. This helps us to cover speaker expenses. We have a talk or discussion for 30-40 mins and then break for cake and a chance to chat informally. The cakes are a big feature of PBC. We try to make something that is relevant to each speaker, so it might be a book cover or a model of one of their characters. The dinosaur cake I made for Rob Biddulph is probably the one I am most proud of.”

PBC 14 1

To find out more about Fiona Barker and her books you can follow her @Fi_BGB on twitter, @FionaWritesBooks on Facebook and Instagram and her author website is

Think About Theme

The theme of a book is an ‘abstract idea’ such as friendship, loyalty or a quest for identity.

Themes are different to morals. The theme should be subtle and strengthen your story by adding depth and meaning. Visit your local library and look at some of the classic picture books. Notice that although the text may be brief and tightly written there lay truths that are timeless. The story should leave readers with a residual feeling that stays with them.

Season collage

You should be able to sum up your theme in one or two words. The theme of the first series of Season books is friendship. I have written two more Season picture book series since then. This is a book with a compilation of my Animal Stories for all Seasons. They will also be available to buy individually.

Animal Season Treasury Cover (003)

Your characters should always carry the theme. It is important not to blurt out your theme but to let it emerge from the story. If you must come out and say it, do it in dialogue, not narration and whatever you do avoid preaching. Children’s stories should be explorations of life not Sunday school lessons.

In picture book you should keep your theme positive. If writing about difficult situations and feelings, offer constructive ways for your readers to cope with them.

Book Review – Practical Pop-Ups & Paper Engineering

Title: Practical Pop-Ups & Paper Engineering: A step-by-step course in the art of creative card-making

Written by: Trish Phillips and Ann Montanaro

Published by: Lorenz Books

practical pop ups

This book is not necessarily a children’s book but is all about a craft I associate with children’s books and would make a great art and craft teacher resource. My first experience of pop-up books was when I was teaching. My favourites were The Wheels on the Bus by Paul Zelinsky and The Wide Mouth Frog by Keith Faulkner and Jonathan Lambert.

With over 100 techniques and projects, in 1000 photographs to choose from, Practical Pop-Ups & Paper Engineering will inspire all ages to have a go at their own paper engineering projects. It is one of the best and most comprehensive paper-engineering books I have ever seen.

Practical Pop-Ups & Paper Engineering outlines the history of paper engineering from volvelles, which were pages of a book that had two or more round paper discs that rotated on a spindle secured to the page at the centre of the circle, to pop-ups that were used to entertain and celebrate. The book is full of fascinating facts, like pop-ups were not invented until the 19th century and how anatomical fold-up flap drawings were used in the 16th century to illustrate human anatomy as physically performing dissections was banned.

There is a chapter explaining what a paper engineer is and the materials, tools and techniques they use. Including making templates, cutting tips and troubleshooting. But the main feature of this book is the fact it provides step-by-step instructions for the beginner as well as intermediate and more advanced projects.

inside of pop-up book

Some of the beginner designs could be used in the primary classroom to make novelty cards celebrating special holidays and Mother’s Day. Or for the older age range they may inspire some ingenious craft and GCSE art work.

If like me, you decide to try any of these designs I wold be interested to know. You can leave a message here on my blog, or contact me through my website:

You can find out more about Trish Phillips on her website: or follow her on Twitter @trish_again 

To find out more about Ann Montanaro you can visit: