Monthly Archives: November 2019

Book review – Are you a Monkey?

Title: Are you a Monkey? A Tale of Animal Charades

Written and Illustrated by: Marine Rivoal

Published by: Phaidon Press

Are you a Monkey

This is a creative non-fiction book using animal characters and the guessing game of charades to divulge poignant facts about a wide variety of jungle animals. The title Are you a Monkey? is memorable, intriguing and matches the tone of the story, as well as highlighting the charades theme of this picture book.

The beautiful screen-printed illustrations are bright and fun, creating a lively jungle setting and atmosphere. The structure of the book is ideal for keeping a child turning the pages to find out who is character is acting out, whilst providing space for the child to interpret the story, with added humour as toucan keeps guessing wrong.

I personally felt Marine Rivoal could have developed each individual character more with exciting sound effects and a wider variety of dialogue, rather than using the same phrase to disclose what animal they were pretending to be. There was also an explanation of what charades is at the beginning, which I felt was not necessary and a little preachy. The story works well without this.

A cute and satisfying ending that resolves the question of who the tiny starfish could act out, creating a ‘big reveal’ moment and bringing the story full circle.

This book would be great for acting out the characters at home or in the classroom and could spark of a wide range of investigative work on finding out more about the animals portrayed.

An interview with… Kathleen Duey

I interviewed her in November 2007, as a speaker at the SCBWI Bologna Conference, March 2008.

Kathleen Duey is the author of over 70 children’s and young adult books including historical fiction, nonfiction, picture books and dark fantasy. She was one of the 2007 finalists for the National Book Award for Literature for Young People, with her novel Skin Hunger: A Resurrection of Magic. She writes for adults with a partner; they have a finished novel with an agent and a second work being optioned by HBO. She lives in San Diego County, USA.

Kathleen Duey

This is what Kathleen told me:

I always want to be a writer. My fourth grade teacher encouraged me and got me started writing stories. Then an English teacher in high school made me promise I would keep writing and give it a serious try, which I finally did, in my late thirties. Mrs. Fredericksen and Mr. Doohan. Bless ‘em both.

She explained all the work she has done and all the play, informs her writing. Living off-grid for a long time shaped her, too. She missed a couple of decades of TV. She does a lot of historical research for her books. But, the research never hampers her historical fiction. She uses a lot of primary sources and they always enrich, guide, inform. She told me she has never once felt constrained by facts.

Kathleen said she identifies very closely with all her characters, so in a way, has been all of them. She could live where Heart Avamir lives. (The Unicorn’s Secret) in fact she hinted she did, in a weird way, but that’s a whole story in itself. Her life has been extraordinary – she dropped out of the mainstream and lived off the land for many years. That gave her a rich vein of knowledge to mine.

Her childhood influenced what she writes in every way. She grew up in rural places, was raised by rural parents. She writes historical fiction and fantasy… both usually low tech, in cultures where people are close to the soil. As a child, her parents bought her non-fiction, almost exclusively. The first novel she loved was Molly Make Believe, an old book she found in her great Aunt’s apartment. Then came Black Beauty and then all the Farley books. In middle school she discovered fantasy and SF and was astounded at the created worlds, the possibilities of speculation, the massive intellects of the writers.

Kathleen claims the best books are autobiographical to some degree.

I work alone, almost always, in my office at home. I often play music, quietly. Sometimes I prefer silence. If it is chilly, Rooibos tea is wonderful. The hardest part of writing is sitting still, indoors – I hate it. The shortest time it has taken me to write a book is nine days. the longest was fifteen years.

She told me, people just need to figure out what is comfortable, what works for them when it comes to social media and marketing. She likes travel, she loves schools and speaking has become fun even though she said she began as a nervous, two-puke speaker, she now enjoys it.

Every book presents different obstacles, various areas of clear sailing.

I like every genre I have written in and intend to try more. It’s just the way my brain works; it’s not a conscious business choice or a deliberate artistic decision. It is about the individual project for me, not the genre. Whatever takes my breath away – that’s what I want to write. I like writing for all age groups. I seem to thrive on variety. Writing for kids is an obvious choice for me. I like kids. And I am head over heels in love with the possibility of touching a child’s (or a teen’s) life the way mine was touched by books.


Re-evaluate your characters

Sometimes you need to step back from your writing and take a deeper look into your character’s and their story so they do not appear flat on the page.

Flat Stanley

Ask yourself if your readers can relate to your protagonist. You need to consider who will be reading your book. It does not matter how clever, funny and charming your characters are, will the readers truly care about them. What can you do to make them care more?


Often you can relate to your readers by giving your main character a problem they can empathise with. But it is not just the hero you need to consider. You also need an enemy for your hero to battle against. Someone who is blocking their way to achieving their goals.

The antagonist in your story should appear to be everything that your protagonist is not but they must also have some good qualities as well. People are not good or evil. Your characters should have the same character traits, as the rest of humanity to give them depth. Both your hero and antagonist need to have a few bumps in the road. Life isn’t smooth. Let them both make mistakes and figure their way out of their problems.

President Snow.jpg

Begin and end your story with a bang. Remember your hero needs to learn a lesson about themselves. Are they braver than they thought? Did they know more than they thought? Were they in love with the person they thought? Your characters should have some type of self-realisation.

Peeta Mellark

It can be subtle. You do not have to go into a five chapter monologue on it, just give the readers some clues how they have changed.

Book review – The Jamie Drake Equation

Title: The Jamie Drake Equation

Written by: Christopher Edge

Published by: Nosy Crow

The Jamie Drake Equation

This is an ideal book for young sci-fi enthusiasts. It combines real interstellar facts with fantasy to produce a unique and heart-warming story that will keep the readers turning the pages.

Written in first person narrative, Jamie retells the story of his dad, Commander Dan Drake, who is about to embark on a spacewalk as part of a mission in search of alien life. He has been orbiting the Earth in the International Space Station for several months but won’t be back in time for Jamie’s eleventh birthday.

Jamie describes how he disturbed Professor Forster, an astronomer doing unofficial investigations into signs of extra-terrestrial intelligence, at the abandoned observatory and inadvertently picked up a weird signal on his mobile phone which he tried to charge it from her laptop. The phone buzzes in his pocket and strange messages start coming through from an ancient alien civilisation known as the hi’ive, which Jamie names Buzz. When Jamie’s dad gets caught in a solar storm during his spacewalk, Jamie and Buzz have to save him.

The Jamie Drake Equation touches on the issue of divorce without labouring the point. The reader is left with the sense relationships change but they are still a family. A satisfying, thought-provoking book for mid-grade readers, which will make you laugh and cry.

The job of an editor

In my opinion an editors job is to see the book all the way through not just to edit it. Being an editor is not only about getting the book into a child’s hand, but getting the book noticed by parents, trade, bookstores and libraries.

Getting an editor to love your work is the biggest hurdle of all because what the editor does is become an advocate of your work within the publishing company. If your book fits into the list, it means the editor loves it and has transmitted that enthusiasm to others. There needs to be a shared passion for the book between writer and editor.


They love me, they love me not…

If an editor likes a book, they will take it to an editorial meeting, if others feel the same way as them it is then taken to an acquisition meeting, at which the editor has to convince the sales force and marketing people that this great book has commercial possibilities. They often spend a lot of money on marketing.


It is important to keep in mind that it is still your responsibility as the author to promote your book. As an author do not depend on the publisher to do all the work for you. You will need to organise your own book tours, your own school visits and your own merchandise.

The truth is you have to find the publisher that’s looking for the sort of book you’re writing, read my post on The Publishing World last week.  Capture their attention by being an original voice. Remember you are sending your manuscript to someone who reads over 500 a year. Ask yourself:

Would an editor jump off a bridge for this book?