Monthly Archives: December 2019

Book Review – A Postcard to Ollis

Title: A Postcard to Ollis

Written by: Ingunn Thon

Illustrated by: Nora Brech

Translated by: Sian Mackie

Published by: Wacky Bee

A Postcard to Ollis

A story of friendship and family loyalties, written in third person and present tense. Ingunn Thon develops full and engaging characters with very different personalities. Ten-year old Ollis is inquisitive, inventive and determinedHer best friend and neighbour, Gro, is cheeky, quick-witted and impulsive. Ollis is named after five women who played important roles in Norwegian history. She likes to invent things, which often do not go to plan. Her mum has a new baby and announces her plans to get married to the baby’s father, who has recently moved in. Ollis is jealous and disappointed as she can not see her own father, especially when she discovers her name is not on the invitations.

Ollis’ and Gro, go on a bike ride and stumble upon a yellow letterbox mounted on a crooked post. They look inside and its empty. They hear a whumph-thunk-clang and in true Lake House style, a postcard addressed to Ollis appears in the letterbox. The friends return everyday to see if there are any more postcards. It is not until they meet Borgny, that Ollis finally discovers a hundred and one postcards addressed to her with drawings of places all around the world. She works out these postcards have been sent for ten years. Ollis believes they are from her father and embarks on a quest to find him.

This chapter book won the Nynorsk Prize 2017 for Excellent Prose and was shortlisted for the Italian Premio Strega 2018 literary prize, which is the equivalent of the Carnegie Medal.

A Postcard to Ottis is full of witty banter and distinct, diverse characters that capture your heart. I loved the wacky Borgny and was pleasantly shocked at Ollis’ father’s reaction to her. However, I found the present tense rather difficult to read and in places it jolted me out of the story. I also felt there was too much unnecessary description that was not relevant to the plot. The characters make you laugh, cry and scream with frustration. Full of twists and surprises this book really makes you think about what ‘family’ is and the many different types of family relationships.

Merry Christmas Everyone

Thank you to all my followers, friends and family for the support you have all given me in doing this blog. You have all been fantastic. I have been blogging regularly for over a year now and have hardly missed a single post. I hope you have found the information I have shared with you over 2019 useful and informative.

christmas 2019 1

I started writing this blog hoping to raise my profile and let everyone know just how much writing I do. Thank you to everyone who is supporting me on this endeavour. If there is anything you would like me to write about, any books you would love to see me review, or any of my interviews you would like me to share, please let me know.

I look forward to posting many more book reviews and interviews next year.

Book Review – Littlest Magpie and the Star

Title: Littlest Magpie and the Star

Written by: Gill Hutchison

Illustrated by: Carol Daniel

Printed and bound by: David Barlow Printers

Littlest Magpie

Gill Hutchison was a dear friend and SCBWI British Isles member. After her tragic death her SCBWI network group (Central North) friends and family set up an Indiegogo campaign to raise money to publish her picture book. They raised £1,252 which was 42% of their goal and raised a further £592 through direct orders. The book was launched on November 12th 2016

The book is beautiful. It is about the Littlest magpie who loves shiny things and watches the stars in awe. This tender story encapsulates the themes of patience and perseverance as the little magpie tries to catch a star.A heart-warming story about growing up, friendship and believing in your dreams.

The illustrations are beautiful and portray the Littlest Magpie’s character perfectly. We can truly watch Little Magpie learn to fly and grow into an adult bird with a love of shiny objects.

Ideal for reading at Christmas.

An interview with… M. G. Leonard

In my Research Secrets double page spread in Writers’ Forum M. G. Leonard explained how her research into beetles turned her fear of creepy crawlies into an obsession.

Front cover

She told me her, Beetle Boy book didn’t start out with a beetle as a central character and it wasn’t called Beetle Boy. M. G. Leonard revealed she knew there would be beetles in the story, but because she was scared of creepy crawlies and thought they were horrid and signified something bad it neveer occured to her to make them the protagonists. But when she started researching beetles she became obsessed .

She didn’t start keeping pet beetles until after Beetle Boy was published and was still nervous around live insects.

“Everything changed when I was invited to appear on Blue Peter for National Insect Week with lots of live beetles. I visited my entomologist friend, Dr Sarah Beynon, who has a bug zoo in Pembrokeshire. She spent a day getting me to hold insects, and I fell in love with rainbow stag beetles. They are so beautiful. I immediately bought myself a pair and took them home so that I could handle them every day and desensitize myself to my fear. I was at the beginning of a journey.” M.G, Leanard

Since then she has bought an adult pair of African flower beetles, which she claims are relatively easy to breed. Watching them grow, eat and eventually pupate, informed her descriptions of the rooms inside Lucretia Cutter’s villainous lair – the Biome deep in the Amazon jungle – featured in Battle of the Beetles.

MG Leonard’s tip if you are incorporating unusual pets into your stories, is to spend time with the living creatures. Peering at them in a zoo won’t give you a unique insight into the way they behave when they’re hungry, or horney, scared or resting.

The descriptions of what it feels like to hold a beetle, to hear a beetle flying, of how they express themselves, all comes from careful observation of her living pets. It’s because she keeps beetles she knows many species are nocturnal, none sleep, and they control their body temperature by burying into soil.

“I did so much research for the Beetle Boy series. There isn’t a book about beetles that I don’t own. I trawled the internet browsing every single website that contained information about beetles. I watched all the youtube videos, listened to BBC audio shows.” M. G. Leonard

M. G. Leonard told me that researching is like a treasure hunt. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. You find a clue and follow where it takes you. There’s no pattern to it. She believes that there is no greater resource to the researching writer than the internet. Google maps allow you to see any place on the planet and Wikipedia will give you information about it. Books would take years longer to write without them.

You can find out more about M. G. Leonard and her books on her website and follow her on social media: Twitter @mglnrd; Instagram @mglnrd; Facebook@ mglnrd

To read the complete feature take a look at #219 Jan 2019 of Writers’ Forum magazine.

Book Review – The Twelve Unicorns of Christmas

Title: The Twelve Unicorns of Christmas

Written by: Timothy Knapman

Illustrated by: Ada Grey

Published by: Egmont

Twelve Unicorns of Christmas

When a Christmas picture book is all about unicorns you know you are on to a winner. If your child loves unicorns this is the perfect Christmas picture book, with lots to laugh about as the little girl counts down to Christmas with her unicorn friend. A fun and delightful blend of the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas song and crazy unicorn’s antics. The fabulous colourful illustrations play a large part in creating a zany image of an action packed, chaotic build up to Christmas day.

Twelve Unicorns of Christmas spread 1

Things do get a bit crazy and there’s so much to do, but her wonderful unicorn is a little mischievous… he munches all the mince pies, scribbles on the Christmas cards, makes a lot of mess and when the carol singers arrive, cover your ears, because unicorns definitely can’t sing. I think children will identify with this as the run up to Christmas can really get busy and hectic.

Twelve Unicorns of Christmas spread 2

A wonderful interactive book that you can enjoy with your child as you join in the song and count each gift on the page as you go along, ending with a grand festive finale full of unicorn celebrations. This fantastic book is full of humour, warmth and family fun.

An interview with… Cath Jones

Cath Jones writes picture books and early readers. I interviewed her for the January 2020 issue #219 of Writers’ Forum about the importance of early readers and how they differ from picture books.

Cath fb post

She explained how early readers usually form part of an educational reading scheme. They are aimed at readers of any age who are learning to read. Each publisher produces their own set of early reader guidelines or instructions for authors to use. These are usually based very closely on the Department of Education publication: Letters and Sounds (anyone can download this free of charge). This sets out very clearly, level by level which letters can be used, the type of vocabulary, complexity of sentences etc.

Cath told me:

“I try really hard to make my early readers stories funny and unexpected. One publisher told me that my stories are too quirky and another that they are too crazy. But children love that and so do I. I’ve had about twenty accepted for publication so far, with three different publishers.” Cath Jones

Cath explained it is important to keep the story interesting enough to engage an early and reluctant readers. Using appropriate words for the different ability levels can be quite a challenge. She told me she always tries to come up with a surprising twist at the end.

“When I write stories I have two aims in mind. I want to keep the reader interested enough to keep them reading on and more often than not, I want to make them laugh. The majority of stories I write are humorous and maybe a little quirky: a zebra who grows beetroot, chickens that knit, owls acting as hats.” Cath Jones

How I set about writing an early reader, depends on whether it is a higher or lower level book. For the lower levels, I have lists of all the words that are appropriate to that level. I study the lists and try to create a story (very often humorous). The story might have as few as 70 words and none of them more than three letters long. It’s like doing a puzzle. It’s a challenge but very rewarding. For the higher levels there are fewer restrictions so I just try to write the best possible story to engage a reader. One reviewer recently described Chicken Knitters as being as good as any early chapter book.

cover The Chicken Knitters JPEG

She revealed that when she first started writing stories for children, she had no idea that there were rules. She joined a local writing group and was amazed to discover that there were hundreds of books on the theory of writing.

“Getting rejections is never easy but other writers encouraged me not to give up. I remember author Jane Clarke telling me that it was those who persist who get published. She was right! In the end, all that effort paid off. In the space of a few months I had eight early readers accepted and my first picture book, Bonkers About Beetroot.” Cath Jones

Her inspiration for writing Bonkers About Beetroot was her own allotment. She also used to run school gardening clubs and for a number of years she managed a community allotment. So it’s really not surprising that gardening is a frequent theme in her stories. At the community allotment, she ran some really fun projects, including story sack making for families. She made a purple stripy zebra out of Fimo with the kids and close by was a bed of beetroot. Instantly she knew Zebra had eaten too much beetroot. The idea of a beetroot eating zebra just wouldn’t go away. It stayed in her head for years, quietly composting while she got on with life, growing vegetables and writing many, many stories.

Bonkers About Beetroot Cover LR RGB JPEG

Her writing tips for readers who may be interested in writing for the younger age range is it’s really important to know who you are writing for. Think about the age group that might read your story and ask yourself what they are interested in. If they are beginner readers, make sure your story gets going fast and keep up a good pace. If they get bored they won’t read on.

To find out more about Cath Jones and her books check out her website: @cathjoneswriter

You can read the complete feature in #219 Jan 2020 of Writers’ Forum magazine.

Children Using Non-Fiction Books

As you may all know, I write a column for Writers’ Forum on the types of research authors do for their books. I was also a primary school teacher for seventeen long years and have written many children’s illustrated non-fiction books and teacher resources for primary school. So children, using non-fiction books for their own research and writing is something that fascinates me.

Margaret Mallett has written extensively about children using non-fiction for researching their own writing. She has written such books as:

  • Choosing and Using Fiction and Non-Fiction 3-11: A Comprehensive Guide for Teachers and Student Teachers
  • Early Years Non-fiction: A Guide to Helping Young Researchers Use and Enjoy Information Texts
  • Young Researchers: Informational Reading and Writing in the Early and Primary Years

These books are aimed at primary school teachers with an aim of teaching children how to use non-fiction books and list suitable non-fiction books to meet the requirements of the National Curriculum and Literacy Strategy.

It is true there are new, fun interactive ways to find information via the Internet and downloads. These interactive models work and provide variation. But, in my experience, children do still enjoy looking at non-fiction books to satisfy their curiosity and thirst for knowledge. Non-fiction books need to be widely available in the classroom to support other things they are doing.

nonfiction books

Making non-fiction reading and writing exciting and relevant helps advance children’s thinking and understanding. Young children require literacy activities that are embedded in practical activities, drama, role-play and outings. These connect children’s experiences in school with wider society and provide opportunities to use and talk about texts.


Time should be made during the school day (OK! Don’t laugh – I’ve been there!) for the children to talk about specifically non-fiction books. As writers and teachers we ultimately want children to learn to be independent readers by looking at both fiction and non-fiction books. Listening to others and their interpretations of the books helps with internal reasoning and encourages a quest to find out more. The children’s hypothesis can be supported and reinforced by looking at more books.

Teachers should also read non-fiction books to the class and show the illustrations. Seeing the pictures and hearing the text triggers reflection and help the children by giving knowledge.

illustrated non-fiction

Using illustrated non-fiction in the classroom is a highly successful way to engage children’s interest, helping them to establish a personal foothold and provide a reference against which to check what they have found from other information sources.

Story sacks don’t have to be confined to KS1 they can be for any age and contain non-fiction books. Drama does not have to be solely linked to fiction but can be used to support what is happening in non-fiction texts too.

In my opinion, to foster a love of children’s non-fiction books we need to think about the way it is being used with the children in the classroom and also at home.

Book review – Star Bright the Christmas Fairy

Title: Star Bright the Christmas Fairy

Written by: Simon Allen

Illustrated by: Lucy Gilbert

Published by: Simon Allen

Star Bright

This independently published Christmas book is one of the better ones I have read this year. Many of the Christmas books I have looked at to review are too wordy, or simply not really about Christmas. They could be set anywhere at any time of the year whereas, Star Bright the Christmas Fairy is centred around Christmas in a true traditional Christmas story style.

Written in rhyme, with a theme of being thankful for what you have, this book tells the story of the Christmas fairy who dislikes being stuck at the top of the Christmas tree all through the festive celebrations so plans to have fun and party. However, her plans do not go as she imagines when she falls into Santa’s sack and is whisked away with him whilst he delivers all his presents.

The Christmas Fairy is worried she’ll never get back home but Santa carries her back in his sleigh and helps her to understand the important role she plays at Christmas time watching over the family from the top of the tree. The Christmas Fairy realises her lucky she really is.

The illustrations by Lucy Gilbert match the text perfectly. They are clear, uncluttered and entertaining. Young children will love to pour over these pictures whilst they follow the Christmas fairy on her adventures. The text has a melodious rhythm that the children will love to listen to again and again. A great book to read aloud at bedtime.

An interview with… Leonard S. Marcus

Leonard S. Marcus is one of the children’s book world’s most respected and versatile writers, historians, and critics. He has written many highly acclaimed books about children’s literature, and the authors and artists who created them. Leonard’s book reviews have been featured in many US magazines including Parenting magazine, the New York Times Book ReviewWashington Post Book World, and Publishers Weekly. I interviewed him January 2008, as one of the speakers at the SCBWI Bologna Conference, March 2008.

These are some of his award-winning books:

In the interview, Leonard told me he started writing when he was at school in the US during second grade. His passion for writing grew throughout his education, even though it was a long time before he had any idea of how to go about making a living or a life as writer.

“The reading specialist who was assigned to help me at school suggested that I try writing poems to read to her. It was then that I began my writing and reading life. Thanks to that teacher, I experienced a feeling of great satisfaction because I found that it was easy to read what I myself had written and that made me want to write more and more.” Leonard S Marcus

For the first three years in New York, he was a copywriter for Dover Books, a New York paperback publisher specialising in reissues of out of print classics. He explained how he learned a great deal about art and bookmaking there, and a lot about the stinginess of publishers. After that he freelanced, writing book reviews and also teaching courses on children’s books at the School of Visual Arts and elsewhere while trying to get started as an author.

Leonard Marcus - Golden Legacy

Golden Legacy: The Story of Golden Books

Leonard mostly writes nonfiction. He said, of all the people he has written about as characters he found, Feodor Rojankovsky, the great Russian illustrator of Golden Books one of the most inspiring, because his art has so much energy and he travelled so much and led such an adventurous life.

His favourite picture book as a child was a Little Golden Book called Laddie and the Little Rabbit. It had photographic illustrations by Bill Gottlieb, a photographer who took some of the best known pictures of Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong.

“I think I loved the book because I wanted to have a dog and wasn’t allow to. Laddie was a springer spaniel. I recently met Bill Gottlieb’s widow Delia and – all these years later – learned that the dog in the photos was her dog and that his real name was James Thurber.” Leonard Marcus

Leonard’s tip to other writers is to put effort into promotion and marketing of your books. He explained some writers such as, Shel Silverstein, did not have to market themselves and had bestseller after bestseller. But publishers appreciate an author’s own promotional efforts and sometimes can be persuaded to help, for instance by contacting a public radio station in the city where a talk is about to take place.

“I enjoy giving talks and readings and try to do as many of them as possible. Lately, I have been making more of an effort to group these programs so that I get the most out of a trip to another city or region.” Leonard S. Marcus

Leonard’s interest in early 19th-century American children’s Books, began as a history major in college, as they stirred memories of his own childhood. It dawned on him that because children’s books are usually illustrated he would be able to write about art as well as literature. He became fascinated by the challenge of telling stories in two different media, and by all the many different ways that artists and writers have found to do this effectively.

He began to wonder why children’s book art is not often exhibited in museums. This in turn raised questions about the value our society places on childhood and the things of children’s culture. This inspired him to write books about the creation, marketing, and world-wide impact of popular children’s literature.

You can discover more about Leonard S. Marcus and his books on his website:

Virtual networking

Networking is a great tool to help you reach your goals. You can network in person by joining critique groups, going to book fairs, masterclasses and workshops, or by attending book launches and conferences of organisations like SCBWI, FCBG, IBBY, the Bookseller and CWIG. Or you can network virtually through online critique groups, email, YouTube, your own websiteFacebook, a Facebook Author page, Instagram, Twitter and by having a blog.

Virtual networking
One of the most important reasons why should authors have an online presence is that it is an ideal way of publicising your self. Publicity is so important, anything an author can do to help sales and increase familiarity with their name, the better. Having a website and / or blog means prospective publishers and buyers of your books are able to look up more information than they could get off a publicity leaflet.

You can have an online presence at any stage of your writing career. You can promote your articles, short stories, poetry, forthcoming novel, or your column in a magazine or newspaper.

Virtual networking can generate more contacts and interest in your writing. You can meet people you might not have had the opportunity to meet in person, without the huge travel costs. You can refer potential editors to your site so they can see a range of your work and editors who have worked with you in the past can use the site to get in touch.

The net is available 24-hours a day, every day. An online presence will market your work to the whole wide world. It is an excellent marketing forum and should become an ongoing part of your business as a writer. Your blog is a business tool.

The Internet is here to stay as a communication media, so utilise your resources.