Monthly Archives: March 2020

Book Review: Magnetic First Sums

Title: Magnetic First Sums

Written by: Mary Denson

Illustrated by: Barry Green

Published by: Top That! Publishing

These are hard-board books, which have been designed to promote numeracy skills, help hand-eye coordination and to encourage parent-child interaction are ideal for home learning at this difficult time. The pages are magnetic so the words and numbers do not easily fall off and the pages can be turned leaving the magnets in place, although there are not enough of some numbers to complete the whole book this way.

The Taking Away book contains over 70 sum magnets and the Adding Up book boasts to containing over 100 sum magnets. In my opinion the books will make learning fun whilst encouraging and reinforcing counting and taking away up to 10 (such as: 5-3 =; 7+2=).

Barry Green’s bright and colourful double-page spread illustrations contain a lot of action, ideal for prompting discussion whilst matching the numbers, pictures and symbols to the pages. I particularly like the way they relate adding and taking away to things that are familiar to the children in everyday life, such as how many children playing on the different equipment at the park altogether, and put the correct number of pairs of socks on the bed, if you put one pair of socks in the wash how many are left, etc.

Suitable for children aged three upwards, I think they would also make an ideal activity for KS1 children on the maths table. You will need a pretty little pot to keep all the magnets in though once you have taken them out to use.

An interview with… Eve Ainsworth

In December 2017, I interviewed award winning children’s author, Eve Ainsworth, about the issues she covers in her YA books and how she develops the different voices for her YA characters.


She explained:

“My YA books focus mainly on issues I experienced when I was working in schools, or issues I remember facing myself as a teen. I explore topics such as bullying, mental health, toxic relationships and self-harm.” (Eve Ainsworth)

In Damage the themes of self-harm, grief and alcoholism are explored. These are quite dark topics. In my child protection role, I had dealt with self-harm cases within the school and was trained in this area. I had regularly spoken to young people who had harmed and had been taught why so many chose to do so.

Eve told me how she had experienced a recent grief in the loss of her father and how this made the writing process extremely difficult. She’d also had direct experience of alcoholism as my older brother died of drink related illness.

Eve’s aim is to increase awareness and understanding by raising these themes and hopefully help to support those struggling.

“I know when I was young, I felt isolated at times and books helped me to tap into the feelings and emotions I was experiencing. It helped me and ultimately I hope I can help others.” (Eve Ainsworth)

Her favourite thing about writing for young adults is the characters’ voices. She love the way they are vibrant, questioning and constantly encouraging her, pushing herto break down the boundaries she might have set herself.

She reads her pieces out loud and if something sounds out of place or too adult, she’ll delete it immediately. In her head her characters have a total back story, she can tell how they’ll react to something or judge an action. She explained this is because they are part of her for a long time.

“It’s quite a strange process and difficult to describe to non-writers. They often look at me as if I’m mad.” (Eve Ainworth)

She told me that characters often send her in a new direction she wasn’t quite expecting – which is both an exciting and fairly stressful event. She discovered from a conversation in her head with Gabi she was even more vulnerable than she first thought and a lot of her pain and fears were hidden in a deep dark place within her. Eve knew she was going to be feisty and headstrong at the start of the book – but it was only through development and conversations she worked out this was just her ‘front’. Her way of preventing anyone coming too close and hurting her anymore. This is particularly evident in her relationship with her mum. Eve didn’t plan for it to be a difficult relationship. Gabi led me that way.

This information created more plot layers for Eve, so her novel became more than just about ‘self-harm’ – it was now also a book about identity and about relationships. Gabi’s relationship with her Mum became key – as the two are very similar in the way they deal with grief and pain. As the plot evolved it was clear to Eve that Gabi and her mum had to work through their demons together in order to move on and heal.

Eve explained:

“Voices come from having strong, relatable characters. Once you have a well-defined character in your mind, their voice should be unique –and as I mentioned before, the voice will be with me – in my head, like an old friend nagging at me.” (Eve Ainsworth)

Eve told me that to ensure her characters’ voices are different from each other she uses subtle differences in the writing – phrasing and sentence structures to make the characters stand out. She asks ‘would he say that?’ ‘how would she react to this’? The differences become magnified once the characters are fully formed. Development of character is key. Only once you have a strong character can you have a strong voice. Her tips to other writers who want to get the voice of their characters write is to either ‘hot seat’ or write out a questionnaire asking your character several questions.

Think how would they react to a given situation, or how would they feel if this happened? Consider how your character responds – tone, body language, facial expressions and make notes – all these factors will help you to create their unique voice.

Eve suggests you could get your characters to write to each other, a couple of letters each to help develop their different style. Or write a short monologue in the voice of one character – telling their version of a story (whether it be the one you are writing or something completely new). Then, get your other character to tell their version of events. Read both pieces out loud. Do they sound like two individuals, or the same person? If it’s the latter, tweak – look at the words used again, the sentence structure. The tone. Make them different and stand apart.

A final good exercise that Eve shared with Writers’ Forum readers is is to listen to other peoples’ conversations more. Eavesdrop. Notice how voices are unique and make notes about what people are actually saying to each other, how they say it and what they don’t say. Buses and trains are great places for this, and it’s the reason why I carry my notebook everywhere. You never know what you might discover or overhear. Writing is the perfect excuse to be a nosy beast.

You can find out more about Eve Ainsworth’s books on her website: and Twitter @eveainsworth


Planning a picture book

Last week in my ‘Anita says…‘ writing tips regular blog I talked about Planning a novel. This week I thought I would talk about planning a picture book. As you know I had two new books out on the 17th of this month but how do I actually go about planning ALL the picture books I have had published?

Spring and Summer books2

A good picture book is not just written it is constructed. Every word counts. When I plot a picture book I think carefully about the beginning, middle and end. My first task is to jot down a brief sentence or two of what I want to happen in each of these three sections. These are my key points. It is important to me to know how the story is going to end before I start writing so I know exactly where the story is going.

My next task is to think carefully about the structure of the book. There are 32 pages in a picture book:

Picture book page breakdown

As you can see this is briefly broken down as:

Page 1 – Front cover

Page 2 and 3 – End papers. These are the pages that appear immediately after you turn over the front cover. Sometimes they include themed illustrations.

Page 4 – Prelims and dedication. It includes information about the publisher, the printer, the ISBN number, copyright notices and sometimes the author or illustrator’s dedication.

Page 5 – Title page. This features the title, series, author, illustrator and publisher’s logo.

Pages 6 – 29 – The story. 12 double-page spreads. Pick up a picture book and count them.

Pages 30 – 31 – End papers

Page 32 – Back cover. The blurb, price, ISBN number and bar code.

The part you have to write is twelve double-page spreads. Sometimes they can be slightly different formats but usually they are 12 double-page spreads. Most songs, nursery rhymes and fairy tales are built upon the rhythm of this magical number three. Take a look at how a familiar fairy-tale such as, Goldilocks and the Three Bears,  fits to this picture book structure.

Picture book page breakdown with Goldilocks example

Notice how there are three bears, three scenes – porridge, chairs and going to sleep on the bed. The Power of three is an important tool when writing children’s books, especially picture books. In the case of picture books THREE really is the magic number that young children can identify with. Think about it… the rhythm of the day has three parts – morning, noon and night – there are three main meals in a day – breakfast, lunch and dinner. The rhythm of growing has three stages: baby, child and teen.

When I plan a picture book I always try to think of the plot, which goes into the middle section of the book, in three parts too. I also try to keep in mind Michael Hauge’s six stage plot structure and the story arc. I outlined both of these ideas in my blog post on The Art of Plotting.

Just as for a novel the stakes have to get higher and higher. I keep these in mind and think carefully what I would like on each of the twelve spreads. I use this planning sheet to help me as part of the rough sketch phase of my planning. Again I just jot down a few words for each section.

My picture book plannerWhen the plan is in place and I am happy with it, I start to write the picture book. My recommendation to you if you are just starting out is to try and use this format. I hope you find it helpful. Of course if you use other methods of planning I would really be interested to find out more. Please let me know.

Book Review: My First Book of Relativity

Title: My First Book of Relativity

Written by: Sheddad Kaid-Salah Ferrón

Illustrated by: Eduard Altarriba

Published by: Button Books

My First Book of Relativity by Sheddad Kaid-Salah Ferrón

Before we can understand Einstein’s special theory of relativity we need to fully understand what time and space is. My First Book of Relativity achieves this as it starts by explaining exactly what time is and how it is measured, from sundials to the exceptionally accurate atomic clock. Sheddad Kaid-Salah Ferrón then goes on to define in a beautiful concise way what space is and how it is measured, explaining how using standard units of measurement, such as the metre stick, came into being.

The next important concept to understand is speed. Again, Sheddad Kaid-Salah Ferrón, walks the reader through the concept of speed in a clear and easy to understand fashion, so that when he goes on to explain how movement is relative it just all makes sense and the reader can make the connection instantly to how frames of reference are used to measure positions, distances and speed, just as Galileo Galilei had said 400 years ago. Her then goes on to explain exactly why light always travel at the same speed of 299,792 kilometres per second. The illustrations support and extend the readers understanding with each double-page spread having its own distinctive limited palette.

Each of Einstein’s thought experiments are broken down into small segments by organising the text into short, distinctive sections using the engaging illustrations, bullet points, bold and capitalised words to emphasise important information. My First Book of Relativity talks us through the incredibly difficult to understand concepts of time dilation, length contraction and mass increasing outlined by Einstein in his special theory of relativity in a fun, appealing and easy-to-read way so it is accessible to young readers of about 8+.

This is an ideal book for introducing the concepts of speed, light and movement to the class, or your own child. I believe it will inspire young scientists to think about time and space and even come up with their own thought experiments.

This book review was previously published on the online Armadillo Children’s Book Review Magazine.

An interview with… Christopher Lloyd

For my Writing 4 Children column in the national writing magazine Writers’ Forum this month, I interview Christopher Lloyd about his inspiration for creative non-fiction books.

Christopher Lloyd1

In the interview he explains how he realised that in order for children to explore learning, their own natural curiosity knowledge needed to be stitched back together again, not chopped up into separate subjects and curriculum.

“Afterall, the brain is not divided into separate sections for maths, music, art, languages, history, science – how absurd! It is all connected! So my books became all about ways of connecting knowledge into giant narratives.” (Christopher Lloyd)

Christopher revealed he originally submitted the proposal for What on Earth Happened? as a children’s book but when Bloomsbury bought the rights, they wanted him to write it for adults, so he had to change tracks. Ten years later, the original concept has finally been published (and entirely re-written) as a children’s book: Absolutely Everything! A History of Earth, Dinosaurs, Rulers, Robots and Other Things Too Numerous to Mention.

The first Wallbook timeline books were his first children’s books and they were written as a result of his home educating experience. He stuck sixteen pieces of A4 paper together and started drawing pictures and writing captions. Three months later (and various pencil, and rubbers consumers) the blueprints for the Big History Wallbook were born.

The Big History Timeline Wallbook cover

His latest book, Humanimal, explores the connections between humans and other animals. The whole concept of What on Earth Books is to find new perspectives for looking at the real world – far more amazing than anything you can make up! Once I had finished Absolutely Everything! I was left with the dangling question in my mind – how clever are humans really? Are we so much more advanced and intelligent that other life around us? Or is that just a human arrogance fuelled by ancient religions and modern scientific traditions?

He states:

“Children have an intuitive sense that humans and animals are far closer than many professional adults realise and I thought it would be good to create a book that’s scientifically rigorous but totally accessible to younger people to explore this theme further.” (Christopher Lloyd)

The title Humanimal shows his conclusions were that the links are very strong indeed – far more profound than the differences, hence the need for a new word – describing us all as Humanimal is in many ways, far more accurate than the artificial divisions we wedge between species by using traditional scientific conventions. After all, human DNA is approximately 84% similar to dogs and 98% the same as chimpanzees.


He explained that during the writing process he divided the book into three themes that best characterise what most people would say it means to be human – Living Together, Having Feelings and Being Intelligent. He then researched to see what other animals have behaviours that seem similar and came up with a huge list. It was then a matter of honing them down to see which ones made the best stories and could be backed up by really reliable scientific evidence. The copy then went through a rigorous editing, fact-checking process before he received it back again to make any final stylistic changes with the editor.

His tips for other non-fiction children’s writers is to think what you want to write then think what will make the child go WOW! when they turn the page. There are plenty of triggers for this rush of dopamine in our natural reward system such as powerful visuals, finding out stuff that’s surprising, giving them different routes through the information.

“I think non-fiction had traditionally been poorly served as in terms of the priority given to it by schools in reading schemes and honestly many children find learning about the world we live in so fascinating. I hope that more focus will be given to non-fiction at festivals, in schools and generally in the field of writing for children.” (Christopher Lloyd)

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #222 Apr Writers’ Forum from your nearest good newsagents or order online from Select Magazines.

You can discover more about Christopher Lloyd and his What on Earth Books on his website: and follow him on Twitter: @chrislloydwoep and @whatonearthbook

Planning a novel

Planning and plotting are not the same things. to find out my views and writing tips for plotting take a look at:

Yes it is true that a plan will ultimately show you the possibilities , potential and pitfalls in your story but in contrast to plotting, planning helps to clarify direction and method. Having a plan helps you focus and in the long run saves a lot of time and effort. Good planning means you have done some of the work before you actually start writing.

There are lots of different ways you can go about planning your novel.

1. Rough Sketch

This includes anything from rough sketches on a napkin or the back of an envelope to a causal list of how you imagine the story to go. This is planning at its most basic and can open up the thinking process to lead to so much more.

planning - rough sketch

2. Synopsis

A synopsis is a more orderly story line ‘telling’ the story in brief to help you on your path. this is also useful when approaching agents and editors when it is complete with characters and the ending. I have written other posts about writing a synopsis here:

planning - path

3. Chapter breakdown

This is a more detailed progression of your story showing the progression chapter by chapter. in this way you can ensure each chapter has its own beginning, middle and end. It also helps to keep track of the main plot and any sub plots.

Plot and sub plot Plan

4. Key Points

Using key points you can outline the bursts of action and tension that form the backbone of the plot. This offers a useful framework that you can use as you are writing to fill in the gaps.

planning - backbone

5. Timeline

A diary is like a diary of the novel, showing the chronological events in the correct order. this helps to keep things in a logical sequence and help avoid any major pitfalls. I have written about the pitfalls of writing in my blog post: Writing Pitfalls.

planning - diary

A timeline is particularly useful when timing and events are crucial to the story arc. It will help if the story takes place over several weeks, months or years to keep track of what has happened and also if the story is taking place over a very short period of time where every minute and second counts.

6. Character biographies

I have written about character biographies before. Take a look at my previous blog post on Characterisation. A character biography can include anything from a couple of lines of description to a full biography. I like writing biographies of my characters. it really helps me to get in to their head. I include: age, appearance, background, dreams, education, family, fears, joys, likes and dislikes, positive traits and negative traits as well as reactions in particular situations relevant to the story.

character biography

I find it a great way of not only ensuring I keep their physical descriptions correct throughout the novel but also to ensure they act true to their character so when they learn and grow it is more evident.

7. Elevator pitch

Describing your book in one sentence is always a great thing to tr. not only does it help when pitching your novel but it can help clarify your mind and keep you on track.

plnning - elevator

This is also a way of identifying the theme of your novel. I have talked about theme in my blog post on Think About Theme.

Book birthday

Today I have not one but two new books out: Rabbits’s Spring Gift and Frog’s Summer Journey. They are part of the A Year in Nature series of seasonal animal led picture books published by Quarto Educational (QED). The other two book  in the series are released in September. The beautiful illustrations are by Lucy Barnard.


Rabbits’s Spring Gift has a theme of sibling rivalry set around the concept of spring. Rabbit wants to give her mum a thank you gift, but her brother tries to out-do her at every turn. Take a look and discover if Rabbit can find the ideal gift. The book intertwines family relationships and the changing seasons.

Frog’s Summer Journey was inspired by the ‘grass is greener’ proverb and is set during summer. Frog is looking for somewhere new to live but none of the places he visits on the pond are just right. You can follow Frog on his journey and discover all the signs of summer on your way.

At the back of each book I have included seasonal activities, crafts and discussion points to help develop a child’s understanding of the natural world. these books could be used in schools, nurseries and at home to support topics on the seasons and animals. The gorgeous illustrations give the perfect ahhh-factor.

These books compliment my previous Animal Seasons series picture books also published by Quarto but illustrated by Daniel Howarth.

Here are the new books being modelled by my dog, Logan.


You can find out more about me and my books on my website: or follow me on Facebook:  Twitter @amloughrey  and Instagram: @anitaloughrey

You can find out more about Lucy Barnard on her agent’s website: or follow her on Facebook @lucybarnardillustration Twitter @barnard_lucy and Instagram @lucybarnardillustrates