Book Review – The Story of the Olympics

Title: The Story of the Olympics

Written and Illustrated by:  Richard Brassey

Published by: Orion Books

The Story of the Olympics

This book is written in graphic novel style and is part of Richard Brassey’s The Story of… series, which includes such titles as: The Story of England, The Story of Scotland, The Story of London, The Story of World War One and The Story of the World Cup.

The Story of the Olympics is certainly a new slant on an old subject. It is full of the most amazing, obscure facts. Things I most certainly never knew before and never even thought to ask. Some of these facts would make great starting points for a wide range of speaking and listening activities in the classroom or even in a discussion with your child, especially the information he gives about how politics have interfered with the games.

The book compares the ancient and modern Olympics in an exciting and informative way – a favourite with teachers who are covering the Olympics as part of their topic on Ancient Greece. The bright and adventurous pictures capture the imagination and keep you turning the pages to discover the fascinating snippets of information about each of the Olympic Games and the winners, throughout history from 1908 and goes as far as the 2016 games held in Rio de Janeiro. The information is conveyed in a chatty, humorous way which will keep the attention of even the most reluctant reader.

I particularly like the way it starts with the Olympic truce and the Olympic ideal, two things which are often neglected in other books about the Olympics. This is certainly a book to keep your eye on if teaching about the Olympics or the Greeks or even World War Two, especially with Tokyo 2020 looming next year.

Investigate Viewpoint

No matter what the viewpoint you need to think:

Is that my character speaking, or is it me?

If you change a text into the present tense it could become more immediate and subtly changes the feel of the story. Try it yourself and then compare this to a more traditional narrator style viewpoint, like Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland.

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In an action-packed writing scene, it is easier to use third person, as there is not so much reflection and interpretation to stop the flow of the action. The reflection requires prior knowledge of what is going on and tells the reader how they should feel about this. We need to avoid telling the reader what to think.

A tighter viewpoint helps the reader to see and feel the action. The actions needs to go at the speed of the character – seeing what they see, in the order it happens. Strangely, the third person, even if it is written in the past tense gives the experience of reading it as it happens. In intense danger scenes, a tighter viewpoint adds more tension but, you can pull back this tension in other scenes to let the reader reflect.

Student Reading a Book

With viewpoint I think it is better not to be overtly original but, to let your story do the talking. A lot of YA books are written in first person. When writing in the first person and present tense you have to consider how much the reader is supposed to know at any one time.

The omniscient narrator, such as the Victorian, ‘My dear reader’, can work in a different way but it distances the reader. The omniscient narrator where you don’t even change scenes to change viewpoint might suit a big saga but I think it is distracting in a children’s book. When using the omniscient narrator, it is important to make sure the character is mentioned before you change viewpoint.

A character narrating back-story can slow the pace. When adding back-story, the writer needs to seriously consider if it is really needed. In my opinion, it is better to take out this narrator intrusion. It slows the tension and you may find you do not need all the detail. Ask yourself:

Why you are putting it in?

It is good to experiment with viewpoint within a story as it is such a large part of the story as a whole. But remember it is often better to read a book and not remember what person it is written in – it is the essence of the story that is remembered – the viewpoint is so entwined and so good it disappears.

Book Review – Frankie Foster Pick ‘n’ Mix

Title: Frankie Foster Pick ‘n’ Mix

Written by:  Jean Ure

Published by: Harper Collins

All Frankie Foster wants to do is help people. She wear a tee-shirt that says Here to Help. She loves fixing people’s problems. But, her help is not always welcome as more often than not, she leaves disaster in her wake. Eventually though, Frankie does always fix things.

Pick ‘n’ Mix is the second book in the series about accident-prone Frankie Foster. Mum has agreed to let her friend’s daughter, Emilia, stay for a while so her friend can get a little respite. But, this means Frankie has to move out of her tiny attic bedroom and share her sister’s bedroom with Emilia, to her sister’s disgust. Frankie finds she has taken on more than she has bargained with Emilia, whose behaviour leaves a lot to be desired, creating some dramatic and very funny twists in the story.

The book is aimed at girls 9+ and is written in the first person. As with Jean Ure’s other novels, the characters leap off the page, making an immediate and lasting impression.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading Jacqueline Wilson’s and Anne Fine’s books.

Dream a little dream…

Does anyone else out there dream their stories?

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Well, I have very vivid dreams and more often than not I remember them when I wake up. I can dream whole plot lines. When I was stuck on a plot of a recent book I was writing I would read where I’d got to in the story just before I went to bed and somehow when I woke up I had a vague story line. Granted I think the story probably needs a lot more work and maybe a lot more sleep.

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I keep a notebook by my bed most nights and often write down the stories I have dreamt. One day, I am going to write them all up as different novels. Right after I finished the commission I am working on at the moment. But for now, I can officially say I am still working even when I am asleep.

Book review – The Words that Fly Between Us

Title: The Words that Fly Between Us

Written by: Sarah Carroll

Cover illustrated by: Thy Bui

Published by: Simon & Schuster

The Words that Fly Between Us

An excellent YA book about learning to stand up for yourself and also covers the transition from one school to another. For me it was not so much the plot of the book that resonated with me but the underlying messages hidden within the plot.

The Words that Fly Between Us is about thirteen year old Lucy Fitzsimons whose family life is not as perfect as people think. In public her dad is warm smiles and sweet words. He look like the perfect loving husband and father and as far as Lucy can remember he used to be before he became over-stressed with work, and bullied himself by the owner of the bank. But behind closed doors he becomes another person, as she vividly portrays in her drawings. He is sour and bitter and the words that come out of his mouth are vicious and suffocating. Yet the words he does not say hurt just as badly. Lucy wakes up each morning hoping her dad is in a good mood.

Her best friend Megan is also being bullied by words from Hazel, a girl she knows from orchestra. On the surface Hazel pretends to be Megan’s friend but she is always making snide comments about the way Megan looks and acts. Lucy can’t believe Megan does not notice but in the same way Lucy pretends everything is ok at home, Megan pretends everything is ok with Hazel.

The whole book is a metaphor for how words can hurt just as badly as sticks and stones. Throughout the book, Sarah Carroll, expertly describes how the words that fly from her father’s mouth stick to surfaces, hide in wallpaper and drop to the carpet like invisible stains, lingering and filling the house with sadness. But it is not only the words people say. Sarah Carroll cleverly compares this to the words people write as well because Hazel not only bullies Megan with the things she says but also with the comments she anonymously writes on Megan’s blog.

The themes of truth, friendship and not believing the things other people say, ring strong and clear on every page, even in the beliefs Lucy has about her neighbour Ms Cusack. Her dad has told her Ms Cusack is poor, crazy cat woman. Lucy starts to explore the secret lives of her neighbours, in some cases by using the attic that is connected to every house on her side of the street, and she finds out her father’s words are not always true.

Through Lucy’s desire to help people she discovers words can help people too. The words in the books Ms Cusack give her are a source of knowledge that helps her to make sense of her own world and the note a young tramp gives her in exchange for train money, that simply says ‘I hope you feel safe all day’ provides Lucy with a new perspective and understanding. In the end, both Lucy and Megan gain the courage to stand up to their bullies. Lucy also realises the truth will set her free when she reveals the shady deals her father and his associates are involved with. In the long run it helps free her dad from his bully, as well as freeing her from her dad.

An excellent book to use in the classroom as a means to discuss bullying and trolling. It is also a great book for empowering young people to stand up for themselves and to not keep bullying a secret. The Words that Fly Between Us clearly demonstrates that once the bully is exposed, action can be taken to stop them. This book really makes you think.

An Interview with… Lou Treleaven

In my Writing 4 Children column this month, I interviewed Lou Treleaven about the nitty-gritty aspects of being a children’s book writer. In the feature Lou talks about how she broke into writing for children, her own writing process and doing school visits.

A big part of being a children’s book author is doing school visits. Lou offers a ‘pick and mix’ package for schools, which includes a number of different activities that can be slotted together to make a whole day or even several days. She explained that for younger children she usually reads a couple of picture books a followed by a related craft activity.  she also loves creating collaborative poems with the children after a reading. For the older children, she reads from her Pluto series and encourages the children to write replies to letters from aliens she has made in advance and bought in with her. She even provides an alien postbox to post them in.

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Lou’s tip for other children’s book writers is to use simple but interesting language. She said:

Think poetry, even when you are writing prose.  A well chosen word replaces a dozen.  You have to leave room for the illustrations so your words can only take up a small part of the page, yet they need to tell the story, engage the reader and create tension.  Your words need to be the very best they can be.

Lou Treleaven

Lou has her own critique service where she focuses on all the different facets of what makes a story: characterisation, plot, language, tension and the message in the story, as well as how to lay out the text and craft a submission letter and synopsis.

For more about Lou Treleaven and her books and critique service you can check out her website: www.loutreleaven.com You can you can find her on Twitter at @loutreleaven and Facebook at www.facebook.com/loutreleaven

To read the complete feature take a look at Writers’ Forum Magazine #214 August 2019.

Walk the dogs

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If you find yourself stuck for ideas, or unable to think what to write next, don’t sit and stare at your computer or your notebook, go for a walk. You’ll be amazed at what pops into your head. I alkso find I am so much more productive after I’ve walked the dogs.

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As well as being an excellent tip, this is an ideal opportunity to post a slideshow of my gorgeous dogs.

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