An interview with… Angela Kecojevic

This month, #243 4 May 2022 for my Writing 4 Children slot in the national writing magazine Writers’ Forum, I interviewed Angela Kecojevic about using the dramatic effects of climate change as the backdrop of her YA novel.

Angela told me the inspiration for Angela’s latest YA novel, Train published under the Aelurus Imprint (Untold Publishing Group 2022), struck during a visit to the Didcot Railway Centre in Oxfordshire. She said the smell of train engines, the grind of pistons, and the vibe from the old passenger trains was enthralling. It was also a time when dystopian fiction was riding high in the book charts.  The spark began to develop. What if a teenager boarded a train and went to the centre of the earth? How would a group of modern-day young people cope with such a task?

She remembered a book from French poet Jules Verne. His adventure into earth exploration listed him as a pioneer in science fiction writing. His visions were revolutionary; his books (Twenty Thousand Leagues Beneath the Sea, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and Around the World in Eighty Days) awarded him critical success.  Angela’s aim was to bring this vision into the 21st century with a sci-fi spin.

In Train, seventeen-year-old Flint Wells (along with a group of international passengers) must board a futuristic train called Hero 67.  Their mission is complex: they must fix a tether at the centre of the earth, a journey that has already seen the disappearance of its predecessor, Hero 66. Yet just as Hero 67 slams into Earth, the passengers make a terrifying discovery about the Warehouses, giant bunkers littered around the globe.

Scientists, led by the mysterious ‘Conductor’, have taken a third of the population (the Vanished), and are testing them on their ability to survive worsening climate conditions. Flint’s family are also among the ‘Vanished’. It’s a race against time to save the planet and to stop the Conductor. 

“I wanted to highlight a world that had been destroyed because of its careless behaviour, and yet show a world that might care enough to fix. Young adults today are passionate about climate change. They care; they try to make a difference. I wanted this to reflect in Train.”

Angela Kecojevic

Angela is a member of the Climate Fiction Writer’s League, a group of international authors who use climate issues in their writing. Climate Fiction (Cli-Fi) is a piece of literature that brings climate science to the page. Issue of climate change are often at the forefront of her mind and this is reflected in Train. You can find out more about the Climate Fiction Writer’s League on their website: climatefictionwritersleague.substack.com

Train explores a frozen world that requires its characters to ice climb. Angela explained this was not an easy challenge.

“I stepped out of my comfort zone and booked in with a climbing lesson at Oxford Brookes Climbing Centre in Oxfordshire.  One of their expert climbers (Liz) showed me how to dry ice climb using indoor ice axes to loop and pull. This was physically demanding, and yet invaluable for my work.”

Angela told me how good plotting will highlight the pace of the story. She elaborated that she enjoys creating pace in her stories as it is one of her strengths.  She prefers to pick up the pace at the end of a chapter and thrust it over the finishing line into the next. She also enjoys creating tension in stories. She explained, YA, in particular, is a tough market to please as young people want powerful, adventurous characters. They want characters they can fall in love with. She took great care to make her characters sound fresh and interesting, and not to overthink their characteristics.

“I wanted Train to be something different. A sci-fi novel with a chilling twist.”

Angela Kecojevic

Angela revealed she finds writing for the YA market exciting as there is more freedom than writing middle grade, a genre she is also passionate about. She explained when the world was embracing romantic vampires and dystopian fiction, teens were picking up more books than ever before. This means something sparked their imagination. Exciting worlds, exciting characters, exciting plots.

Angela advocates if a story is well written, the readers will embrace the setting, however diverse. This is the beauty of the YA market. They are open to recommendations, they use social media to comment and promote, and they are open with their views.  Sure, it is a tough market to crack, yet their loyalty to a well written story is heart-warming.

You can follow Angela on Twitter @ajkecojevic and Instagram @angela_kecojevic

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #243 4 May 2022 Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Writing 4 Children or Research Secrets interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

Book Review: Maggie Blue and the Dark World

Title: Maggie Blue and the Dark World

Written by: Anna Goodall

Illustrated by: Sandra Dieckmann

Published by: Guppy Books

Maggie Blue and the Dark World by Anna Goodall

Maggie Blue and the Dark World is an inventive middle-grade quest with themes of friendship, bravery and the search for identity. It highlights the importance of camaraderie and the struggle to summon courage when we feel afraid and alone.

Maggie Blue Brown feels abandoned and unwanted she is ‘the kind of child that adults find it easy to ignore or dismiss – too quiet, too weird, too angry.’ Her mother, Cynthia Brown, has been institutionalised with depression after her husband, Lionel Blue, left them for a younger woman. So Maggie lives with her eccentric Aunt Esme in West Minchen, UK. The headmistress of Fortlake School only accepted her as a personal favour to Aunt Esme. Maggie believes she is ‘a burden to her Aunt Esme, extra stress for her depressed mother, and an afterthought to her absent father.’

Her only friend is a grumpy, old, one-eyed tomcat, called Hoagy who greets her each evening with a purr that sounds like it is humming jazz. Sandra Dieckmann has produced a beautiful illustration of Hoagy for the front cover. Although at no point in the story is Maggie small enough to sit on Hoagy’s head and nor would he let her.

Anna Goodall’s characters are all well-formed and credible. She has obviously spent a  long time developing their backstories to make them realistic and believable, the type of people you might see every day in the street, each driven by their own agendas. She paints a perceptive picture of human greed and capitalism. Her debut novel is a reflective insight into children who have to navigate a world with parents who have mental health issues and are never around.

Maggie has a crush on popular girl Ida, who in return bullies her relentlessly, calling her ‘Bruise’, due to her double-barrelled surname. Yet Maggie still wants to be her friend. She sketches Ida in her notebook and calculates their compatibility, believing it must be high as they share the same birthday, the 21st June 2007. When Ida discovers the drawing of her in Maggie’s notebook she labels Maggie a stalker.

Only Maggie’s school councillor, Miss Cane, shows her any kindness and she is a particularly formidable and menacing character with the ability to shape-shift into a wolf and definitely not to be trusted Behind her smile she is a malicious woman. So when Maggie witnesses Ida being kidnapped and dragged into a portal in Everfall Woods by Miss Cane, she is unable to say anything to the police and those she does try to tell will not believe her, reflecting the realistic, universal truth that adults rarely listen to children.

Aunt Esme introduces Maggie to her friend, Dot, who is in a wheelchair and uses herbs for healing. In a chapter from Hoagy’s point of view we learn Dot has asked Hoagy to watch over Maggie as she thinks Maggie is special. With the aid of some instructions copied from one of Dot’s ancient books and Aunt Esme’s ring that Maggie stole from her finger whilst she slept, she crosses through the portal into the Dark World in search of Ida. Maggie believes when she saves Ida, she will become her best friend.

In the Dark World Maggie travels to the gilded palace of Sun City, which is ruled by the charismatic and manipulative villain, Eldrow, who controls the people with stolen happiness. She discovers the protector of nature, known as the Great O, has been forced away triggering the land into darkness. Armed with the stolen ring of protection, Maggie becomes the centre of attention and for the first time she starts to feel special. For a while she forgets why she came to the Dark World in the first place.

Although the book seems to meander into the story, in the same way as Anna Goodall has developed well-rounded characters, she has obviously spent time creating her magical world, with its well thought out history, elaborate city and corrupt politics. Her vibrant, detailed descriptions create vivid pictures in the readers imagination that linger long after the book is shut.

Blog Tour – How Messy! by Clare Helen Welsh

It is with great pleasure and excitement that I host my first ever blog tour. The blog tour is for renowned picture book writer Clare Helen Welsh who will be telling us about her latest book, How messy!

Clare Helen Welsh

How messy! is the first in the Dot and Duck series written by Clare Helen Welsh and illustrated by Olivier Tallec. More titles in the series include How Rude! and How Selfish! and they are published by Happy Yak, an imprint of Quarto Publishing. How Messy! is about Duck’s very untidy habits, much to his best friend Dot’s despair.

How Messy! by Clare Helen Welsh and Olivier Tallec

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Q&A session with Clare Helen Welsh

Thanks so much Clare for being the first ever of the blog tours featured on my blog. I love your picture books. This is the last stop of your tour so we have a lot to live up to. Let’s get started with the first question…

Tell us a little about the book and your inspiration.

How Messy! is the third book in the Dot and Duck series, illustrated by Olivier Tallec and published by Happy Yak, an imprint of Quarto. It features two characters – Dot who hates mess and Duck who hates tidy! In the story, the friends learn the importance of teamwork and to embrace each other’s differences.

The book started out life as a title! When the first book in the series went to acquisitions, I was asked to suggest some follow up ideas if the books were a hit (Happily there were!)

The Dot and Duck books are very much inspired by family life and my time as a school teacher. In How Messy, which is set near the beach – I love the beach! – Dot and Duck are partly modelled on my husband and me (although I shan’t tell you who is who!) There’s also a lot of younger me in Duck, too. My family often tell me I was messy when I was growing up, but I always (usually?!) knew where everything was. It was creative, organised mess that made perfect sense to me!

Do you have a favourite spread in the book?

That’s a hard question to answer – I love all of Olivier’s artwork! There’s a twist at the end, which I think has been brought to life wonderfully. But to avoid spoilers, I’ll choose the spread where Duck is making pancakes but wearing most of the mixture. It feels very authentic to me!

Tell us about some of the other books in the Dot and Duck series.

How Rude! is the first book in the Dot and Duck series. Dot invites Duck to a tea party, but from the moment Duck enters the house, the tea party descends into chaos; from licking sandwich fillings to spitting tea, Duck gets ruder… and ruder… and ruder.

How Rude! by Clare Helen Welsh and Olivier Tallec

This book was followed by How Selfish! in which Dot and Duck find a stick. But Dot thinks it’s a sword and Duck thinks it’s a flag. Dot refuses to share the new toy and goes to any lengths to make sure Duck doesn’t try to take it.  Both books have simple, funny, but ultimately touching arcs that we hope will appeal to any child who is learning what it means to be a true friend

How Selfish! by Clare Helen Welsh and Olivier Tallec

What was your writing process for the Duck and Dot series?

When Dot and Duck initially went on submission, the text was called ‘Luke and the Penguin Problem.’ Before that it was called ‘Don’t Poke the Penguin.’ It was written back in 2016 when I had a lot to learn (I still do, of course!) By the time we had signed contracts with Quarto, I had rewritten the text from first person, into third person, into dialogue only AND changed the animal and main character! I think there’s a lot to be said for being flexible with early ideas. How Selfish! Was the first story, but when I was asked to pitch alternative titles if the book were to be made into a series, the team felt How Rude! would be the stronger title to lead with.  

With all the books in this series, I’ve known the ending before I begin writing and I start by jotting down a pitch line to sum up the takeaway, thinking of scenes that build to this point. My original pitch line for How Messy was ‘Dot hates mess and Duck hates tidy. On holiday together, can they find the perfect compromise?’ This helps keep me focused and allows me to see clearly what to put in and what to keep out. My pitch lines often evolve as the book is written, but there isn’t any space for waffle in a picture book so I find this helps.

Do you have any writing rituals?

How I write a book usually depends on the type of book, how well thought-through the idea is and if there is a deadline for it or not! These days I tend to start on the Notes pages on my phone, where there is less white space and less pressure to create something perfect. I always write in spreads and sometimes jump to the end or the crisis point – not necessarily writing in order. Then I email these notes to myself and beautify them in a word document. It’s less intimidating as far as first drafts go.

Is there a particular place you like to write?

I’m quite flexible as a writer and I can write pretty much anywhere – in bed, on the sofa, on the beach, in a traffic jam… I’ll refrain from saying on the toilet… in the bath! At the moment, I’m very productive in my living room, which is my office in the daytime. I have all my essential to hand – blankets, snacks, a drink, background noise and a pooch for company.

What writing advice would you give to people aspiring to be a picture book writer?

It’s not a new piece of advice unfortunately, but an important one. READ! Read books like the ones you want to write. Read the books you wish you’d written. Read books you like and books you don’t. Read unpublished texts such as those of your peers. Do read for enjoyment but also read critically. Join a critique croup and get into the practice of analysing what works and why and what works less well. These skills will help you in your own writing and will also give you a sense of the industry, so you can find your way in.

Anita, thank you SO much for having me on your blog. I’ve really loved answering your thought-provoking questions – a very lovely way to celebrate How Messy!

And thank you Clare for giving us such a useful insight into the world of writing picture books. I love getting a peek into an author’s writing process. It has been fun being the last stop of your How messy! blog tour.

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You can find out more about Clare Helen Welsh and her books on her website: www.clarehelenweslsh.com, on Twitter @ClareHelenWelsh and on Facebook: Books by Clare Helen Welsh.

Take a look at the schedule below to catch up with the other blog stops that have hosted Clare’s How Messy! tour.

How messy! and the rest of the Dot and Duck series is available to buy now from your local bookshop, or online at uk.bookshop.org, an organisation with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops.

I have previously reviewed The Perfect Shelter by Clare Helen Welsh and Åsa Gilland. You can read the review here: Book Review: The Perfect Shelter.

An interview with… Finbar Hawkins

In an interview with Finbar Hawkins in April 2021, he told me all about the research he did into the notorious witch trials in the UK for his debut YA novel, Witch.

He said Witch, came about from an exercise in his first term of an Arvon foundation course where they were asked to write something with a historical setting.

“While out walking the dog (and a deadline looming!) I started thinking about the Pendle witch trials. And from there I thought about what it would have been like as a teenager experiencing the arrival of witch finders at her home, uprooting her family, how she would cope and strive for survival.”

Finbar Hawkins

Finbar explained that ever since childhood, he has been fascinated in myth and legend – one of his favourite books at home was the Reader’s Digest, Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain, reading about our country’s history of witchcraft. The early woodcuts of the trials also struck him– how they graphically portrayed these women as malevolent devils. He learnt that witchcraft, an ancient practice, was the victim of religious persecution. People, who for centuries had helped a community, were considered a threat to organised religion. And during the English Civil Wars the trials came back with vigour, witches largely being blamed for the suffering brought upon by the chaos of the fighting.

He said there are a lot of books about witches and witchcraft, and there’s a large body of academic work devoted to its study. So he simply dived in and found particularly useful books. An all-round primer, which he found fascinating is The Book of English Magic by Philipp Carr-Gomm and Richard Heygate, this gives a brilliant and in-depth appraisal of our magical history. Witch Hunt: The Persecution of Witches in England by David and Andrew Pickering was incredibly useful, gathering records from every county across the centuries. This book really helped Finbar to build a picture of the general hysteria around the trials. And for an in-depth study into witches, their portrayal and their importance as symbols, The British Witch by P.G.Maxwell-Stuart is exhaustive and thorough.

In Finbar’s book, the witchfinder, Jacobs, is based on the real-life and self-titled Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins. With his associate John Stearne, this determined young man cut a swathe across the East of England over the course of a bloody year in 1646. Witchfinders by Malcolm Gaskill was his go-to piece of research to understand the circumstances that led to Jacobs’ campaign.

He also visited an exhibition of Goya’s sketches of Witches at the Courtauld Institute (https://courtauld.ac.uk/gallery/what-on/exhibitions-displays/archive/goya-the-witches-and-old-women-album.

“These sketches definitely helped with the coven and crowd scenes in my book.”

Finbar Hawkins

Finbar revealed Spellbound was a wonderful exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford https://www.ashmolean.org/spellbound  He told me that they had a copy of Matthew Hopkins’ The Discovery of Witches (1647) which is chilling to see. Not only did this notorious man kill over a hundred women, he encapsulated and really celebrated his act for posterity.

An important part of Witch is Evey’s voice, and her way of seeing the world. Finbar wanted her to have this very specific, lyrical way of speaking, to make her sound very different to the norm. She’s also grown up in the West country so he wanted her to have that accent as part of her speech patterns. He used online accent archives to get the rhythms of her speech right. Dialectsarchive.com and also searched on YouTube for interviews with people from the West.

Witch is set in Wiltshire and in particular The Mendips area. He wanted the girls, Evey and her younger sister, Dill, to be travelling across the hills and valleys of this area. To achieve the dramatic sweep that this beautiful setting gives Finbar walked the area a lot, made notes on flora and fauna and took lots of photographs. He also found sketching in location really useful for details and sensations.

He photographed a tree in his local woods for a lot in backstory planning – Evey and her family refer to this as the ‘Wolf Tree’ and part of her initiation is ‘finding’ the stone, where it has been placed by her mother in the mouth of the wolf. These scenes never actually appeared in the final book, but the stone in the story is referred to as the ‘Wolf Tree Stone’.

“I took shots of my daugher’s hand holding a stone he found while walking on a beach in Cornwall. Having physical objects around you helps, feeling what they feel like, what details you can see in them, these will find their way into your writing.”

Finbar Hawkins

You can find out more about Finbar and his work @finbar_hawkins on Twitter and Instagram.

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #231 Apr 2021 Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Research Secrets or Writing 4 Children interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

You can buy copies of Witch by Finbar Hawkins from your local bookshop, or online at uk.bookshop.org, an organisation with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops.

Book Review: An Artist’s Eyes

TitleAn Artist’s Eyes

Written by: Frances Tosdevin

Illustrated by: Clémence Monnet

Published by: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

An Artist’s Eyes by Frances Tosdevin and Clémence Monnet

An Artist’s Eyes is a captivating picture book about a little boy called Jo, whose eyes may look the same as Mo, who is an artist, but they see things very differently. He does not see the differences in colour Mo does. She can see:

“…shiny apple-green; the lime of gooseberries and the springy zinginess of moss.”

Extract from An Artist’s Eyes by Frances Tosdevin and Clémence Monnet

Yet the apples, gooseberries and moss just look like green to Jo. No matter how hard he tries his eyes don’t see the variations of shade in the same way Mo the artist. Frances’ text shows the build-up of Jo’s frustration, as he tries to force himself to see the same way as Mo.

As he journeys through the world of colour and creativity, Jo begins to relax and use his imagination. He soon realises he does not have to see the same as Mo, the things he can imagine are completely unique. I love the way Frances Tosdevin shows us how Jo begins to trust his own eyes and how his mindset changes in this empowering story of confidence. Jo starts to appreciate he is able to think and see like an artist but in a totally different way to Mo.

On each spread, Clémence Monnet’s watercolour illustrations compliment the text and vividly show the wide variety of colour Mo can see. I particularly like the way the colours are used to convey Jo’s emotional journey, from the black spread scattered with bursts of colour to illustrate Jo’s frustration, to the angry red spread which highlights Jo’s turning point when he finally starts to believe in himself. This picture book will inspire children to explore the different colours they can see for themselves in the world around them, from the different shades of red in the autumn leaves to the…

“…mellow yellow of melons and the pale pastel of primroses.” 

Extract from An Artist’s Eyes by Frances Tosdevin and Clémence Monnet

The perfect book to use in the primary classroom from years one to six to demonstrate to young children how to use the full colour of our imaginations. It could also be used to stimulate art work and experimentation of colour mixing and also the use of shape and pattern. I believe this book is ideal for encouraging children to be more observant of the world around them. It will help them to discover for themselves that our individual perspectives make us all artists because no two artist’s eyes are the same.

An Artist’s Eyes truly is an exceptional and distinctive book to help young readers see how magical the world can be.

You can buy copies of An Artist’s Eyes by Frances Tosdevin and Clémence Monnet from your local bookshop, or online at uk.bookshop.org, an organisation with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops.

An Interview with… Chrissie Sains

I interviewed Chrissie Sains last year for the #236 Sept 2021 issue of Writers’ Forum. She talked about the character, setting and pace of her middle-grade novel, An Alien in the Jam Factory, published by Walker Books.

An Alien in the Jam Factory is the first book in a comedy adventure series starring Scooter the jam inventor and his top-secret alien sidekick for ages 6+. Chrissie told me the seed of the story began with the idea of an alien flying around in a jam tart. Her children suggested it looked like a little flying saucer and together they imagined an alien crash landing on earth and flying around in it.

As the has story developed, Fizzbee (the alien) became particularly important to the central theme of the book. Fizzbee never underestimates Scooter, who has cerebral palsy. She sees him for the incredible boy that he is. She also teaches Scooter not to underestimate her.

An Alien in the Jam Factory by Chrissie Sains
Illustrated by Jenny Taylor

“The idea to write a character with cerebral palsy was inspired by my goddaughter, Abigail. She has an amazing sense of humour. She’s smart, inventive and I’ve never known anyone so determined – she doesn’t let anything stand in her way. I really wanted to include those qualities in the hero of my book, together with her cerebral palsy.”

Chrissie Sains

Chrissie explained it was important to that cerebral palsy wasn’t the central focus of the book, nor did she want it to be tokenism.

“I don’t think there are enough books featuring a character who has a disability and goes on an adventure – I’d really like to see that change.”

Chrissie Sains

A lot of the humour in the book comes from Daffy and Boris, the villains of the story. Chrissie revealed the aim was to create two lovable but highly inept robbers, who come up with an absolutely ridiculous plan to rob the (highly secure) jam factory. They have a great relationship too. Daffy absolutely adores her bad-tempered pet guinea pig Boris, even though he’s not so fond of her.

Chrissie divulged that she finds with humour your characters need to be completely unaware they’re funny. They’re simply using any means necessary to achieve what appears to be an impossible goal. Be it breaking into the world’s most secure factory by trying to post your cantankerous pet guinea pig through the letterbox, to persuading that same pet guinea pig to wear a pink sparkly friendship pendant.

She told me when she started planning An Alien in the Jam Factory – there was no jam factory. She had the characters and an idea for a plot but no setting. After a little brainstorming with her children, the answer came to us: The most inventive jam factory in the world.

She spent weeks chatting to her children about jam inventions. Throwing random ideas out and jotting them down in a notepad. They started by thinking about exciting flavours of jam, before moving onto what else jam could be used to make. She drew a map of the jam factory which was recreated by Jenny Taylor the illustrator for the inside cover.

Chrissie’s sketch of the jam factory and Jenny’s final version for the inside cover

Chrissie explained that one of the most important elements of writing children’s books for her is the pacing. She likes to ensure every chapter has a real purpose in driving the story forwards. To achieve this she includes an element of action and humour within each chapter and end them all on a cliff hanger. Her tip is to give yourself time to plan and ‘percolate‘.

“I find a story can start off full of promise, only to meander aimlessly and lose its way if I haven’t planned it properly. I start with the idea, then let things percolate a little. I draw, brainstorm, free write & walk until the plot evolves and I have a clear understanding of the character motivations. The thinking time is just as important as the writing time. Plus, it makes the writing process a LOT quicker and easier.”

Chrissie Sains

She revealed once she starts writing the first draft, she just keeps writing without reading back at all. If there’s a particular part of the story that’s proving tricky to write, she adds a holding title in capitals, (e.g. FALLS IN A VAT OF JAM) then moves on to the next part. She elaborated writing is all about editing and it’s totally ok for the first draft to be a bit rubbish. Once you’ve got the first draft, you’ve got something to work on. Whatever stage you’re at, don’t give up.

The second book in the series was launched this month on the 7th April 2022.  A treasure map is discovered , revealing there’s a hoard of treasure buried under the jam factory, but Scooter and Fizzbee are not the only ones after the treasure.

The Treasure Under the Jam Factory by Chrissie Sains
Illustrated by Jenny Taylor

You can find out more about Chrissie Sains and her Jam Factory series on her website: www.chrissiesains.com, Twitter: @crsains, Instagram: @Chrissie_sains and Facebook: @chrissiesainsauthor.

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #236 Sept 2021 Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Writing 4 Children or Research Secrets interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

You can buy copies of An Alien in the Jam Factory and The Treasure Under the Jam Factory by Chrissie Sains from your local bookshop, or online at uk.bookshop.org, an organisation with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops.

My New Venture

I am really very excited… more than excited! Can you be more than excited? Ecstatic maybe! I am launching a brand new enterprise for me. I am venturing into the world of Children’s Book Blog Tours. It is something I have been thinking of getting involved with for a long time. After all I have the connections and I have a well established blog with a good following. So now I have set the wheels in motion and put out a few feelers and I’ve had an amazing response.

My very first participation in a Children’s Book Blog Tour will be on Tuesday 3rd May when I am hosting Clare Helen Welsh for the launch of her new book How Messy! published by Happy Yak an imprint of Quarto. Here is a list of the schedule:

You can see I will be concluding the tour and we have a great interview all lined up and waiting to go. And this is not the only one. I have others lined up too to be revealed soon. Told you it was exciting!

So keep an eye out for my blog on future blog tours and if you want to ensure you do not miss any, you could always type your email into the subscribe box. Oh yes… and don’t forget to leave a comment.

Hope to see you soon. Have fun!

Book Review: The Perfect Shelter

Title: The Perfect Shelter

Written by: Clare Helen Welsh

Illustrated by: Åsa Gilland

Published by: Little Tiger Press

Title: The Perfect Shelter by Clare Helen Welsh and Åsa Gilland

A heart-warming picture book about the love between two sisters. Together they build a shelter in the woods but the younger sister soon realises something is wrong, her elder sister is unwell. We see the young girl’s confusion and sadness paralleled by the deterioration of the shelter they built. Her sister’s condition becomes worse and she is taken to hospital for an operation. We see the patient begin to rebuild her life as her health improves symbolised by the building of another shelter in her hospital room with the help of a nurse.

Throughout the book the word Cancer is not mentioned. The reader can see the clues in the headwear that appears in the illustrations, of the nature of the illness. This ‘show not tell’ technique highlights how the young sibling does not understand what is wrong with her sister.

Åsa Gilland’s illustrations also successfully portray the passing of time as we are taken through the seasons with autumnal colours, seeds and berries and the arrival of the wind and rain to the deep winter hues when her sister begins to get stronger in the hospital after her operation.

This book would be perfect for PSHE sessions for instigating discussions on family illness and the complicated emotions felt by the family. There is an overall feeling of hope and expectation that the elder sister will beat her illness.

Spring is Here

What a great time of year. I love it when the trees come back to life with leaves and beautiful blossom. To celebrate the joys of spring I have written a post for Shepherd about my spring book recommendations and you can see it here: https://shepherd.com/best-books/introduce-young-children-to-spring-and-the-seasons

Shepherd.com is a website that invites authors to share their favourite books around topics and themes they are passionate about and why they recommend each book. My post is about the best books to introduce young children to spring and the seasons.

Spring is the perfect time to read my picture books Rabbit’s Spring Gift and Rabbit’s Spring Adventure. These books are very popular for school visits and are both published by QED publishers, a subsidiary of Quarto.

Rabbit’s Spring Gift by Anita Loughrey and Lucy Barnard

Rabbit’s Spring Gift is illustrated by Lucy Barnard. It is part of the A Year in Nature series. It 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, so Rabbit decides to hunt out the perfect gift. The book intertwines family relationships and the changing seasons. At the back of the book there are activities suitable for young children to do in the spring. These could be carried out at home or in the classroom.

Rabbit’s Spring Adventure by Anita Loughrey and Daniel Howarth

Rabbit’s Spring Adventure is illustrated by Daniel Howarth. It is part of the Animal Seasons series. You can discover the beginnings of new life with Rabbit as he leaves the warren to search for all the signs of spring, from the bright flowers that speckle the grass to the frogspawn that bobs on the pond. There are again activities and teacher /parent notes at the back of the book.

Have a lovely spring break.

Book Review: The Invisible

Title: The Invisible

Written and Illustrated by: Tom Percival

Published by: Simon and Schuster

The Invisible by Tom Percival

I loved The Invisible by Tom Percival and it has left a lasting impression on me. It is about a girl named Isabel whose family are very poor and their home was so cold there was ice on her bedposts. Even so she is happy and her happiness is reflected in Tom’s illustrations with the green blanket and green jumper of love to keep her warm. She was happy, that is until she had to move to a new neighbourhood, where the colours fade to bleak greys and blues to reflect her sadness and loneliness. Nobody talks to her and nobody notices her. She has no friends.

Isabel feels invisible and Tom shows this with her image gradually turning translucent, highlighting the realities of poverty on people’s lives and self-esteem. The more she goes unseen the more she sees the other invisible people who live in her new neighbourhood, such as the old lady planting flowers in empty paint pots, the man feeding the birds in the park and the boy helping to mend someone’s bike. She realises they all make a difference in their own quiet way.

Isabel decides to help them and through her example the whole community soon joins together to make their world a brighter place as shown the last spread, which is portrays a vibrant, colourful community full of joy and hope.

This beautiful picture book has a strong theme of acceptance and belonging. I am sure young children will grasp the message that life isn’t easy but we are all important and can help change things for the better as it is the little things that make people’s lives brighter.

At the end of the book Toms tells the readers a little of own childhood growing up in poverty, having no electricity and drinking water from a nearby spring. He explains he understands what it is like to be poor and the importance of belonging. This book would make a great edition to a class book corner, especially in these uncertain times of rising fuel, heating and food prices. Tom tells us there are over four million children living in poverty in the UK and I believe this is only going to get worse.

The ideal book for reading aloud at story times. I would recommend this book to all.