Bookchat: A.F Harrold, poet and author

banner newThe last time I saw A F Harrold, he was performing poetry to a classroom full of utterly enraptured children at the Bookchat Roadshow.  It was absolutely brilliant to see how much the children enjoyed the poems and the performer!  I’m delighted he is joining us today to talk about his new book, Greta Zargo and the Death Robots from Outer Space (review available here, illustrated by Joe Todd Stanton) and all things writing. Thank you for participating Mr Harrold!

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A F Harrold performing poetry

Congratulations on the publication of Greta Zargo and the Death Robots from Outer Space! It’s fun, full of quirky characters and a great mix of sci-fi and sleuthing . Can you tell us about the inspiration behind it? Hi Victoria. Greta comes from a combination of things I typed and things I mistyped. Back in the first Fizzlebert Stump book one of the books Fizz borrows from the library was called The Great Zargo of somewhere or other. It sounded a good sort of science fictiony sort of thing Fizz might enjoy, and when I came, a few years later, to start thinking about a new series the name popped back into my mind. I type quite quickly, but because of the ways in which my fingers move there are a few words I’m forever typing wrong and having to go back and correct… one of these is ‘great’, which, if I’m typing at a gallop, always comes out ‘greta’. And so Greta was born, inside the spelling mistake that appears inside the book!

I’ve always read science fiction, and always loved science fiction, but I’d never really written any (The Song From Somewhere Else probably counts, but that’s about it), and this seemed a bit odd. So I wanted to write some. And I wanted it to be funny. Because funny books are a Good Thing. And so, after a lot of sitting around and staring into the air, several baths, and quite a few biscuits, Greta Zargo and the Death Robots from Outer Space was born.

Throughout the story there are footnotes (or more appropriately sidenotes) adding interesting anecdotes to the narrative which I loved; why did you decide to include these?  Who doesn’t love footnotes? They’re a way of having ‘a bit more’ without getting in the way of the story. They’re especially useful for (a) comedy (because you add in extra jokes) or (b) academic articles about herring pickling in 18th century Sweden (because you can cite your sources). Fortunately, as far as I can see, no one has mistaken Greta Zargo for an academic article about herring pickling in 18th century Sweden.

There are some wonderful and quirky characters in the story. I particularly loved Greta’s eccentric Aunt. Where do you draw inspiration from for your characters? And I have to say, how do you decide on the fantastic names you’ve given them?! Characters just walk into scenes as I type and if they’re at all interesting then they stay. There are occasionally very boring ones who turn up, but I’m ruthless in deleting them at the first opportunity, unless they’re boring in a funny way. That might sound a bit odd, but it’s true, the best characters walk in and surprise me. I don’t know what they’re going to say to Greta when she questions them and I listen to their answers as I type them. This is the most exciting bit about writing these books, I think, is finding out about the inhabitants of Upper Lowerbridge at the same time as the reader.

Where do their names come from? I blame the parents.

Being married to huge fan of cake, I can very well imagine the consternation if cake was stolen from my household. Can you tell us- 1) do you eat cake? 2) if so, what is your favourite? 3) if not, why not? (And what do you have with tea if not cake?!) (1) Yes, I eat cake if the opportunity arises. (2) I’m going to say Battenberg, because it has just the right amount of marzipan. (3) I said I do, so I don’t have to answer this one.

The sci-fi elements in the story are great and often times, very amusing – even with the inevitable destruction of planets going on – the Bar-Tarry-Tuffians spring to mind! Did this involve any scientific research – I’m thinking of the impressive references to hyper spatial physics, measuring of light years and so on?! I don’t remember doing any particular research before writing any of the outer space chapters, other than a lifetime of reading and watching sci-fi and sci-fact books and programmes.

That lifetime of experience has been composting inside my head for long enough that some of it made sense when mixed up and spilt onto the page. It’s fascinating to look back and remember when I was a kid we knew of no other planets outside our solar system, and now there are thousands of exo-planets known. And as our techniques and our instruments become better we’re finder smaller and more Earth-like planets out there, even around nearby stars. I don’t doubt that on some of these worlds life has arisen, and maybe even what we would call ‘intelligent’ life.

The gaps between the stars are so immense though, that it would take many lifetimes for people to travel between and so one of the ways it has been suggested we explore the galaxy is by making self-replicating robots, like the ones in the book. Because these robots don’t grow old like we do, they could spend the centuries travelling between planets without dying or going mad. And when they get there, if they have the ability to make more copies of themselves they can then send those out to other star systems.

These self-replicating machines are called Von Neumann probes, and I don’t remember where I first heard about them. But they’re not my idea, just something that made its way into the book because it made sense. The lesson of this is – those useless bits of information you once learnt might turn out to be useful after all, so never turn them away… let them live in your head – one day they might become a book.

When you’re writing fiction, do words come more easily than when you’re writing poetry? Do you have a specific process for each form of writing? I try not to think too much about it, either sort of writing. I just try to get on with it, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t and it feels like your banging an empty head against a brick wall of blank paper, then that just means it’s time to go have another bath.

When we last met at the Bookchat Roadshow, you had some wonderful advice for the audience regards encouraging children’s creativity. You said that whatever their means of expression – writing, art, poetry, drama – we should encourage children to express themselves in the way that’s best for them.  Who has given you the greatest encouragement for your work and what motivates you to keep writing? What motivates me to keep writing? That’s an odd question. I don’t know what else to do. I think it’s as simple as that. I don’t write every day and I don’t write an awful lot, but if I go any length of time without making something (and the making is usually with words in one way or another) then I feel antsy and irritable and unfulfilled and awkward and sad. I would make things with words (poems, stories, songs…) even if no one wanted to read them, even if no one was paying me to do it. Maybe not the books I’m writing right now, but who knows? (After all, I spent many years writing things that no one paid me for, before I ever had a book published.)

As for who has encouraged me… there’s such a long list, but a few I would like to mention include my editors at Bloomsbury, Kate and Hannah and Zöe, who have helped make the books we’ve published better than they would have been if I’d been doing it on my own. Part of their job is to send me back to my desk when what I’ve given them hasn’t been good enough, or funny enough, or right enough. And the fact they think I can do better makes me try harder and make the books better. Also my partner, Iszi, who suggested I try writing stories for kids, instead of just poems, in the first place. And more abstractly, out there in the world of children’s writing, many authors whose books I read or who I meet at events – they inspire me, by making Good Things themselves and showing that it can be done.

And finally, two very special sets of people – the kids I meet when I visit schools… the fact that some of them have been reading my books and seem to enjoy them makes the effort that sometimes went into making the books seem worthwhile – and secondly, the illustrators who get given my words and who make the books look so beautiful (Sarah Horne, Emily Gravett, Levi Pinfold, Chris Riddell and, for Greta Joe Todd-Stanton)… seeing what they do, the magic they work… oh it makes me want to do good, for them. I don’t want them wasting their time on any old rubbish!

So lots of people encourage and inspire me and my work.

Thank you so much for taking the time to join us and share the inspiration behind your work. 

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Read my review of Greta Zargo here.

Find out more at www.afharroldkids.com and www.joetoddstanton.com

With thanks to Bloomsbury Books for organising this interview.

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Bookchat: Alison Jay, author and illustrator

banner newThe wonder of books is that there is always something new to discover.  So when Old Barn Books who publish simply gorgeous titles, sent me two books by Alison Jay, I found a new favourite author and illustrator! How I’ve missed her all this time, I have no idea.  I absolutely love Alison’s artwork; her illustrations are beautiful as is her storytelling – whether through pictures, words or both.

In Bee & Me, the story of a little girls’ friendship with a bee is told through pictures. We go on a wonderful journey of discovery, not just of finding new friends but also of seeing the importance of bees to nature. The detail in the drawings is stunning and totally immersive, making you feel you too could fly on the back of a bee!  We learn how crucial these tiny creatures are to our world, and at the end of the story there’s a helpful guide on how we can ‘Bee Aware’.

Looking for Yesterday is quite simply one of the most beautiful picture books I have encountered and it pulls gently at your heart strings.  A little boy wants to get back to yesterday, for that was the best day ever. Touching on thoughts of time and space, the boy tries all sorts of things to get back to the past.  But his grandfather has other ideas and gently shows him how every day gives the opportunity for new adventures! For anyone who has ever been blessed enough to have an inspirational person in their lives, you will appreciate the nostalgia explored in this story; whilst memories are so important, it’s today that matters most!  I just loved it.

I am thrilled to introduce Alison to the blog for a Bookchat today.  Thank you so much for joining us Alison!

Congratulations on the publication of Looking for Yesterday – an absolutely beautiful story. I love the nostalgia of the story but also the message of making the most of today. Can you tell us the why you wrote it? The idea for Looking for Yesterday came to me after listening to a radio programme about the universe and stars. They also talked about wormholes and time travel. I really don’t understand quantum physics but the theory that it might be possible to travel backwards or forwards in time I think is fascinating to both adults and children.

You capture the relationship between Boy and his Grandad so well. Was this inspired by your own family? I never met either of my Grandads unfortunately,  but the Grandad in Looking for Yesterday is a bit like my Dad. He was an engineer and worked for an aeronautical company for a few years. He didn’t ride a classic motor bike but he was always busy making and mending things, including  old cars . The boy in the book is like my brother Mark as a child: he loved everything to do with space and the universe. He was given a telescope one Christmas  when he was about 8 years old and is still fascinated with the universe. He  read The Theory of Everything a few years ago and was even lucky enough to meet Professor Steven Hawking very briefly.

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Your illustrations have a beautiful timeless quality to them. How has your distinctive style developed over time and what has influenced you, if anything/one?My style has developed quite a lot since my college days. I used to work in a much simpler childlike way. I used to make strange 3D figures out of paper and glue. I would paint them then make background sets so they could be photographed. I also worked in pen and ink. When I left college I was told the work was not commercial enough to be published, so after working for a few years in animation studios I gradually developed a new style with paint and varnish and started to get commissions in the new style. I love all sorts of different artists from Breughel to Jean-Michel Basquiat and lots of others in between. I think probably,  like most illustrators and artists, I have developed my style from lots of different influences which sort of melt down and hopefully produce a style which is unique to the individual.

Speaking of time (!) if you could go back to ‘yesterday’ where would you go and why? I think if I could go back to any time in history it would just be to meet members of my family that are long gone. It would be interesting to meet them  but I would just pop back for a few hours. I think I wouldn’t want to stay. I am happy living today. It is more exciting not knowing what is going to happen which is what the book tries to say.

Bee & Me made me want to have a pet bee and plant a garden full of bee friendly flowers! It’s a gorgeous story – I love all the tiny detail in your illustrations. Do you find it easier to tell the story with or without words? Yes, much easier without words. I find writing very difficult. I think my wordless books are more like storyboards for films which probably comes from my days working in animation. In Bee and Me I had the chance to add all the  different peoples lives going on in the windows of the tower blocks. I put a writer, an artist, a cake-maker and lots more. It was really fun to make up little narratives and how things changed through the seasons.

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You have illustrated some wonderful stories. If you could choose to illustrate any story ever written (!), which would it be and why? I have always loved James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, so I would really like to illustrate that book. I have a mad love of painting absurdly large fruit and vegetables for some reason. I also like painting insects even though I am the first to scream if something crawls on me.

What do you most enjoy about telling stories through illustration? I think I love that you can communicate narratives, ideas and emotions with or without words. Visual art  is  very immediate but  with lots of detail it can take a bit longer to look and find other narratives within the pictures. I like the idea that the child or adult notices little things they missed at first. I think it make you want to keep looking through the book  again and again to find new  little stories .

Finally, if you could tell a budding illustrator/author just one thing to help them what would it be? I think my advice would be to find the subject matter and way of working you enjoy most. It will always show in the work and the enjoyment will keep you going for ever.

Thank you Alison for giving us an insight into your work and sharing your inspiration with us.

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For more information visit www.oldbarnbooks.com.

With thanks to Old Barn Books for sending me these books to review.

 

 

Guest blog: Mixing Fact and Fiction by Jane Clarke

I’m delighted to welcome Jane Clarke to the blog today, author of Al’s Awesome Science: Egg-speriments, a brilliant new series of science-based adventures for younger readers.  Whether they are budding scientists or maybe are just curious about how the world works, this series is sure to entertain them. Full of great characters (I particularly love Einstein the dog!), wonderful illustrations by James Brown and of course, super science experiments that can easily be tried at home, Al’s Awesome Science is a fantastic blend of fact and fiction. Jane, an award winning author of over 80 children’s books, is sharing today how she achieves this.  Welcome to the blog Jane!

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“In the Al’s Awesome Science books, I aim to write a great story, filled with fun science facts and experiments, that’s an entertaining read regardless of how much the reader knows about the subject. Continue reading

Bookchat: Adam Hargreaves

 

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I am so very excited to say that Adam Hargreaves is on the blog today! I think if someone had told me when I was young that one day I’d be talking to one of the creators of the Mr Men, I would never have believed them!

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Adam is the son of original Mr Men creator, Roger Hargreaves.  Not only has he continued the work of his father, Adam is also a painter, creating beautiful oil on canvas landscapes.  I was delighted to be invited to interview Adam following the publication of his first book from his very own series, Molly Mischief: My Perfect Pet!  The adventures of Molly are bound to delight young and old alike. I read the story aloud with my five year old niece who laughed out loud and announced that Molly was exactly like her!

Molly is a wonderful character – full of life, mischief and mayhem – exactly what an inquisitive little girl should be.  Her first adventure centres on a trip to the zoo, where Molly becomes inspired to find a pet more perfect than her own little mouse, Polka.  The antics that follow as Molly tries to find her ‘perfect’ pet are very funny and utterly endearing.  Try as she might, none of the animals she ‘borrows’ from the zoo quite fit at home, from a hippo to a giraffe to an elephant.  Eventually she realises that maybe her pet mouse, Polka, is more perfect than anything else – much to the relief of her family (except maybe her brother…!).  Molly Mischief: My Perfect Pet is exactly what a children’s story should be – funny, full of imagination, with a valuable lesson to be learned. And perfect for sharing!

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Welcome to the blog Adam and congratulations on the publication of Molly Mischief!  I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed it – as did my five year old niece who said ‘Molly reminds me of me!”. It’s a wonderful story and feels like an absolute classic. Can you tell us about your inspiration for writing it? The inspiration for Molly comes from the wonderful ability that children have to imagine something and for that to also be real for them. I particularly remember this when my kids were young. My son Jacob would dress up as Batman and then we would have these surreal conversations about what Jacob was doing in another room in the house. I wanted to capture this power of imagination in a character. Molly can be or do anything she wishes.

This is your first children’s book outside of the Mr Men. Was creating Molly a very different experience from working on the Mr MenThe creation of the idea for Molly Mischief was obviously quite different, but writing and illustrating Mr Men books has given me a lot of experience which I have been able to apply to writing Molly. Over the years I have developed a sort of process that fits to anything I am trying to write.

Can you tell us about the creative process behind Molly? I hand draw everything and then scan the black line drawing into my computer where I colour the illustration as I like the flat finish I can achieve that way. I have a pretty good idea of the page layouts from the start, so don’t often need to make any major changes to composition later on. It took a while and a few variations to pin down exactly who I wanted Molly to be (and she went through various name changes before Molly Mischief, but now she is a Molly I can’t think of her in any other way), but once I had given her a mischievous nature then everything fell into place. Strangely, even for lots of different versions of drawing her, she has always had the same outfit.

When I was young, my sister and I would literally spend hours drawing the Mr Men; some drawings were more successful than others!  Molly Mischief is wonderfully drawn and I particularly love her mischievous expressions. What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators and artists to help them develop their creative talent – particularly when it comes to storytelling? The more you draw the better you get, so keep practising and then, as you get better, the more fun it becomes. Drawing is all about observation, so it is important to look at things very hard when you are trying to draw them.

What adventures can we expect from Molly in the future? I am writing a second story about Molly which explores the advantages and pitfalls of being a superhero. And her superpowers, of course, involve a lot of chaos and mayhem for her family.

Thank you very much for taking the time to answer these questions. I’m looking forward to reading Molly’s next adventure (and so is my niece!)

Adam Hargreaves will be introducing Molly Mischief, including a live draw-along, at the Bath Festival of Children’s Literature. Sunday 1stOctober, 1.30pm.

For more information visit www.pavilionbooks.com.  With thanks to Pavilion Books for sending me a copy of this wonderful book.

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Bookchat: Jane Mitchell

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Some months back I read A Dangerous Crossing, by Jane Mitchell, a moving story about a Syrian family fleeing conflict in their home country (you can read my review here). I found that when I watched the news at the time, which was full of refugee-related headlines, I felt even more empathy for the people forced to flee their homes. News stories create a spotlight on issues around the globe, but when the media turn their attention elsewhere, it can seem as though that particular ‘issue’ has resolved or is forgotten. This is, of course, far from true and for me, that’s why books like A Dangerous Crossing (endorsed by Amnesty International) are so important providing a more permanent reminder of the humanitarian crisis caused by conflict.

So I’m really pleased to welcome Jane Mitchell to the blog today for a bookchat about her novel A Dangerous Crossing. Thank you for joining us Jane!

A Dangerous Crossing gives a completely new meaning to the images we have seen on the news over the last few years. Why did you decide to write this story and how did you go about researching it? My publisher Little Island Books wanted a book about the Syrian refugee crisis, to bring it to life for young readers, and invited me to write a story about a young refugee. It was something that was very important to me. The crisis has galvanised me over the last few years and I was hugely interested in proving a glimpse into what it must be like for one boy, one family, caught up in this war. I undertook research in a range of areas:

  • I follow the Syrian Network for Human Rights on social media. An independent, non-partisan, non-governmental, non-profit organisation, it is registered in the UK and USA. Its mission is to work to protect the human and civil rights of Syrian citizens, regardless of their ethnicity and affiliations. It documents violations against the Syrian people—including the names of people killed in the war—on a daily This is where I obtained all the names and ages of the children.
  • I met with a Syrian family who moved to Ireland before the outbreak of the Syrian war. They told me about pre-war Syria, and provided great insight into routine life for Syrian children when their country was at peace, including education, food and life-styles.
  • I read travel books about Syria and Turkey, studied the geography, layout, and means of travel through the two countries by public and private transport. I traced out routes followed by many Syrian refugees today.
  • I read up on personal stories and experiences of refugees crossing Turkey and the sea to Greece, including reports and accounts from Amnesty International and Médecins Sans Frontières, and researched the towns and cafés along the Turkish coast where smugglers meet with refugees seeking to get to Europe. I also read about how Turks arrange illegal crossings to Greece.
  • Finally, I volunteered in the Jungle Camp in Calais. In this unofficial camp, I saw first-hand the conditions in which illegal refugees survive, with bad sanitation, inadequate shelter, little medical support, and no washing facilities. I met and spent time with refugees from Syria, Eritrea, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. Apart entirely from the poor physical conditions at the camp, people there are socially isolated from mainstream society, with no access to education or employment opportunities, and no means of economic support. I was at the camp when French police launched a tear gas attack in response to a rush by the refugees to trucks stopped on the bridge leading to the port. These frequent attacks cause widespread panic, distress and anger, as well as physical discomfort and pain—an experience I recreate for Ghalib.

The story is so well-imagined and there are some heart wrenching moments. Did you find it difficult to write some of the more emotional scenes? It is always tough to write about something that’s emotionally distressing, particularly when the character is a child and someone I care about. I try to put myself into the character’s head and to imagine how they might feel, to make it as real as possible for the reader. As a result, I find it tiring and demanding to write emotional scenes and often find the scene replaying in my head long after I have written it.

The names of all the characters are real Syrian refugee children. What made you decide to use these names? I was looking for authentic Syrian names for my story, and I also wanted some way to remember the hundreds of children whose lives have been needlessly cut short by the war in Syria. Early on in my research, I found on the Syrian Network for Human Rights the names of children who had been killed in the war, and this seemed a fitting tribute to these lost children.

A Dangerous Crossing will, I am sure, generate empathy and sympathy for the refugees fleeing Syria. What would you say to children who would like to do something to help the refugee situation but are limited to what they can do because of their age? The age of young readers doesn’t mean that they can’t still do something positive or take important action to help the desperate plight of refugees fleeing Syria.

  • Young people can organise collections of clothing and other items to help refugees, through their schools and/or local communities. Essential goods can then be dropped off at collection points for distribution to refugees in camps and centres.
  • They can hold cake sales or sponsored walks to raise money to donate to legitimate charities, such as Medécins Sans Frontiéres or Amnesty International.
  • They can attend rallies, days of action and marches to show their support for refugees and to raise awareness.
  • They can sign petitions, and email world leaders, MEPs and politicians to demand a more proactive response to the crisis and to pressure them to provide emergency funding.
  • They can read about and share stories of refugees so that others can learn more about them.
  • Young people can make a real effort to befriend and welcome refugees who are relocated to their schools and/or communities. Refugees have been through a tough time, and welcoming them or making them feel included in their new communities is an important gesture of friendship.

Why do you think it’s important that children’s fiction focus on stories like Ghalib’s? Children in Ireland and the UK need to understand the terrible things that are happening to Syrian children. I believe passionately that words have the power to create empathy, to engender understanding, and ultimately to provoke action. The more that young people learn about this crisis, the more they will understand its underlying causes.

It is often tempting to shield children from the harsher realities of life, such as death and war, but children have a remarkable capacity to empathise when something is presented to them in a way they can understand. With such broad media coverage of the civil war, they are very aware of the crisis, but perhaps don’t quite appreciate what it means. To this end, fiction can be a wonderful medium to explore difficult topics safely. An honest storyline that doesn’t shy away from the truth enables young readers to explore multiple perspectives and gain insight into complex issues. However, when writing a distressing story, I try to remain sensitive to the young minds absorbing the difficult narrative. I always try to include a note of optimism and hope, and even a touch of humour where possible to lighten the tone.

A Dangerous Crossing is endorsed by Amnesty International. How did this come about? My last book—Chalkline—was endorsed by Amnesty International as contributing to a better understanding of human rights and the values that underpin them. Such endorsement means a great deal to me: human rights are an important theme in my books and of personal importance to me. My publisher, Little Island Books, approached Amnesty International to ask them about the possibility of also endorsing A Dangerous Crossing and I am honoured that they agreed. Additionally, the Executive Director of Amnesty Ireland launched my book in Dublin.

This is your seventh novel; how did writing A Dangerous Crossing compare to your previous writing experiences? The topic of A Dangerous Crossing is such a current and burning issue that writing it was far more urgent and important for me that any other novel I have written. It is a highly political story compared to my previous works and as such, it has attracted a lot of attention. This can only be a positive thing for the desperate people in Syria as anything that brings attention to their ordeal can only be a catalyst for action.

And finally, what are your three best pieces of advice to aspiring writers? It is always great to hear of writers who aspire to write stories for publication and/or submission to publishers, and I would encourage them to keep at it. My three pieces of advice are as follows:

  • Finish your work. So many aspiring writers tell me about the work they have just started. Sometimes, when things get really tough, it is easier and tempting to put a manuscript aside and start again. The result is that lots of new writers have lots of works-in-progress, but never actually finish a complete manuscript. So my top advice is finish your work. There is a great sense of achievement in completing a manuscript.
  • Don’t send in your first draft. Editing and rewriting your work will make it so much stronger. When you rework your writing, you’ll see things that you never noticed first time around, such as plot errors, repetition, typos, and so on. It is always so much more professional to send in a polished and redrafted manuscript for consideration.
  • Be open to feedback and criticism—especially if it’s from an editor or agent. New writers can sometimes be a little precious about their work, but try to remember that it’s an editor/agent’s job to make your work as strong as possible. Be open to the feedback and look on it as a way to improve your work.

Thank you Jane for some wonderful insight into your work, amazing ideas for helping young reader’s (and indeed older readers) respond to the refugee crisis and great advice for aspiring writers.

A Dangerous Crossing is published by Little Island.  Find out more about Jane Mitchell at www.janemitchell.ie.

 

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New reviews: Nature with Nosy Crow and the National Trust

The National Trust and Nosy Crow have produced some lovely books of late, with a view to encouraging children to explore nature.  And these two are no exception, both of which we took on holidays and they proved extremely useful whilst camping in the wilds of Devon and Cornwall! 

Go Wild in the Woods An Adventure Handbook by Goldie Hawk & Rachael Saunders and Out and About Night Explorer by Robin Swift and Sara Lynn Cramb are two brilliant books for children who want to know more about the outside world.  And what better time to explore than during summer? With a few weeks left of the holidays these books might just be the answer for those of you looking for something different to do!

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I really love this! The Complete Night Explorer’s Kit is a fantastic package with a cute little backpack for small hands; a map of the night sky (both hemispheres); a set of glow in the dark star stickers; a little torch and of course, a book Out and About Night ExplorerIMG_4860

We took the whole thing camping and our youngest (aged 7 almost 8) loved it! We attempted to use the night sky map but cloud cover meant we couldn’t – however we will definitely try again. The book itself is full of information about nocturnal creatures from owls to mini beasts as well as night time plant life.  There are helpful hints so you can find wildlife with suggestions such as keeping an eye out for animal poo (which of course my son found hilarious!) and how to spot animal tracks.

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The book also has some great activities whatever the season or time of day, which reinforces the fun to be had being involved with nature and how to help Great British wildlife. I particularly liked the ideas for building a hedgehog feeding place in the garden.

There are colourful illustrations throughout, a useful index, a quiz and even night time games suggestions.  All in all this is a great book for encouraging intrepid young explorers and their parents to take a closer look at the world around them!  It would make a great gift and is perfect for ages 5+ (younger children will need to share the reading with an adult or older sibling).

Find out more at www.nosycrow.com

 

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Go Wild in the Woods An Adventure Handbook is a similar idea but for older children aged 8+.  It’s a lovely pocket sized book that aims to help children stay safe in the woods, but also discover all the magic nature has to offer with advice for everything from building dens, to how to tie knots to foraging for food and cooking over a campfire!

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The book invites children to get to know the outdoors and introduces map reading skills and all important survival skills such as finding water. Think Bear Grylls!  The lovely illustrations give it a story book feel and perfectly capture the joy of discovering nature with friends and family.

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I particularly liked that there’s a really useful glossary and ultimate survival kit guide with sensible suggestions of what you might need to take when exploring in the woods. We made use of this on some of our day trips! As a young girl I was fortunate to be raised in the countryside and spent hours every day exploring, climbing trees and making camps. I would have found this book so useful then too!

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Go Wild in the Woods is a celebration of the wonder of nature with practical ideas that will help children make the most of the outdoors, whilst staying safe. And I suspect many parents and carers will appreciate the hints and tips too!  Well timed for summer, this book would be a great addition to the holiday backpack and give children loads of ideas of things to do outside.

Find out more at www.nosycrow.com.

With thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me these books to review.

 

Bookchat Roadshow. Just brilliant!

It’s a week ago today that we were busy welcoming parents to the Bookchat Roadshow at Harlands Primary in Haywards Heath.  This was a unique event, bringing together children’s authors, publishers, education specialists, along with local organisations and the Public Library Service to share ideas with parents and carers.  And being the second event I was possibly even more nervous than the first time round! The first event had gone so well, would this one be the same?  I can safely say it was even better, not least because after the main event, the authors ran workshops with 240 children at the host school!

“The atmosphere is positively buzzing” one parent said to me – and I couldn’t agree more. It really was exciting and I am so grateful to my brilliant fellow presenters, participating authors and the organisations who were exhibiting for helping to make it this way!  After a lovely introduction by the school’s Headteacher, Jane Goodlace, I spoke to parents about encouraging reading and the importance of reading for pleasure. It’s not easy to do this in such a short time – there is so much you could say!059_The-Book-Activist-Bookchat-Roadshow But the crux was how to help your child’s enjoyment of reading through helping them choose the right book for them, taking into account their interests. I truly believe parents can be the best reading role models a child can have but as parents we often worry about our children’s reading and this can sometimes remove the joy of the experience – for both parent and child.  If we can remove the stress from the situation and focus on what children want to read and get enjoyment from, the path to discovering the magic of stories is much smoother!

“It was really helpful to confirm I am doing the right thing and to give me new ideas” Parent feedback

I was followed by Jane Walker from Barrington Stoke, who spoke brilliantly about reluctant readers and making reading accessible. It was fascinating to hear how Barrington Stoke produce books that are so readable on a practical level and also really helpful to hear how whether your child can’t read or won’t read, there are ways to support them. “Reading is for everyone” Jane said.

Moving on from this, author Nikki Sheehan was totally inspiring on how to encourage children’s creative writing, with brilliant and achievable ideas that all parents – and of course their children – could benefit from.  Her final comment was ‘be their inspiration’ – what better advice could you get?!  I was delighted that both Kate Manning and Clementine McMillan-Scott from Scoop Magazine joined the line-up and shared the story behind Scoop.  Their presentation focused on the importance of celebrating all kinds of stories, sharing that every reader is different and how we can all play a part in encouraging all types of reading and writing.

“Congratulations on delivering such an inspiring and positive event!” Parent feedback

On that note, the coffee break arrived, and the celebrating continued with attendees having the chance to peruse the exhibition.  Parents had the opportunity to ask advice from organisations including local education service Discover & Be, dyslexia specialists Helen Arkell, Inkpots Writing Workshops and Nature Nuture Sussex. Even the Schools Library Service and the Public Library Service were represented with parents able to join up if they weren’t already members and find out about the Summer Reading Challenge!  With a bookstall provided by Waterstones Haywards Heath, and Usborne books it was a hive of activity!

“Attendance should be compulsory; it was inspirational!” Parent feedback

The grand finale of the morning was the fantastic author panel Bookchat featuring four award winning children’s authors; Nikki Sheehan, Jamie Thomson, A F Harrold and Jenny McLachlan which I was very excited to be chairing.  There is something magical about authors sharing their ideas – they create the worlds we inhabit when we read and I like to think some of the magic rubs off on those who hear them!

A lively chat ensued with questions from the audience and the authors shared their best tips for getting children into reading and writing and why stories are so important. As a parent myself I am eager to encourage my children’s reading and hearing the author’s childhood experiences of books and stories was just brilliant!  It was the perfect consolidation of all the wonderful ideas and advice heard throughout the morning, but with the extra inspiration everybody needs.

“It was a fabulous morning with excellent presentations and entertaining authors” Parent feedback

After a quick lunch break, it was back to work for the authors who ran workshops with pupils in years three to six at the host school as well as signing lots of books!  On visiting each classroom, I can’t tell you how incredible it was to see the look at the children’s faces as each author brought their stories to life and inspired them with ideas for getting into reading and writing.

Jenny McLachlan talking to Year 6

Jenny McLachlan reading an extract from Stargazing for Beginners

Nikki Sheehan talking to Year 4

Nikki Sheehan working her creative magic

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Jamie Thomson aka The Dark Lord!

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A F Harrold performing poetry

Schools don’t often have the opportunity to benefit from one author visit, let alone four, so this was a real achievement! As you may know this Roadshow was supported with funding from West Sussex County Council and I am truly grateful to them for recognising the value of the Roadshow and the importance of empowering parents and carers to support their children.   

The Roadshow was a great success… The combination of authors, publishers and specialists provided a focus for everyone in the audience… The workshops went down incredibly well with teachers and especially the children.” 

Jane Goodlace, Headteacher of Harlands 

I am so pleased we had fantastic photographer, Adam Hollingworth, to help capture some of the magic of the Roadshow! Feedback for the whole event has been even more positive than I could have hoped for and I’d like to say a HUGE thank you to EVERYONE who supported the event and made it so special.  Bring on the next one!

All photographs courtesy of Adam Hollingworth Photography.

If you would like to get involved please contact thebookactivist@gmail.com.

With thanks to our funding partner:

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For more information about the Bookchat Roadshow visit www.thebookactivist.com.

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