Scoop at the Bookchat Roadshow!

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Two of the fantastic team behind Scoop magazine will be sharing their passion for stories with parents and carers at the Bookchat Roadshow!
Clementine Macmillan-Scott and Kate Manning will no doubt inspire the audience and encourage them to “Dig into the Story”:
“Scoop is a new magazine for children aged 8+. Launched in September 2016 and created by a small Hackney-based team, we boast some of the biggest names in children’s literature amongst our contributors – including  Children’s Laureate, Chris Riddell, Neil Gaiman, Catherine Johnson, Jacqueline Wilson, Raymond Briggs, Celia Rees, Tom Stoppard, Joan Aiken and Diana Wynne Jones. Each issue includes short stories, poetry and graphic fiction that will excite and entertain.
We offer our readers the opportunity to explore everything from history and science to art and the unexplained through a vibrant range of amazing stories – and on top of that there are comic strips, activities, puzzles and jokes in every issue. We offer different types of stories for different types of readers.  And it’s this love of getting different types of stories to different types of readers that means we want to be part of the roadshow.”
They will also be exhibiting at the event giving parents and carers the opportunity to find out more about Scoop.

The Bookchat Roadshow is an event designed especially for parents and carers bringing together authors, industry experts and people passionate about children’s reading and writing for pleasure.  With inspirational talks and an author panel bookchat, plus a selection of exhibitors, we give parents and carers a huge range of ideas to help them support their children. The next event takes place on 20th July 2017 at Harlands Primary School, Haywards Heath, West Sussex. Read all about our last event here.

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

New review: The Wooden Camel by Wanuri Kahiu illustrated by Manuela Adreani

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A stunning new picture book, The Wooden Camel is out today from Lantana Publishing written by Wanuri Kahiu and illustrated by Manuela Adreani.  Born in Nairobi, Wanuri Kahiu is a hugely successful African filmmaker. Her films have received international acclaim and have screened in over 100 film festivals around the world.  The Wooden Camel is her first picture book. Manuela Adreani lives in Turin, Italy. After taking a diploma in Illustration, she worked as a graphic artist and then animator.  She was one of the winners of the illustration contest organised for the 130th anniversary of the creation of Pinocchio.

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The Wooden Camel by Wanuri Kahiu, illustrated by Manuela Adreani.

For those who keep on believing, even when it seems impossible….Etabo dreams of being a camel racer.  One day he might even beat his older brother when they race. But with the price of water rising, Etabo’s father must sell the camels. What will Etabo do now?

Etabo’s heart’s desire is to be a camel racer and he dreams every day of winning camel races.  Sadly his family have to sell their herd of camels but Etabo doesn’t stop dreaming. Along with his brother and sister, he helps looks after the family’s farm animals – and even tries to race on them, without success! Etabo prays to the Sky God Akuj, who whispers to him “Your dreams are enough”. And one day, he discovers with the help of his older sister, that his dreams are indeed enough.

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I loved this story. Beautifully told with a gentle narrative, it’s a simple tale of a young boy and his dream.   Set against the backdrop of the Turkana people in North Africa, who farm the land and care for their livestock; a sometimes difficult life. All the family help to earn a living and make the best of what they have – a lesson we can all learn from. Their day to day life is not so different from our own; we all experience moments of worry, sibling rivalry and changes in circumstances. And we all have dreams.

When Etabo turns to his faith to help him, we see that through the love of family and the talents people are blessed with, you can achieve even your dreams.  The stunning illustrations evoke the spirit of the tale, and beautifully bring to life the Turkana people and the landscape they live in. I particularly love the depiction of Etabo’s sister making him his gift; a beautiful portrayal of kindness and showing that our dreams are often achieved in a totally unexpected way.

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The Wooden Camel is an inspiring story of the power of dreams, belief and holding on to hope even when something seems impossible. The reader is uplifted by the wonderful messages portrayed by the narrative and the gentle humour throughout. I would highly recommend The Wooden Camel as an insight into a different culture but also to demonstrate that wherever and whoever we are in the world, we all have hopes and dreams.

Find out more at www.lantanapublishing.com. With thanks to Lantana for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Author Interview: Gill Lewis

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Gill Lewis has written wonderful novels for children, including her first, Sky Hawk, which was nominated for a total of fifteen books awards!  Her books reflect her passion for animals and the natural world whether it be saving gorillas from destruction in the heart of Africa or protecting dolphins of the coast of England.  I was fortunate to meet Gill at a recent event where she was talking about her latest book, A Story Like the Wind, which will be published on 4th May by Oxford University Press and is beautifully illustrated by Jo Weaver.  I am delighted that Gill is joining us today for our spring feature to talk about her new book.

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A Story Like the Wind sounds both uplifting and heart wrenching.  Can you tell us what it is about? A Story Like the Wind is a story about the power of music and stories and how they can offer hope in the darkest of times and unite people to overcome oppression. The story is set on a small boat carrying a small group of refugees fleeing war. One of the passengers, Rami, is a teenage boy carrying the only thing he could not leave behind; his violin, because it holds all his memories of home. As the wind and waves begin to rise, Rami begins to tell his fellow passengers an ancient folk-tale that weaves through all their lives to give them hope and see them into the dawn.

You’ve written some amazing books about animals, nature and the environment tackling challenging issues.  Why did you feel compelled to write this particular story? The refugee crisis is a humanitarian crisis on a massive scale. People are on the move, fleeing conflict, famine and drought, seeking safe and better lives where they and their families can secure a future. The causative issues are complex and intertwined, whether it is Congolese people fleeing conflict perpetuated by world greed for the minerals beneath the soil in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or whether it is people fleeing areas affected by famine exacerbated by climate change, or fleeing wars where western-made bombs rain down on civilians. The refugee crisis is a global problem and bears global responsibility. It is again, intertwined with environmental issues, because unless we can secure peace and safety for people, the natural world is at risk, and we can’t afford to let that happen. The health and survival of biodiversity of the natural world is the single most crucial issue on this planet. It’s grim, but if the natural world dies, we die.

It must have been an emotional time writing A Story Like Wind, given it focuses on the refugee crisis. What research did you do to help inform your writing? Many of us are very lucky. It is hard to imagine having to leave your home, and everything in it. It is painful and almost impossible to imagine your home being destroyed and never being able to return, and leaving loved ones behind. All you have left are your memories and stories. A Story Like the Winds was inspired by different stories and testimonials given by refugees. I was also invited to join an art and writing session at the Islington Centre for Refugees. The sessions are run by writer Sita Brahmachari and artist Jane Ray and have a hugely positive influence on the refugees, as a way of exploring feeling through art and writing.

The book features beautiful illustrations by Jo Weaver.  Why did you decide to include illustrations with this story and how did this come about? I remember the first time I shared the idea of A Story Like the Wind with my editor, Liz Cross at Oxford University Press. I threw it in as an idea, feeling a bit shy about sharing it because it was different from my other books, and maybe it was a silly idea (writers are consumed by self-doubt, especially when an idea is still an egg). But as I read the story, Liz Cross said she wanted to publish it, and straight from the word ‘go’ we decided it should be illustrated and have a modern fairy-tale, fable feel. We were so lucky that Jo Weaver illustrated the text with her atmospheric charcoals.

I love that you described this book as “sharing humanity through stories”. When writing about challenging issues for children, do you think it is important to give a positive message – hope – alongside the sometimes cruel realities of the world? Yes, I think hope is a very important message, without portraying an image of false hope. A story doesn’t have to have a happy or resolved ending, and it should stay true and not flinch from reality. But I think hope is important, because stories can be there to guide us through difficult times. They are a light in the darkness, and so it’s important not to switch out the light.

You have talked about the need to find the character at the centre of your stories as you write – for all those aspiring writers out there, how do you go about doing this?Yes, for me character is central to the story, to find that narrative. There are several things that I try to do. The first thing I do is I try not to think too hard. Part of storytelling comes from the subconscious and the harder you think, the more difficult it becomes. (A bit like trying to remember a forgotten pin number…if you try too hard you can’t do it, you have to think about something else.) I have to day-dream and doodle and let the character find me somehow. Then I like to draw my character and ask lots of questions. I also try to write mini-scenes in first person to get to really know the character. Those mini-scenes can be something mundane, like making a cup of coffee, or something dramatic such as falling in a fast river. I sometimes have songs I associate with my characters too. I feel and live and breathe them, a little like an actor has to get inside the head of a character, an author must do too.

9780192756244The stories you have written for children have received huge critical acclaim, winning and being shortlisted for many awards which must be an amazing feeling!  Does this make the writing process more pressured and again for those aspiring writers, how do you deal with this? Being nominated for, and winning awards is always a real bonus. However, I think the best feeling comes from feedback from readers, or when they share their experiences and their writing. There is always a worry in the back of my mind, ‘will the next book be good enough?’, because I want to be true to the story and write it to the best of my abilities. I have come accustomed to the little monster of self-doubt sitting on my shoulder. I can’t seem to shake him off!

Your books have all been for children and young people (although I’m know many adults have enjoyed them too!) – would you ever consider writing a book for adults?It has never really occurred to me, to be honest. I think the world of children’s literature is so exciting and varied. Children’s books can tell cracking adventures, make us laugh out loud, scare us witless and deal with issues that can touch our soul.  Also they tend to have more illustrations and I love illustrated books. So, no, there is nothing yet to persuade me to write for adults.

Elizabeth Laird recently described your books as having a “profound understanding of animals and how people relate to them”.  Where do you think this understanding comes from; is it something that can be learned or a natural talent? I felt so honoured to hear Elizabeth Laird say that about my writing. Animals have always fascinated me for as long as I can remember. When I was a child, I wanted to be different animals, and often pretended to be anything from an eagle, to a wolf, to a tiny shrew. I would have loved to be a shape-shifter, but I had to contend with shape-shifting inside my mind instead. When I grew up I followed my interest in animals and became a vet. As a vet I could see the deep bond between people and animals and how animals can become a bridge, bringing people and communities together. I think an understanding of how we relate to animals and each other is something we all have huge capacity for. Building empathy for an animal or human allows us to envision what life is like for another living person or creature, and hopefully allow us to build a fairer society respecting the rights of other humans and animals.

Are you working on a new project and if so can you tell us anything about it?! My next book is called Sky Dancer and is set in the uplands of Northern England. It is a story exploring the connection between the persecution of birds of prey and the management of moors for driven grouse shooting. The story is seen through the eyes of Joe, a gamekeeper’s son, who begins to question what it means for the landscape around him to be truly wild. I will be adopting a tagged hen harrier next year and raising money towards community education around the issues affecting these beautiful birds.

Thank you so much Gill, for participating and for such wonderful words of advice and inspiring thoughts about stories in general.  I can’t wait to read A Story Like the Wind  and wish you every success with its publication.

FInd out more at www.gilllewis.com and follow Gill on Twitter @gill_lewis

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Mr Tweed’s Busy Day by Jim Stoten

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Mr Tweed’s Busy Day written & illustrated by Jim Stoten

When Mr Tweed sets out on his afternoon stroll, he soon finds some friends in need of help. Can you come to their aid and find what they are looking for? 

Mr Tweed is a dog who wears a suit and a very tall hat and who loves to help people.  The story begins with Mr Tweed going for his usual afternoon walk and coming across various friends who are in some kind of predicament, each having lost something which could be anything from balloons to pineapples!  The reader then must help find what has been lost in the spread on the next page, with the number of things to find increasing each time.

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I love that this book combines reading with a seek and find element, as well as counting. It may draw comparisons with other well known seek and find books, but what I liked about this was there is a great story narrative to follow.  For those children who are more reluctant to pick up a book, this is a perfect combination of words and images as well as the ‘game’ element of finding the lost things.

The fantastic characters include Colin Rocodile, Mrs Fluffycuddle and Little Penny Paws, to name a few.  The illustrations themselves are quirky, inventive, colourful and full of detail with lots of different animal characters as well as humans.  They reminded me of the Busy World of Richard Scarry, which I loved when I was young. I am sure children will love Mr Tweed and will enjoy the challenge of locating the missing items!

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And with the added moral of being kind and helping people, this is a great book to have on the shelf.

You can read an interview with the author and illustrator Jim Stoten on the Reading Zone. And find out more at www.jimtheillustrator.co.uk. or on Twitter @jimtillustrator

With thanks to Flying Eye Books for sending me this book to review.

Chris Riddell & Friends, Imagine Fest 2017

Chris Riddell & Friends, Southbank Centre Imagine Fest, 9th Feb 2017

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It was half term for many schools in London last week coinciding with the Southbank Centre Imagine Children’s Festival which ran from 9-19 February.  A unique festival run by children for children, the Southbank Centre works with local primary schools to put together an amazing array of events to entertain and inspire.  Just one of these events was the Children’s Laureate, Chris Riddell & Friends presenting live illustration, readings and a glimpse into the inspiration behind their work.
The friends in question were Cressida Cowell, author of the How to Train Your Dragon series; Liz Pichon, author of the Tom Gates series and author and illustrator Posy Simmonds. Add to this a special surprise guest in the shape of Neil Gaiman and it was going to be a very special hour!
Chris began with some live illustrating,  drawing members of the audience as they sat waiting for the event to start! They were lucky enough to be given said illustrations to take home. He then introduced his guests through drawing them and shared his own excitement at having then join him on stage. Each guest was given fifteen minutes or so to share some of their writing and illustrating history, how they got started, and where the ideas for their hugely successful books came from. We even got to see some of their early childhood works, including scrapbooks which were fascinating.
All of them had sound advice for the young aspiring writers and artists in the audience. Which in a nutshell was: don’t let anyone tell you you won’t amount to anything or achieve anything through the art of telling stories in words and or pictures. And don’t let anyone hold you back by saying you’re no good at drawing or no good at writing (even if you have dyslexia, which Liz Pichon does).  Sat next to me was a young girl of about 13 who sat drawing in her sketchbook as she listened – inspiration in action.
Particularly special and perhaps a once in a lifetime moment, was Neil Gaiman reading aloud from Fortunately the Milk whilst Chris Riddell illustrated live on screen. Neil also shared his poem Witch Work with illustrations Chris had drawn earlier. Wow.
It was an utterly inspiring event – a wonderful celebration of stories and illustration. It never ceases to amaze me how a person can put pen to paper a draw the most incredible characters and create the most wonderful stories.
Find out more:

A Sky Full of Kindness by Rob Ryan

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A Sky Full of Kindness by Rob Ryan

Join two birds on an epic adventure as they become parents for the first time…

The story begins with two birds who are ecstatic to discover they are going to be parents. Their fellow feathered friends are overjoyed for them, but are soon sharing their wisdom, causing the mother bird to become frightened about all the potential perils of parenting. Are they ready to have a child? Such is her fear, the wisest and oldest bird of all sends her on a journey of discovery to see if she can find some peace about what lies ahead. The journey takes her across the land and sea and she meets many other birds of all different kinds, each reassuring her through kindness that whilst the world might be big and full of danger, there are many people in it who can help when you most need it.

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This is a stunning book by the incredible artist and illustrator, Rob Ryan. The artwork alone is a sight to behold; each word and image beautifully paper cut down to the finest detail. The story itself is lyrical and flows beautifully; a tale depicting the journey towards parenthood with all its highs and lows and everything in between. Poetry and prose combine, with each word literally illustrating the magic of the childlike but utterly insightful narrative. The mother bird is determined to find out how she can allay her fears, travelling over the widest oceans and unknown lands looking for answers.

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The other birds she meets are strange and exotic, each with their own wisdom to share, each showing her kindness. The mother bird repays the kindnesses she is shown along the way and she finally realises that through being kind, brave and finding hope, she can face her fears.

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A Sky Full of Kindness is a heart warming tale about unconditional love, the hopes and fears we have for our children and ultimately shows how kindness can change the world we live in. A must-have book for everyone’s bookshelf!

Find out more about the author and illustrator at www.robryanstudio.com and on Twitter at@RobRyan_Art. A Sky Full of Kindness is published by Chronicle Books.

Review can also be found at Discover & Be.

22 December: Sophy Henn

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Amazing author and illustrator Sophy Henn on Day 22!

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Sophy Henn writes and illustrates children’s books in her studio, with a large cup of tea by her side, and can’t quite believe her luck! Where Bear?, her first book, was nominated for both the Kate Greenaway Medal and shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize in 2015. Pom Pom Gets the Grumps won Junior Design Awards Best Book of the Year 2015, and Sophy won Best Emerging Talent (Children’s Author).  Sophy was delighted to be spokesperson for Save the Children’s Read On, Get On campaign, focusing on pre-school. She was also the World Book Day Illustrator for 2015 and 2016.

Name three things on your Christmas list this year! Slippers, I’ve got my eye on a rather lovely silver sheepskin pair. Yes, silver! A nice, comfy, baggy jumper. Books – A big Eames coffee table one, an Angela Thirkell, a curry cookbook and Mistletoe Murder!

Christmas is a time of family traditions – what are your best (or worst!) family traditions? My daughter and I make crackers for everyone around the table. It was fun at first, we started about five years ago, filling the crackers with fake moustaches, a little gift, jokes and a charade, each tailored for the recipient. It was very hilarious to see nieces, nephews, grandparents, in fact everyone around the table tucking into Christmas dinner wearing a variety of moustaches! It’s pretty labour intensive though and one member of the party was unnecessarily critical of the jokes (how can they be too cheesy??) last year so I think it’s my best and worst tradition all rolled into one!

(Brilliant – Christmas moustaches!!)

We also have a Christmas eve tradition of new pyjamas, one I am VERY happy to maintain.

What is your favourite story to read at Christmas? The GRINCH. Dr Seuss nails it again! I am utterly guilty of being over sentimental at this time of year, it’s easy to do. But Dr Seuss manages a hilarious adventure, packed with meaning, centred around Christmas without being at all smushy. Genius!

If you could have Christmas dinner with anyone (alive today or person from history) who would it be and why? Obviously Father Christmas. I’d like to know how he get’s so much done in such a short space of time, I could use some of that magic!

Your illustrations bring to life your stories beautifully. If you could illustrate and bring to life a festive story of your choice, which one would it be and why? Thank you! But this is SUCH a hard question! Well I’m not going anywhere near The Grinch as Dr Seuss has that one covered. One of my other favourite Christmas stories is The Tailor of Gloucester, but again Beatrix Potter’s beautiful illustrations are such a big part of why I love it so I don’t think I could go there either! Maybe it would be A Visit from St Nicholas by Clement C. Moore which contains the magical line… “Twas the night before Christmas, when all
through the house, Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse”. 
Just those 51b1m98zm8ltwo lines send shivers of excitement down my spine, its a very magical Christmas story. Or possibly Agatha Christie’s The Adventure of The Christmas Pudding. I’d like to have a go at illustrating a longer text and I think a collection of murderous texts by one of my favourites could be a good place to start!

(LOVE The Tailor of Gloucester -still have my edition from when I was little. And LOVE Agatha Christie – I think you should definitely do that one!)

Pom Pom is a wonderful character whose stories young and old alike can identify with! How do you think Pom Pom likes to celebrate Christmas?  I think Pom Pom would do what I did as a child, wake up at about 3am and run into his parents room bursting with excitement! Pom Pom would probably tear through his presents, talking at a hundred miles an hour because Christmas is SO EXCITING! Then I think he would probably slightly regret opening his presents so quickly, sometimes it’s good to savour your presents a bit! After presents Pom Pom would definitely sneak some gold coins in before lunch and cover the floor with all his toys! But alongside all of this very ‘busy’ behaviour, Pom Pom would be giving out lots of lovely Christmas cuddles and probably be fast asleep by 4pm!

winter-1027822_1920Reader’s question from students at Warden Park Academy; when you are creating a story do you draw it or write it first? My stories tend to start with a character. I think that’s my favourite part of my job, the thinking up characters part! Once I have sketched out my character, from all angles and doing different things, their personality starts to shape. Then a story will develop from their character or I will remember a story I have scribbled down in one of my notebooks that would suit them (then I have to find it!!! Not easy when you have a least a million notebooks!). Once I know who and what the story is about then I start to write. Then re write. Then edit. Then re write again. Then think the whole idea is rubbish, at which point I show it to someone else as I can’t see the wood for the trees. Then re write it all over again. Once I am happy with the words I sketch out each page VERY roughly. Then re sketch it, etc etc. And FINALLY when I am happy with the sketches I get cracking on the illustrations.

Turkey or goose? TURKEY

Real or fake tree? REAL

Mince pies or Christmas pudding? JUST MORE CHEESE PLEASE (spiced fruit is not right)

Stockings –  end of the bed or over the fireplace? END OF THE BED

Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve? CHRISTMAS EVE – all the lovely anticipation and zero pressure to have “the best night of the year”.

Thank you for taking part in our festive Q & A! Have a very Happy Christmas!

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Find out more about Sophy www.sophyhenn.com and follow her on Twitter @sophyhenn.