Author Interview: Danielle Younge-Ullman

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I’m delighted to welcome Danielle Younge-Ullman to the blog today for our spring feature! Her new YA book Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined has just been published by Scholastic and with it’s gorgeous (and very spring -like!) cover is a welcome addition to the TBR shelf! 

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Danielle is a novelist, playwright and freelance writer who has always had a passion for books, language and storytelling. Before turning her attention to writing, Danielle studied English and Theatre in Montreal, then worked as professional actor for ten years in her hometown of Toronto.  Danielle is also the author of the YA novel, Lola Carlyle’s 12 Step Romance , and the adult novel, Falling Under.

It’s great to have you on the blog today Danielle. I love the title of your latest book! Tell us what Everything Beautiful is not Ruined is about. EVERYTHING BEAUTIFUL IS NOT RUINED is about a teenage girl, Ingrid Burke, who has promised her mother that she will go to wilderness camp for three weeks in return for the chance to pursue her dream during her senior year of high school. But once Ingrid gets to the “camp” she discovers that the whole thing is much worse than she expected it to be. It’s more like a bootcamp, and her fellow campers all seem to be really messed up–not the “kids with leadership potential” she was expecting. Ingrid details many of the hilarious/gruesome/harrowing details of the wilderness program in sarcastic letters to her mother, written in a journal she has with her on the trip, and tells the rest of the story in first person pov. At the same time, the story of Ingrid and her opera star mother, Margot-Sophia, is woven in via alternating chapters. As both stories progress, you start to get to the heart of why Margot-Sophia really sent Ingrid on this gruelling wilderness adventure.

The story has been described as a “gorgeous novel about mothers and daughters”.  Did your relationship with your own mother inspire your writing? Yes and no. I am really close with my mom, and always have been. We’ve been through some hard times, and that brought us closer. Those times gave me an intense admiration for her strength, but also a heightened sense of her fragility. Our life is nothing like Margot-Sophia and Ingrid’s life, and my mom is nothing like Margot-Sophia, but I have experienced a similar weight of fear and worry over my mom’s well being and an almost crippling sense of responsibility–even though my mom was not expecting or asking me to feel responsible. Because of this, when I got to be an older teen, and then even into my twenties, I found it really hard to draw the line between her wants and needs, and my own. I found myself making the choices that I knew would make her feel safer, more peaceful, and sometimes those were not the right choices for me. It took me a long time (and some therapy) to figure out how to detach, how to have my own sense of self, how to have the courage to do things that might freak her out (become and actress, become a writer, etc) because they were what I needed to do. And did manage it, and we remain very close, but now I am aware of us as separate people. This mother-daughter disentangling was part of what I wanted to explore in this story, but I did it with characters who are not us, and stories that are not ours.

How did you research the setting of a trek through the wilderness?! I actually went on a trip very similar to Peak Wilderness as a teen, (and against my will, btw) so many of the physical circumstances of the hiking portion of EVERYTHING BEAUTIFUL IS NOT RUINED are taken directly from my experience. I have not done much canoeing though, so I interviewed a young cousin of mine who has done a ton of camping and canoeing to get more detail and make sure I was using correct terminology.

Some of the narrative is in the form of letters.  Letter writing is almost a lost art-form! Why did you decide to write the novel in this way? The novel started with the letters, and they came so easily and were so much fun to write. They were the jumping off point and then really became the heart and soul of the story.

Do you aim to ensure a positive message for teens reading your books when you’re writing about issues such as depression and complicated family relationships? I always want to give positive messages, but I am careful that they’re not fake-positive messages, if that makes sense. I want to be real and honest with my readers. I wanted to send a message of survival with this book–the message that you may be going through hard times, that you may not feel (or be) in control of your circumstances, or of the people you love, but you can survive almost anything, and come out stronger and wiser in the end. I hope I am also just letting readers know they are not alone when they are suffering–that others have gone and are going through similar things. And I guess another important thing I wanted to convey is that when someone you love is dealing with depression or mental illness this can be overwhelming and take over your life as well as theirs, but YOU, and your needs, wants and dreams are still important, are more important than ever, in fact. Those dreams, the goals you have, they will help to pull you out of the depths of despair and out of your circumstances, they will help you find meaning, they will help you survive…so don’t give the dreams up and don’t give up on yourself, ever.

You studied English and Theatre at University and worked as actor.  What led you to becoming a writer? I loved being an actor and doing theatre, and that’s a big part of what led me to become a writer. Studying theatre is studying the human condition, life, storytelling. Everything you do as an actor to get into the skin of a character you’re going to play, and to try to understand and interpret the intentions of the playwright and then the director–all of that is extremely useful to the writing process. Some of it is exactly the same as the writing process.

What happened for me was that I had always secretly dreamed of being a writer, but I didn’t think I had the talent or self-discipline. I started getting frustrated with the kinds of roles that were available to me as an actor, and decided to try to write something for myself to act in. I wrote a play, discovered I was actually not too bad at writing and that I enjoyed it, and then I was still thinking I’d like to try writing a book, but thinking I was too lazy. Then I read a kind of…not-great book, and thought to myself, “Well, surely I could do at least as well as that!” And that convinced me to give it a shot. Once I started, I quickly realized that this is what I needed to be doing, and over the next couple of years I transitioned out of acting and into writing.

This is your second YA novel and you’ve written for adults too. For you, does the writing process differ when writing for different audiences? The result may be different, but the process is not. Whatever story I’m writing, I write from the point of view of my characters. I work to see the world through their eyes, think their thoughts, write their actions. (This is the same thing you do as an actor, and that’s how I learned it.) The first YA book I wrote, LOLA CARLYLE’S 12 STEP ROMANCE, was very different from my previous work, which was for adults. A lot of readers thought the lighter, funnier tone was created because the book was for teens, but that’s not true. The lighter, funnier tone came about because of the main character, and her way of looking at the world…and if I were to write a story about her as an adult, for adults, it would still have that same tone because of who she is. So, the tone and perspective changes from book to book, but to me that’s not about the age of my reader, it’s about the age of the character I’m writing about.

Also, I don’t think of a teen audience being drastically different from an adult audience. When I was a teen I was reading everything–adult books, middle grade books, teen books–whatever interested me. And I wasn’t into in being told what category of book was “for me” or “not for me”–all the books were for me! I think of my readers being the same way, and just try to tell the story as best I can.

Finally, what would your three top tips be for anyone writing for a YA audience?

1: Do not write down to them. (See above.)

2: Dig deep, so as to find something that really matters to you to write about.

3: Be creative.

Thanks so much for having me on the blog, Victoria!

Thank you Danielle, for such brilliant words of advice and sharing your inspiration for your new book!

Find out more at www.danielleyoungeullman.com and follow Danielle on Twitter . With thanks to Scholastic for my copy of Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined.

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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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Just in time for Spring: Tasso by Papas

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The spring read for today is a book first printed in 1966: Tasso by William Papas. Tasso is a heart-warming, timeless fable of tradition versus change and this stunning new edition will be published by Pikku on 9th April 2017. Papas received numerous nominations for the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals throughout his career – including for his lifetime’s work. He was also a renowned political cartoonist as well as a children’s book illustrator.  His work is held in collections around the world, as well as at the V&A Museum in London.

Tasso by William Papas

The Trocadero café is the lively centre of a Greek fishing village, thanks to Tasso and his bouzouki. But one day the proprietor installs a juke box, and Tasso is no longer needed. At first everyone is happy with the uninterrupted music, but gradually the noise becomes unbearable and the Chief of Police must take control.  Will Tasso and his bouzouki be welcomed back to the café once more?

In this zesty and humorous depiction of Greek Island life, Papas’ timeless take continues to speak to us about the values of tradition, simplicity and shared experience.

Tasso and his sister Athena work in The Trocadero to help their father, a fisherman, support the family.  It is hard work but they enjoy it.  However Tasso sometimes get tired and has to rest, so the restaurant owner decides to solve the problem by getting a jukebox which will play all day and all night.  Tasso is no longer needed. But the change of music changes everything else too, and The Trocadero is not what it once was.  Athena, the villagers and even the Chief of Police are all affected and the proprietor must decide how he can restore The Trocadero, and indeed the village, to its usual happy self.

My first instinct when I read this book was that I love it – it’s totally unique and the story is timeless. I travelled to the Greek islands when I was younger and fell in love with them, so perhaps this helps! Tasso is full of character and what strikes you instantly is the vibrancy of the illustrations, immediately bringing to life the Greek village; you can virtually smell the sea air and hear the voices of the eye-catching villagers.  Each drawing is a piece of artwork in itself and it is no surprise the story leaps off the page.

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It’s a lovely tale and so indicative of the inevitable change that we all sometimes face; it might be 40 years old but its totally applicable to our lives today.  In this case, the modernisation of the cafe’s music has the opposite effect planned by the proprietor – instead of making people spend more time at the café, it eventually alienates them.

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Lovely Tasso and his sister Athena, who are from a hard-working Greek family, immediately feel the effects of this more than anyone else.  And not only this, it causes problems across the whole village – even affecting the donkeys and goats! Very soon the villagers all come to realise the beauty of traditional ways of life.  I’m sure this is something we can all relate to in today’s world of constant change and this story would make a great addition to any school library or classroom book corner.  I also love that it is Tasso, with his bouzouki and beautiful traditional music, that ultimately brings the village back to life again! Tasso shows that even good intentions can have unwanted side effects and that sometimes it’s the simple things in life that are best – something I wholeheartedly agree with!

Find out more at www.pikkupublishing.com.

With thanks to Catherine Ward and Pikku for sending me this book and background information.

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Author Interview: Jenny McLachlan

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Stargazing for Beginners is a gorgeous novel by author Jenny McLachlan who spent thirteen years of her life teaching English: a job that combined her passion for the written word with her passion for showing off! It also provided her with the inspiration for her books. I’m delighted to be interviewing Jenny for our spring feature today.

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You’ve created a lovely heroine in Stargazing for Beginners! Meg’s fascination with space is utterly endearing and it’s so great to read about someone with such a big dream. Tell us about your inspiration for the book. My inspiration came from quite a throw away comment: I was describing the plot of one of my books to my dad (I imagine it involved a lot of dancing) and he asked if I’d ever thought of writing a book about a girl who wants to be an astrophysicist. To me, this didn’t seem like instant romcom material, but I think that’s why the idea grew in my mind. I love a challenge!

The space and scientific elements of the story were very educational; how did you go about researching this? I spent about two months reading books, watching documentaries and visiting universities and museums, and a very pleasant two months it was too! Although a lot of what I learnt – a huge amount of facts – don’t appear in the book, my research was aimed at discovering how a girl like Meg, who understands the complexities of the universe but hasn’t got a clue about music, fashion and pop culture, would cope with being a teenager.

Meg’s Mum and Grandad are so well-described – you can almost smell the incense and strange meals! Were they inspired by anyone you know? Both Meg’s mum and Grandad have come in for a bit of criticism in reviews because of their unconventional (bad?) approach to raising children, but I’ve got a soft spot for them, possibly because they were inspired by my mum and Grandad. My mum was amazing: she took us on ‘magical mystery tours’, let us build dens that took over entire rooms and would let us bake, make and mess things up as much as we liked. She also had, and still does have ‘big causes’ that she supports. She’s a Samaritan and regularly goes to India to help run a charity that funds an orphanage. She would never have done what Meg’s mum did (although she did forget to pick me up from a few parties!) but she did have a life beyond her children, and I was proud of her for this. My Grandad was a toned down version of Meg’s Grandad. He was an electrician who helped develop lightening conductors and he owned 30 boiler suits. He was always covered with plasters and scars because of the various burns he got from making bonfires. Both Mum and Grandad LOVED bonfires. Sometimes they got out of hand…

The scenes where Meg is looking after her baby sister who is being particularly difficult brought back memories of my own children’s childhood tantrums! Are you speaking from experience or did you have to research this?! You’re quite right – the scenes were all inspired by my own experience of having babies! I don’t think it matters whether you are 15 or 50, having to look after a baby is a testing experience. I thought I’d be great at being a mum – organised and super-efficient – but what I didn’t take into account was that my children might not like me organising them in the way I wanted to. Babies are so strong minded! Like Elsa, my daughters have trashed rooms, slept in dog baskets and rubbed huge amounts of baked beans into their hair, I also took them for many, long walks along Eastbourne seafront to try and get them to sleep.

Annie is such a great character; feisty and funny. Where did the idea for her come from? Annie, to a certain extent, was inspired by several students I taught who delighted in fighting against conformity. As a teacher, this was sometimes frustrating – how many times a day did I say ‘Girls, roll your skirts down’? – but I also admired their determination. When I went to school, I was terrified of doing something wrong, so I’m fascinated by students who don’t care if they get told off. Teaching also gave me an insight into what life is like at secondary school for disabled teenagers. Schools are becoming more inclusive places, but there’s still a long way to go, and many assumptions that need to be challenged, before disabled students have access to the same experience as able-bodied children at school.

There are quite a few awkward and sometimes funny moments for Meg – the science show, the dog chase on the sea front and the scenes with Ed in the classroom spring to mind! Did you ever have moments like this as a young girl? My entire life was awkward between the ages of 11 – 15. Hair, makeup, music, relationships, fashion…I didn’t have a clue. I remember watching Top of the Pops, and trying to work out who it was acceptable to like and hate. I felt awkward just walking down the road! One of the most embarrassing things that happened to me at secondary school was a seagull pooing on my head in my first week. Seagulls produce a ridiculous amount of poo in one go and I basically had to wash my hair in a sink. I’ve never put that into a book…It’s too traumatic. I did actually witness the dog chase scene on Eastbourne seafront. It was very funny.

Meg’s big dream is to be an astronaut – when you were growing up what was your big dream? I wanted to write and illustrate books. I’ve achieved 50% of my dream which is pretty good!

Stargazing for Beginners gently reflects on some of the challenges young people might face today – but this doesn’t detract from the narrative. For me, this demonstrates real skill in terms of writing i.e. not getting side-tracked or bogged down with an ‘issue’ but still making it meaningful. How did you approach this? I think you’ve just described the main challenge I have when I write. I want my books to feel ‘realistic’ and address genuine challenges, but I also want to them to entertain and provide a certain amount of escapism for the reader. I think that Jacqueline Wilson is a writer who managers to do this particularly well. It’s a balancing act: I try not to lose sight of what my readers enjoy about my stories – the humour and the strong narrative – but I also try to avoid focusing so much on the humour that the stories become flippant and lose their meaning.

I heard recently on the news that space flight for ‘ordinary’ folk is soon to become a reality as early as next year! Would you like to go to space?! I’d love to go to space, but as I’ve got children, I don’t think I could. I’ve watched too many documentaries and read too many books about disasters in space!

And finally can you share with us your top three pieces of advice for aspiring authors?

  • Keep writing until you find your voice. I never thought I’d be writing romcoms for teens. I’m glad I never gave up writing when I was trying, and failing, to write my first novel: a historical romance set just before the First World War.
  • Thinking time is just as important as writing time. I probably think about my books for as long as I spend sitting down and writing them.
  • No writing is wasted. My First World War novel is still sitting in the attic. It will probably always sit in the attic, but I’d never have written Flirty Dancing or Stargazing for Beginners without it.

Brilliant advice. Thanks so much for joining us today and we wish you every success with Stargazing for Beginners!

You can read my review of Stargazing for Beginners here. Find out more at  www.jennymclachlan.com Twitter: @JennyMcLachlan1 Facebook: Jenny McLachlan or visit www.bloomsbury.com

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Just in time for Spring: Stargazing for Beginners by Jenny McLachlan

Stargazing for Beginners is the brand new novel from Jenny McLachlan, author of the hugely successful Ladybirds Series. Publishing by Bloomsbury on 6th April, I’m delighted to have reviewed it for our spring feature and it will be followed by an interview with the author!

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Stargazing for Beginners by Jenny McLachlan

I point up at the sky. The moon has just started to appear, a pale orange disc sitting low in the sky. ‘That’s the moon,’ I say to Elsa. ‘Moon.’

When Meg looks at the stars, she sees adventure. She sees escape. She sees her future. Because Meg’s big ambition is to become an astronaut.  But her hopes are thrown into chaos when her mum disappears to follow up yet another of her Very Important Causes….and leaves Meg and her baby sister behind. 

Can Meg take care of Elsa and still follow her own path? She’ll need a miracle of cosmic proportions. But then nobody ever got anywhere by dreaming small….

Meg is a super intelligent fifteen year old with big dreams.  A bit of a science geek, she focuses on getting her grades – which comes much more naturally to her than trying to make friends. When the opportunity of a lifetime comes up – to win a trip to NASA in Houston – Meg knows this is her chance to help make her dreams a reality.  However, in order to do so she must overcome her fear of public speaking to participate in the competition.  This is easier said than done, especially when her home life is so complicated.

When her free-spirited and eccentric mother disappears on a charity mission to Thailand, Meg is left to care for her younger sister and the dog, Pongo, with the help of her equally eccentric Grandad. Meg has to juggle being ‘Mum’, with being her usual studious self. Meg’s time-keeping goes out of the window, as does her homework and all thoughts of being able to practice her speech.  And when people start to question where Meg’s Mum is, it takes all her brain power to figure out how to get through the next few weeks. From putting together her presentation to looking after a demanding toddler, cooking and getting her homework done on time,  Meg slowly starts to realise she’s not as independent as she thought.  Perhaps the people around her can help in ways she never realised.  Ed, her fellow competitor; Annie, Jackson and Rose, the other members of the Biscuit Club and even her mad Grandad and baby sister, all help her see the world, and indeed space, in a different light.

Stargazing for Beginners is an entirely lovely read and a really perceptive story with just the right amount of humour, interest, romance and plot twists. Meg is a hugely likeable and believable character, facing her dilemmas with bravery.  The narrative is totally engaging and you find yourself rooting for Meg in all the various situations she finds herself in. Many of these situations readers will readily relate to – difficulties making friends at schools; step-families; first-love. I loved the characters in the Biscuit Club- especially Annie, who with a significant disability, takes no prisoners and isn’t afraid to say what she thinks. Ed makes a very good hero and his kindness towards Meg is just plain old fashioned romantic! Meg’s relationship with her baby sister Elsa is so well-observed; from the nightmare of looking after a toddler having tantrums to the change in Meg’s feelings towards Elsa the more time Meg spends with her. Meg’s eccentric Grandad and Mum are brilliantly described and you feel for Meg having to be the ‘sensible’ one.  Equally, I loved that it’s Meg’s chaotic Grandad who helps her see how to use her strengths to solve her problems.

We all make assumptions about each other in so many ways; Stargazing for Beginners demonstrates this beautifully in a truly uplifting way. We’re not as alone in the Universe as we sometimes might feel and as this story shows you don’t have to search the far reaches of space to find what you’re looking for!  A perfect springtime read for readers aged 11+.

Find out more at  www.jennymclachlan.com Twitter: @JennyMcLachlan1 Facebook: Jenny McLachlan or visit www.bloomsbury.com

With thanks to Bloomsbury for sending me this book to review.  Author interview coming up!

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Sky Private Eye and the Case of the Missing Grandma by Jane Clarke & Loretta Schauer

Sky Private Eye and the Case of the Missing Grandma

by Jane Clarke and Loretta Schauer

It’s a Fairytale emergency! Granny’s gone missing….Has the Big Bad Wolf kidnapped her or even gobbled her up? Quick, call Sky Private Eye! Cupcakes, clues Sky Private Eyeand rescues are this fairy tale detective’s speciality, but can Sky and Little Red Riding Hood uncover the clues fast enough to save Granny.

This is one of a lovely series featuring Sky Private Eye and various fairytale characters. In this book, Sky (along with her dog Snuffles) is called to investigate when Little Red Riding Hood’s Granny disappears. With the help of Sky’s special cupcakes and some clever detective work, they discover Granny hasn’t gone missing but she IS in danger of being gobbled up!  Sky and Little Red Riding Hood use all their ingenuity to help rescue Granny and make sure the Wolf never bothers them again.

Sky Private Eye 2

Sky Private Eye is a thoroughly enjoyable read, bringing to life classic fairytale characters in a new and brilliant way. A very accessible font and clear narrative makes this a great book for fledgling readers to try themselves, as well as being a good story to read aloud.

The wonderful illustrations are lively, colourful and perfectly capture the tone of the story – fun with just enough thrills but not too scary!Sky Private Eye 1  I loved the use of magic baking to help save the day and readers can try their hand at baking these brilliant cakes using the recipe at the back of the book.  All in all, it’s a great story to have on your bookshelf and sure to be a hit with aspiring bakers and fairytale fans alike.

I’m looking forward to reading Sky Private Eye and the Case of the Runaway Biscuit featuring the Gingerbread Boy!

Find out more at www.jane-clarke.co.uk and www.lorettaschauer.com or www.fivequills.co.uk

Review also available at Discover & BeThanks to Catherine Ward PR and Five Quills for sending me this book to review.

To keep or to keep? Moving house, moving books.

I’ve just moved home. That in itself might be enough to fill some with dread; the thought of moving, packing your life and its contents in to boxes and transferring it all to another place is a little daunting.

But imagine: if you’re a reader; a book person, the reality is, moving house will always be more difficult with the added requirement of a book moving lorry! So I couldn’t really ignore the fact I needed to make some space and cull my book collection. I’m used to culls; as a school librarian, I’ve often gone through book stock and weeded out the old, out of date or unused books taking up valuable shelf space. But it’s not quite the same when you’re going through your own books. You tend not to have a collection policy driven by curriculum and budgets (well maybe budgets sometimes….!).

So how do you manage your own personal book collection? I knew I’d have to get rid of some books that was a fact, but which ones? How to differentiate between keeping something I actually needed versus something I wanted versus something I loved? Why do we keep books we’ve read? I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely a re-reader and have many books I couldn’t possibly part with because I’ve read them so many times they’re a part of who I am. And sometimes such is their sentimental value you couldn’t imagine your bookshelf without them.

As I went through the piles of books I own, there were some I’d literally had all my life. Books from my childhood – old favourites like Winnie the Pooh, Enid Blyton, Narnia, Anne of Green Gables, The Garden Gang. Keep.

 

Then books belonging to my children when they were young – Thomas the Tank Engine, Mr Men, You Choose and some of those random books someone once gave them which they decided was their absolute favourite but you couldn’t stand – especially when you had to read it a million times! Keep of course. A beautiful collection of classics given to me by my father – about 20 leather bound books – well keep them obviously. So far, so good….hmmm, about ten boxes later full of books to transport (and you can’t overfill boxes of books or you can’t lift them!).

I will admit that when a book is presented truly beautifully then yes, I will keep it because it looks nice! Call me shallow, but I’m a sucker for beautiful illustrations, book jackets and brilliant designs.  They always tend to be the really massive, heavy and totally awkward-to-pack books – one per box..!  One of the most random books I decided to keep was a big book about the Millenium Dome which I used when I wrote my dissertation at University.  Do I want to read it again? No, but I can’t get rid of it – it reminds me of perseverance!

Childhood links aside, why else do we keep books we’ve read? I discovered that there were quite a few I could donate to charity without feeling too sad. Even though I’d enjoyed them, I knew I’d never read them again and whilst they were important to me at the time, I’m a different person now so I don’t need them anymore. Or maybe they weren’t a significant read? Sometimes a book comes along at a certain time of your life and such is its significance, you connect with it so totally, it becomes part of your memory in the same way that human experiences do. The story is inextricably linked to that time in your life, and forever will be. It’s not necessarily award winning or literary genius, but just something that impacts on your soul. Or such is the image it creates in your mind you escape in your imagination to somewhere you never dreamed of and you have to keep the book that took you there. Sometimes the emotional response a book engenders is so heart-warming, so funny, or so tear inducing you want to hold on to that emotion forever, even if it’s sad. These are ones to keep. And of course, sometimes a book is significant because it reminds you of a person who has been important in your life – a role model, a loved one, a teacher or a friend.

And then there’s the books that sit in the TBR pile – books you’ve got you’ve always wanted to read but not quite found the time. I’ve loads of them. So they have to stay. I’ve also got the many books I use for the travelling book case and Bookchat. These are really important to help the children I speak to discover a love for reading.

Books are a reflection of a person’s soul.  What I might love, you might hate. Or we might both be able to share the same feeling of joy and connection through a particular story. That’s what I love about reading.

I did manage to clear some space and felt a bit sad for about five minutes – I then realised that the best thing about have a book clear out…. once you’ve done it you’ve got shelf space for lots of lovely new books!!!