Empathy Day 2022

EMPATHY DEFICIT FOR LOCKDOWN GENERATION COUNTERACTED BY POWER OF READING

EmpathyLab launches its 2022 Read for Empathy book collection at a time when empathy has never been needed more. An expert judging panel has selected 60 books for 4-16 year-olds, each chosen to empower an empathy-educated generation.

The primary collection features 35 books for 4-11 year olds; the secondary collection has 25 books for 12-16 year olds. 43% of the collection are by authors of colours, and there are seven illustrators of colour. Many of the books help readers understand the lives of those experiencing tough situations, from becoming homeless, or a refugee. Others help children build their understanding of emotions or inspire positive action towards the climate or animals or people in their community.

Primary list
Secondary list

Free guides for parents & educators here: https://www.empathylab.uk/2022-book-collections-and-guides

Comics your Kids should Read (and you should too!)

To say that Comics are a gateway reading to ‘real’ books or that they are a way to ‘trick’ your small people into reading is to demean their true worth. Comics are a bone fide artform in their own right, reading comics and decoding images and text stimulates the brain more than reading text alone.

This is a *small* selection of comics that are recommended for all ages. This list will evolve and grow over time.

Hilda by Luke Pearson

The series is an ode to adventure, fun, friendship, exploring, family and learning. The artwork is beautiful, the stories epic in scope yet focusing on humanity and growth. There is also a beautiful Netflix adaptation and a some novelizations (that I have not yet read, but they do seem to have fans).

The Phoenix Comic

Weekly subscription comic for readers aged 7 – 14 (& beyond) – many of the strips are also collected as graphic novels. A range of authors and artists work on this beautiful comic.

Hilo by Judd Winick

A robot boy from another dimension falls to Earth, makes friends and fights evil while trying to discover where he came from and why?

Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez

An achingly beautiful graphic novel about a young girl, her imagination, school, friendship, belonging and a spiral into terror with phantasms coming to life to steal her away for her creative spirit.

Illegal by Eoin Colfer, Andrew Donkin & Giovanni Rigano

No punches are pulled in this gripping child’s-eye view of the refugee crisis. From Ghana to Tripoli and the perilous journey across the sea to safety in Europe.

Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter by Marcus Sedgwick & Thomas Taylor

High adventure and monster hunting collide in this epic tale of an orphan (& her loyal butler) who wants nothing more than follow in her parent’s footsteps and become a monster hunter.

Secret Coders by Gene Luen Yang & Mike Holmes

A graphic novel series for computer nerds, you can learn coding while reading this fantastic series or just read and enjoy the story – no pressure!

Akissi by Marguerite Abouet & Mathieu Sapin

Join Akissi and friends as they get up to all sorts of antics around their town in the Ivory coast. A funny, heartfelt and a very real look into the lives of children!

Full Tilt Boogie by Alex de Campi & Eduardo Ocaña

A high-octane, edge of your seats space opera featuring galactic empires, errant princes and a multi-generational bounty-hunting team in the middle of an intergalactic war.

Queer Up by Alexis Caught

A positive and uplifting book for young people who are queer or questioning – and their allies looking to support them.

In this empowering and uplifting book, award-winning podcaster Alexis Caught sets out to help queer and questioning teenagers explore their LGBTQ+ identity and understanding. Alongside the author’s personal experiences are first-hand stories from notable LGBTQ+ figures, providing an inclusive account of what it means to grow up queer. With chapters on questioning, coming out, friends and family, love and relationships, sex, shame, pride, being transgender and/or non-binary and allyship, this helpful, honest and heart-warming book is essential reading for any queer or questioning teen and their allies looking to support them.

Walker Books

I was excited to be asked if I’d like a review copy of QUEER UP, as I immediately thought of students of mine who have asked for books that do exactly what this does: answer questions, through advice and activites, about (basically) how to understand themselves…

To kick of the blog tour, I’ve been given the opportunity to share an extract from the very beginning of the book, part of the chapter on questioning:

Copyright © 2022 Alexis Caught

Cover design and Illustrations © 2022 Walker Books Ltd.

From QUEER UP: AN UPLIFTING GUIDE TO LGBTQ+ LOVE, LIFE AND MENTAL HEALTH by Alexis Caught

Reproduced by permission of Walker Books Ltd, London, SE11 5HJ

www.walker.co.uk

About the author

Alexis Caught is the creator and co-host of the British Podcast Award-winning LGBTQ+ podcast Qmmunity, exploring queer culture, history and identity. He is also a mental health advocate, qualified psychotherapist, writer, speaker, model and rugby player. His writing has been featured in Attitude magazine and The Mirror along with the best-selling anthology It’s Not Okay to Feel Blue. His areas of passion and expertise are mental health, wellness and the queer community. On talking about the book, Alexis said this is the book that he “so desperately needed when [he] was 14.”


Walker Books will be donating 20p for every copy sold to Shout 85258, a free, confidential, 24/7 text support service for anyone in the UK who is struggling to cope, for which Alexis is an ambassador and trained mental health volunteer. 45% of young people who text Shout 85258 identify as LGBTQ+.

Jummy at the River School

Jummy has won a place at the River School, the finest girls’ boarding school in Nigeria.

Nothing can dampen her spirits, not even when she learns that her less fortunate best friend Caro won’t be joining her. By the Shine-Shine River, school is everything Jummy dreamt of, with friendly new girls, midnight feasts and sporting prizes. But when Caro suddenly arrives at the school to work, not to learn, Jummy must bring all her friends together to help …

A joyful, glorious collision of classic boarding-school story with vibrant 1990s Nigeria, based on Sabine’s own experience of boarding school in Nigeria. 

Chicken House Books

This really is a classic boarding school tale, with midnight feasts, friendships and rivalries, and mean teachers. It being set in Nigeria in the 1990s gives it another layer of interest for readers who may have never been there (or never seen it in a story), with a beautiful sense of place…and the potential for crocodiles in the river to cause trouble! I absolutely loved the descriptions of food and the voices were brilliant, with a story that highlights poverty and privilege at the same time as being about tested loyalties and the importance of friendship.

I asked Sabine Adeyinka a few questions:

As it is inspired by your experiences at a Nigerian boarding school, are many of the events things that happened in real life?

The place, emotion and setting are very similar to a regular Nigerian Boarding school in the 90s. However the actual story is completely fiction. I did have a friend who wasn’t able to continue her education after primary school and that stung. Her family just couldn’t afford it and there was nothing I could do at the time.

Which of the characters were you most like as a child?

A cross between Jummy herself and Rashidat (class clown) who appears once or twice.

Who was your favourite character to write?

Ngozi was quite enjoyable to write about as she was so contrary and determined. Owolabi was great too because he annoyed Jummy and that made me giggle when I wrote about him.

Jummy was discovered through the Chicken House open submissions, has the story changed much since that point?

The bulk of the story has remained the same but the strength and consistency (for example) of the characters greatly improved with the help of Chickenhouse.

Have you thought about the kind of events you would like to do with readers (imagining no pandemic!)?

Oh I’d love to sing the songs in the book with readers and create second verses. I’d love Q&A sessions as well especially about living and schooling in Nigeria.

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?

Children of the quicksands by Efua Traore. It is a magical adventure also based in Nigeria. I’d recommend it to lovers of Jummy at the River School as it will enhance their understanding of what its like growing up in Nigeria.

Have you any further ideas for novels?

At the moment, all I can think of is more stories about the River School!

JUMMY AT THE RIVER SCHOOL by Sabine Adeyinka is out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)

Thank you Chicken House Books for the review copy and Sabine for the q&a.

Do have a look at the official blog tour from last week!

The Imperium Is Driven by Hate. Warhammer Is Not.

Imagine having to put out a statement with this title?

Games Workshop has had to do this very thing due to the rise of far-right ideologies among some of its fervent fans:

The Warhammer 40k Community Is Trying to Weed Out Its Far-Right Faction

and:

Games Workshop fights back against fascist hate symbols in the Warhammer 40K community

I understand that in a grimdark future where, to survive against a universe that hates and wants to destroy you, you have to hate harder and destroy more of your foes and own people just in case they don’t hate others enough just to survive you will not find many (or indeed any) sides or factions that are “good” but that does not mean you have to hold the beliefs of the armies you field in the game to actually play it.

Their statement is here:

There are no goodies in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. 

None.

Especially not the Imperium of Man.

Its numberless legions of soldiers and zealots bludgeon their way across the galaxy, delivering death to anyone and anything that doesn’t adhere to their blinkered view of purity. Almost every man and woman toils in misery either on the battlefield – where survival is measured in hours – or in the countless manufactorums and hive slums that fuel the Imperial war machine. All of this in slavish servitude to the living corpse of a God-Emperor whose commandments are at best only half-remembered, twisted by time and the fallibility of Humanity.

Warhammer 40,000 isn’t just grimdark. It’s the grimmest, darkest. 

The Imperium of Man stands as a cautionary tale of what could happen should the very worst of Humanity’s lust for power and extreme, unyielding xenophobia set in. Like so many aspects of Warhammer 40,000, the Imperium of Man is satirical.

For clarity: satire is the use of humour, irony, or exaggeration, displaying people’s vices or a system’s flaws for scorn, derision, and ridicule. Something doesn’t have to be wacky or laugh-out-loud funny to be satire. The derision is in the setting’s amplification of a tyrannical, genocidal regime, turned up to 11. The Imperium is not an aspirational state, outside of the in-universe perspectives of those who are slaves to its systems. It’s a monstrous civilisation, and its monstrousness is plain for all to see.

That said, certain real-world hate groups – and adherents of historical ideologies better left in the past – sometimes seek to claim intellectual properties for their own enjoyment, and to co-opt them for their own agendas.

We’ve said it before, but a reminder about what we believe in:

“We believe in and support a community united by shared values of mutual kindness and respect. Our fantasy settings are grim and dark, but that is not a reflection of who we are or how we feel the real world should be. We will never accept nor condone any form of prejudice, hatred, or abuse in our company, or in the Warhammer hobby.” 

If you come to a Games Workshop event or store and behave to the contrary, including wearing the symbols of real-world hate groups, you will be asked to leave. We won’t let you participate. We don’t want your money. We don’t want you in the Warhammer community.

For those heroes out there running their own Warhammer events, we’d love for you to join us in this stance.

You can find the full post here:

https://www.warhammer-community.com/2021/11/19/the-imperium-is-driven-by-hate-warhammer-is-not/

When Shadows Fall

Kai, Orla and Zak grew up together, their days spent on the patch of wilderness in between their homes, a small green space in a sprawling grey city. Music, laughter and friendship bind them together and they have big plans for their future – until Kai’s family suffers a huge loss.

Trying to cope with his own grief, as well as watching it tear his family apart, Kai is drawn into a new and more dangerous crowd, until his dreams for the future are a distant memory. Excluded from school and retreating from his loved ones, it seems as though his path is set, his story foretold. Orla, Zak and new classmate Om are determined to help him find his way back. But are they too late?

Little Tiger

I am a big fan of everything that Sita Brahmachari has written, and interviewed her last year for When Secrets Set Sail, so I was expecting WHEN SHADOWS FALL to be good but I didn’t realise it would be a beautiful object as well! Told in prose and verse and annotation, with the illustrations by Natalie Sirett an integral part of telling the story.

Illustrations (c), Natalie Sirett (2021), from When Shadows Fall by Sita Brahmachari,
published by Little Tiger, 11 November 2021 (Hardback, £12.99, 9781788953160)

There is a formal blog tour starting on the 15th November (details at the bottom of the page), but I snuck under the radar and got an exclusive piece from Sita about the background to creating the book:

‘Let me tell you a story’….

So began a play I worked on called Lyrical MC some years ago for Tamasha Theatre Company. Myself and the director worked with a group of young people exploring Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ in the contexts of their own lives. It ended up being a play that was about living in an island culture in the middle of an urban city. It explored the sounds of the city for them and how it felt to be negotiating life today at school and at home. It was a piece of theatre that enjoyed the musicality and interplay of the young people’s voices as they mediated each other’s realities, histories and identities in a fluid interplay.

I have never seen a great fissure between my community theatre work and writing novels for young people. When I set out to write When Shadow’s Fall I remembered a young woman I met in a unit for excluded teenagers in Ladbroke Grove. She was a fantastic young actress and storyteller but already completely switched off reading and education at the age of fourteen. It wasn’t until she started to write her own script and saw other actors reading it and paying attention to her words that reading became interesting to her. Another young actor reading out her words asked if he could change something and she became agitated saying, No! I put a lot of thinking into those words. You have to work at them to find the meaning!

Kai is the author sitting on the Green Hill writing his story – ‘When Shadows Fall’ – even he seems surprised that this is what he has done… that he, who was excluded from school, could become the author of his own story and yet this is what he finds himself doing.

Over the years, I have mentored many young people to help them with their writing. The process of finding your voice (in writing as Kai does) In art (as Omid does) and in speaking out (as Orla does) is a powerful one.

When readers open When Shadows Fall I hope the creative form of the book with its annotations, poetry, prose and art portfolio and testimony will lead readers and aspiring writers to take up the pen, charcoal or paintbrush and begin their own story.

When Shadows Fall is out now! Thank you Little Tiger for the review copy, Nina Douglas for organising the piece for TeenLibrarian, and Sita for writing it!

The Boy Behind the Wall

What would you risk for a friend you’ve never met . . . ?

In 1960s Berlin the Wall is everywhere. It cuts through streets, parks, even houses. Teenagers Harry and Jakob live either side of the divide.

In West Berlin, American Harry witnesses the brutal shooting of a boy trying to escape over the Wall into the West, and decides to emulate his comic book heroes and help those in the East however he can.

On the other side in East Berlin, Jakob is the adopted son of a high up Stasi officer, feeling suffocated by the rules of a strictly regimented society and desperate to find his real family.

When Jakob finds a message that Harry has sent over the Wall, he grasps the opportunity. The boys begin a secret friendship, evading the authorities using lemon juice as invisible ink to share hidden messages.

They soon realise that a bold plot to carve a tunnel under the wall is the only way out for Jakob – and it’s time to put their friendship to the test. Just how much are they prepared to risk for each other – and for freedom?

The Boy Behind the Wall is a gripping historical tale about two boys living either side of the Berlin Wall, told in alternating chapters and both of the voices are well realised. I was interested that, as part of the pitch for the book, Welbeck Flame included the fact that Maximillian Jones is in fact a group of people writing in a similar manner to those in a script room, at Tibor Jones Studio. Because of this, when I was asked if I’d like to be part of the tour, I said I’d love to have a piece of writing from the team about this collaborative process!

THE BOY BEHIND THE WALL – origin story

Tibor Jones Studio is a writer’s collective that gives creative writing opportunities to aspiring novelists so they can learn on the job while dreaming of having their own works published in the future. By using the TV writer’s room model, a concept is created with a spark document, then developed by the book’s creative editor and then two co-writers. From time to time, a third writer may be brought in to help elevate the material.

Kevin Conroy Scott, the founder of the studio, was thinking about the wealth of children’s books inspired by the holocaust, in particular the success of THE BOOK THIEF and THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS. How could such a terrible event generate such moving fiction for children? And why hasn’t the Cold War, another terrible historical event, been covered in a similar way?

After revisiting iconic adult stories like John Le Carre’s classic novel, THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD and the German film THE LIVES OF OTHERS, Kevin visited the infamous Stasi museum in Berlin, where so many innocent, hard-working residents of East Berlin were being monitored, or in some cases, interrogated and incarcerated by the East German secret police. It was there that the idea for the book originated. What if an American boy, living in the American sector, sent a balloon up for a class project and it floated over the wall and was shot down by the border guards? What if, a week later, a boy around the same age wrote back and asked for help getting out to the West? How can two boys overcome such a barrier, with such a powerful adversary in the Stasi standing in their way?

The writing process took almost five years. We started with the simple premise, then we needed to build out the characters, the world, the sub-plots and the shape of the narrative. The outline served as posts that we let the horses of our imagination roam between as the story took shape. We used a two-writer system, and once the outline felt robust enough, each writer would write a chapter in either Henry or Jakob’s voice, and build until a first draft was reached, getting feedback from our in-house editor with each tranche delivered. Then each full draft of the novel would be shared with our brain trust (in a nod to the way Pixar works) and then we would start the next draft. After four drafts, we felt we had something special, but there was more work needed. That’s when we brought in a third writer to bring some new energy and a fresh perspective into the mix. Then our publisher, Welbeck Flame, came on board to help polish it further and we enlisted the expertise of two different German editors for their comments. It was an exciting and fascinating deep dive into the Cold War and the terrible destruction a wall built through a vibrant city can do to so many lives. It felt like we were exploring dystopian fiction before it even existed.

Do take a look at the previous stops on the blog tour and read the book, which is out now!

Illustrated Classics: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Discover the magical world of Oz as we accompany Dorothy on her journey to the enchanted Emerald City. Packed with stunning illustrations and exclusive interactive features, MinaLima™ reimagines an essential tome of American pop culture.

MinaLima

MinaLima are very clever people. I wanted to know a bit more of the background to their beautiful Illustrated Classics series, so was pleased to be given the opportunity to ask a few questions!

What prompted you to start creating these beautiful reimaginings of classics?

Miraphora: During our 20-year journey of creating graphic designs for the Wizarding World, we had the opportunity to create many books as props for the films but also behind-the-scenes  film “tie-in” books for the “real” world. In this way we developed a good relationship with our publisher Harper Design. Together we had the idea of redesigning the classics – we knew that these were stories loved by readers across the world but also that these were tales set in fantastical worlds, which we love.

Do you do everything collaboratively or do you each have particular roles when working together?

Miraphora: The whole process starts with Eduardo reading through the book and creating a book map of all the interesting, quirky and intriguing occurrences in the book that we feel should be marked as illustrations or interactive elements. Then, we begin developing an overall creative direction, creating rough sketches of the characters and locations.

Eduardo: Mira usually starts these early sketches. We have a fantastic team, who then picks these up and starts drawing the illustrations in more detail. They also begin crafting all the paper engineered interactive elements, cutting and pasting different sections to see if they work. We believe that the sum of the parts are always greater than any individual illustrator or designer and we bring this collaborative approach to everything we do.

How have you chosen the titles you’ve done so far? Do you have a favourite?

Eduardo: We have chosen the titles we all know and love; these are fairytales we have all grown up reading. My favourite book is definitely Pinocchio –  I have loved this story since I was a child and I knew from the beginning that this had to be in our MinaLima Classics collection!

Miraphora: My favourite is The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which is our latest title – so Eduardo got to reimagine his favourite first!

If you could reimagine any book, without having to worry about permissions, what would it be?

Eduardo: I love the Agatha Christie books but the descriptions are so beautifully detailed that I am not sure if they leave much room for reimagination!

What are you tackling next?

Miraphora: This year is a very special year for us: we are celebrating 20 years of working together. So we are crafting a very special book:The Magic of MinaLima, which will be published by Harper Collins in 2022. 

Eduardo: This book charts our experience of creating the graphic universe of the Wizarding World, from films in which you can escape to books you can delve into, from products you can hold to experiences in which you can immerse yourself.

MinaLima is an award-winning graphic design studio founded by Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima, renowned for establishing the visual graphic style of the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts film series. Based in London, the MinaLima studio is renowned internationally for telling stories through design and has created its own MinaLima Classics series, reimagining a growing collection of much-loved tales including Peter Pan, The Secret Garden, and Pinocchio.

Mina Lima, Portraits


Instagram: minalimadesign | Twitter: @minalima | Web: www.minalima.com

Thankyou to Harper360 for sending me a review copy of their latest title, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

The Royal Rebel

Born in 1876, Princess Sophia Duleep Singh was the daughter of the last Sikh ruler of the Punjab, and goddaughter of Queen Victoria. After her father lost control of his empire and was exiled to England, Sophia had a privileged but troubled upbringing that left her unsure about where she belonged – in India or England. Sensitive to injustice, she became an suffragette and fought hard to win the vote for women. This is the extraordinary story of her life.

Barrington Stoke
artwork by Rachael Dean

Bali Rai has such a range when it comes to writing, he really has done something for just about every reader, but I have a soft spot for his Barrington Stoke titles, I reviewed his previous one, STAY A LITTLE LONGER, here. Barrington Stoke titles are a little bit special because there is not a word wasted, they’re written to engage and not patronise children and young people. This particular book, THE ROYAL REBEL, is based on the real life story of Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, who led an extraordinary life. I was filled with sadness reading it, about how affected her life was by British colonialism and politics, but she was a fascinating character and Bali Rai’s writing from her perspective has really brought her to life.

I asked Bali Rai a few questions!

What prompted you to write about Princess Sophia Duleep Singh?

My family is Sikh, so I had known the story of Sophia’s grandfather, Maharajah Ranjit Singh, and of her father, Duleep Singh, since childhood. However, I had never been told of the role Sophia played. So, when I discovered who she was and her role within the Suffragette movement, I was determined to bring her story to younger readers. I am passionate about representing unheard voices in British literature and always have been.

Has your research led you to any other figures in history that you would like to write about?

Yes, I learned of the roles played by the Royal Indian Army Service Corps at Dunkirk, and Mohinder Singh Pujji (RAF) during World War 2. I have written about both. The next figure I want to write about is an Indian revolutionary called Udham Singh, whose story is much darker, but just as important. There are many unheard voices throughout British history, and I hope to write about many more.

You’ve written in a wide range of genres, is writing a historical novel a very different process to that of writing about contemporary characters? Do you favour one over the other?

My main genre is reality based fiction, so the research involved in writing historical fiction is very different. I actually enjoy the historical research more than the contemporary stuff. I’ve always loved history and like nothing more than getting stuck into research. It’s often time-consuming but always worthwhile. We can learn a great deal about where we are now, based on what came before us.

You’ve written a number of books for Barrington Stoke, as well as longer novels, for middle grade and YA audiences. How do you choose which of your ideas to use for the shorter novellas and for what target age?

I generally think of an idea, and work on that with my agent and the editors at Barrington Stoke. That’s most true of the more contemporary stories I’ve written for them. The Royal Rebel was only possible because of that partnership (I reworked the idea several times) and it’s a collective effort that I value highly. The age range doesn’t really enter into my head. I have a voice that I want to write, and a theme to explore – and the target age and reading level are determined by the amazing people at Barrington Stoke. Since my first books for them, Dream On, it’s been a team effort, and it’s a process I love to be part of. Barrington Stoke are wonderful publishers, doing something vitally important.

Which of your books are your favourite to do events for?

My younger historical fiction books are now firm favourites for events. The response to them has been amazing. And much as I adore working with older teens, there’s something even more wonderful about introducing diverse British history to KS2 and KS3 pupils. The levels of enthusiasm for the events just add to that pleasure.

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?

I’m currently reading lots of non-fiction about the British Empire, for a new young adult series I’d like to write. The last children’s book I read was How I Saved The World In A Week by Polly Ho-Yen. I’d recommend that to anyone who loves imaginative and thrilling adventure stories. It’s brilliant and Polly is a superb writer!

What can we expect from you next?

I have a junior series for Reading Planet out soon, called Green Patrol, and a short novel called Wolf Girl. I’m currently researching and working on a new young adult idea, and also a new World War 2 story with British Indian characters. Oh, and I’m reworking an older adventure series idea, in the hope of showing that to an editor at Penguin.

THE ROYAL REBEL is out now from Barrington Stoke, thank you to them for a review copy and to Bali Rai for answering my questions, I’m really excited to see more about your next ventures!

Michael Rosen’s Sticky McStickstick

After being admitted to hospital in 2020 with coronavirus, Michael Rosen had to learn to walk again. With the support of doctors and nurses and a walking stick he names “Sticky McStickstick”, he manages to embark on the slow steps to recovery. This moving picture book from the former Children’s Laureate, with illustrations from Tony Ross, tells a story of perseverance and hope, and is a testament to the importance of overcoming fear and learning to accept help.

Walker Books
Sticky McStickstick is illustrated by Tony Ross

Michael Rosen is a National Treasure and so many people were very worried about him when he was hospitalised with Covid-19 in 2020. It took him a long time to recover, and while he did he had the support of his walking stick (as well as family and NHS staff, obviously). Many Different Kinds of Love, a collection of Rosen’s poems and the coronavirus diaries of his nurses, was published by Ebury in March 2021 for grownups to read, but this is for everyone…and I mean everyone. When I was asked if I’d like to send a few questions for him, of course I said yes!

‘Many Different Kinds of Love’ has already been published, on adult lists, did you write the two books at the same time?

No. I wrote MDKOL first but I noticed that I had mentioned Sticky McStickstick. People asked me about the stick and I started telling them things about where it is or what happened when I tried to walk with it and so on. A voice in my head told me that I could personify the stick and it then became fun to write it all out as a story. 

This complements your Sad Book beautifully. Why do you think having books about such emotive subjects is important for children?

Books for children can be about anything that the adults who care for children think are OK things to talk about. Society has taboos around children and childhood and writers have to respect these. Subjects like death and serious illness are on the edge of the taboos. Some people won’t take their children to funerals, for example. Or they might not tell their children about a terminal illness. That’s their choice. My two books go into an area where some have those taboos but others think that it’s helpful to talk about experiences such as these which are as much about life as eating or sleeping. All books open up trains of thought and conversations. I’d be very glad if both those books do just that with children being looked after or brought up by people who think it’s a good idea to talk about such things. 

Do you have thoughts about how ‘Sticky McStickstick’ might best be used in schools?

I would start with a class talking in pairs to each other their illnesses and accidents, swapping stories, perhaps writing about them or drawing pictures of them. Then reading my book. Or it could be the other way round. Reading my book first, perhaps. There are open-ended trigger questions that are helpful too e.g. Is there anything in this book that makes you think of anything that has happened to you or to anyone you know? Is there anything in this book that makes you think of anything you’ve ever read before, or heard in a song, or on the TV or in a film? If you could ask anyone in the book a question, what would you ask? Can you answer that question? If you could ask the author a question, what would it be? Can you answer that question? Are you affected by any part of the book? Which part? How?  Why? 

Tony Ross has illustrated a number of your books. Do you let him get on with it or do you make suggestions about what the illustrations might look like?

I most certainly do let him get on with it. I write the words. The illustrator, designer and editor make the book.

Sticky McStickstick was published on 4 November 2021 by Walker Books

(9781529502404, £12.99, Hardback)