Category Archives: Mg

Comic Classics: Great Expectations

OLD books get NEW doodles – it’s the classics as you’ve never seen them before!A hilarious new series that brings the classics to life with illustrations by Jack Noel. Perfect for fans of Tom Gates, Wimpy Kid and Dav Pilkey. And Charles Dickens.

WHAT THE DICKENS?

Ten-year-old Pip gets the fright of his life when he meets an escaped convict in a spooky graveyard. And that’s just the beginning of an adventure that will lead him to a house full of secrets, a strange old lady and a journey to the big city to seek his fortune. But Pip is in for a BIG surprise . . .

Join Pip in a rip-roaring story of family secrets, scary grannies and a REALLY annoying big sister in COMIC CLASSICS: GREAT EXPECTATIONS by Charles Dickens and Jack Noel.

Egmont
Comic Classics: Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens and Jack Noel

Do we need the classics? Normally I’d say “not really” and go back to reading an outstanding recently published novel that is actually written for children and not just foisted upon them by the education system <ahem>…but there are a few exceptions. I have never read a Dickens novel except for A Chrismas Carol (though I mostly remember it because of The Muppets) and would happily have never changed that state of affairs until this book crossed my path! Carefully abridged by Liz Bankes, this version is enlivened by loads of doodles by Jack Noel. I flew through it and really enjoyed the way these simple pictures highlighted the story and often explained what the text meant without patronising young readers.

I asked Jack Noel a few questions about it all (unfortunately Charles was unavailable for comment):

What inspired you to create this series?

I love books with pictures. We’re living in a golden age of illustrated young fiction (eg. Tom Gates, Claude, Mr Gum, Barry Loser, Reeves & McIntyre, Lyttle Lies etc). I would have loved them all when I was eight or ten or twenty or thirty and I love them now. I wanted to have a go myself. I was curious to see how the style would work when applied to something a little different. It turns out: quite well!

Did you read Great Expectations as a child?

We read Great Expectations at school. I thought we’d read the whole thing but I now know that my teacher just selected the best bits (the graveyard! the cake! the fire!). Also I think my mum made me watch the David Lean movie one wet Sunday afternoon. Though it might have been Kathy Come Home. It was some old black and white film, anyway. I thought it was quite boring.

There are two more coming soon, Treasure Island & The Hound of the Baskervilles, how many more are in the pipeline? How have you chosen the titles?

We just choose the most fun ones we can think of. Treasure Island is great because it’s got all the original pirate ideas like the maps and a parrot that says ‘pieces of eight’. I’m also hoping that the publisher will pay for me to sail to the Caribbean on a promotional tour. The Hound of the Baskervilles is the best Sherlock Holmes story and I’ve been into him ever since I saw The Great Mouse Detective in 1986, about a mouse version of Sherlock Holmes.

If you could add doodles to *any* book, what would you choose?

I feel like any book would be better with doodles. Hilary Mantel books are wonderful but a couple of doodle Thomas Cromwells wouldn’t go amiss. I can’t draw horses very well though, so no Black Beauty.

What kind of author events do you enjoy doing?

I like author events with lots of live drawing and collaboration. I aim for 65% fun, 30% inspiring, 5% educational. If the kids are shouting, that’s a good event. Even if it is because they’re angry.

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

I just started the latest Sam Wu book by  Katie and Kevin Tsang. It’s about a boy who isn’t afraid of Zombies. It’s packed with great pictures by Nathan Reed. 

What, other than Comic Classics, are you working on?

I’ve got a novel coming out in August called MY HEADTEACHER IS AN EVIL GENIUS. Not to spoil it or anything, but it’s about a headteacher who is an evil genius. It’s got loads of pictures and jokes and stuff, you’d like it.

Comic Classics: Great Expectations is out now. For a sneak peek, have a look here on the Egmont website. Thanks Egmont for sending me a review copy!

The National Shelf Service

CILIP started the National Shelf Service on Monday 6th April, a daily recommendation of a book available to borrow electronically through local libraries, live at 11am. Hopefully you’ve been watching these great videos from YLG colleagues, but if you haven’t seen any yet then why not start with mine! I’m the only one (so far) that has talked about a book that isn’t aimed at teenagers or young adults, not really living up to the TeenLibrarian name, but as I say: this book can be read and loved by anyone of any age…

The illustrations on the banners are by Fiona Lumbers, from the book Luna Loves Library Day written by Joseph Coelho

The Austen Girls

Would she ever find a real-life husband? Would she even find a partner to dance with at tonight’s ball? She just didn’t know.
Anna Austen has always been told she must marry rich. Her future depends upon it. While her dear cousin Fanny has a little more choice, she too is under pressure to find a suitor.
But how can either girl know what she wants? Is finding love even an
option? The only person who seems to have answers is their Aunt Jane. She has never married. In fact, she’s perfectly happy, so surely being single can’t be such a bad thing?
The time will come for each of the Austen girls to become the heroines of
their own stories. Will they follow in Jane’s footsteps?
In this witty, sparkling novel of choices, popular historian LUCY WORSLEY brings alive the delightful life of Jane Austen as you’ve never seen it before.

Bloomsbury

This is Lucy’s fourth historical novel for Bloomsbury Children’s Books but the first (to my shame) I’ve read, I definitely want to pick up the others now though. It reads like an Austen novel, while managing to keep the story moving at a pace for younger modern teens to keep engaged. The setting is very evocative with real historical touches, I’m a little bit disappointed it isn’t an entirely true story! She very kindly answered some questions for TeenLibrarian:

What prompted you to discover Jane Austen led such an interesting life?

Well, on the face of it, Jane Austen lived quite a boring life. No one knew that she was a famous novelist, because she kept it secret. She never got married or did wild things, and she died quite young. And yet I think her life was terribly interesting, because she was so brave to decide that she wasn’t going to marry a rich man. (She did accept one proposal, but broke it off the next morning.) Instead, she became one of the very few professional female novelists of Georgian times. I did a lot of research about her real life, and I discovered that she gave out agony advice to her two young nieces as they grew up and had to decide themselves who they were going to marry. So I took the three characters from history, and spun a story around them! It’s only in my imagination that Jane Austen becomes a detective, or the rather lovely word that the Georgians used: a ‘thief-taker’.

Which is most satisfying: writing for TV, writing non-fiction, or writing fiction?

What I really like is a mix. Writing for TV is a very collaborative effort – a whole team works on it very closely together. Writing non-fiction is very slow and painstaking, you have to get all the facts right. By comparison, writing fiction is like flying! All you have to think about is the story. It’s nice to be able to switch between all three. (There’s another kind of writing that I do as well: writing very clear blocks of text for guidebooks or exhibitions or webpages in my work as a museum curator at Hampton Court Palace. That’s another challenge all of its own.)

When you started writing fiction did you originally intend it to be for a teen audience or did it evolve that way?

I decided around the age of 11 that I wanted to be a historian, and one of the reasons that I made that decision was through reading historical novels. So I wanted to write books that maybe … just possibly … the person who’s going to be doing my job and who’s going to be the curator at Hampton Court Palace in twenty years’ time might enjoy.

If you were given unlimited time & resources to research & write about a different person or event, who/what would you choose?

I would love to write about Agatha Christie, the detective story writer.

What is your favourite kind of book event to take part in?

I like going to a school or a festival with my box of props and dressing up outfits, and acting out silly scenes from history.

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

I’m always reading about five different books for different research projects, and usually they wouldn’t be of any interest to anyone else apart from the five people who are researching in that tiny corner of history. At the moment, though, I have been burning my way through many Agatha Christies – a nice relaxing thing to read when we’re all feeling anxious!

Lucy Worsley is, by day, Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, the independent charity that looks after the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace State Apartments, the Banqueting House in Whitehall, and Kew Palace in Kew Gardens. By night, she is a writer and presenter.

Thank you Bloomsbury for sending me a proof copy, and Lucy for answering my questions!

The Austen Girls is out TODAY!

Lost by Ele Fountain

Lola’s life is about to become unrecognisable. So is Lola.

Everything used to be comfortable. She lived in a big house with her family, where her biggest problems were arguing with her little brother or being told she couldn’t have a new phone. But as one disaster follows another, the threads of her home and family begin to unravel.

Cut off from everything she has known before, Lola must find a new way to survive.

Now, an ordinary girl must become extraordinary.

Pushkin Press

What inspired the setting for LOST?

The idea of a few misfortunes leading to the loss of something as elemental as your home seems like a far-fetched reality for most of us. The reality for millions of children is that they never had one in the first place. I wanted to write a story with a thread to tie these two realities together.

Did you consider writing it from more than one POV or was Lola always the narrator?

I wanted to stay with Lola’s POV throughout to highlight the contrast between where she had come from and where she ended up, and her sense of helplessness as events gathered speed.

Did you always have the end in mind or did it change as you got to know the characters?

I always had the end in mind, but of course stories evolve during writing; some of my favourite journeys have been those which end up in a slightly different place than originally intended! The only significant change is that the final ending is happier than in my first draft.

As an editor, what kind of stories do you most enjoy working on?

What I love most is the element of surprise when a new manuscript arrives – what will make it special? Wonderful books come in so many guises. A beautifully written page-turner will always be a winner for me, though.

What kind of author events do you prefer doing?

School events are one of the best things about being an author, and usually take you straight to the heart of a school: the library. My favourite events are those which allow time for a talk and then creative writing workshops afterwards. It seems a wonderful recipe for firing imaginations, and I am frequently astonished by the quality of the ideas the pupils come up with.

If young readers are appalled by the conditions Lola & Amit find themselves in, what would be the best first steps you’d suggest for making a difference to the lives of children in real life similar circumstances?

It’s a complex crisis with no single solution. Supporting rural communities to develop micro-industries of their own is one way to make them more attractive to younger generations, and provide jobs so that they don’t feel it’s essential to move to a big city. A more immediate way is to raise money for charities such as Save the Children, who provide relief for families during monsoon flooding and offer safe spaces for children with no home to go to.

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

I am currently reading Solo, an autobiography by the polar explorer Pen Haddow. I’ve also just finished Brightstorm by Vashti Hardy. My seven-year-old was reading it at the same time. When we talked about the book afterwards, my daughter said that she loved the ‘world’, and the fact that adults were included in the adventure, not just kids. I loved it too.

Can you give us a hint as to what you’re working on next?

See above (Solo by Pen Haddow). I’m not writing an autobiography about polar exploration, but there will definitely be some snow!

Ele Fountain (picture credit Debra Hurford-Brown)

Lost is published by Pushkin Press on 12th March 2020

Thank you for the review copy!

Monster Slayer: a Beowulf Tale

One dark night , the sound of music and singing wakes a terrible monster from his sleep in a foul swamp …

Warrior after warrior comes to slay the monster, but no one can outwit Grendel. Only the great hero Beowulf stands a chance, but even he is not prepared for the horror that lies in wait.

Barrington Stoke

Brian Patten has revisted his retelling of Beowulf for Barrington Stoke, packaged in their renowned dyslexia friendly style, with illustrations by Chris Riddell making it even more enticing. It is brilliantly done, he has managed to condense it down into readable language while retaining the gore and thrill of the original poem, at one point Grendel “plucked off their arms and legs as if they were petals”.

I was really pleased to be sent a copy of it, and even more pleased to be given the opportunity to ask Brian some questions:

You wrote this retelling quite some time ago, how did it come to be republished by Barrington Stoke?

Barrington Stoke asked me to revisit it for the new edition and I was glad to do so. The Beowulf story dates back over a thousand years and was written by an anonymous poet. It was memorised and retold over and over, spreading from Scandinavia to Britain, where people would gather in the Great Halls where the clans lived to listen to it. You could say it was the very first blockbuster horror story.

I wrote it because I wanted younger people, not just professors and people studying at University to read it, and so wrote this version as simply and as well as I could.

Can you imagine having a mother like Grendel’s?

Was it your idea to have new illustrations from Chris Riddell?

I don’t think we could have used anyone else! Chris has illustrated a number of my books now- three of my poetry collections and The Story Giant- my book about a mysterious figure that lives out on Dartmoor and knows every story in the world- except for one, which a group of children try to help him find one night when they dream themselves into his castle. If they can’t find it, the giant will die.

How difficult was it to distill the poem down without losing the heart of it?

The first draft I wrote was nearly twice as long as the finished draft. Part of being a writer – for a prose writer as well as a poet – is knowing what to leave out. I wanted it to move fast, and the language to be rich, so used images like the monster rising from a nest amongst putrid pools.

When you start a poem, have you already decided if it will be for adults or children or does it come clear as you write?

That’s a great question. I’m really delighted when I’m writing a poem and it suddenly becomes obvious that it is for adults as well as children. A good example is my poem, Geography Lesson. Sometimes there are poems that begin life as adult poems that children seem to find other things in, and they make it their own- a poem like A Small Dragon is a good example. One day it suddenly began to turn up in anthologies for children, while it began life as a love poem. I don’t think poems only have one “meaning.” 

What kind of events do you most enjoy doing with young readers?

I used to do lots of poetry readings for young readers and still do sometimes.

What I like to do is read my funny ones and drop the serious ones into the mixture now and then. I always think if you can make people laugh, they will allow you to be serious now and then, and continue to listen.

Do you have a favourite of your own books (other than this one, obviously)?

I guess my favourite of my own is my Collected Love Poems. Usually my favourite poem though is the one I’m trying to write.

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

At the moment I’m reading lots of nature books. I woke very early this morning and was reading a book called Extraordinary Insects. I live in the countryside and see badgers and foxes all the time, and there’s a pheasant that pecks on the window for its breakfast and a blackbird that loves grapes. (There was one blackbird that lived in the garden last year that would actually take a grape from between my finger and thumb if I stayed still long enough.)  Anyway, I recently decided I’d like to pay some attention to the other world that surrounds us and the almost alien creatures who occupy it and have such weird and wonderful powers. So now I’m halfway through Extraordinary Insects.

What are your plans for 2020?

More writing and more travel.

Thanks a lot for taking an interest. I think we all have more than five senses. We have six. Imagination is the sixth, and the more it is used the more it grows.

Very best wishes,

Brian

Brian Patten (credit: APEX)

Monster Slayer: A Beowulf Tale, by Brian Patten and illustrated by Chris Riddell, is out now!

Agent Zaiba Investigates – extract!

Determined to be the world’s greatest detective, Zaiba is always on the lookout for a crime to solve. She knows everything there is to know about running an investigation – in theory…

At her cousin’s Mehndi party, Zaiba gets her first challenge: to discover the identity of the VIP staying at the same hotel. With the help of her best friend Poppy and brother Ali, Zaiba puts her sleuthing skills to the test. And when the celebrity’s precious dog disappears, along with its priceless diamond collar, it’s up to the trio to save the day!

Stripes
Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Missing Diamonds, cover & internal illustration by Daniela Sosa

Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Missing Diamonds is the first in a new #UKMG series by Annabelle Sami.

Zaiba is a fantastic protagonist with a great team behind her. I love that her aunt is so involved in the story, even though the children basically work alone it is clear that they have plenty of adult support, the grownups aren’t disposed of to give the kids more space but instead the adults give them sensible freedoms (that they definitely make the most of) and actually listen to them! The plot races along, with funny and thoughtful dialogue and a well imagined setting – it is just great fun. The background of a Mehndi party gives us loads of food references and a chance to get to know the whole family, excellent scene setting with just the right level of description without interrupting the flow of the action.

There are a number of full page black and white illustrations in the book to highlight key events, as well as lots of smaller vignettes and chapter headings throughout. Daniela Sosa has done a brilliant job of really bringing the characters to life and keeping the readers eyes on the page.

I’m loving the resurgence in detective kids, and even more loving the diversity of all these new sleuths, Zaiba herself is British Pakistani. I can’t wait for book two, I want there to be as many Zaiba stories as there are about Poirot…and I can easily envisage a CBBC TV series of Agent Zaiba!

Annabelle Sami, author of the Agent Zaiba Investigates series

To give you a taste of what the book looks like (gorgeous), and how thrilling it is (very), I’ve been given an extract to share with you. There’s also a game to play at the end…

Download an extract and game here

Huge thanks to Charlie from Little Tiger for sending me a review copy.

Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Missing Diamonds is out now!

Nothing Ever Happens Here

“This is Littlehaven. Nothing ever happens here. Until the spotlight hits my family.” Izzy’s family is under the spotlight when her dad comes out as Danielle, a trans woman. Izzy is terrified her family will be torn apart. Will she lose her dad? Will her parents break up? And what will people at school say? Izzy’s always been shy, but now all eyes are on her. Can she face her fears, find her voice and stand up for what’s right?

Usborne
Nothing Ever Happens Here by Sarah Hagger-Holt

Nothing Ever Happens Here is just brilliant. It tells Izzy’s story with great humour, not sugar-coating reactions from family and others, but sensitively portraying how things change and how Izzy feels about it. Perfectly pitched for a middle grade audience (but definitely also readable by teens and adults alike), it will broaden minds and inspire really positive conversations around empathy and the way the media currently often (mainly) poorly portray trans people. I highly recommend you get this book for your schools, your children, and yourselves!

I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to ask Sarah a few questions:

You’ve previously written non-fiction for adults, when you initially had the idea of writing fiction did you always intend for it to be for children or did the story evolve that way?

I’m not totally sure! I don’t think I set out to write fiction at all – I simply had an idea for a story which wouldn’t go away, so I started writing something to see what would happen next… 45,000 words later and I had the draft of a children’s novel! I love reading children’s fiction. I have enjoyed so many excellent new children’s books recently – thanks to my daughters’ recommendations – as well as discovering my old favourites to share with them. It’s a real honour and excitement for me to know that Nothing Ever Happens Here will be alongside some of my favourite titles and, I hope, will be read and enjoyed by children (and maybe a few parents too).

What prompted you to write from the perspective of a child of a trans parent?

The most recent non-fiction book I co-wrote was a parenting guide for LGBT parents, informed by interviews with around 70 families – all of whom had fascinating stories to tell and experiences to share. A couple of those stories stuck with me, stories of families where a parent had transitioned while their children were at school. I started wondering about what experience would have been really like, from the child’s perspective as well as the parent’s, and that’s how Nothing Ever Happens Here began. I’m cis (not trans), but I am part of the LGBT community, and I’m very aware how few children’s books reflect families like ours. I hope that Nothing Ever Happens Here is not a one-off and we will start to see more LGBT families appearing in all kinds of children’s books.

Was it difficult to write? Which characters came to you most easily?

Looking back, it was a joy to write (but maybe that’s just hindsight!). Finding time to write was difficult, but the actual writing came quite easily. I think this was because I let the characters and dialogue develop in my head while I was doing other things – swimming, commuting to work, hanging up the washing – so that by the time I got my laptop out to write, everything was all ready to go. The first character to come was Izzy, but I really enjoyed getting to know the other characters too and I’m fond of them all. Perhaps Megan – Izzy’s older sister – and Grace – her extrovert best friend – were the most fun to write as they both have such strong personalities.

Did you involve sensitivity readers early on in the writing process or ask for input when the book was closer to being finished?

Both. The story itself was informed and inspired by in-depth interviews with families with a trans parent, so their experiences were at the heart of the book from before I wrote a single word. This means that some scenes have direct parallels in real-life, and that their voices influenced the whole tone of Nothing Ever Happens Here. Two of those parents read a first draft of the book and gave comments before I even submitted the manuscript to agents. Then I was fortunate enough to have two incredible sensitivity readers – Christine Burns and Jay Hulme – who advised on the manuscript as it was nearer to its final stage.

Have you had feedback from young readers?

My daughter, who is 11, was one of the first readers of Nothing Ever Happens Here – she gave me her unvarnished feedback and has now become a great champion of the book among her friends. It’s early days, but I’m starting to get feedback from pre-teen readers – my favourite feedback so far is from a 12-year-old reader who said “This book was so good and you know it’s a good book when you tell your mum that you can’t wait to go to bed so I could continue reading.”

Have you done any author events? What would you most like to do to promote the book?

The book is only just out, but I’m really looking forward to getting into schools or youth groups to promote the book, to encourage young people in their writing and to talk about some of the issues raised by Nothing Ever Happens Here. I did lots of events and workshops around my non-fiction books (both of which also had LGBT themes) but only with adults – so presenting to a younger audience will be a new adventure.

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

I have just started ‘Amy and Isabelle’ by Elizabeth Strout, after being recommended her books by a friend who always has good reading tips. It’s the first novel I’ve read by her and I’m totally hooked already. I’d recommend it to fans of Anne Tyler or Kent Haruf, it’s a similar, character-led approach which draws you into the lives and emotions of ‘ordinary’ people in a powerful but gentle way.

Are you planning another book for children?

Yes. Well, it’s beyond the planning stage now, as my second novel is coming out with Usborne in 2021. I won’t say too much, apart from that it also involves an LGBT family, like Nothing Ever Happens Here. However I have lots more stories I want to tell that touch on the issues which I care about, so hopefully there will be many more books to come.

Sarah Hagger-Holt

Sarah Hagger-Holt lives with her partner and two daughters in Hertfordshire and is the Community Campaigns Manager for the LGBTQ+ rights charity Stonewall. She is the author of two adult non-fiction LGBTQ+ parenting books and has written for the i paper, the Huffington Post, and spoken on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour about LGBTQ+ parenting.

Huge thanks to Usborne for sending me a review copy of the book, and to Sarah for answering my questions!

Seven Ghosts by Chris Priestley



Jake and the other finalists in a story-writing competition have been invited to a stately home for a tour like no other. As their guide leads them through grand rooms, hidden nooks and magnificent grounds, they are about to hear the stories of seven ghosts who haunt these walls. But strange shapes and shadows follow Jake as he journeys through the house. The tour guide’s behaviour becomes ever more suspicious. With each tale that he hears, Jake begins to feel more uneasy, and soon he will discover that something is very, very wrong …

Barrington Stoke
Seven Ghosts, written and illustrated by Chris Priestley

We at TeenLibrarian are big fans of both Barrington Stoke and Chris Priestley, so when I was given the chance to have a gallery of images from his latest novella for them I jumped at it! Seven Ghosts is a brilliantly creepy short story, telling seven short stories of ghosts haunting a particular house, that would be brilliant to read aloud to a class of any age (from 8+) or at bedtime (but you may need the lights on afterwards). Enjoy the slideshow…

Chris Priestley



Max Kowalski Didn’t Mean It

The problem with Wales, he thought, was that it was too far away.
But that was the point. To leave Southend behind. To get so far that no one would think to look for them there.

Max wants to be just like his dad – fun, loud and strong.
Instead, he always seems to be accidentally getting into fights and breaking things.
But when his dad starts bringing home mysterious boxes, even more mysterious wads of cash starts turning up.
Then Dad disappears. And it’s up to Max to look after his sisters until he comes home.
When they run away to a remote village in Wales, he’s convinced that no one will find them.
He’s Max Kowalski. Of course he can look after three kids with no grownups around!
Although, he can’t stop thinking about where Dad really went. And the whispers of a golden dragon, asleep under the Welsh mountains…

Puffin
Max Kowalski Didn’t Mean It

Over on twitter last month, Louie Stowell wrote the review “If Jacqueline Wilson ganged up with Alan Garner and remixed A Monster Calls, with dragons. Powerful and deep.” and I was immediately sold. Brilliantly, Susie Day, the author of said book, then offered to send me one of her author copies and I bit off her hand! It was as brilliant as expected, with warmth and humour and fabulous characters in pretty dire but totally believable circumstances. After reading it, I asked Susie if she would answer some questions for the blog:

In your books you focus on “issues” that are relevant to lots of children but often missing from children’s fiction, always beautifully encased in a fabulous story. What prompted you to tackle toxic masculinity? ‘Issue books’ always sounds such a miserable label, doesn’t it? Like All Bran instead of Coco Pops. I hope my books are a blend of both (although less disgusting than that sounds). I’m always trying to write about children whose lives feel genuinely reflective of the world we live in – which means acknowledging the challenges of poverty, or grief, or homophobia. But it also means celebrating the ways we live through all that stuff: through daft jokes, and family, and love.
We’ve made big cultural strides in celebrating girls who want to do traditionally ‘masculine’ things, from playing pirates and getting muddy to careers in STEM. But boys choosing stereotypically ‘girly’ things – being creative or sensitive, or being open to emotional expression and relying on friends for support – remains a bigger sticking point. When I worked at a boarding school for teenagers we had some mental health training, which showed me some really shocking stats. Suicide is the #1 cause of death among men aged 20-49 in the UK. We’re letting all kids down if we don’t try to identify why that’s happening, and work to change it.

You generally have female protagonists, how different was your approach when writing Max? This question really made me think! Max is a character who often won’t admit what he really feels or thinks, and wants to put up a front. But I’ve written lots of girls like that too – like Sammie in The Secrets of Sam and Sam, or Clover in Pea’s Book of Holidays. Max has ideas that he associates that very strongly with being a boy. But Sammie or Billie Bright: they bump up against the ‘required’ behaviours of being a girl a lot too. It’s the same problem, but with different expectations.
The challenge Max has is that he thinks of himself in one way – big, tough, capable – and that doesn’t match his reality. The challenge for me as a writer is how to show that. But the characters I love to read about most are the ones who are figuring themselves out while we read them. I loved finding the visible symbols of that when he’s not a boy who would articulate it: the trainers he covets, buys, then throws away; the jumper his best friend’s mum lends him, that he keeps on wearing.

The scenes in the climbing centre were very convincing, did you have to do a lot of research or are you a climber? My girlfriend is laughing at this question. This book was written after we went on a walking holiday in Snowdonia together. She’s been walking there for years; I’m an experienced hiker but with a pretty emphatic fear of heights. She took me up a mountain called Glyder Fach, without mentioning it involved a scramble (sort of midway between a walk and a climb, where you need to use your hands but don’t need ropes). We got to the top – but I did cry on the way. That’s the mountain in the book, with a name change and a little geographical creativity.
She helped me out with understanding climbing technique, and I watched the climbers on the rocks alongside the road up to Pen Y Pass, the start of the main Snowdon route. But I will never be a climber!

Castell Y Gwynt on Glyder Fach in Snowdonia by Balochdesign

Have you had much feedback from children about the story? What do they pick up on the most? Max as a character: that’s what kids seem to connect with. A friend of mine’s son was running round the park being ‘brave’, because that’s what Max is. I think the rising stakes help turn the pages too.

What kind of events do you enjoy doing most with children/in schools? I love school visits, whether it’s a KS2 assembly or classroom workshops. Like most authors, I’ve also done festivals to a roomful of babies, surprise 13-year-olds, and three people who are asleep, which certainly hones the improvisational skills…
Assembly-style sessions are interactive, with live storytelling and games. I’m always – I mean this genuinely, I’ve never not had this experience – awed by the creativity that’s waiting to be uncapped. But I think it’s important that I’m not there as a teacher. An author visit can really support curriculum, and I often tailor sessions to particular objectives, like reading for pleasure or editing. But it should also inspire in ways that are bigger and broader: that can just celebrate why reading and writing matters, and why books are relevant for all of us.
I don’t offer CPD for staff, but you might find my books, and my presence, useful for SRE.

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to? I’ve just inhaled Louie Stowell’s The Dragon in the Library (7-9), which is all joy: clever, inclusive, highly-illustrated and a smart way to persuade non-readers they might like books after all. Gabby Hutchinson Crouch’s Darkwood is a pure Pratchett-for-kids fairytale: great for advanced middle- grade readers who like talking spiders and laughing out loud. And I’m in the middle of A Pocketful of Stars by Aisha Bushby, which is gently breaking my heart, while also making me really happy to see fiction about gaming. More please.

What’s next for you? Something I can’t talk about yet, sorry!
I’ve also written a short story for a new Doctor Who anthology called The Target Storybook, about the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) from the classic series. Every book I’ve written has a Doctor Who reference, so it was pretty sweet not having to find a place to fit that in for once. The book’s out in October, and I can’t wait to read the other stories.

Susie Day

Huge thanks to Susie for the copy of the book and the responses for the blog!

Max Kowalski Didn’t Mean It is out now!

Chris Riddell: a Guardian of Magic

For as long as anyone can remember, children have looked up at billowing clouds in the sky and made a wish on a cloud horse. But no one has seen one.
Until now.

Macmillan Children’s
The Cloud Horse Chronicles

It is always a good day when a new Chris Riddell is published, and an even better day when it is the beginning of a new series! The Cloud Horse Chronicles: Guardians of Magic introduces us to three unsuspecting heroes as they receive magical gifts. The illustrations are perfectly placed and really bring the characters to life, but I particularly love the cross sections of where the children are living when we first meet them. PR for the book says it is reminiscent of Tolkein’s and Pullman’s worlds, but it mainly makes me want to re-read the Edge Chronicles (written by Paul Stewart and illustrated by Chris Riddell)! Readers will spot lots of nods to classic fairytales, tweaked in very pleasing ways.

I called this post “Guardian of Magic” because Chris Riddell really is one. Obviously, I am entirely biased in writing a Chris Riddell review, because we Librarians love him. He’s won the Kate Greenaway medal an unprecedented 3 times (not just because he’s Chris Riddell, honestly, he’s also not won it with lots of his books…) and he has long been an ardent supporter of libraries, often illustrating quotes (often from Neil Gaiman) about their importance. He’s been involved in talks with government in the Libraries All Party Parliamentary Group and as Children’s Laureate 2015-2017 he wrote an open letter to the then head of the Department for Education, Justine Greening, to make a plea on behalf of school libraries to ring-fence funding and set out standards for library provision that schools must follow. He’s been particularly vocal about their importance in schools and has been the President of the SLA (School Libraries Association) 2017-2020.

I could quite easily just copy and paste lots of his illustrations in this blog post, but I urge you to simply do an image search for “Chris Riddell library” to see the dozens of amazing and inspiring cartoons. This summer he tweeted a series of Owls he has created for the SLA and I couldn’t resist just sharing one here:

The Guardians of Magic is published on the 19th September 2019| Hardback, £12.99| Macmillan Children’s Books|ISBN 9781447277972

Huge thanks to Macmillan for sending a review copy!