Category Archives: The Third Degree

Timelines from Black History

Erased. Ignored. Hidden. Lost. Underappreciated. No longer. Delve into the unique, inspiring, and world-changing history of Black people.

From Frederick Douglass to Oprah Winfrey, and the achievements of ancient African kingdoms to those of the US Civil Rights Movement, Timelines From Black History: Leaders, Legends, Legacies takes kids on an exceptional journey from prehistory to modern times.

This DK children’s book boasts more than 30 visual timelines, which explore the biographies of the famous and the not-so-famous – from royalty to activists, and writers to scientists, and much, much more. Stunning thematic timelines also explain the development of Black history – from the experiences of black people in the US, to the story of postcolonial Africa.

Did you know that the richest person ever to have lived was a West African? Or that the technology that made the lightbulb possible was developed by African American inventor, and not Thomas Edison? How about the fact that Ethiopia was the only African country to avoid colonization, thanks to the leadership of a brave queen?

Stacked with facts and visually vibrant, Timelines From Black History: Leaders, Legacies, Legends is an unforgettable and accessible hive of information on the people and the issues that have shaped Black history.

DK Books

This year, Mireille Harper was a contributor to the DK Book TIMELINES OF EVERYONE and was sole writer for this collection of TIMELINES FROM BLACK HISTORY. It includes timelines of famous and not-so-famous, historical and present day influential and important people across a range of fields and from all over the globe. In usual DK fashion, it is brilliantly laid out to be visually appealing as well as containing tonnes of interesting information, it is definitely worth having in your libray!

I was given the opportunity to ask Mireille a few questions:

After writing contributions to the ‘Timelines of Everyone’, did ‘Timelines From Black History’ on your own feel daunting
or liberating?

To me, it wasn’t particularly daunting but I knew there was an element of responsibility and I felt I had to really do this book justice, so I was very careful and took my time throughout the process. I think the daunting bit was actually sending the book out into the world! I found writing the contributions empowering – finding out about the lives and histories of those who came before us who changed the world for the better was an experience I feel fortunate to have had.

How did you decide on the timelines to feature?
The process was collaborative in that both DK and I took spreads from previous titles (including content I’d created for Timelines of Everyone) that we though had the most resonance, and the figures that we felt should be celebrated most. I also had the opportunity to share some of my favourite figures for the gallery spread and foreword which was great.

If you could choose one from the book to write more on, which would it be?
I would love to write about Nanny of the Maroons. Nanny, or Queen Nanny as she’s often known, was a leader of the Windward Maroons, a community of formerly enslaved Africans in Jamaica, who fought off the British forces. I talk about Nanny literally every week, just because I think she’s such a hero and she has not received the recognition she deserves. In an ideal world, there’d be international films, books, statues and more dedicated to the legacy of Nanny.

Do you talk to young people about writing?
I talk to lots of young people about writing! I currently mentor three young people who want to work in the creative industries or publishing and I have a network of people within the publishing industry who work alongside me to help young people develop their writing. I’ve been lucky that with the publication of Timelines from Black History, I’ve had many more opportunities to speak to young people.

Do you prefer writing for children or adults?
I like both! Before working on Timelines of Everyone and Timelines from Black History, I had written over 200 articles aimed at adults on everything from travel and lifestyle to arts and culture. Whoever I’m writing for, I just like to know I’m writing about something that I’m passionate about and that matters.

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?
I am reading an incredible book called This Book Will Make You Kinder by Henry James Garrett. It’s an incredible book on empathy, kindness and how we can become more empathetic, not only to ourselves and one another, but also the world around us.

Mireille Harper

Thanks so much to Mireille for taking the time to answer some questions, and to DK Books for sending me a review copy of TIMELINES FROM BLACK HISTORY – OUT NOW!

The Story of the Windrush

The story before the scandal. A book to celebrate the inspiring legacy of the Windrush pioneers.

In June 1948, hundreds of Caribbean men, women and children arrived in London on a ship called the HMT Empire Windrush. Although there were already Black people living in Britain at the time, this event marks the beginning of modern Black Britain. Combining historical fact with voices from the Windrush Generation, this book sensitively tells the inspiring story of the Windrush Generation pioneers for younger readers

Scholastic
THE STORY OF THE WINDRUSH

I have had a copy of this book on the shelves of my school library for some time now having bought the self-published version, but this month Scholastic are republishing it with some small changes, and have excitingly commissioned more from the author, Kandace Chimbiri! I asked her some questions to celebrate:

Your previous books for children, through Golden Destiny, were about more distant periods of history, what prompted you to write about the Windrush generation?
Although my previous books for children focused on ancient African history and this one is modern Black British history, they are all motivated by the same desire. I want to share those missing stories and neglected narratives. The arrival of the Empire Windrush in 1948 is such an important event in modern British history and yet when I looked for a nice book for children about it, I couldn’t find one! I had heard Sam King speak about his life at a few events and I was really inspired by him. I also knew something of my parents’ experiences of coming to Britain in the 1960s. I just felt that children growing up today in Britain (and in the Caribbean too) should be able to read about the Windrush generation pioneers. 

How did you begin your research, and choose which of the hundreds of voices from the ship to highlight?
I was fortunate to have a DVD called Windrush Pioneers so I sat down and listened to it again for the first time in about 10 years. It had interesting interviews with Sam King, Allan Wilmot, Peter Dielhenn and several others. I read Allan Wilmott’s biography (I had also heard Allan Wilmott speak a couple of times at events). I asked my parents a few questions, things that I had never asked them before! I just chose the voices which appealed to me.  There was no real thought to it! I loved how Alford Gardner described his journey with people from other Caribbean islands meeting each other.

Have you done much work with children around the book? Since lockdown have you done any virtual events?
I have done a few virtual events during lockdown. For more than ten years I have been giving talks and museum tours around Black history. I’m used to speaking face to face and enjoying in person interaction. I never thought I would get used to virtual doing virtual events but now I love it! I do a 30-min ‘Meet the Author’ session for children aged 8 to 12. I give a short overview about the book, why and how I wrote it, why it’s important followed by time for the children to ask questions.

Did Scholastic suggest any changes to the book before republishing it? How different is it working on a new book with a big publisher?
Scholastic have been brilliant and I am really happy with the way they’ve improved the book.  It’s a completely different experience working with a big publisher and so far I am loving it. As you know I originally self published The Story of the Windrush. That’s hard because you have to make all the decisions yourself about artists, layout, style, everything! And, I’m really pleased with the new edition of the book. Scholastic have kept the same overall look but there are better captions on the illustrations (both the drawings and the photos). They have also tidied up some of the wording to make it even clearer for readers. And I am especially happy with the tweaks to the map of the British Empire. That’s important for educators.

Have you thought about writing historical fiction?
Not really. I just don’t think I’d be very good at writing historical fiction. I’d love the research side of it but I don’t think I’m that good at making up interesting characters and compelling plots. There are lots of children that love factual books and I’m quite happy writing for them.

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?
A Member of the RAF of Indeterminate Race. It’s about Cy Grant’s experience during the Second World War when he was shot down over Nazi Germany. He was from Guyana (or British Guiana as it was called then). It’s interesting but also educational.

What can we expect from you next?
My next book is going to be a sort of a prequel to The Story of the Windrush. I’m working on it now and it’s slowly starting to take shape. I still have more research to do though so it could all change of course….and probably will!

Huge thanks to Kandace for answering my questions!

THE STORY OF THE WINDRUSH is published in the UK on 15th October 2020 by Scholastic

Thank You Joseph Coelho

Tatenda says thank you every day, wherever he can. Thank you to Mom and Dad for making breakfast, thank you to the post lady for delivering his favorite comic, thank you to his teacher for marking his work and thank you to the shop worker stacking shelves. But lately, it seems no one can hear his thank yous: their heads are too foggy with worry. So Tatenda decides to say his biggest “Thank you” ever. He stands on tiptoe, brings his arms down like a huge rainbow . . . and this time, his thank you helps the whole community feel better!

Frances Lincoln Books
Thank You, with words by Joseph Coelho and pictures by Sam Usher

THANK YOU is a beautiful book. Joseph was inspired by the Clap for Carers during lockdown and royalties from the book are being donated to Groundwork UK, a federation of charities nationwide “mobilising practical community action on poverty and the environment”. Sam Usher’s illustrations are full of movement and so joyful, really bringing the words to life.

I’ve long loved Joseph Coelho, as a performer and writer, and when Frances Lincoln offered the chance to interview him about THANK YOU I jumped at the chance, while cheekily asking him about other recent titles with other publishers as well – he really is unstoppable at the moment!

The last few years have seen you publish poetry collections, novels, and picture books (as well as plays) for all ages of children and young people! When you have an idea, do you immediately know what you want to do with it or does the form come as you start writing?
What a super question. I don’t know immediately it’s a bit of trial and error, I have found however that if a story is deep enough it can often work for several mediums. Such as my poem If All The World Were Paper which was first published in Werewolf Club Rules but became a starting point for my picture book with Allison Colpoys If All The World Were...

THANK YOU is full of movement. Did you have an idea of how it should be illustrated or did you hand the text to Sam Usher to run with?
All picture books are really a collaboration between writer, illustrator, designer and editor so it’s hugely important that there is space for everyone to express themselves through the book. I am now in the habit of not thinking too much about the visuals, I focus on making sure the text works by itself, that the story is clear with or without illustrations so that the illustrator has scope to really put their mark on the book.

THE GIRL WHO BECAME A TREE, Otter Barry Books, is strikingly illustrated by Kate Milner

What is it about Daphne’s story that inspired you to write THE GIRL WHO BECAME A TREE?
I’ve always been interested in physical transformations as metaphor for internal change. It’s poetry made manifest. So when I came across the greek myth of Daphne it felt like the ideal subject for a story I’d been working on about a girl dealing with the death of her father. As with all the myths there are so many layers and ways to interpret that it felt like  a gift to explore through poetry.

ZOMBIERELLA is deliciously different, first of a 3 part series, but are there other fairy tales you would like to retell?
There are!  Book 2 is based on Rumplestiltskin and is called Frankenstiltskin. I have many ideas in development for many of the other tales some of which get a mention by the Librarian at the start of Zombierella who has discovered a section of the library full of fairytales that have gone bad, so I have a library to fill!

ZOMBIERELLA, Walker Books, is brilliantly illustrated by Freya Hartas

What is your favourite kind of event to do with/for children? How have you found digital events?
I love doing festival events with large audiences, you get a real sense of togetherness and occasion. I thrive off of getting large audiences to interact with each other.  I love the joy that can be generated as students hear their peers from different schools coming up with poetic lines or add to a group poem with people they’ve only just met.
Making everything digital has been interesting, it’s definitely far more time consuming than expected with even a five minute video taking the best part of a day but it is wonderful that we have this technology available to get us through these difficult periods.

Librarians across the country are so grateful for your enormous support, what drives that passion?
Libraries have always featured heavily in my life, from living on estates where I had a library next door, to my first Saturday job, to working at the British library whilst studying at UCL, to touring theatre shows designed to be performed in libraries. I’m immensely grateful to libraries and the services they provide for turning me into a reader and by association a writer. I also sincerely believe that library provision it key to helping communities thrive so it really is an honour to be in a position where I can celebrate these wonderful spaces.

One of my favourite pages from THANK YOU

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?
I’m a serial dipper and always have several books on the go at present I’m reading Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo, a book that everyone should read. I’m also reading an anthology of short stories on the theme of the sea published by the British Library called From The Depths and Other Strange Tales Of The Sea Edited by Mike Ashley – Recommended for anyone who likes a shot of creepy adventure. I’m also a big book listener and am currently listening to Children Of Time By Adrian Tchaikovsky for all sci-fi fans who aren’t scared of spiders!

What can we expect from you next?
I have a busy year ahead with book 2 of Fairytales Gone Bad and some more picture books coming out. I’m also working on a brand new middle grade adventure series which is yet to be read by anyone! Eeeek! But I love this period because at the moment it’s just me telling a story to myself or rather hearing characters tell me their story.

Joe Coelho Portraits Hay Festival 2018

Joseph Coelho is an award winning poet and performer from London, although he now lives by the sea. In 2019 he won the Independent Bookshop Week Picture Book Award for If All the World Were. He has been long-listed for The Carnegie Children’s Award with his poetry collection ‘Overheard In A Tower Block’, which was also shortlisted for the CLPE CLiPPA Poetry Award and Longlisted for the UKLA Book Awards. He won the 2015 CLPE CLiPPA Poetry Award with his debut poetry collection Werewolf Club Rules. His debut Picture Book, Luna Loves Library Day was voted one of the nations favourite picture books by a survey led by World Book Day. His other poetry books include How To Write Poems and A Year Of Nature Poems

Just Another Little Lie

Violet’s mum hasn’t been herself for a while. A few too many glasses of wine in the evening. Mornings when she can’t get out of bed. Now Violet’s the one looking after her little brother and looking out for empty bottles in Mum’s bag.

She wants to believe her mum when she promises that things are going to change, but is it just another little lie?

Barrington Stoke

Eve Ainsworth has a real skill for weaving a gripping story surrounding hard hitting issues, in this case a parent disguising their alcohol addiction from the world while their teenage daughter looks after her little brother (who is adorable and left me sobbing at one point). As it is for Barrington Stoke, it packs a lot into a few words, but it doesn’t oversimplify the problems and could be a fantastic conversation starter. I asked Eve a few questions:

When you first approach a new story, does a character come to you first or the situation they find themselves in?That’s a really good question! To be honest it’s been a real mix. In some stories the character came to me long before the plot does and they just wouldn’t leave me alone and then I knew I had to base a story around them. Other times the plot has come to me first. It’s never been a consistent pattern for me. In Just Another Little Lie the plot came first as I knew I wanted to focus on alcoholism and the effects that can have on a family.


Do you have an idea and think ‘that would be perfect for Barrington Stoke’? How do you decide which stories will be longer novels and which would suit the novella format?I always discuss my ideas with Barrington Stoke to see whether they think it will suit their readership, we have a great working relationship like that. I don’t deliberately choose a story for the novella format, but I will change the way I write it to try and make it more fast paced. In some ways it can be more challenging as you want to ensure you get all the essential content in a tighter word count, but personally I love that challenge!

I know you’re passionate about including working class families in your stories, why do you think that is so important?I think it’s so important that young people see their own worlds reflected in books and in a realistic and honest way. I come from a working class background and I know how impactful it can be to see your life reflected in books. I know that when I was young, I would look for books that represented the life I was living in a truthful way. 


How much of an influence does your background in child protection roles have on your writing?I think it’s certainly helped me a great deal. I had the opportunity to work with some very challenging and vulnerable families and saw first hand the struggles that many families experience on a day to day basis. It took away a lot of the prejudgments that I might have once had and made me view things in a more empathetic way. We can never understand what someone is going through unless we are in their shoes and it’s important that we try and understand that everyone can experience challenging and difficult circumstances.


If the story resonates with a young reader, what advice would you give them?To speak to someone, don’t struggle alone. There is no shame in seeking help and true strength comes in speaking out.


Have you done any virtual events during these Interesting Times? If so, how have you found it?I’m just starting to! I’ve been a bit locked away recently because I’ve had so many deadlines to meet, but new events are starting to be organised now. I’m a bit daunted by it and hate looking at myself on screen but hopefully I soon adapt! (I might have to cover up my face though – I always look so gormless!)

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?I’ve just finished Kerry Dewery’s The Last Paper Crane and I recommend to everyone. It’s simply beautiful.


Can you tell us something about what you’re working on at the moment?I am currently writing another novella for Barrington Stoke, this time focusing on foster care and the challenges of attachment and I am also writing a second book for my MG series historical series based on the Dick Kerr Girls – one of the first ever (and very successful) female football teams.

Eve Ainsworth (photo credit Linda Woodard)

Thanks to Barrington Stoke for sending me a review copy and to Eve for answering some questions! JUST ANOTHER LITTLE LIE is out now!

Moonchild: Voyage of the Lost and Found

Twelve year old Amira has only ever known a life at sea with her sea-witch mothers. So when their ship is wrecked in a great storm, Amira is delighted to have an opportunity to explore land – accompanied by her best friend Namur – a jinn in cat form. Amira soon finds a boy who has a jinn like her, and learns that their spirit companions are connected to the mysterious storm that gets stronger each day.

When Namur goes missing Amira discovers she has to visit a magical place; a place where lost things can be found. But will Amira also discover her own destiny, and find out what it truly means to be a Moonchild?

The Sahar Peninsula is a place that lies just beyond the horizon. If you’ve ever tried to reach the horizon, you’ll realize it isn’t the easiest to get to. No maps will take you there, nor can it be charted by gazing up at the stars, or down at a compass.

If you’re wondering who I am, and why I’m telling you this story, you’ll have to wait for quite some time to find out. It’s a secret, you understand. And I need to know that you’re the right person to keep it.

Are you?

I’m not so sure just yet.

Now that we’ve introduced ourselves, shall we begin?

MOONCHILD
MOONCHILD: VOYAGE OF THE LOST AND FOUND, illustration by Rachael Dean


Illustrated by Rachael Dean

MOONCHILD: VOYAGE OF THE LOST AND FOUND is Aisha Bushby’s second book, and I had high hopes after A POCKETFUL OF STARS was such a uniquely brilliant read (watch her read some of APOS here). It is completely different, but just as satisfying! It is about adventure and science and magic and family and relationships, with a narrator occasionally bringing you out of the action to remind you that every adventure is a story, but that ‘stories never start at the beginning and they never ever finish at the end’. And, my new favourite piece of advice, from Jamila (one of Amira’s mothers), is:

All great adventures begin with a nap.

Amira is well cared for, by her two mothers, who encourage her magic (she can smell emotions) but know that it wouldn’t be looked upon kindly by others. As they spend most of their time at sea it isn’t a problem and Amira is very sheltered, but on visiting a souk while they’re docked for repairs after a storm, she starts to uncover some secrets and mysteries related to where she came from…she also makes a friend, and the developing relationship really builds the characters. The occasional gorgeous black and white illustration (and two stunning double page spreads) highlights the personality of the characters and builds up the tension in the nerve-wracking parts (there are some *very* nerve-wracking parts). The young friends problem solve together and I’m so excited that there are more adventures to come.

After having interviewed Aisha around the launch of her debut, I jumped at the chance to read this new novel and ask her another round of questions!

Before writing these questions I read a Netgalley eProof rather than a physical copy. I prefer to read hardcopy because, unless I really concentrate, I accidentally skim read a screen & miss things! Which prompts me to ask whether you have a format preference when you’re reading?

Both! I like to read on a screen before bed (so I can lie down and have the light off), and a book during the day.

A POCKETFUL OF STARS was a fantasy grounded in reality, whereas this is a completely new world. Did you find that gave you more freedom to tell the story or did it make it trickier to structure it?

A bit of both! On the one hand, in MOONCHILD I was able to bend/rewrite my own rules to solve plot holes, which I couldn’t do so much with STARS. On the other hand, I had to spend a lot more time creating a world (including the rules I had planned to bend) from scratch. But I really enjoyed the challenge!

I love the mix of science & magic, was Leo a scientist as soon as he came to you or did it evolve as you thought about the rules of magic?

My stories change dramatically from draft to draft, so it’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment I made that choice. but I knew I wanted science to frame my magical rules, to keep them in check.

The Stormbird and its influence is based on the second law of ecology: everything must go somewhere. Once I figured this out, it helped the rest of the plot unfold, and inspired a few other details.

Leo was the natural choice for the role of scientist in the group, because Amira’s skills lie in seafaring, and I needed him to bring something to the table, too. I also see the certainty of science as a comfort to him, given his background.

Last time I interviewed you I asked about your planned school visits. Did talking to school children about A POCKETFUL OF STARS alter your approach to your second novel?

I was really nervous when A POCKETFUL OF STARS was released. It’s not exactly a light-hearted read, but speaking to children, and seeing how they related to the book and how deeply they think about things was inspiring.

It gave me the confidence to write about subjects like emotions and mental health for that audience, (albeit from a more adventure-driven perspective) knowing that they’re receptive to it.

Have you done any remote events in recent months or are you crossing your fingers for in-person events again ASAP?

I’ve done a few, and I really enjoy them! As much as I miss in-person events, I don’t plan on attending them unless I know it’s going to be completely safe. But I think we have the opportunity to explore more remote options that provide a greater level of accessibility for everyone involved.

I will always ask: What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?

I am very lucky to be reading My Life As A Cat by Carlie Sorosiak, which I would recommend to everyone, but especially people who (like me) love cats. Her writing is sublime.

I didn’t know there was more to come, was that your intention when you started to write or did you realise that your characters had more stories to tell as you were writing?

Because the structure is loosely inspired by The Arabian Nights, with short stories and a narrator, it allowed me to explore each character and their desires fully.

I wrote the first book with the intention that it could work as a standalone, but I also imagined other books told from different character perspectives.

Do you know how long a series it will be? Is it taking up all your writing time or have you got other projects you’re thinking about too?

I’m currently editing the second MOONCHILD book… And that’s all I’ll say for now. 😀

I’m always thinking of other projects, but it’s good to have a few sit there and see which end up sticking. That’s actually how MOONCHILD came about – it was a book I wasn’t supposed to write, but one that wouldn’t go away.

Aisha Bushby, the author of MOONCHILD: VOYAGE OF THE LOST AND FOUND

Thank you to Egmont for inviting me to be part of the tour, and to Aisha for answering my questions. This first books is on sale from 6th August 2020, and I’m really looking forward to reading their further adventures soon!

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 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!

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!