Category Archives: Reviews

Proud of Me

Becky and Josh are almost-twins, with two mums and the same anonymous donor dad.

Josh can’t wait until he’s eighteen, the legal age when he can finally contact his donor, and he’ll do anything to find out more ­­­- even if it involves lying.

Becky can’t stop thinking about her new friend, Carli. Could her feelings for Carli be a sign of something more?

Becky and Josh both want their parents to be proud of them…but right now, they’re struggling to even accept themselves.

Usborne

I loved Sarah Hagger-Holt’s debut MG novel, NOTHING EVER HAPPENS HERE and was lucky enough to have the chance to interview her, read it here, so I was really pleased to be asked to be on the tour for PROUD OF ME.

A Pride group is being set up at school, run by older students but our protagonists get involved (if you like the group scenes, I’d recommend Alex Gino’s RICK as well, for an American version). Friendships play an important role in this story – both brilliant friendships and less satisfying ones – and the feelings Josh and Becky have about their friends are wonderfully described, everything feels very true. In the meantime, Josh and Becky both find themselves keeping very different secrets as he investigates their donor father and she realises she might have feelings for a new friend.

Becky’s best friend Archie is a great character. Openly gay, he (rather than their Mums) is why Becky and Josh both initially go along to the Pride group, and he has some very interesting things to say, for example:

“…Look, if someone else puts a label on you and uses that to define you or put you in a box or to treat you like dirt, then of course that’s bad. But when people say that they’re not into labels, it’s probably because they’ve bought the whole idea that being LGBTQ or whatever is bad, so they don’t want to be associated with it. But labels can be good if you reclaim them, then you can share who you are with other people and be stronger together.”

but he also got into my bad books with this one, which will have every librarian shaking their head in despair, hah:

“Wow, did you know he even has his books in height order? Is your brother for real? Perhaps he’s not really a teenager at all, but a librarian disguised in a teenager’s body?” 

Josh’s secret investigations show him trying to find his place, and his uncertainty around friendships is brilliantly portrayed. It is a really positive book. Their Mums’ fears for them are genuine, remembering how different and difficult it was to “come out” 30 years ago, with the reactions of adults and children in the story really shining a light on how inclusive and safe (hopefully) schools today can be. The children are supporting one another and turning around the attitudes of surrounding adults with positivity!

Do take a look at the other sites for the rest of the tour, and thanks to Usborne for the review copy!

The Shark Caller by Zillah Bethell

I want to be able to call the sharks. Teach me the magic and show me the ways.

A beautiful tale of love, loss, family and forgiveness set in Papua New Guinea. Blue Wing is obsessed with revenge on the shark that killed her parents but is denied lessons that will enable her to become a shark caller giving her the ability to summon sharks to call to the one that she desires to slay.

Thrown together with Maple, a newcomer to the island at first they are combative but as they spend time together they form a tentative friendship and start unpicking the sadness and grief that they each possess and begin a slow journey towards understanding, acceptance and healing.

I received a copy of The Shark Caller via Netgalley and it arrived soon after my family had experienced a tragic loss. Reading this book helped me in a small way to cope with my loss and for that I will always be grateful to the author Zillah Bethel.

The Shark Caller is published by Usborne Publishing Ltd and will be released on February 4th 2021.

Forever Ends on Friday

What if you could bring your best friend back to life – but only for a short time?

Jamal’s best friend, Q, doesn’t know that he died, and that he’s about to die . . . again. He doesn’t know that Jamal tried to save him. And that the reason they haven’t been friends for two years is because Jamal blames Q for the accident that killed his parents.

But what if Jamal could have a second chance? A new technology allows Q to be reanimated for a few weeks before he dies . . . permanently. And Q’s mom is not about to let anyone ruin this miracle by telling Q about his impending death. So how can Jamal fix everything if he can’t tell Q the truth?

Forever Ends on Friday weaves together loss, grief, friendship, and love to form a wholly unique homage to the bonds that bring people together for life – and beyond.

Macmillan Kids

Published in the US as EARLY DEPARTURES, FOREVER ENDS ON FRIDAY is the second YA novel by Justin A. Reynolds. I interviewed him around the publication date of OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS and his answers were great, do have a look (and read that book if you haven’t yet)! The synopsis for FOREVER actually really reminded me of OPPOSITE, with the idea of doing things right the second time around, so I was a little worried that it might feel samey…thank goodness I was wrong! Although the idea of second chances is important in both books, it was a refreshingly different read. Family, again, is huge in the story, it is about the importance of family and relationships of all sorts. I loved the humour, brightening even the darkest moments but without spoiling them, and the warmth in the relationships. Jamal’s voice is just great. The premise is so interesting and plays out believably, leaving the reader with lots to ponder over: Do you think it is a good idea to have a second chance to say goodbye?

My last interview with Justin was one of my favourite for the blog, so when Amber at Macmillan asked if I’d like to be part of the blog tour for this second book I took the opportunity to ask just a few more questions…

What is it about the idea of second chances that sparks your imagination?

Great question! I think it probably has to do with my overanalyzing brain, ha. I tend to replay moments and episodes in a loop, turning over a situation on all sides, trying to grasp either what went right or wrong, what I could’ve done better or just differently. The idea of having the time and space to fix the things we stubbornly broke out of frustration, anxiety, or hurt feelings I think will forever remain intriguing to me. We’re so tragically flawed as people, all of us—and yet, most of us believe in redemption, myself included; and I believe it’s love that makes such healing possible.

Love, in its most honest form, is such a powerful experience; it’s like we’re being remade from the inside out—like remodeling for the soul. You are forever changed. And once you’ve had it, it’s crushing to be without it. For me, the reason we’re here on this planet is to form meaningful, interpersonal relationships, which only happens when we reciprocate vulnerability—but with such openness, we expose ourselves to pain, betrayal, and apathy. It’s not a question of if we’ll be hurt, but when, even at the hands of those who truly love us. I suppose all of my stories stem from this: I so desperately want to believe in humanity; I need to believe that, given the opportunity, we’ll do what’s right by each other. But I also appreciate that sometimes that requires a second chance.

I love the banter between the friends. Do you listen to a lot of teenagers chatting in real life for inspiration?

Thank you. I’m so happy you enjoy it because dialogue is probably the thing I enjoy most about writing—or maybe it’s the thing that I’ve always had the easiest time with, ha. I’m lucky that I get to visit schools all over the country and meet and listen to lots of young people talking about their experiences, the things that matter to them. I think listening is the most important part of writing, other than being a good reader. There’s a rhythm to language, to our conversations, whether those be internal or with our family and friends—and for me there are few greater writerly feelings than when you successfully tap into that sound. Another kinda weird thing I do is I watch movies and television with the subtitles (captions) on—which I know drives some people crazy, haha. But there’s something about seeing the words as they’re being spoken that I find both beautiful and instructive. The fact that there are so many ways to say the same thing to someone else, I love that.

Have you had much opportunity to engage with readers in these…interesting times?

I’m fortunate in that I’ve gotten to do quite a few virtual events, including book festivals and conferences and interviews. I’ve also done several virtual school visits, which are always fun. We also had our second annual Cleveland Reads (#CLEReads) Book Festival this year, also via a virtual platform, and that was such a thrilling experience, connecting with awesome readers, young and old, all over the world.

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

I always love this question because I love talking about other people’s books! So Bryan Washington’s MEMORIAL is amazing; any story highlighting “found family” is already going to be high on my list but then Bryan’s inventive language and his unique POV is absolutely electric. I should mention I believe this is formally categorized as an adult title.

Also, I’m reading and loving Danielle Evans’s new short story collection, THE OFFICE OF HISTORICAL CORRECTIONS. I don’t know if there’s a short story writer I enjoy and admire more; what she manages to convey in such small spaces detonates fireworks in my brain. Every Evans story makes me green with envy; she’s a master.

I also want to say thank you so much for having me; it’s always such a pleasure talking with you!

Thank you so much for your wonderful answers, it is my pleasure to read your books and have a chance to ask a few nosy questions!

Huge thanks to Macmillan Kids for sending me a review copy and inviting me to be part of the blog tour for another awesome Justin A. Reynolds!

The book is out now!

The Humiliations of Welton Blake

Welton Blake has done it – he’s asked out Carmella McKenzie, the best-looking girl in school, and she’s only gone and said yes!

But just as he thinks his luck, and life, is starting to change, Welton’s phone breaks, kickstarting a series of unfortunate and humiliating events. With bullies to avoid, girls ready to knock him out and all the drama with his mum and dad, life for Welton is about to go very, very wrong …

Barrington Stoke
The Humiliations of Welton Blake – Cover artwork by Ali Ardington

I really enjoyed this new Barrington Stoke novella by Alex Wheatle. For those of you who don’t know, they publish books with dyslexic readers in mind – short, engaging, and set out carefully to be as readable as possible – written by loads of the best authors of the moment. Alex already had one under his belt, Kerb Stain Boys, a YA story set on his Crongton Estate, but this is for a younger teen audience. Those just starting to think about asking a girl to go to the cinema with them, or worrying about having the latest phone and trainers. Welton, our protagonist, is a great voice, he’d be one of the students that is always in trouble at school but secretly a teacher’s favourite. I asked Alex Wheatle some questions before publication:

How different is the process, writing a book for Barrington Stoke versus a longer novel?

The writing process for a shorter novel remains the same but before I write the first paragraph, I spend more time in my head on the plot and in the writing I try to be more concise.

After writing for adults then young adults and older teens, this is your youngest protagonist. Did that change your approach?

Writing about a young protagonist didn’t really change my approach.  I still invested the same care and attention as I would do for any other character I have created.

What is special about Crongton Estate?

The North Crongton and South Crongton estates are really references to the many council estates I have visited throughout the UK and beyond. What’s special about Crongton is that it is a fictional place. I’m not tied to Brixton, South London or anywhere else so I can freely create my characters and geography how I see fit. I can also populate Crongton the way I want to.

Cane Warriors (which is spectacular btw) is very different to anything else you’ve published for children and teens, what prompted you to write it, and might you write something from that era for Barrington Stoke?

Cane Warriors was a labour of love. Since I read CLR James’ Black Jacobins in the early 1980s, I’ve always wanted to write Jamaican historical narratives. My mother, who grew up very close to the plantation sites where the 1760 slave revolt occurred, heard her elders occasionally mention Tacky’s War. I felt as I was really documenting my ancestors’ history.

Have you done many virtual events? How does it compare to in-person?

I always prefer to do in-person events and I struggled a bit at first to do virtual events. Hopefully, I’m improving but I yearn to get in front of audiences again and do my thing!

What are you reading and who would you recommend it to?

At the moment, I am enjoying A.M Dassu’s Boy, Everywhere and I recommend it to anyone at any age.

What was the most exciting thing for you to come out of 2020?

The most exciting thing for me to come out in 2020 was the Black Lives Matter marches around the world and the different shades who all walked together.

What’s next?

I really enjoyed myself writing my The Humiliations of Welton Blake, so I hope I can produce more of the same for middle-grade readers.

You can read the first chapter on the Barrington Stoke website, and if you want more: the book is out now!

Huge thanks to Barrington Stoke for a proof copy to review, and to Alex Wheatle for answering my questions.

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires

Patricia is a Charleston housewife whose husband Carter spends more time traveling for work than he does at home. Her two teenage kids don’t appreciate her, and much of her time is spent caring for her senile mother-in-law. The only thing giving her life is her book club. So what if their typical picks, like Cry, the Beloved Country are less her speed than the true crime titles they actually discuss? One night after book club, an elderly neighbor attacks Patricia, which brings the woman’s handsome nephew into Patricia’s life, and just like that, her life takes a turn for the more interesting. James is smart, well-read, well-traveled, and attentive. But as time goes on, Patricia realizes that she is not the only one James is interested in; that she, her family, and even her beloved book club are being groomed by a man who may be a monster. 

Grady Hendrix is one of the greatest living writers of Horror!

This was a theory I had long held that was confirmed when I read The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires. He is also one of the few authors for whom I will drop everything else I am reading when a new work by him is published.

It took me ages to figure out why this book is so terrifyingly good, it is because it could take place next door to me or in the homes of my friends. Look mothers generally get a bad rap in horror (and to be honest many other genres as well), this book goes a long way to show the sacrifice, strength and love that mothers have for their children, friends and families that is so often overlooked or looked down upon. Grady also skewers the 1980’s yuppie mantra of greed is good as well as deflating toxic masculinity for good measure. Honestly it is not a stretch to believe that a soulless, blood-sucker could morph into something even worse.

Along the way he also makes the reader look long and hard at the racism and segregation that has suffused many communities in the US (and still does to this day) but was never discussed in polite society.

Patricia is not a hero, she is just a mother, as are her friends in the book club. They are nice ladies, who welcome new folk in to the neighborhood and make them feel at home; but when something starts threatening their children they know they have to do something – what they don’t rightly know, but they will find out, they have to!

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires is written by Grady Hendrix and was published by Quirk Books back in April, this review is very late!

Check out The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires gift box – out just in time for Christmas, Kwanzaa, Yule and many other December celebrations:

https://quirkbooks.biz/product/the-southern-book-clubs-guide-to-slaying-vampires-box/?v=757e5b5109ed

A Thousand Questions blog tour

Set against the backdrop of Karachi, Pakistan, Saadia Faruqi’s tender and honest middle grade novel tells the story of two girls navigating a summer of change and family upheaval with kind hearts, big dreams, and all the right questions.

Mimi is not thrilled to be spending her summer in Karachi, Pakistan, with grandparents she’s never met. Secretly, she wishes to find her long-absent father, and plans to write to him in her beautiful new journal.

The cook’s daughter, Sakina, still hasn’t told her parents that she’ll be accepted to school only if she can improve her English test score—but then, how could her family possibly afford to lose the money she earns working with her Abba in a rich family’s kitchen?

Although the girls seem totally incompatible at first, as the summer goes on, Sakina and Mimi realize that they have plenty in common—and that they each need the other to get what they want most.

This relatable and empathetic story about two friends coming to understand each other will resonate with readers who loved Other Words for Home and Front Desk.

HarperCollins

A THOUSAND QUESTIONS is a brilliant new middle grade novel by Saadia Faruqi. I really enjoyed reading from the two perspectives, as they realise that the differences in their upbringings don’t change the things that are really important. Saadia’s love of Karachi shines through in her portrayal of the city and its landmarks, at the same time though, she doesn’t shy away from showing the disparities between rich and poor and it could lead to some really interesting conversations if you’re reading it as a class novel or with a reading group (or with your own child).

For the blog tour I was pleased to have the opportunity to ask Saadia a few questions!

I believe your writing began in a local newspaper, followed by the Yasmin books for beginning readers, and now longer middle grade like your new book A THOUSAND QUESTIONS. Which audience do you prefer writing for?

Wow those newspaper columns were such a long time ago, I hardly remember them! Yes, that’s right, and I also wrote a nonfiction academic-style book, plus a short story collection for adults. However, it was only when I started writing for children that I found my true passion. Children’s
books are so fun to write, and even when the message is serious, the act of writing them isn’t. I enjoy crafting stories that give hope and entertain my readers, showing them the world in a way that’s authentic but also full of positive aspects. Whether I’m writing early readers like Yasmin or middle grade novels like A Thousand Questions, I approach them the same way. I’d be hard- pressed to chose which I enjoy more.

Why do you think it is so important to have Muslim characters starring in children’s stories?

It’s very important to have stories that center Muslim characters, families and countries. The fact is that a growing number of our young readers are Muslim, and they deserve to see their stories reflected in the books they read. This means positive stories, ones that show realistic people and situations rather than caricatures and stereotypes. It also means everyday stories about experiences all children face at school, at home and in their neighborhoods. Finally, it means making Muslim children the heroes of our fantasy, sci-fi and mystery books, the ones who solve the crime or save the day. All this is important because storytelling is part of community, and
readers from Muslim backgrounds should know that they’re an essential part of our communities. Readers from other backgrounds should also realize that their friends and neighbors, their classmates in school, can be the heroes of the books they read.

Your author note says you were inspired by your children’s reactions to visiting Karachi, where you grew up. What do you think is the biggest difference between your childhood and theirs (aside from technology!)?

It’s a world of a difference, specifically for immigrant families like mine. I grew up in Pakistan with one type of culture, traditions, lifestyle, and everything else. My children are growing up in the U.S. with another type of culture. As a parent, I try very hard to keep Muslim and South Asian traditions alive in my house, but when they step outside it’s a very different world for my children. I believe that the physical differences aren’t as vast, but the emotional and mental differences are huge. My children feel “other” in a way that I never did. They feel the stress of living in a country that’s their own, but not their parents’. They experience life with each of their
feet on a different continent. I can’t even imagine what they go through every day, not completely fitting in because of their skin color or their background. I never had anyone ask me “where are you from?” growing up, and that’s probably the biggest, most insurmountable difference.

In A THOUSAND QUESTIONS, Mimi and Sakina do a lot of sightseeing. Which of the spots that the girls visit is your favourite?

Hmmm that’s an interesting question because I put all my favorite spots in the book! I really wanted to showcase all the best places to visit in Karachi, so that even if you never travel there physically you can understand what a beautiful, complicated, incredible place it is! If I had to choose a favourite, I’d say the beach. I’ve loved the ocean since I was a child, and still do. Clifton Beach, where Mimi and Sakina visit in the book, is also very fun because of the swarm of people, the camels, the food, and everything else.

The divide between wealthy and poor is highlighted brilliantly by the girls’ friendship. How hard was it to strike a balance between harsh reality and a fun story?

I love writing about juxtapositions. It’s what I do best, bringing to life characters who are diametrically opposed to each other, so my readers can understand that we can find something in common with everyone we meet, even if they’re very different. Imagine how peaceful the world would be if we all found something in common with each other and focused on that
commonality? In the book, Mimi seems well off, and Sakina seems poor. But when they get to know each other, they realize that they are both rich in some ways, and poor in others. Life in Pakistan (and other poor nations) is often reduced to poverty, like it’s something horrible and insurmountable. It was really important for me to change that narrative and write about complex, beautiful life for all people, including those that are poor. It wasn’t hard to do once I had those goals in mind.

Have you done virtual events with children about your books?

Absolutely! I do a ton of virtual events with schools and libraries around the world. Since the pandemic started, I’ve actually increased this aspect of my author-life significantly, because it’s the only way I can reach my readers and give them an encouraging word. I schedule 3-5 virtual visits every day, and most of them are free of charge because of the budget difficulties everyone is going through at the moment. I love meeting readers, answering their questions and inspiring them to be writers. Anyone who wants to schedule a short virtual visit can visit my website and
contact me there.

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

I’ve been reading the Planet Omar series by Zanib Mian with my daughter and really enjoying it. I think it’s great for children in elementary school, but can also be used as a read aloud for younger children. However, I enjoyed it as an adult, so my recommendation would be for everyone to read this series!

What are you working on at the moment?

I have several books in the pipeline, some of which are still secret. Ah, the joys of publishing! Four new Yasmin books are releasing in 2021, as well as a couple of picture books and a new middle grade novel featuring a boy main character, white supremacists, and a twenty-year old journal. I’m really excited about all my upcoming projects, but more than that I’m excited about the future of children’s books with all the fantastic BAME authors putting out great books for young readers. I’m proud to be a part of this new wave of books!

Saadia Faruqi (photo credit: QZB Photography)

A THOUSAND QUESTIONS is out now!

Thank you to HarperCollins UK for sending me a review pdf and involving me in the blog tour, and thank you to Saadia for answering my questions so thoughtfully (and I love the Planet Omar series too)!

A Really Short History of Nearly Everything

Adapted from A Short History of Nearly Everything, this stunningly illustrated book from the extraordinary Bill Bryson takes us from the Big Bang to the dawn of science, and everything in between.

Perfect for ages 8 to 80.

Ever wondered how we got from nothing to something?
Or thought about how we can weigh the earth?
Or wanted to reach the edge of the universe?

Uncover the mysteries of time, space and life on earth in this extraordinary book – a journey from the centre of the planet to the dawn of the dinosaurs, and everything in between.

And discover our own incredible journey, from single cell to civilisation, including the brilliant (and sometimes very bizarre) scientists who helped us find out the how and why.

Penguin

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson was published just as I was coming to the end of my Geological Sciences BSc and I *adored* it. So much so, I bought 3 copies to give to my best friends on the course. I’ve read a number of Bryson’s books for grown ups, he’s got this amazing skill to write on just about any subject and make it fascinating, funny, informative, and understandable without patronising readers. So I was really excited when I saw that he had rewritten this particular title for younger readers and begged Penguin for a copy. They very generously not only sent me a copy but also said I could host a competition for 3 TeenLibrarian readers to win a copy too*! Just comment with your email address if you would like to be in with a chance of winning one (comments will remain hidden).

I’m loving looking through this adaptation, it really does still contain nearly everything, this time brilliantly illustrated by Daniel Long, Dawn Cooper, Jesús Sotés, and Katie Ponder. The design of the book is really appealing and it is a wonderful introduction to just about every aspect of science and technology.

*UK only, I will contact winners on 1st December 2020

The Runaway TARDIS

Cue music:

The Doctor Who theme tune give me goosebumps every time I hear it! Segun Akinola‘s take on it is just perfect, he kept everything that was classic and cool about it and added a new twist that improved it immeasurably!

Unable to make friends at her new school, Lizzie packs a bag and runs away. After accidentally stowing away in the TARDIS, she meets the Doctor, a mysterious woman who claims to be a time-traveling space alien. When the TARDIS malfunctions, Lizzie and the Doctor are sent catapulting through time and space, visiting the pyramids, the dinosaurs, an alien planet, and more. Along the way, Lizzie learns that making new friends isn’t so hard after all . . . but will she ever be able to get back home?

Doctor Who The Runaway TARDIS is Quirk Books latest POP Classics adaptation and their first featuring the BBC’s Doctor as played by Jodie Whittaker.

It is no secret that I love Doctor Who, which is a bit weird as unlike many fans I did not grow up watching it from behind the sofa, I did not grow up watching it at all. I discovered the novelizations by Terrance Dicks at a second-hand booksale. These were my introduction to the universe of The Doctor and when the show regenerated in 2005 I was one of the many people rejoicing and have watched it ever since.

If I had to choose just one word to describe The Runaway TARDIS, that word would be:

Honestly it is! It is one of the best adaptations of the show that I have ever seen! They have taken everything that is good and wonderful from the show and turned it into a picture book that is perfect for everyone from hardcore Whovians to folk that may have never encountered the Doctor before they happily decided to pick up this book.

If you or someone you know has moved and is missing their friends or has a feeling a sense of loneliness and isolation (honestly in this time of Covid-19 I think that describes just about everyone) then this book is the perfect choice!

“Everyone gets lonely sometimes'” said the Doctor. “But I make new friends wherever I go, and I never forget the old ones.”

Kim Smith’s art style is perfect in capturing the sense of awe and wonder on the face of the Doctor’s latest companion as they shoot through time and space in an out-of-control TARDIS.

There are also loads of Easter eggs hidden in the book to keep people poring over the book for ages, honestly it is such a delightful read I think that everyone should buy a copy (or borrow it from their local library).

Doctor Who: the Runaway TARDIS is based on the Doctor Who series by Chris Chibnall; it is illustrated by Kim Smith and published by Quirk Books. It is available from all good bookshops and your local library now!

Competition time:

I also have a copy to give away, if you (yes you) would like to win yourself (or someone you love) a copy of The Runaway TARDIS then just comment on this post with your best (or worst) Doctor Who joke e.g.:

I was at a party full of World Heath Organization medics over the weekend.

I thought I was going to a Doctor Who convention.

If you don’t know a Doctor Who joke then any good joke will do!

(this competition is open internationally)

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

Skunk and Badger

No one wants a skunk.
 
They are unwelcome on front stoops. They should not linger in Important Rock Rooms. Skunks should never, ever be allowed to move in. But Skunk is Badger’s new roommate, and there is nothing Badger can do about it.
 
When Skunk plows into Badger’s life, everything Badger knows is upended. Tails are flipped. The wrong animal is sprayed. And why-oh-why are there so many chickens?

Skunk and Badger is a wonderful take by two titans of the children’s book world: Amy Timberlake wielded the words and Jon Klassen created the illustrations. I will not lie, I am a fan of both, but Jon Klassen is one of my all-time top five artists and when I was offered a chance at an early copy I leapt at it!

I was not disappointed! This is a gentle, hilarious tale of a budding friendship, misadventure, chickens and underscored by the virtues of tolerance and understanding,

Skunk and Badger is timeless! Although aimed at a young audience this tale will find fans in readers of all ages.

Written by Amy Timberlake, illustrated by Jon Klassen and published by Algonquin Young Readers. It is out on September 15 – I urge you to pick up a copy (or borrow a copy from your local library and then pick up your own copy to keep, read and reread).