BLOG POST: Morag Hood

Morning friends!

Today we have a very special post from author Morag Hood who is here to talk about how she came up with her character Sophie Johnson and how she developed. 

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I love hosting authors because it’s really interesting getting an inside peek at their creative processes. 

Where did the idea for Sophie come from and how did she develop?

The character of Sophie initially came about when I was thinking about picture books in general. One of the things I like most about the format is the tension that can be created between the words and the pictures. I’ve always especially enjoyed books where the reader knows what is going on better than the characters themselves. I think I am probably quite in touch with my inner four-year-old and I seem to remember relishing that feeling of being in on the joke and being smarter than the characters in a book. It was with this in mind that I started playing around with the idea of the main character being oblivious to what is going on around them, and Sophie started to emerge.

She has been such a fun character to write and develop. She is very forthright and certain, despite not necessarily having understood a situation, and she loves to explain everything, while in actual fact knowing very little about what is truly going on! Once I worked out her voice and perspective on life, I started to come up with scenarios in which she could shine.

My editor at Simon & Schuster, Helen Mackenzie Smith, gave me a brilliant note about thinking of Sophie as giving an interview about herself and I try to hold that in my head whenever I am writing for Sophie. The first book, Unicorn Expert, came about partly because it was the first book I was writing for someone else to illustrate and I tried to think of something I wasn’t very keen on drawing but would be fun for another illustrator! And then I had so much fun with the first one that I wanted to give Sophie some other things to do. She became a Detective Genius because, as well as having a personal love of detective stories, I felt it would give lots of room for her getting things wrong and missing some fairly obvious clues. I always enjoyed the rather hapless police officers who are outwitted by clever detectives such as Hercule Poirot, or Jessica Fletcher, so having Sophie outwitted by her dog seemed to fit well into her world.

Sophie Johnson has been such a fun character to create and work with, dancing the fine line of being over-confident while still being likeable. I think a lot of that likeability comes from Ella Okstad’s joyful illustrations. It really has been a treat to see how the book has come together with Ella’s input. The pictures are so full of life and really help to make Sophie endearing.

Sophie Johnson: Detective Genius is a WONDERFUL picture book and it has the most incredible cover. It is sparkly goodness. 

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Sophie Johnson studied very hard to become a detective and it’s a good thing she did – there has been a terrible crime!
Someone has stolen Lion’s tail. Unfortunately, this means that Sophie doesn’t have time to train her new (and not very good) assistant, Bella. However, is it possible that, while Sophie is busy rounding up suspects, she doesn’t see that Bella may be better than she thinks?
The Sophie Johnson series is perfect for bright young minds and great fun to read aloud as children spot what’s really happening in the story right under Sophie’s nose!

Sophie Johnson: Detective Genuis is out now! You should all go and pick it up!

Massive thank you to Morag and the publishers at Simon and Schuster for inviting me to share this wonderful blog post! Happy reading!

S x 

BOOK BLOG: Brave Molly

Brave Molly: a gorgeous wordless picture book dealing with facing your fears

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“What do you do when no one can see your monsters but you? At first, Molly runs from them. But they follow her down the sidewalk, getting in the way when she tries to make a new friend, popping up unexpectedly out of shadows, and multiplying. Until finally…Molly faces her fears.”

As a teacher who is working in a world where Mental Health is rightfully a conversation that is had more openly than ever before, I am always after stories that I can use as conversation openers. Whether my children relate exactly or not, books are portals to conversations and feelings that can be so so essential to talk about. Brave Molly is yet another book in my library that I think helps to open up that conversation so beautifully. 

When I first opened Brave Molly, I was surprised by the lack of words (we all know I love a wordless picture book) but it is that exact lack of words that makes this book so powerful and so brilliant. When we’re struggling with whatever is coming our way, it’s usually our words that go first. Our emotions stay, our lives have to go on, but we struggle to talk or to give words to the things that is going on. Being a wordless picture book gives this such power and useability (is that even a word?). This book could be used with children from a young age to secondary aged children. 

The story tells of Molly who is at her happiest when she’s indoors: she’s creative, artistic and loves to read. However, as we all know, you can’t spend all of your time inside: the outside world beckons lovingly (but terrifyingly for some people). She’s afraid. Her fear monsters follow her whenever she leaves and goes into the world. Her fear monsters loom in the background like shadows: we can never really get away from our fears, they’re always there… we just have to learn to live with them. Molly’s monsters manage to ruin many a situation she is put in. 

One of my favourite images in the book is when Molly shows that she is in fact a very brave little girl. We ALL fear things. We all struggle with things. Squaring up to them and saying, “You have no power over me” is TERRIFYING, but with the help of our friends and our own selves, we can do it. 

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I really love this. It ticks so many boxes for me. With beautiful illustrations, a powerful message and a good story, this book is one that I can’t wait to use with the children I work with. It’s going to end up being one I use over and over. (If you’re after something along the same vein, Ruby’s Worry is similar, but not entirely the same).

A massive thank you to the publisher, Abrams and Chronicle for sending me this book. You guys are awesome!

S x

 

BOOK BLOG: Sarah Roberts

Somebody Swallowed Stanley: a beautiful story to teach children about the importance of looking after our oceans!

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“Say hello to Stanley! He’s swimming around in the sea, but he’s no ordinary jellyfish. Most jellyfish have dangly-gangly tentacles, but Stanley has two handles. Other jellyfish have a magical pearly glow, but Stanley has colourful stripes. Lots of hungry fish in the sea are looking for lunch, and all of them have a taste for Stanley. But plastic bags don’t belong in the sea – or in other creatures’ tummies…”

I’m gutted that I’ve only just found this book now because I’ve done my plastic pollution topic in my class this year! But next year… next year! 

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Somebody Swallowed Stanley is a brilliant picture book telling about the tale of Stanley – a jellyfish unlike other jellyfish, because he is a plastic bag – and what happens to him when creatures of the sea try to eat him. Some manage to spit him back out, but one of the creatures isn’t so lucky, until a brilliant young man comes along and saves the day. 

There’s some incredible messages in this book about the importance of being kind to the environment and recycling. Stanley is recycled at the end of the book to be a kite and this would be a great thing to get children thinking about what we can do with our plastics once we’re finished with them, so that they don’t end up in the sea!

One of the lovely things about this book is the riddle type verses that describe the animals which eat Stanley. This would be a great thing to use with children to get them to come up with their own riddles about animals under the sea! This could be an activity you do with children from as young as KS1 all the way to Upper KS2. 

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I love this book and it will be a firm fave that I bring out every year when we talk about plastic pollution. I don’t think picture books should be reserved for only EYFS and KS1 – my Year 5s this year have LOVED being read picture books! 

What are your favourite picture books to use around this issue?
What activities do you do to raise awareness of plastic pollution?
Are you any good at writing riddles?

Talk to me. I wanna know what activities and stories you use to teach kids about the importance of lookinga fter our world!

S x 

 

Ollie’s Magic Bunny Blog Tour

Happy Tuesday!

Today I have the utter joy of hosting author Nicola Killen and we’re getting a tour around her studio. I’m really nebby so I absolutely adored reading this post when it dropped into my inbox! 

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Hello and welcome to my studio tour!  This is the place where I worked on the story and illustrations for Ollie’s Magic Bunny.  

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I share a space with two other artists – it’s a converted garage on the side of a photographer’s studio.  The door to the studio is very grey and boring so it’s hard to imagine what’s inside!

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Tada! Here’s my workspace. I’m quite embarassed to be showing you round when it’s SO messy.  I’m always untidy, but when I’m in the middle of working on a new book (like I am now), it gets even worse!  As you can probably see, I’ve got two desks: one for sitting at my computer, and one for standing at when I draw and paint.

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On my computer desk I have an iMac, and I use a wacom tablet with it.  I also have a very comfy chair and most importantly, there’s a heater next to my desk!  As it used to be a garage, the studio can get very cold at times. I always have lots of lists of things to do on my desk – I like to be able to tick things off!  

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I usually stand up when I’m painting or drawing.  I have a drawing board in the middle of the desk, which is hidden by my lightbox at the moment.  There’s an A3 scanner tucked underneath this desk, as well as sketches, boxes of books and some portfolios too.  I used to have lots more postcards and pictures up on the wall, but they keep falling down and it’s very hard to reach to put them back up!  You may also have noticed my Studio Stegasaurus which lives on this desk – it roars when you squeeze it. I’ve had the anglepoise lamp since I was at school so it’s lasted a long time!

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This is all the brushes, dip pens and inks which I’m using for the book I’m working on.  

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Then, squeezed into the corner, is my bookcase.  It’s got lots of my books in it, as well as reference, sketchbooks, paperwork and some of my childhood favourites too!

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I’m not sure I should show you this photo! When I opened the cupboard, I was worried that everything was going to fall out . . . It’s chock full of materials, inks and paper. Tidying it is on my lists of things to do!

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That’s all of my space, but we also share an area just inside the door where there’s a big plan chest with a very useful cutting mat on top.  I store a lot of my artwork and paper in the drawers here. I’m preparing some Ollie’s Magic Bunny themed activities today so have been using the cutting mat – but I will need to clear it up later in case anyone else wants to use it!

Thank you for letting me show you around my studio space – I hope you’ve enjoyed having a look around and sorry about the mess!

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I hope you guys enjoyed that as much as I did! It’s fascinating to see where people work and their process! I’d love to snoop in everyone’s workspaces! Check out my review of Ollie’s Magic Bunny here: BOOK BLOG: Nicola Killen

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the stops on the blog tour! 

S x 

BLOG TOUR: Dinosaur Department Store

Today is my stop on The Dinosaur Department Store blog tour and I am delighted to share with you my review! 

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The Dinosaur Department Store: a brilliantly illustrated picture book with a gorgeous nod to looking after animals! 

“Eliza Jane was an unusual child. Some called her wilful, some called her wild! Our feisty heroine Eliza Jane isn’t your average child. Instead of a cute, fluffy bunny, she has her heart firmly set on a prehistoric pet. Join Eliza Jane and her parents on a marvellous magical tour of their local dinosaur department store. From huge, stomping sauropods stretching their necks to a pair of loved-up Ankylosaurs called Maud and Frank, there are plenty of amazing dinosaurs for Eliza Jane to choose from. But this wild child is hatching a fantastic plan of her own.”

The Dinosaur Department Store tells the story of brilliant Eliza Jane who doesn’t want a fluffy bunny for her birthday. Oh no, she wants a dinosaur… obviously! Her parents take her to the perfect place for her to shop for a dinosaur… but when she gets there, she realises that what she really wants is the dinosaurs to all be free!

I LOVE that Eliza has parents of different races – which was something that one of my children noticed when I read it to them. This created a lovely talking point for some of the children in the class I read it to. I think it’s SO important to introduce children early to different families, so a massive thumbs up from me for this!

It’s such a brilliant thing to see a girl in a book who loves dinosaurs too! She’s a very determined young girl, who most definitely loves dinosaurs… which I KNOW will go down well with lots of parents of girls who love dinosaurs! Girls can love them too! This again created conversation about who can play with what toys!

I absolutely adore the bright and vibrant illustrations in this book. My eyes were constantly caught on the pages looking at all of the detail. Each page gives you something else to look at and search for. A particular shout out to the back page for its BRILLIANT pronunication guide (it certainly helped me to practice saying the names… being the dinosaur novice I am!)

Massive thank you to the publishers for sending me this gorgeous picture book – I think it’ll go down so well for so many reasons! So many brilliant things to talk about and look at in this book! This book went down SO well with the group of children I read it to! I can’t wait to read it to more children to see what their reactions will be.

Why don’t you check out the rest of the blog tour to see what some other amazing bloggers thought of this book?

DINO QUOTE CARD

S x 

BLOG TOUR: Anna and Evan meet Charles Dickens

Hello!

Today is my stop on the Anna and Evan meet Charles Darwin blog tour. This new book promises to engage and educate children, and is ideal for encouraging curiosity and interest in the natural world and science.

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“Join Anna and Evan on a magical adventure to the Galapagos Islands where they meet Charles Darwin, discover unusual animals and learn some interesting scientific facts.”

Today, I get the joy of sharing 2 extracts with you! I can’t wait to share this book as I think it will go down brilliantly in both KS1 and KS2. 

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A massive thank you to the publishers and Faye Rogers for the invite to the blog tour and again I can’t wait to share this with school – I think it will be a big hit!

Check out the rest of the stops on the blog tour below! Find out what they think of the book and so many other delights! 

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Monday 25th February – Rosie Writes…

Tuesday 26th February – Heavenly Good Books

Wednesday 27th February – Big Book Little Book

Thursday 28th February – A Bibliophile’s Book Blog

Friday 1st March – Bound 4 Escape

Saturday 2nd March – Black Books Blog

Sunday 3rd March – An Awfully Big Adventure

Monday 4th March – Amazeball’s Book Addict

Tuesday 5th March – Jazzy Book Reviews

Wednesday 6th March – Fantastic Feathers

Thursday 7th March – Librarian Laura

Friday 8th March – Donna’s Book Blog

Saturday 9th March – Short Book and Scribes

Sunday 10th March – Yet Another Blogging Mummy!!!


Information about the Book

Author: Tanya Hutter and Lina Daniel
Illustrator: Karin Eklund
Release Date: 28th February 2019
Page Count: 30
Publisher: Clink Street Publishing
Goodreads Link: Clicky click
Amazon Link: Go on… treat yo’ self!

Bio of the authors Tanya Hutter and Lina Daniel

As a young girl, Dr. Tanya Hutter couldn’t imagine that she would end up being a leading scientist in nanotechnology and chemical sensing, and a Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge. Currently, she lives in Cambridge with her husband and their two curious children that inspired the book.

Lina Daniel has been always interested in science and medicine, eventually becoming a chemist and a pharmacist, and currently working in the pharmaceutical industry. With her husband, she is raising three enthusiastic boys. They all share a passion for scientific experiences, engineering novelties, fun historical facts, travels and adventures.

Tanya and Lina have been close friends for over two decades. The fact that they are both raising young children enhanced their desire to encourage kids to learn about science, and finally, drew them to write their first illustration book for small children. Hopefully, this will be the first one in a series of books about notable scientists and engineers.  

BOOK BLOG: Nicola Killeen

Ollie’s Magic Bunny: a beautifully illustrated and charming story, perfect for bedtime!

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“Ollie and her toy Bunny have been waiting for the day that the rain would stop and they can play in the puddles… Finally that day has arrived! But when a magical breeze of blossom turns Bunny into a real rabbit, Ollie’s day takes an unexpected turn. After Bunny runs off with the other rabbits, Ollie has to find and save her beloved pet toy!”

Ollie’s Magic Bunny is a wonderfully charming tale about Ollie and her bunny rabbit, who one blustery day ends up turning into a real rabbit. When Bunny turns into a real rabbit, it runs away from Ollie, and she must find different, ingenious I may add, ways in which to save Bunny! 

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Lots of children have a teddy that’s special to them, who they carry around with them constantly, so this will appeal to them. It would make a brilliant rainy day read, or a bed time read. It would make for a brilliant question: what would happen if your teddy came to life? Kids will come up with some weird and wonderful answers! 

Ollie has to be clever to follow her bunny as he goes across a big puddle of water, and jumps into the air – transforming her brilliant yellow umbrella into a boat and a parachute at different times!

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The colour palette for this book makes me so happy. It’s all yellow, green and grey. I’m particularly fond of Ollie’s bunny onesie and her yellow boots. The simplicity makes this so much more appealing. There’s cut outs and some beautiful gold foiling on the pages too… to make it even more pleasing to the eye! 

This is a gorgeous and sweet story that would go down brilliantly at bedtime, or any kind of story time. I look forward to reading it to my own bunch of wonderful kids at school! 

Thank you to the brilliant publishers, Simon and Schuster, for sending me a review copy! 

S x 

An Amazing Blog Tour

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Today I have the ABSOLUTE joy of being part of the Amazing blog tour. I was so incredibly lucky to be asked to host a Q&A with the incredibly brilliant Steve Antony – author and illustrator extraordinare.

As soon as I knew I was doing a Q&A, it was inevitable that I had to get my kids involved, so they helped me write the questions (there were SO many they had, so I had to whittle it down!)

Check out the questions and some brilliant responses from the man himself! 

What’s your favourite thing about going to schools?

Apart from chomping biscuits and nattering with teachers in the staff room, I always enjoy seeing all the artwork that classes have created. Whether it be acrylic self-portraits, cardboard dioramas, character pumpkins or even something as simple as paper snowflakes, I really do believe that art brings a school to life.

Funniest memory of visiting schools?

The funniest moments come during Q&A. Children don’t have filters, do they? The younger the audience the odder the questions. Is the Queen your granny? Are you Ed Sheeran? Why don’t you comb your hair?

Also, being greeted by over 200 children (and teachers) dressed as pandas on World Book Day was something I will never forget.

What memories do you have of reading as a child?

Most of my earliest and clearest memories of reading take me back to my school library. I remember that feeling of being surrounded by hundreds of stories just waiting to be discovered. I was never a fast reader and I preferred books with pictures, I still do, but there was something empowering about just being in my school library. Sadly, many children may never know that feeling, which is why the #GreatSchoolLibraries campaign is so important. The campaign aims to bring school libraries and librarians back to every school in the UK, because every child deserves a great library. You can find out more about the Great School Libraries campaign at: http://www.greatschoollibraries.edublogs.org

I also have fond memories of our public library. That’s where I discovered some of my favourite authors and Illustrators.

Do you remember the first book you read as a child that made you want to write?

Even as a very young child I loved to draw. But it was picture books like Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak and The Munch Bunch (created by Barrie and Elizabeth Henderson and illustrated by Angela Mitson) that inspired me to imagine my own characters and tell stories with drawings.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

I believe that inspiration is everywhere, but you have to tune in to it. I like to prove this theory in my story-building workshops. By the end of each workshop almost everybody has an idea for a story, and some even have synopses!

Books are a fantastic source of inspiration, which is why the library is the perfect place to feel inspired. Many of my stories were inspired by something I’d seen in a book, magazine or newspaper.

What is your typical writing routine? From first draft to final draft?

People often think I spend all day writing and drawing, but there’s so much involved in being an author and illustrator. In fact, last week I only spent around 5 hours working on my next picture book because the rest of my time was spent on emails, events, my website, blogs, taxes and marketing. As part of this blog tour, I wrote a ‘Day in the Life’ guest post for Acorn Books, which you might find interesting. https://acornbooksblog.wordpress.com

It takes about 4-5 months to start and finish a picture book. Normally my publisher will select a couple of ideas from my sketchbook for me to develop (this usually happens when I’m at the tail- end stages of finishing another picture book). In order to develop ideas into stories I do need plenty of time and space to breath because I find it hard to tap into my imagination during busy spells. I normally get a gut feeling if a story is working or not. As a general rule it has to feel easy, and if ever I feel like I’m rowing upstream, I let go of the oars. Once I’m happy with my story concept, I move on to character development, pacing and paginating. This can take weeks or months. The very last stage involves drawing the final artwork and tweaking the text, which can take anywhere up to three months.

What’s next for you?

Magic Light Pictures are currently developing the Mr Panda cartoon series, which is incredibly exciting. I’ve got more books in the pipeline, including a brand-new character that I’ve yet to create! The next Mr Panda book, We Love You, Mr Panda, comes out later in the year. I’ll soon be meeting with Swindon Libraries to discuss the next borough-wide art completion (I hold at least one art contest with them per year). Also, I hope to start writing a chapter book soon, but not even my publisher knows that yet! But before any of that happens, I’m going on my honeymoon, because I just got married!

It’s only day 3 of this blog tour and it has already been amazing (no pun intended!). Go check out the other blog posts so far, and watch out for the rest of the posts coming in the next few days! I am so incredibly excited for this book.

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Massive massive thank you to the brilliant people of Hachette Kids for asking me to be on this blog tour and Steve Antony for answering our questions! My kids and I had such a blast, and it’s been a pleasure reading Steve’s answers. I’ll be sharing them with my kids at some point today! 

S x