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

 

BLOG TOUR: Boot

Boot: a fun and friendly story all about finding yourself!

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“When toy robot, Boot, wakes up at a scrapyard, it has no idea how it got there and why it isn’t with its owner, Beth. Boot is scared but tries to be brave, which is hard when its screen keeps showing a wobbly, worried face. Luckily Boot meets Noke and Red – other ‘advanced’ robots who have learned to survive in secret. With its new friends by its side, Boot is determined to find Beth and the gang set off on a dangerous adventure.”

Very occasionally a book comes along that makes you just SMILE and feel buoyed up by things in life. This book is 100% one of those books. 

Boot tells the story of a robot, who lives in a world where his kind have been replaced by newer, fancier and more up to date models. Boot wakes up in a scrapyard and is very confused. It only has two and a half glitchy memories which don’t really help it to find out where it is, who it is or where it should be. These memories tell it that it was once loved, which means something important to humans. Through these memories, you see that it has once lived a happy life with its human, Beth. It knows instantly that it needs to get back to Beth, but getting out of the scrapyard and across the city with only a glitchy memory and no help is harder than it seems. 

Boot manages to find friends who will help him along the world. Early on in his adventure, Boot realised that it is different. Boot feels emotions and thinks differently to other robots – other robots who just function and don’t think. This makes Boot feel alone, until it meets other robots, and other friends, who are just like Boot is.  

I really loved this story. It was one of those stories that made me smile. It reminded me of the power of friendship, adventure and not giving in, even when things get tough. Boot goes through the story from a very scared and lonely robot, to someone who finds his friends, his family and his purpose: you’ve got to be brave and a special robotto find these things. You can’t beat a good story that will make you laugh, make you feel good about the world and make you appreciate your friends! 

As well as having a gorgeous story, this book has some stellar illustrations. They are SO SO LUSH. I’m a BIG fan of an illustrated book, so Boot ticks off so many boxes for me! 

This book would sit beautifully from Year 2/3 up. It’s a slightly longer chapter book, but it’s such fun.

My Goodreads review reads:

This is fun, friendship and finding yourself. I loved Boot and his bunch of merry robot friends! Imagine waking up one day with only 3 memories and a sense that you need to get home! Boot needs to find his way back to Beth and to himself. I chuckled a lot at this!

Boot was quickly picked up by a few of the children in school and they ADORED it:

“This is a really fun story. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have only a few memories, but Boot shows that you can do anything you put your mind to”

“Stories about robots are funny because they’re not real humans, but Boot is like a human. I’d love to be his friend”

“I loved this story because it was like seeing the future through the eyes of someone really fun and really brave. I would love to be brave like Boot”

Massive massive thank you to the publishers, Hachette Children’s, for sending me a review copy and inviting me onto the blog tour! This book is Boot-iful! Check out the rest of the stops on the blog tour! 

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S x 

BOOK BLOG: Ada Twist

Ada Twist: a funny story which is jam packed with Science and fun!

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“Ada Twist is full of questions. A scientist to her very core, Ada asks why again and again. One question always leads to another until she’s off on a journey of discovery! When Rosie Revere’s Uncle Ned gets a little carried away wearing his famous helium pants, it’s up to Ada and friends to chase him down. As Uncle Ned floats farther and farther away, Ada starts asking lots of questions: How high can a balloon float? Is it possible for Uncle Ned to float into outer space? And what’s the best plan for getting him down?”

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Ada is one of those lovely characters to read! She’s constantly questioning things. Why does her mam’s coffee smell stronger than her dad’s? Why do her brothers shoes stink? What kind of birds can she see in her back yard? How can she solve these problems? How can she do things that will help people? I love this about Ada. Kids SHOULD be inquisitive creatures: they SHOULD want to know more. We should encourage this with our children.

It’s a good job she asks so many questions because she ends up seeing a man in strange pants floating in her back yard… and she has to come up with a solution! With the help of her friends, they go on an adventure filled with Science and problem solving to get Uncle Ned down! 

Ada uses what she knows about everything to get Uncle Ned down. She’s a very clever little bean and she knows things about more Science than I do! Gas, buoyancy, temperature… all sorts! She uses all of this knowledge to get the uncle down, and save him from peril! Her friends try to help her, but ultimately, it’s Ada’s Science knowledge that ends up saving the day! I love that she never gives up either – she keeps trying, even when her plans don’t go smoothly. 

I really love these books. They are fun with short chapters and they are brilliantly illustrated. I love that these characters are encouraging STEM! These books are perfect for children who are just starting to read longer chapter books… AND perfect for those with scientific, or inquisitive, minds. I learned some things reading this, so children are definitely going to!

A massive massive shout out to David Roberts for his illustrations. They make this book even more incredible in my eyes! I am DIGGING this purple and brown theme in the book. Look how stylish Ada’s mam is man – I wish I was that stylish. 

I love this series so much and I can’t wait to see what’s coming next. These books go from strength to strength and you can bet that they’re going to keep going! If you don’t have this book, or the picture books, I would STRONGLY encourage you to! 

A massive thank you to the publishers, Abrams and Chronicle, for sending me a copy for review! I just adore these books and I know they have a place in every house, library and classroom!

S x 

BLOG TOUR: In The Shadow Of Heroes

Today I have the utter joy of hosting author Nick Bowling who is sharing his thoughts on some Unheroic Greek heroes. We all know I love a bit of mythology (if you didn’t know that then WHERE HAVE YOU been?!) so this post is PERFECT in my life!

Nick’s new book In The Shadow of Heroes is out now and I can’t wait. It’s been snatched up by one of the kids in my class… so I guess I need to wait my turn!

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“Fourteen-year-old Cadmus has been scholar Tullus’s slave since he was a baby – his master is the only family he knows.

But when Tullus disappears and a taciturn slave called Tog – formerly a British princess – arrives with a secret message, Cadmus’s life is turned upside down. The pair follow a trail that leads to Emperor Nero himself, and his crazed determination to possess the Golden Fleece of Greek mythology. This madcap quest will push Cadmus to the edge of the Roman Empire – and reveal unexpected truths about his past…”

Unheroic Greek heroes

The Greeks thought differently about what a hero was. Google the word “hero” today and you get the following result: “A person who is admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.”  Most people would agree with this as a definition. But in an Ancient Greek dictionary the word heros brings up three fairly vague ideas: 1) the Greeks before Troy, all free men of the Heroic age; 2) men born from a god and a mortal; 3) inferior local deities, patrons of tribes, cities, guilds, founders of cities etc. etc.

The important difference is that the heroes of Greece usually were people who demonstrated “courage” and performed “outstanding achievements”, but “noble qualities” were often sorely lacking. Nowadays, we assume that a hero has some kind of moral rectitude, but for the Greeks and Romans there were more shades of grey. Their heroes were messy, complex, conflicted, often just plain awful people. This is what makes them interesting; it’s also what makes them function as mirrors to our own lives.

IN THE SHADOW OF HEROES takes this idea and asks the question: what is a hero? To get you thinking, here are five heroes you might have heard of, along with some of their less “outstanding achievements”:

  1. We’ve all heard of Hercules suffering nobly through his Twelve Labours, but less well known is the reason why he had to perform them: he killed his wife and all his children in a fit of madness. The rest of Hercules’ life is similarly chequered with random acts of extreme violence. He killed his music teacher for correcting his mistakes, he killed King Eurytus and his sons when he was denied the hand of his daughter in marriage, he killed Sileus for forcing him to tend his vineyards. All of which was, sadly, left out of the Disney motion-picture.
  2. Heroic slayer of the Minotaur, but also heroic home-wrecker. He escaped from the Labyrinth with the help of Ariadne (King Minos’ daughter), who then eloped from Crete with him. Theseus then abandoned her on the island of Naxos, and upon returning to Athens forgot to change his black sail to a white sail, which would have signalled his success in defeating the Minotaur. His father Aegeus, assuming his son was dead, threw himself into the sea.
  3. After reclaiming the Golden Fleece from Colchis with the help of Medea (the King Aeetes’ daughter – there’s a pattern developing here…), Jason settled Corinth with her as his consort. He then got embarrassed by having a girlfriend who was foreign and, admittedly, a bit weird, and promptly dumped her to marry Creusa. This, despite the fact Medea helped him win the fleece in the first place, betrayed her family and travelled halfway around the world to be with him. This pushed Medea to perform one of the all-time great acts of female vengeance (no spoilers).
  4. Perhaps better known for his bad behaviour, but it still bears repeating. Achilles had the mother of all tantrums because Agamemnon took a slave girl from him. He refused to fight and said he won’t return until Agamemnon say sorry. Hundreds of his own men died as a result.
  5. Even the most unwarlike heroes don’t get clean consciences. Daedalus was a master craftsman, inventor and architect, who built the Minotaur’s labyrinth. While you might pity him for the death of his son Icarus (of melting wings fame), you’ll probably feel less sympathetic when you hear he killed his own nephew – threw him off the top of the Acropolis – because he came up with the idea for the handsaw before Daedalus did.

IN THE SHADOW OF HEROES by Nicholas Bowling out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com

Follow Nicholas Bowling on twitter @thenickbowling

Why don’t you check out the rest of the blog tour?

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Massive thank you to Chicken House and to Nick for his blog post! What a great start to a Wednesday! 

S x

A Pocketful of Stars review

A Pocketful of Stars: magical, mysterious and memorable.

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When I next open my eyes, I’m back… in front of the house again. It’s night time. The stars wave hello, like they’ve been expecting me. The door of the house, Mum’s house, is wide open, like it expects me too. This time, I go inside…

Safiya and her mum have never seen eye to eye. Her mum doesn’t understand Safiya’s love of gaming and Safiya doesn’t think they have anything in common. As Safiya struggles to fit in at school she wonders if her mum wishes she was more like her confident best friend Elle. But then her mum falls into a coma and, when Safiya waits by her bedside, she finds herself in a strange alternative world that looks a bit like one of her games. And there’s a rebellious teenage girl, with a secret, who looks suspiciously familiar…”

I’d like to preface this review by saying that this book has been one of my most anticipated books of 2019 and that my giddy… it BROKE ME. SO MUCH. 

OKAY. Let’s go. I’m sorry if my thoughts are all jumbled in this review… just bear with me. 

A Pocketful of Stars tells the wonderful story of Safiya, a young girl who is forever battling against her mam and her mam’s opinions on Saf’s hobbies. Saf is a gamer and her mam doesn’t necessarily see that as a “wise” way to spend time. Saf lives with her dad most of the time, but she sees her mam on a weekend. When something happens to Saf’s mam, Saf has to battle to try to save her mam: someone she has more in common than she realises. 

Picking up A Pocketful of Stars was like being transported to this incredibly magic and mystical world. A world where magic is possible; where you can fight for something you need and want desperately; one where that fight matters. There’s a real life setting and there’s this incredible setting of this alternative world. The setting descriptions immerse you entirely in whichever setting Saf is in. Aisha has a GORGEOUS writing style. I didn’t want to stop reading (I was GUTTED when I finished the book… because I needed more!) When Saf learns and understands the link between the two, the magic really kicks off. You see the world through a desperate young lady trying to fix something that may be unfixable.

Saf is a brilliant main character. I loved the fact she was a gamer – it’s so important that we show that girls can be gamers. She’s flawed, brave, clever, resourceful, proud, honest and scared. She makes mistakes. She says things she regrets. She’s warm and kind. She doesn’t pretend to be something she’s not. I think a lot of kids (and adults) are going to like Saf. There’s going to be girls who see a bit of themselves in Saf – and we all know that seeing yourself in a character is so important. She’s proud of who she is, and as you go through the story she becomes more proud of where she’s come from. Learning about her family, in particular her mother, shows Saf that she’s more similar to her mother than she thought. 

I loved that this book dealt with a family dynamic in a way which is kind of flipped on the head. Usually, you see that children live with mam and go and visit dad. Here, however, you have Saf lives with her dad and goes and visits mam. It might seem like a small detail, but for me, I really liked it. Family is a massively important theme in this book – both the family you have now and the family that came before you. There’s a lot of discovery in this book. Saf learns about herself, her parents and her extended family throughout this book: in more ways than one. 

This book is BRILLIANT for kids 9+. Teenagers will love this too. It’s a bit more grown up than typical 9-11 books. I think (and this is a total compliment) this is one of those books that we discover privately. It gives me slight A Monster Calls vibes – another book I PROPER adore. 

This book is like a deliciously written scavanger hunt. We all love going on an adventure and this book scratches that itch satisfyingly so. You go on a scavenger hunt in a very unconventional way with Saf. I don’t want to spoil too much because it’s one of the things that was just incredible about this book – but the magic of this book (we all know I love a bit of magic in my life) just made my heart complete. The way in which Saf tries to go about saving her mam made my heart just leap with joy.

Along with joy however, there was a LOT of tears. I need to warn you guys of that.

Not that we judge books by their covers (ahem) but LOOK AT THAT MAN. It is just incredible. There’s going to be some real shelf appeal with this. I adore it.

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My Goodreads review:

God. This book. BROKE MY SOUL. Guys, it’s bloody brilliant. It’s full of hope, magic, wonder, intrigue and love. There’s so much love in this book: between friends, with family and for yourself and your own strength. I loved Saf’s story and I can’t wait for you all to discover it.

OK, I’m going to lie down now and have another little cry about this book. Because it’s brilliant. pocketful of stars

Have you read A Pocketful of Stars?
How do you feel about a scavenger hunt?
DO YOU LOVE THAT COVER THO?

Talk to me! A massive thank you to the humans of Egmont for sending me a proof copy of A Pocketful of Stars. Year 5 are going to DIE.

S x 

S4S -2019 Must Reads

Hello!

It is Sunday again. Where did this week go?! I hope you all had a lovely Easter weekend and haven’t worked too hard this week! 

Welcome back to another #SixforSunday! This is our final month of #SixforSunday does kids lit… but let’s be honest, I will always be an advocate for kids lit, so nothing is going to change here! 

Today we are celebrating:

2019 Must Reads

Now I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve read A LOT of incredible kids lit so far this year. You guys need to get on it. Kids lit is smashing the game at the minute and I am loving that so much.

2019 must reads

Against all Gods – Maz Evans
Mates… my heart was not ready for this. I am SO sad the Gods series is over, but this was the PERFECT ending. 

Wildspark – Vashti Hardy
This book is just PERFECT. I love SO MUCH about it. Vashti is an amazing story teller and I can’t wait to see this just explode online.

Rumblestar – Abi Elphinstone
Abi Elphinstone can do NO wrong in my eyes. Rumblestar was perfect amounts funny, adventure filled and gripping. I can’t wait to see where this series goes next.

Ghost – Jason Reynolds
This book keeps creeping back up on me and I’m so glad people are reading it now because I ADORED it. Coach is one of my favourite characters of ever.

The Girl Who Speaks Bear – Sophie ANderson 
I KNOW I KNOW. This book isn’t out til September, but guys, it is EXCEPTIONAL. How Sophie weaves stories and worlds together in such an icnredible way is BEYOND me. You need to keep your eye out for this when it comes out.

A Pocketful of Stars – Aisha Bushby
This is a debut novel from Aisha and it is just wonderful. It BROKE MY SOUL. It’s brilliant… SO BRILLIANT.

And there we have my 2019 must reads… SO FAR. There are SO MANY MORE. SO MANY MANY MORE. Those were the first 6 that came to my mind. (In fact, here’s 6 more…)

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Please share your 2019 must reads with me! Remember to use the hashtag #SixforSunday so I can share your post on Twitter! 

Come back next week for May’s prompts where we are celebrating our TBR piles (haha!)

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 

 

S4S – 2018 Must Reads

Helloooo!

It is Sunday again, which can only mean one thing: #SixforSunday!

Continuing on our mission to spread the love of kids lit this month, today we are looking back to last year and the myriad of increidble books that were released! Today’s #SixforSunday theme is:

2018 Must Read Books

So here we are, 6 books that I read in 2018 that I think are MUST READS for anyone. 

2018 must reads

Brightstorm – an incredible adventure over snowy lands, with wolves, inventions and wonderful characters.

Truth Pixie – mental health meets kids lit in this incredible story of the Truth Pixie. Matt Haig can do NO wrong in my eyes!

Pages and Co – you can’t get better than a book featuring other books. I loved Anna James’ debut novel of Tilly and her wonderful bookish life. 

Secret on the Night Train – a surprise in this category, but I adored it. It’s a brilliant book for 5-8s and I think we need more books like this!

The Storm Keeper’s Island – Catherine Doyle’s debut kids novel was magical and EVERYTHING you could need from a beautiful book. I can’t wait for the sequel!

The Lost Magician – this book was another bookish book. I adored every page of it!

Don’t forget to share your must reads from 2018 with me! Use the hashtag #SixforSunday! Let’s get the world talking about kids lit! Celebrate the books that came out last year that we love. 

See you next week for 2019 must reads!

S x 

S4S – Books from my childhood

Afternoon! How is everyone on this here chilly Sunday?

Today we’re here for another installment of #SixforSunday! I hope you’re enjoying this celebration of everything kids lit… I know I am! 

Today’s #SixforSunday is a celebration of:

Books from my childhood

So here are 6 books that I read as a child, or that were read to me as a child that I STILL find myself wanting to reread as an adult!

I don’t think these will really surprise anyone. Some of the best stories I’ve ever read are still here on this list. I’ve included books form being a proper tiny to vividly remembering reading them as a child and them sparking a love of reading in me!

Share your favourite 6 books from childhood with me using the hashtag #SixforSunday and I’l check them out! 

See you next week! 

S x