BOOK BLOG: Sinead O’Hart

The Star Spun Web: what would you do if you discovered you held one of the most incredible pieces of scientific gadgetry in your hand?!

img_4853(Star Spun Web kept me company on the train to London recently… and it gripped me STRAIGHT away!)

“With her passion for scientific experimentation and her pet tarantula Violet, Tess de Sousa is no ordinary orphan. When a stranger shows up at Ackerbee’s Home for Lost and Foundlings, claiming to be a distant relative come to adopt her, Tess hopes to find some answers to her mysterious origins. But as she adjusts to her new life at Roedeer Lodge, it becomes clear that Norton F. Cleat knows more about Tess – and the strange star-shaped device left with her when she was abandoned as a baby – than he’s letting on. And when Tess discovers that the Starspinner is the gateway between her world and a parallel world in which war rages, she realizes she may be the key to a terrible plan. A plan she must stop at all costs…”

The Star Spun Web is the second book from the brilliant Sinead O’Hart – author of the wonderful Eye of the North – and man, it’s A TOTAL RIDE. 

The Star Spun Web tells the story of young Tess, who is living at an orphanage, having been left there by her father in strange circumstances. Tess knows very little about her family, only that she was left at Ackerbee’s Home for Lost and Foundlings when she was a baby and has lived there ever since. There are family secrets aplenty for Tess to discover, but when an ominous ‘uncle’ appears out of nowhere to claim her, she has to upheave her life and move to his MASSIVE mansion. 

Now this all sounds wonderful, moving away from an orphanage to a massive mansion… but Tess loves her life at Ackerbee’s. She’s got friends, there’s adults there who genuinely love her – she doesn’t want to leave with this strange man who has appeared out of nowhere. If you pair these emotions with a strange gadget that is handed to her before she leaves, Tess is well and truly confused. All she knows about this gadget is that it was left with her when she was left at Ackerbee’s… so it must have been important. 

Once Tess has moved from the orphanage, what follows is a complete and utter rollercoaster of science, finding your feet and fighting for what you know is right. 

I loved Tess. She’s such an incredible main character. She’s intelligent, witty, charming. She thinks for herself. She stands up for herself. She fights for her friends. She isn’t afraid to be brave and do her own thinking – big or small thinking, it’s all scary at the end of the day! I loved Violet too… I know… me! Saying positive things about a spider! I think it’s the thing that Violet represents for me that I love. We all need a “constant” in our lives – be it your mam, dad, brother, a friend, a cousin – to keep us grounded, and that’s what Violet did for Tess. 

A brilliant main character, some friends who help her along the way, and some baddies. Oh the baddies. They’re clever and wily. I don’t wanna spoil it too much… but obviously things don’t end up being what they seem. People have ulterior motives. There’s SHOCKS aplenty with some of the characters (one of them floored me at one point). 

I absolutely adored all of the science of this book too. It’s accessible and out there, but it’s explained in such a way that it won’t go over the top of kids’ heads – if I can understand it, then you’ve got a winner! 

This is a brilliantly meaty book to get your teeth stuck into. It’s pretty long for a MG book, but it’s perfect for Year 5s and 6s. It’s gone down wonderfully with my 5s so far. A few quick snippets from 2 children who’ve read it so far:

“It’s a load of fun because it’s really clever. Plus Tess is a great character. I’d love to be her friend”

“Imagine moving to a mansion but then someone wanting to use you to do something terrible? I don’t wanna be in Tess’ position ever, but she’s clever and makes the right choice”

My goodreads review:

I loved this absolute ride! The brilliant characters, the fascinating science, the incredible plot and the brilliant sidekicks. Man, I REALLY hope there’ll be a second one!

Thank you to the brilliant publishers at Stripes for my copy. I’ve since bought 2 more copies for school!

Thanks for coming along! Speak to you all soon! 

S x 

BOOK BLOG: C.G. Drews

The Boy Who Steals Houses: stealing homes and hearts without a second thought!

img_4936(this is the gorgeous proof copy that the brilliant publishers sent me! For the final cover, check the bottom of this review!)

“Can two broken boys find their perfect home?

Sam is only fifteen but he and his autistic older brother, Avery, have been abandoned by every relative he’s ever known. Now Sam’s trying to build a new life for them. He survives by breaking into empty houses when their owners are away, until one day he’s caught out when a family returns home. To his amazement this large, chaotic family takes him under their wing – each teenager assuming Sam is a friend of another sibling. Sam finds himself inextricably caught up in their life, and falling for the beautiful Moxie. 

But Sam has a secret, and his past is about to catch up with him.”

When I heard that the brilliant C.G.Drews (who we all more famously know as @PaperFury) was writing another bookI needed to get my hands on it. I had seen the cover and heard bits and bobs about it, but I went into it relatively blind and my word. It blew me away. 

Now, we all know I’m quite an emotional reader (I know, I know, SHOCKER) and having read Cait’s first book A Thousand Perfect Notes, I was MORE than prepared for a book that would RIP OUT MY SOUL because that’s exactly what ATPN did to me. (If you haven’t managed to read it yet, you really really should… it is just exceptional). What you get with The Boy Who Steals Houses is sheer brilliance. It’s sharp corners and rounded edges; it’s light and dark; it’s love and hatred; it’s yellow flowers on Summer’s days; it’s bruises and smiles. 

The Boy Who Steals Houses is about young Sam – a very troubled and brilliantly flawed young man, who “steals” houses. He doesn’t steal the belongings, more the feeling of owning a house. He goes into houses to sleep in the beds. He goes into the houses to have somewhere comfortable for the night. He has no interest in stealing the expensive things in the house… he just wants somewhere to belong. For so long he hasn’t felt like he belonged, and that’s what he is DESPERATELY seeking. Sam also has to look after his older, autistic brother Avery. Avery, who constantly causes Sam to worry, is always getting himself into scrapes and situations that Sam feels he needs to save him from. You see through the book the scale of the problem when Sam does something pretty bad to show much he’s willing to protect his brother. Sam does some really bad things, but he thinks it’s because he’s doing it for the right reasonshe wants to protect his brother. It’s his job to protect his brother. There’s definite anger issues going on with Sam – he has a violent streak. I wanted to hug Sam after chapter 1 and I continued to want to hug him throughout the whole book. 

So you have this brilliantly complex and endearing main character, who is just trying to find himself somewhere to stay, and then BAM, throw in a house he thinks is emptywhich isn’t. (When I read this bit, I GENUINELY gasped). He meets an incredible family – the De Laineys – and things start to change. It’s a warm, noisy, chaotic, welcoming family unit, who initially don’t know of Sam’s circumstances. He’s welcomed as a “friend” of one of the boys. You get an INSTANT warmth from the De Laineys. They’re this wonderfully charming family, who of course have their problems. I loved the De Laineys… like A LOT. I don’t want to spoil too much about the De Laineys… but guys, I just love them. There’s so many wonderful scenes between Sam and the different family members that I just glowed. There’s a beautiful scene at the end of the book with Sam and Mr De Lainey that just broke me. I think everyone needs a Mr De Lainey in their life – someone who will accept you for who you are and who will stick by you, even when you do some TERRIBLE things. 

Of course, this is a story and it isn’t ALL PEACHES AND RAINBOWS (although there is a VERY funny scene with glitter that made me chuckle…), there’s some HORRID villains in this book. There’s of course Sam and Avery’s abusive father, who doesn’t deserve ANY space in this review. Then there’s their Auntie Karen, who they end up living with when Dad ditches them. She’s JUST as bad as their dad. There’s Viv – oh Viv. You did a TERRIBLE thing. There’s a moment where something HAPPENS and I was heartbroken for Sam. 

(I realise this review so far has just talked about characters, but guys… I just think it’s something Cait writes so so brilliantly. That’s not to take anything from the plot, because I think it’s a wonderful story, I just need to talk about characters because I love them OK?)

There’s a constant battle in Sam’s head between wanting to be invisible and wanting to be seen. He’s hiding from the police and worries that if he is found, he’ll be taken away and then his brother will have no one to look after him. I feel like we’ve all been there (wanting to be invisible and be seen) in our lives, so it makes Sam relatable. 

The scenes with the De Laineys are some of my favourites in the book. There’s so much colour, so much life, so much food that it’s a barrage on the senses, but for Sam it’s a lovely comparison between the cold, empty, grey life that he lives every night. I loved their influence on his life. There’s so much love, laughter and forgiveness with the De Laineys that you can’t NOT love them. 

This book made me cry. It made me laugh. It made me want to shout. It’s SO SO incredibly brilliant. I can’t wait to see what C.G.Drews writes next.  

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This is the finished cover and I LOVE it so much. Keys play a significant part of this story, as does the colour yellow, so I really appreciated making those links once I’d read it. 

My goodreads review:

Deary me. Sam – what a pickle you find yourself in. This book is just magnificent. I am a crying mess. This book is hard edges and summers days. It’s light and dark. It’s love and hate. It’s everything I needed. The thing that really makes this book is it’s characters. I just adored every single thing. 

A massive massive thank you to Hachette Kids for sending me a copy for review. Also a massive thank you to Cait for allowing me to live DM as I read along with the story – I HAD to talk to someone about this book! 

Check out a Q&A Cait did with herself on her website here: Q&A

Check out my review of A Thousand Perfect Notes here: BOOKBLOG: CG Drews

Thanks for stopping by! Speak to you all soon, I’m off to console myself and have some hot chocolate for my heart!

S x 

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 

#CelebrateYA

HELLO.

IT IS ME. Your resident YA loving bookworm. 

Recently, there’s been a lot of MEH-ness about YA books and its decline (?? not in my life lols). I saw this tweet from the brilliant YA author Lisa Williamson and thought ‘YES. I WANT TO BE PART OF THIS MOVEMENT.’

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So here I am today to do just that… I am HERE to celebrate YA. To shout about how brilliant it is, how necessary it is, recommend some of my favourite YA books of the past few years and to inspire you all to go out and either share your favourite YA books OR to just pick up something new. Your local Waterstones will have a YA section, go and explore… I guarantee you’ll find something that you’ll love.

So, why YA?

I get asked this question A LOT. “Why do you, as an adult, read books marketed at teens and young adults?” and the simple answer is because YA books are BLOODY MARVELLOUS.

YA books don’t shy away from some pretty tough subjects. If I think of some of my favourite YA books they’re about hard hitting topics: love, loss, heartbreak, friendships, OCD, manipulation, empowerment.

YA books MOVE so much faster than adult books. The pacing, the characters, the plots… they’re just SO MUCH MORE INTERESTING.

YA books start conversations. If you look at The Hate U Give for example (a book I still haven’t read… I know, I might be the only YA reader IN THE WORLD who hasn’t!) that had a BIG impact. That made people start talking. Another example of a book that got my little twitter YA worls talking is the brilliant The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven. This book deserves ALL of the praise it gets. It is BLOODY incredible and makes some REALLY bloody important points.

YA books will make you think, feel and want to act. We all know I cry at every book (that’s just who I am) but some of the books that have hit me the hardest have been YA books. If I think about Countless by Karen Gregory for example… man, I read that book almost 2 years ago and STILL now it makes me tear up. They don’t just make me cry though. They make me angry, they make me laugh, they make me hopeful.

YA is doing a lot for representation. People want to be seen. People want to have their stories heard. Finding yourself represented in a book can change a lot of things. Last year I read a book that I remember vividly feeling seen and MY GOD it was a bit of a punch in the face. For so long, books have been written about the same group of people and YA is slowly changing that. I know what it’s like to be seen, I know how important it can be. The brilliant people of Stripes have published an anthology full of LGBTQ+ books and it’s going to make waves.

There are so so many other reasons why you should read YA. I will stand on this I LOVE YA pedestal whether anyone is listening or not.

So, where do I start?

Now, just because I recommend these books doesn’t mean these are the only books that you should read because LET’S BE REAL there are so so many, but here are some of my absolute favourites (authors/stories) from the past few years. Some of these won’t be a surprise to long time readers of my blog, some of them may!

In there you have books that will make you laugh, cry, anger you, move you, make you think about life. You have representation of all sorts of relationships. You’ve got books which span genres. You’ve got books from some of my favourite authors in the world. There’s books there that changed something for me. There’s books I’ve read that I’ve felt seen in. There’s books that have made me change my thinking about things.

I loved them all and they’re ALL YA.

OK, so I could keep going. I really could. I won’t. I want this to be a conversation, not Steph’s Lecture on Why YA is Something The World Needs. Talk to me. Why do you want to #celebrateYA?

Every day this month, I pledge to #celebrateYA. Starting tomorrow (Valentines Day) I’m going to #celebrateYA by sharing one YA book I love!

Now let’s keep the conversation going:

What was the last YA book you read?
What’s the next YA book you’re going to read?
Why do you think we need to #celebrateYA?

I really really want the conversation about YA to continue. So talk to me, tweet, whatever. Get it out there that YA is a thing and we need it to stay a thing!

S x

BOOK BLOG: S.M. Wilson

The Extinction Trials: Rebel – Tense. Thrilling. Tantalising.

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“Betrayal. Sacrifice. Survival. Welcome to The Extinction Trials

Storm and Lincoln’s city is burning. The people are starving. The only place left to run is Piloria, the continent of monsters. It’s up to Storm and Lincoln to keep their people alive as they colonize this lethal paradise. But will the biggest threat to their survival be the monsters in the jungle…or the ones inside the encampment with them?”

Rebel is the third and final book in The Extinction Trials trilogy and my word, I was NOT ready for this series to be over. I DEVOURED book 1 and 2 when they came to me and book 3 was NO different. If you haven’t already read them, THEN WHY NOT? (You might find my reviews of book 1 and book 2 helpful if this is the case!)

In Rebel, we begin with how life is looking for our 2 protagonistsStormchaser, who is living on Piloria with her father, and Lincoln, who is back in Ambulus City having gone back at the end of book 2. The stark differences between the two settings was always something that I loved about these books – Ambulus City was always so grey and dank, whereas you have lushness and colour on the island of Piloria (yes, yes, I know, there’s dinosaurs too!) Things start to go wrong when there’s a bit of a revolt and Ambulus City is burning to the ground. Lincoln, and the people who matter most to him, end up leaving the city on a boat bound for none other than, yep you guessed it, dinosaur land: Piloria. 

There are SO MANY THINGS I loved about this book. I’m going to try and summarise all of my thoughts into concise sentences, but you all know me… it’s not going to happen! I also need to try and NOT be spoilery. (If you wanna know the spoilery thing I loved about this book, then ask me… I won’t ruin it for everyone!)

It’s tense: like there’s some REAL moments of tension in this story. People butt heads, people argue (like you would if you’ve just moved to a brand new island with some of your least favourite people in the world). There’s DINOSAURS threatening your existence. A real thread of built up tension is written beautifully into this story and then there’s a few BOOM moments of fall out. 

It’s touching: seeing the relationships between the characters building was just lush. I have a real soft spot for most of the characters. I was so glad to see some of the old faves back. You see Storm and her dad HAVE to get on with each other. You see them actually LIKE each other and trying to understand each other. You see their relationship blossom into some kind of father/daughte relationship. Friendships, relationships: they’re all explored and it’s so so lush to read.

There’s a REALLY BLOODY GOOD VILLAIN: God, I HATED HIM. I wanted to punch him. But it’s what made him SO SO good. Someone with a CLEAR God complex going on. 

It’s dystopian fiction at its best: like… I BLOODY LOVE dystopian fiction, but this is the first series I’ve come across in a LONG time where I’ve been INVESTED. I love the characters, the worlds, the danger, the peril, the emotional investment. I dare you to read this book and NOT love it. 

Some old faves are back: Aw man. I don’t wanna spoil anything but I did a GENUINE woop at one moment. There’s a very touching moment with Lincoln and one of the characters that really touched me. You’ve gotta look out for the people who mean something to you and those closest to you! I loved that Blaine wasn’t forgotten in this story. I loved him SO much. 

Storm really blossoms in this story: Storm becomes this really empowered young woman. She stands up for herself and for the people and things she loves. She doesn’t seem to be afraid of the Stipulators in this story. She’s developed a real bit of gusto about herself in this story. I REALLY love Storm. She’s brilliant. 

So yeah, I loved this book. I loved this trilogy SO MUCH. I don’t think I can quite put into words how much I loved this trilogy. It ended in SUCH a satisfying way. 

My goodreads review: (lol look at me trying not to be spoilery everywhere)

YES THOUGH. I can’t say too much without being spoilery. But my gosh this was brilliant. It was tense and action packed and interesting and just brilliant. I’d missed these characters and this world so much!

Yes, I managed not to say the spoilery thing. I NEED SOMEONE ELSE TO READ THIS BOOK SO WE CAN TALK ABOUT IT THOUGH. 

If you’re looking for a brilliantly written, fun, dangerous dystopian series with characters you’ll want to read about, then I would whole-heartedly recommend The Extinction Trials. Rebel came out yesterday, so GO GO GO GET ALL 3 AND BINGE. It’s SO worth it! 

Have you read The Extinction Trials?
Do you think you’d survive on dinosaur island?
Are you a fan of a really good bloody villain?

A massive massive thank you to Usborne for sending me a copy of Rebel. I’m so so sad this series is over, but I am so glad it’s in my life!

S x 

 

BLOG TOUR: Sam Wu

Today I have the absolute joy of being part of the Sam Wu is NOT Afraid of the Dark blog tour! I ADORE the Sam Wu books, written by the brilliant Katie and Kevin Tsang, so when I was asked to be aprt of this blog tour, I jumped at the chance! Check out my review below (featuring some quotes from some of my kids!)

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“Sam Wu is NOT afraid of anything. Except for quite a lot of things. Like ghosts. Sharks too. And also THE DARK! And so when Sam goes camping in the woods with his friends and cousin Stanley, who knows what scary kind of things they’ll face . . .?”

The Sam Wu books are a brilliant series featuring the hilariously afraid of everything nothing Sam Wu and his bunch of friends! This third book in the series sees Sam taking on a new fear he definitely doesn’t have… the dark! 

Sam Wu ends up having to go camping with his friends and his cousin… a cousin who thinks he is excellent at everything! There’s MANY hilarious moments in the story – I was in fact cackling from the first page. As well as lots of hilarity, of course Sam’s arch nemesis ends up turning up on the camp site and they have to learn to work together to get over their fear not fear of the dark. There’s a scene at the campsite in particular that made me PROPER giggle – it’s funny seeing the world through a child’s eyes and things like getting from a tent to where adults are sat made me proper laugh. 

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These books are so perfect for children who are just building their confidence with reading and those who love a brilliantly illustrated story! The illustrations are just spot on for this story and they add so much to the story. Nathan Reed, the illustrator, has got the whole story and the feel of the story spot on in his pictures. 

Some quotes from the kids I teach:

“I love these books because Sam Wu doesn’t look like most characters in stories. He’s different and it’s good for us to learn about different kinds of people”.

“These books make me really laugh and I hope there will be more” (when this child noticed book 4 cover on the back, there was an audible YAY)

“I just love how some of the pages are different colours and that makes them really fun. I also like that Sam and his friends always work together. And Sam is really scared of everything, he’s just really brave too though”

My goodreads review:

Brilliantly fun! I love these stories. Full of laugh out loud moments, friendship, adventure and beautiful illustrations! This had me cackling from the first page!

Have you met Sam Wu and his brilliant friends yet?
What one thing are you definitely NOT afraid of?

Go check out the rest of the stops on this blog tour! And buy Sam Wu is NOT Afriad of the Dark when it comes out on Thursday! (In fact you might already find it in your local shops, so GO GO GO, or preorder it today!)

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A massive thank you to Egmont for sending me a copy of the book and for inviting me to be on the blog tour! 

S x 

BLOG TOUR: A Pinch of Magic

Hello lovely friends! 

Today I have the ABSOLUTE JOY of hosting a Q&A with author Michelle Harrison – who has written the absolutely incredible A Pinch of Magic. Now, I read this book back in 2018 and guys… it’s PROPERLY stuck with me. I just adored it. It’s one of those that I hope I get to read aloud to my kids one day because I just loved it. EVERYTHING I COULD NEED IN A BOOK: Brilliant characters, magic and charm. WONDERFUL.

Anyway, you’re here for the Q&A, not my rambling on about the story! I asked my kids to help me think of some questions and once they started they didn’t want to stop! 

1. Where did you get the inspiration for the story? 
The idea came from a book called The Lore of the Land, which is all about Britain’s
folklore. I noticed a section on Essex, and read that the village of Canewdon will
supposedly always have six witches there. Whenever one dies, a stone falls out of the church walls. This was the starting point for the curse in A Pinch of Magic. I decided to write about three sisters as I’m the youngest of three.

2. Which character did you enjoy writing the most? 
I loved writing the sections in the past about the mysterious girl in the tower and how the curse all came about, but I don’t want to give too much away here! I also really enjoyed writing about Charlie, she’s a little scamp who brings lightness to the story.

3. Do you think you’d survive in the world you wrote?
No way! It’s damp and miserable in Crowstone ‒ I’d HATE it! I don’t handle the cold
well, and my hair is a lot like Betty’. One bit of damp weather and POOF. Fuzzball.

4. Is there one of the characters you think you’re the most like? 
Well, according to the quiz in the back of the book I’m most like Charlie. I’m fond of
animals and I’m usually thinking about my next meal. But there’s also a touch of Fliss, as I enjoy baking and homely things, although I’m not a disaster in the kitchen like she is. I’ve probably given my heart away too easily in the past, too. 

5. If you could have a magical object, what would you choose and why? 
From the book it would have to be the travelling bag ‒ the potential for adventures
and mischief would be impossible to resist. But if I could choose anything it would be something pretty like a dragonfly pendant or ring which could allow me to fly. I used to have lots of flying dreams when I was younger and they were so much fun I was always sad to wake up!

A massive massive thank you to the publishers (Simon and Schuster) for inviting me to be on this blog tour, and for Michelle for taking time to answer my kids’ questions! 

You should all DEFINITELY go out and buy A Pinch of Magic (if you need any more convincing, it’s also Waterstone’s Children’s Book of the Month) I really really loved it!

Go check out the rest of the stops on the blog tour! I can’t wait to read the rest of the posts! 

APOM BLOG TOUR

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 

BOOK BLOG: David Owen

All The Lonely People: BLOODY BRILLIANT with a bunch of great characters

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“Everyone tells Kat that her online personality – confident, funny, opinionated – isn’t her true self. Kat knows otherwise. The internet is her only way to cope with a bad day, chat with friends who get all her references, make someone laugh. But when she becomes the target of an alt-right trolling campaign, she feels she has no option but to Escape, Delete, Disappear.
With her social media shut down, her website erased, her entire online identity void, Kat feels she has cut away her very core: without her virtual self, who is she?
She brought it on herself. Or so Wesley keeps telling himself as he dismantles Kat’s world. It’s different, seeing one of his victims in real life and not inside a computer screen – but he’s in too far to back out now.
As soon as Kat disappears from the online world, her physical body begins to fade and while everybody else forgets that she exists, Wesley realises he is the only one left who remembers her. Overcome by remorse for what he has done, Wesley resolves to stop her disappearing completely. It might just be the only way to save himself.”

All The Lonely People tells the story of Kat, a teenage girl who ends up being so horribly treated online by trolls that she deletes her entire online presence and ends up “disappearing” herself. It follows Kat’s journey from the initial trolling, through what happens when she deletes her last remnants online and the emotional toll it has on her and those around her.

Kat is treated HORRIBLY by a bunch of boys in school who have a very “anti-women” agenda. They push her so hard that she has already deleted a big chunk of her online presence at the beginning of the story (including her presence in a forum that she is particularly active in) and as the story starts, they are working to try and take over her website. Their plan is to rid the world of women who stand up for women. They’re horrible, horrible young men, influenced by their world which is filled with some HORRID toxic masculinity. I genuinely HATED them. Everything about what they believed and did made me SO CROSS. So cross that I had to send David a message saying “These young men are the worst”. Kat isn’t their first victim, nor is she their last victim. As the story progresses, you see that their next target is someone with a very big presence online. 

As well as brilliantly written Kat, we follow the story of Wes. Wes is, unfortunately, one of these young men who was guilty of trolling Kat to the highest extreme. However, Wes is a BRILLIANT exploration of conscience. He’s done these bad things BECAUSE he wants to fit in. He wants the cool kids to know he’s game for anything. He even goes on to prove this need further on in the book. But, he knows he’s made a mistake and wants to make amends. After making Kat disappear, he’s one of the only people who can sense she’s around and he wants to help her reappear. I really loved Wes. He’s a good kid underneath it all. He wants to be remembered. 

Massive shout out here to Wes’ big brother Jordan. I won’t say too much about Jordan, because spoilers, but he’s brilliant. I proper have a soft spot for him. Initially, not so much, but as the story progresses, you see he’s just looking out for his younger brother and will go to pretty extreme means to do that. 

Another of the characters who end up having quite an impact on the story is a young lady called Safa. Safa has “disappeared” and is set on making it final when we meet her in the story. Her and Kat end up becoming friends and we see their friendship develop as the book goes on. I wasn’t a big fan of Safa initially: she’s reckless and a bit of a dick. But if you give her a chance, she might change your mind. She helps Kat through this world of “the fade” and ultimately ends up being one of the most positive things Kat has in her life. 

(This review ended up turning into a review of characters and I am OK with that! I’m a BIG fan of brilliant characters!)

I think in the technological world we live in today, books like this are going to become more popular and I am HERE FOR IT. This book explored some topics that I think are necessary: toxic masculinity, online infamy and trolling. Something else that stood out for me was the exploration of the difference between our online selves and our “real life” selves – Kat disappears because her personality is all online and it ends up being deleted. It’s an interesting thing to think about: how different is online you to offline you? 

My goodreads review:

So much hatred for some of the males in this story. But so much love for Wes, Jordan, Evie and Kat. I think books like this, ones which deliver a message about being lovely in a world which is always on, are so needed. There’s some HORRIBLE shit that goes down in this story that is so true to online culture today. I just wanna hug Kat and be her friend.

If you’d like to read a Q&A I was lucky enough to do with the author, brilliantly funny David Owen, check it out here. Follow him on twitter @davidowenauthor.

Have you read All The Lonely People?
Can you recommend any books like this?
Do you think you’d like for your online persona to disappear altogether?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments! 

S x 

Using blurbs in the classroom

As you saw the other day, I was very very lucky to be able to share the exclusive cover of Aisha Bushby’s new book A Pocketful of Stars (if you missed the announcement, check it out here!) 

It got me thinking about using blurbs in the classroom and how much we really learn about a book from its blurb. What do we learn about the characters? What about the plot? What about the themes? 

My kids are proper book devourers (more about reading in my classroom next week!) and I thought it would make a brilliant lesson to share with them the blurb of A Pocketful of Stars and give them the chance to design a cover based solely on the information given in the blurb.

Initially, a few of them were quite hesitant because they wanted more information – which obviously I couldn’t provide, because I didn’t know it myself – but after a bit of encouragement, they all had a go. We had a chance to have some discussions about what makes a good cover, what makes you want to pick up a book, what covers of books should give away and the kids were SO engaged. Once we’d had a talk about covers, they got talking about their ideas and started to share ideas. 

I literally only gave them a blank sheet of A5 paper and told them they had time to design their cover… and this is what some of them came up with!

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I LOVE all of them – the kids all put their hearts into their designs and really thought about what they’d want to go on the cover. 

This is definitely something I’d do again. The levels of engagement and the thought that they put into it made me so proud! I even got to show them to Aisha too and she loved them! 

What are your favourite book activities to do in the classroom?
What would you have put on the cover?
Do you have a favourite cover of the designed ones?

I can’t wait to show my kids the actual finished cover. One of my girls will be very surprised at how close her design is! 

S x