World Book Day Free Book – SNAP by Patrice Lawrence

I’m a big fan of World Book Day. Not so much the dressing up, but the notion of getting children into bookshops and giving them access to a book, free of charge.

For some youngsters, their World Book Day book may be the only book they get that year, so I’d want it to be a great read, and maybe an opportunity for the youngsters to find themselves in a book. Which is why I’ve joined in the criticism some years about the lack of diversity in the books selected, and the choice of long-established authors over newer, fresh voices. This is why, when I finally laid my hands on all ten books, my first read has been  SNAP by Patrice Lawrence.Snap-patrice-lawrence WBD19 9781444950205

Patrice came to my attention in 2016 with the publication of her first YA novel, the award-winning Orange Boy. Set in Hackney, Orange Boy was gritty, full of realism and powerful.

This is equally true of SNAP. The story unfolds in an increasingly dramatic way, with colloquial language and a cast of working class people from challenged families. The use of dual perspectives in the later chapters heightens the drama and the denouement is exceptionally clever.

When Farhad runs away after a family tragedy, his sister Soraya is determined to find him. Along with her friend Austin, she uncovers more than she expected…..

This is definitely a book for teens or YA – a return by the World Book Day team to including two books for older readers in their £1 offerings.

Best not invite your primary school age children or library users to read this one, but do read it yourself!

SNAP, by Patrice Lawrence is published by Hodder as a World Book Day book, available for £1 or in exchange for a World Book Day voucher before 27th March.

Published by Hodder

Little Bird Flies Blogpost

little bird flies - revised blog tour banner

I am thrilled to get the Little Bird Flies blog tour started with this Q and A with the wonderful book’s lovely author, Karen McCombie.

Tanya:  Karen, I loved your book, Little Bird Flies, and especially its setting of the island of Tornish.  You are from Scotland, a land you love. I know Tornish is an imaginary island, but please tell us something about the real Scottish islands whose history you have entwined in your book.

Karen:  The setting is partly an amalgam of snap-shot, childhood memories I have of the Scottish countryside… the mountains and hills, the forests and lochs, the colours; those muted shades of ochre, brown, green and mauve. But it was a visit some years ago to the island of Ulva that sharpened into a vivid image that became the fictional setting of Tornish. Our friends had moved there, and after being ferried to the island on a tiny boat, they gave us a tour, which included showing us ‘Starvation Point’… a terrace of houses with a sad history. The Highland Clearances aren’t well known outside of Scotland, but it was a period when more than half-a-million tenant farmers and their communities were evicted from the Highlands and Islands of the north and west by landowners who valued the land more than the people on it. But sometimes people were too old or ill to go anywhere, to try and start a new life. On Ulva, these people were housed in this small row of cottages and left to fend for themselves. You can imagine how that worked out.
Although the story of Starvation Point itself isn’t included (beyond a small mention) in my novel, it certainly informed the story it became.

Tanya:  I know you are a big fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s semi-autobiographical Little House on the Prairie book series. This series is set at about the same time as Little Bird – 1860s – and also shows small-holders in tight-knit rural communities and their struggles.  How did this influence your desire to tell Scotland’s story in your book?

Karen:  For years and years, I’d been thinking about writing some kind of love letter to Scotland. And for years and years, I’ve loved and re-read my favourite childhood series, ‘Little House on the Prairie’, and had my husband badger me endlessly to write something along those lines, since I was so passionate about it. Every now and then I’d wonder how I might bring one or other of those projects to life… then one day I had the lightbulb moment, and realised I could combine the two, following my little Scottish heroine’s adventures on her island home, and her yearning to travel to America, the destination of many Scottish emigres of the time.

Tanya:  Like Little House, Little Bird Flies shows how communities living simple and relatively hand-to-mouth existences can be over-whelmed and pushed out by wealthier people with new ideas. Why does this history interest you?

Karen:  When I was young, my family regularly visited the many castles of Scotland, as well as famous sites like the battlefield of Culloden. Because of these visits, I fell in love with history hard. But I was always most keen to know about the lives of ordinary people. Yes, the luxury of the grander rooms of the castles was interesting, but I wanted to know about the nursemaid, the cook, where the servants worked, ate and slept. At the battleground, I wasn’t so interested in the whys and wherefores, or Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Duke of Cumberland. I keep thinking of the ordinary men – young and old – who’d been ordered from their farms to fight, who’d left behind mothers, wives, children. Were they pleased to go and do their duty? Or terrified? Did they worry how on earth their families back home would survive without them?
And ordinary people’s voices are not the ones that tend to be recorded for posterity, so I suppose I felt that I was giving a voice to one ‘ordinary’ girl in what was an anything but ordinary life.

Tanya:  Can you give us a little insight into what life holds for Little Bird once she gets to America and how her life compares with that of the Ingalls family as they cross America seeking a better life?

Karen:  You know something strange? I had a very definite plan in mind for Bridie and her family once they got to America, but when I sat down to write ‘Little Bird Lands’, my research took me in a totally different (physical) direction. It was as if Bridie had a plan of her own, and I was just helping her get there!
little bird blogphoto for tanya

Thank you so much, Karen, for taking the time to appear on my blog today.

I believe that Little Bird Flies is an important and beautifully written book that everyone should read.  Fortunately, publisher Nosy Crow agree with me and have let me offer a copy in a give-away.  To be in with a chance of winning, please comment on this blog or retweet my tweet at @TanyaEfthymiou.  I will choose a winner at random at the end of the blog tour – 19th January.

Little Bird Flies – Written by Karen McCombie. Published 10 January 2019 by Nosy Crow.     Illustrations by Jasu Hu and with map by Hannah Horn.

A Chase in Time by Sally Nicholls

A-Chase-In-Time-213778-1-456x701Within just twenty pages of this book I found myself transported in time – to the age of about 9 or 10 when I encountered time travel and portals with Philippa Pearce’s now classic ‘Tom’s Midnight Garden’.  There the clock in Tom’s Aunt’s hallway strikes 13 and takes Tom to the Victorian garden, whereas here it is the old mirror in Great Aunt Joanna’s hallway which transports Alex and Ruby Pilgrim back in time to 1912.

I love the way that author Sally Nicholls has made reference to the changes which the children observe – clothing, food, manners, even jobs – and believe that this is helpful to younger readers in appreciating the way that the same house can be so different in different eras.

The story itself is a great adventure, rattling along at a happy pace, with fire, theft and a car chase among the marvellous occurrences. The siblings are drawn in to the family life within the great house where they befriend youngsters their own age, and meet Atherton and Mary on the eve of their wedding. This young couple are used to the unexpected befalling them on their travels and are not panicked by meeting time travellers or near-disaster – their strength of character is admirable.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book and am truly excited The-Secret-in-Time-484179-1-456x701 that this is the start of a new Time-Seekers series, with a second book, ‘The Secret in Time’, is on its way in February 2019.

If this seems too long to wait (it does to me!), I recommend Karen McCombie’s time-shift novel The Girl Who Wasn’t There (Scholastic), Ian Fleming’s vintage car adventure ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ (Macmillan) or Piers Torday’s ‘The Lost Magician’ (Quercus) where the portal takes children not to Narnia, but to a magical story world.

The Girl Who Wasn;t ThereChitty Chitty Lost Magician

A word about the illustration and page appearance of A Chase in Time – Brett Helquist’s cover illustration and his clocks and ships in a bottle on the pages are delightful!

A Chase in Time by Sally Nicholls, illustrated by Brett Helquist.                              Published by Nosy Crow, August 2018

 

The Snowman by Sir Michael Morpurgo

This is an absolutely charming and delightful book, drawing on Raymond Briggs’ wonderful illustrated, wordless story, The Snowman ⛄ which so many of us have read and watched multiple times over the years – indeed Christmas isn’t Christmas to me without hearing Walking In The Air and reading or watching the story!

2018 10 18 The Snowman by Michael Morpurgo, Puffin Books

Sir Michael Morpurgo has taken the original story as drawn by Briggs, added Christmas essences from the Channel 4 film and added Morpurgo magic!  The idea that a child might be lonely and both ostracized and bullied by classmates at school because he has a stammer is sadly all too real. The idea that a new friendship, from not just one but many snowmen who do not judge James by his speech fluency and thus help him overcome his stammer is not just magical, but clinically accurate.  The snowman’s friendship and kindness helps James to find his words, his fluency, his confidence.

What a joy that Morpurgo has chosen to include the aurora borealis and have the grandmother meet and adventure with the snowman, bringing in special Christmassy features from both nature and family.  Also wonderful is to see original Snowman drawings specially adapted for this book.

I also love it that Puffin have chosen to include features about Christmas traditions in different countries and the art of snowman-building.

All in all, this is a great book to share with children, whether at home or school in the run-up to Christmas, which will no doubt be enjoyed all year round, just like Raymond Briggs’ original.

Thank you, Sir Michael, for agreeing to the tough challenge of writing a novella based on this picture-story. You have not fallen short of your usual high standards!

The Snowman
By Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Robin Shaw published 18th October 2018 by Puffin Books
Thank you to Random House and Netgalley for providing me with a copy for review.

 

Karen McCombie Guest Blog

The release of St Grizzle’s School for  Girls, St Grizzles 4Gremlins and Pesky Guests

Hi Karen.  Thank you so much for agreeing to appear on my blog and for the book-set giveaway (see below).
The fourth instalment of your St Grizzle’s series is released on 9thAugust.  You’ve written a few series – ‘Ally’s World’ and ‘You, Mr and Thing’ to name but two.  When you start, do you already have the vision for further episodes, or is it quite a struggle?

If I’m planning a series, as opposed to a one-off novel, I’ll always play around with outlines for three or more books, just because publishers will be too nervous to commit to a first book – however appealing it sounds – if they’re not sure the author has solid follow-ups in mind! With ‘Ally’s World’ – my yonks-ago first ever series – it was quite tricky, as initially, it was just commissioned as a three-book series, then stretched to a few more, and a few more and a few more… all the way to fourteen books in total (with four ‘specials’ running alongside it!). I had to be very aware of making the stretchhhhhedddd story arc work. But I do love the pace of a series, being able to follow and develop characters and their adventures! (“What’ll happen if I add a goat/alien/evil penguin?”) 

 
The illustrations by Becka Moor really work so well with your text.  Your books have been illustrated by a range of illustrators. Do you get to meet up with many of them as they work on your texts?

Authors are one step removed from illustrators, with the design department at the publisher acting as the intermediary and driving force. I can understand why there is this remove; they might worry that authors will be too hung up on specific looks and not allow illustrators to bring their own colour to the text, but it is so nice when you can have a relationship with someone who’s brought your book to life! With ‘Ally’s World’ I actually suggested the illustrator… Spike Gerrell used to do fantastic illustrations for ‘Just Seventeen’ magazine, which I worked on at the time. I didn’t know Spike in person, but once he began to work on the series, we chatted via e-mail, and I realised he lived just down the road from both me and Alexandra Palace in North London, where the series is set. We’ve been friends ever since! (Spike has gone on to illustrate books such as the ‘Football School’ series by Alex Bellos and Ben Lyttleton and lots of Juno Dawson’s books.) I’ve also worked with amazing illustrators Lydia Monks (‘Indie Kidd’, Walker Books), Alex T. Smith (‘You, Me & Thing, Faber) and Cathy Brett (some of my Barrington Stoke inclusive reads) and am friends with them all, via the wonders of social media, as we live in different areas. It was lovely working with Becka for ‘St Grizzle’s’, as she was a fan of ‘Ally’s World’ back in the day!    

 You have a lovely humorous touch.  What humour did you love to read?
Humour with a bit of quirkiness and heart; that’s what I aim for when I write. And actually, you’ve really made me think with this question, Tanya, and off the top of my head, I realise that as a little kid, I loved Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang cartoon on TV, and adored the sweet silliness of Spike Milligan poems. I guess things like these are the underpinnings to my own writing style! 
.
You started writing for teen magazines.  What do you miss about magazine life and what to you enjoy most about being independent?

I miss the banter and laughs in an office situation, but I don’t miss the office politics! On the flip side, being a self-employed author is a really, really special, wonderful  job, but it does come with a certain amount of instability. It can sometimes be hard to write something funny and carefree if you’re not sure when you’re next getting paid! *Gulp*

Do you prefer writing series to stand-alone novels?

Flipping between series and novels, older and younger, serious and funny… the mix of books I’ve been lucky enough to be commissioned to write has been brilliant. I do love the change of pace, and it’s fun to reset my brain and point it in a different direction!

Catching Falling StarsI love your book ‘Catching Falling Stars’, which is a novel about children from your part of North London during World War II. Did you enjoy doing the research for this and find it a different writing process to some of your other books?

I absolutely ADORED doing the research – it was fascinating, and very hard to stop once I got going! It becomes like an addiction; “If I read just ONE more reference book, or check ONE more website…” But at some point you have to realise you’ve fallen down a rabbit hole of research, and have to claw your way back to the top and start actuallywritingthe book itself!

What can we expect from you next?

I’m writing a new contemporary, funny book for Stripes, publisher of ‘St Grizzle’s School’, and I also have two linked historical books coming out in 2019 for Nosy Crow. Not forgetting ‘The Lost Diary of Sami Star’–a quick-read novel Barrington The Lost Diaries of Sami Star - Kare Barrington StokeStoke – which is coming soon, in September. And I have a bunch of school visits planned already for the new academic year, which is great. We authors LOVE an excuse to come blinking out of our writing caves and meet real, live people!   

 

Sorry, my GIVEAWAY of the full set of St Grizzles School books on Twitter has now CLOSED.

https://twitter.com/TanyaEfthymiou/status/1022544082718085120

 

St Grizzle’s School for Girls, Gremlins and Pesky Guests out 9th August 2018

Illustrated by Becka Moor

Published by Stripes Publishing

Continue reading

Secrets of a Sun King by Emma Carroll

2018 08 02 MG Secrets of a Sun King by Emma Carroll, Faber 9780571328499

When it comes to entertaining historical fiction, Emma Carroll has done it again with this Egyptian adventure!  No wonder Waterstones have chosen Secrets of a Sun King as their Children’s Book of the Month Month for August.

2018 07 30 Sun King Display - Copy (2)
Sun King and Egyptology Display at Waterstones, Canterbury

 

 

Set in 1922, when Howard Carter was seeking to uncover the tomb of the Boy King, Tutankhamun, this is the story of Lil Kaye and her two friends who wish to break a curse following the discovery of a mysterious parcel.  With wonderful touches about the potential of young women – just as some women were gaining suffrage – and the value of friendship in both Egyptian times and the 1920s, this is a fun adventure with trains and boat journeys, camels and scorpions  thrown in.

I found myself developing a real soft spot for Oz, the boy Lil first meets, with his sister, at the British Museum.  His knowledge and enthusiasm to learn and share, with his tendency to withdraw from company and contact, made me think of youngsters on the autistic spectrum.   I like the way that the author has drawn these characteristics without referring to them as an issue.

I also really liked Pepe, an Egyptian lad who comes to the aid of the three youngsters and helps them to realise that historical artefacts deserve to be celebrated and protected for those in whose country they are – rather than given over to rich treasure hunters.

With twists and turns, family secrets and the questioning of authority, this Anglo-Egyptian adventure is bound to enthral 8 to 12 year-olds and clearly meets Emma Carroll’s usual high standards of story-telling.

 

Secrets of the Sun King

Written by Emma Carroll.  Published 2nd August 2018 by Faber and Faber

With a glorious cover by Julian De Narvaez.

 

 

The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day by Christopher Edge

I love books written with alternating chapters – some are the same story from two perspectives, some two time zones.  For this Middle Grade novel, Christopher Edge does a brilliant job of using alternating chapters to relate the parallel lives (or are they?) of Maisie Day.

2018 04 05 MG The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day by Christopher Edge, Nosy Crow

Maisie is an academically gifted girl, already studying for a science degree, who wakes on her 10th birthday eager for the party ahead of her.  The social awkwardness she has from not going through a regular school career means a family gathering is her choice, but her relationship with her door-slamming teenage sister, Lily, is decidedly strained.  So when Maisie looks out of the front door and finds all has gone black, the last person she would expect to help her is Lily. What unfolds over the course of these chapters is fascinating – by twist and turns we see Maisie’s understanding  of the univChristopher Edge Bookmarkerse challenged in amazing ways.

Having read, and happily shortlisted, The Jamie Drake Equation for the Haringey Children’s Book Award, and now read Maisie Day, I am now itching to grab The Many Worlds of Albie Bright from my school library’s shelf.  Christopher Edge has shown a canny ability to use science in his books without either over-whelming or boring a non-science-geek audience.  Indeed, his well -researched use of very modern scientific information has certainly left me with both a better understanding and a greater desire to know more.

I see the same applying to children over 8 who will no doubt love this book as will the many adults who are reading it this month as part of Twitter’s Primary School Book Club hosted by @MrEPrimary – https://twitter.com/PrimarySchoolBC

The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day

Written by Christopher Edge, Published by Nosy Crow, April 2018, £6.99 paperback

Many thanks to Clare at Nosy Crow, who sent this book for my school reading group and I to read and review.