Wales Children’s Books of the Year

Family Bookworms is proud to present our Children’s Books of the Year. Throughout December we will be announcing the shortlists for different categories as chosen by the ‘worms. The categories broadly follow the ages of Noah, Nina and Kit and we will also have a popular vote on Twitter. The categories are as follows:

  • Wales Picture Book of the Year
  • Wales Children’s Book of the Year (Age 7-9)
  • Wales Middle Grade Book of the Year (Age 9-12)
  • Wales Illustrator of the Year
  • Wales Children’s Book of the Year – People’s Choice
  • Family Bookworms Children’s Book of the Year (International Category)

Eligibility for the awards depends on the following criteria:

  1. The book must be written by a writer who was born in Wales; or is of Welsh parentage; or is a current resident in Wales.* (In the case of Wales Illustrator of the Year, these conditions apply to the illustrator only).
  2. The book must have been published during 2017.

*Criteria number 1 does not apply to the International Category!

These awards are just another way of us highlighting the brilliant books we have enjoyed this year and promoting some of the wonderful things happening within the Welsh publishing world. It is also recognition that whilst there is a Wales Book of the Year for adults, and an award for a children’s novel set in Wales (Tir na n-Og), there is no set of awards acknowledging the quality of children’s fiction in Wales. Above all else though, this is a bit of fun so please don’t get worked up about it. Let us know your recommendations though – we’re very keen to keep learning and are bound to leave out someone’s favourite.

This page will be updated as we announce our shortlists.

Picture Book of the Year 2017

King of the Sky, Nicola Davies (author) Laura Carlin (illustrator) WALKER
The Pond, Nicola Davies (author) Cathy Fisher (illustrator) GRAFFEG
You Can Never Run Out of Love, Helen Docherty (author) Ali Pye (illustrator) SIMON & SCHUSTER
The Great Dinosaur Hunt, Helen Look (author and illustrator) GWASG GOMER
The Glump and the Peeble, Wendy Meddour (author) Rebecca Ashdown (illustrator) FRANCES LINCOLN
Mrs Noah’s Pockets, Jackie Morris (author) James Mayhew (illustrator) OTTER-BARRY BOOKS

The White Fox

The White Fox

Jackie Morris

Barrington Stoke

Sol is lonely. An Alaskan boy in Seattle is a target. He looks different. He behaves differently. He’s lost his mother, his father works so hard they have no time to talk and his grandparents are back in his Inuit homeland. It takes the intervention of an arctic fox, a stowaway now roaming the docks to bring the family back together. Sol befriends the creature, feeds it and nurtures it and it is decided that he and his dad should return the fox to its natural habitat. In doing so, father and son spend several days together on a journey that takes them home and brings them closer together. Back at the grandparents’ house, the fox continues to support Sol to reconnect with nature, his homeland and his late mother.

You may have heard of the Welsh term ‘hiraeth’. There is no direct English translation, but those who have tried describe it as a homesickness tinged with grief and longing. It seems that Sol has that ‘hiraeth’ – away from his home and grieving his mother and the life they have left behind. The subject matter is a bit of a leap for 8 year old Nina – a serious book with a heartfelt, important message about staying connected, belonging and family ties. However, the illustrations are “extraordinary and absolutely incredible” (as you might expect) and the gentle, poetic prose typeset in Barrington Stoke’s ‘super readable’ style meant that the book was achievable and engaging for her.

This is a highly atmospheric book; beautifully told and beautifully illustrated. A joy for father and daughter to share together and yet another triumph for Jackie Morris.

 

24 Essential Authors of Wales, 2017

With this post, we aim to make a list of the children’s authors from Wales that we have enjoyed throughout 2017. As it’s Advent, we’ve gone for 24 – one for each window of your calendar. This is not a definitive list of the best authors from Wales – the omission of Dylan Thomas may make that obvious. These are authors that the whole family of bookworms have enjoyed: authors who have given us great pleasure; fits of the giggles; something to think about; episodes of escape; and moments to treasure.

Let’s clear up our criteria at the outset. If you want to play rugby for Wales then there are three ways to qualify: firstly, through birth; secondly because parents or grandparents have been born in Wales; and thirdly, through residency – you must have lived in Wales for three successive years. This is the same criteria we have used for Welsh authors.

 

In this post, we do not necessarily discuss authors who have written about Wales or have set their books in Wales – that can be dealt with in another post!

In alphabetical order, here’s our list (click on author name to visit their own website or Twitter profile):

Dan Anthony

As an experienced scriptwriter and short story writer, Dan Anthony has written extensively for children including working on CBBC’s Story of Tracy Beaker and S4C’s The Baaas. He was born in Cardiff, lives in Penarth, and his radio plays have been performed on Radio Wales, Radio 4 and Radio 2.

 

Zillah Bethell @BethellZillah

Zillah was born in Papua New Guinea and came to the UK when she was 8. A graduate of Wadham College, Oxford, she settled in South Wales and has published two fantastic novels aimed at the #mglit market – ‘A Whisper of Horses’ and ‘The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare’ both published by Piccadilly Press.

 

Jon Blake @jonblakeauthor

An experienced author with over 60 published books, Jon has lived in Cardiff for over 30 years. His most popular book is a picture book illustrated by Axel Scheffler, You’re a Hero Daley B. In the past year he has received acclaim for Thimble Monkey Superstar, his Laugh Out Loud Award shortlisted comic caper.

 

Stephanie Burgis @stephanieburgis

Stephanie Burgis grew up in East Lansing, Michigan, but now lives in Monmouthshire with her husband and two sons, surrounded by mountains, castles and coffee shops. Her Bloomsbury-published ‘The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart’ is a favourite in our house and we can’t wait for ‘The Girl with the Dragon Heart’ coming next year.

 

Horatio Clare @HoratioClare

Horatio Clare grew up on a hill farm in the mountains of South Powys. He studied English at the University of York. He has written extensively as a journalist and travel writer and had a best-seller ‘Running for the Hills’ in which he described his childhood experiences. He has continued to write books for adults and in 2015 won the Branford Boase Award for Debut Children’s Book of the Year, after publishing ‘Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot’ with Firefly Press. ‘Aubrey and the Terrible Ladybirds’ was published this year.

Nicola Davies @nicolakidsbooks

Nicola Davies was born in Birmingham and worked as a zoologist and TV Presenter before settling in Powys to write. Many of her books are rooted in her scientific training and are essential additions to any library. These successful narrative non-fiction books cover, amongst other things, the diversity of living things, microbes, owls and bears. Recent picture books published by Walker and Graffeg have delved more deeply into the human condition providing opportunities for children to reflect on refugees, grief and trauma.

Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl was born in Llandaff, Cardiff in 1916 and raised in the countryside around Cardiff. His infamous recount of The Great Mouse Plot featuring Mrs Pratchett’s sweet shop is believed to have been inspired by his childhood in Cardiff (though no-one’s really sure how much truth is in the episode). He also referred to many fond memories of Wales, including holidays in Tenby. It is known that he found Dylan Thomas to be “marvellous” and may have been urged to build his own writing hut having visited The Boathouse in Laugharne. Of course, Miss Honey also recites ‘In Country Sleep’ to Matilda.

Helen Docherty

Helen’s family is from Wales, and she now lives in Swansea with illustrator husband Thomas. Having studied languages, and taught oversees, she also has a Masters in Film and Television Production. She loved writing as a child and returned to it in 2010. Her high-quality picture books, often illustrated with Thomas Docherty, are well-loved by children throughout the Foundation Phase (toddlers to age 7), with ‘The Knight Who Wouldn’t Fight’ being nominated for several awards. These books should feature in every home and school library.

Jonny Duddle @JonnyDuddleDum

Jonny spent his childhood in North Wales and recently returned to the ‘wet and windy hills’. After studying illustration at college he wrote his first picture book ‘The Pirate Cruncher’ which was published in 2009. Subsequently, he helped design the characters for Aardman’s stop-motion movie ‘The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!’. More picture books followed with a focus on pirates, dinosaurs and space. He also produced a full set of brilliant designs for the Harry Potter covers in 2014.

Claire Fayers @ClaireFayers

Claire was born in Cardiff and used to work in the science library of Cardiff University. She has two books published with MacMillan Children’s – both part of ‘The Accidental Pirates’ trilogy and are ideal for children in Year 4 (age 8 upwards). In 2018, we can look forward to a slightly different tale – Unwise Magic.

 

Catherine Fisher

Catherine Fisher was born in Newport, and her fantasy books are aimed at Year 6 (age 10) upwards. Having worked as a teacher, lecturer and archaeologist it is no surprise that her books are often set in Wales and are heavily influenced by Arthurian legends, old myths and the Mabinogion.

 

G.R. Gemin

Giancarlo Gemin was born in Cardiff , of Italian parents, and now lives in London. Both of his novels have won the Tir-na-n-Og Award for children’s writing set in Wales and his latest, Sweet Pizza, is a glorious exploration of community life in the South Wales valleys.

 

Rhian Ivory @Rhian_Ivory

A proud Welshwoman, Rhian was born in Swansea, speaks Welsh as her first language and studied English Literature at Aberystwyth University. She published 4 novels with Bloomsbury under her maiden name, Rhian Tracey, before taking a break. She returned as Rhian Ivory in 2015 with ‘The Boy Who Drew The Future’, a tense and compelling read about two boys who draw things that come true. More recently, her YA novel ‘Hope’ was also published by Firefly.

Emma Levey @Emlevey

Emma Levey lives in Cardiff and has illustrated several picture books including ‘Where is The Bear?’, authored by Camilla De la Bedoyere. She is the author of ‘Hattie Peck’ and ‘Hattie Peck The Journey Home’. This gorgeously fun and friendly character is one of Kit Worm’s favourite books of all time, so watch this space as we look forward to lots more from Emma.

 

Gill Lewis

Gill Lewis’ family are from the Gower and it is clear that the landscape and wildlife of Wales has inspired her. In a National Trust article, she says “I remember many childhood holidays pootling about on the water at Whiteford. In fact I think it gave me my love of estuaries – places of change, where the sea, the sky and the earth become one, and watching the multitude of life feeding on the ebb and flow of the tides.” Gill trained as a vet and travelled the world to work – from Africa to the Arctic. After having children, she rediscovered her love of stories and returned to University to study. Her first novel, Sky Hawk, received an avalanche of award nominations. More novels with themes of conservation, the environment and animal welfare followed, and this year she published Sky Dancer and the incredible A Story Like The Wind.

Siân Lewis

Siân Lewis is the most prolific author on this list, having published over 250 books. In 2015, she was given the Mary Vaughan Jones Award for her special contribution to children’s literature in Wales. She has published a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction, and this year with Rily Publications released The Story of King Arthur in English and Welsh versions.

Sharon Marie-Jones @sharonmariej

Born in North Wales and now based in Aberystwyth Sharon Marie Jones was a primary school teacher for 13 years. In 2016, she published Grace-Ella: Spells for Beginners with Firefly Press, a charming and captivating story about friendship, fun and magic.

Daniel Morden

Recently awarded the Hay Festival Medal for his contribution to storytelling, Daniel Morden was born in Cwmbran. Focussing on the oral traditions of storytelling, Daniel travels the world delighting audiences with his tales – many from Wales. He has published several anthologies of legends, two of which have won the Tir-na-n-Og Award.

 

Jackie Morris @JackieMorrisArt

Jackie Morris lives on the wild Pembrokeshire coast. Before settling there, she had lived in Evesham and London. She is inspired by “our” environment; particularly the birds (peregrines, goldfinch, buzzards), seals, foxes and landscapes surrounding her home. She says “I am a stranger here, a foreigner. And yet I am at home.” Her beautifully illustrated international bestselling books have wide appeal, and are mostly published by Frances Lincoln, Graffeg and Otter-Barry. Jackie exhibits her artwork in galleries nationwide.

Jenny Nimmo @jennynimmo1

Jenny Nimmo has lived in Wales for most of her life, having married Welsh artist David Wynn Millward in 1974. Her stories are rooted in Welsh mythology and she is also inspired by the landscapes of Wales. She appeals to Junior age children (age 7 and up) and has plenty to occupy them – from the award winning Snow Spider trilogy, to the Charlie Bone octalogy (yes, that’s a series of 8 books!).

Philip Pullman @PhilipPullman

Philip Pullman spent ten years of his childhood in Llanbedr Ardudwy, near Harlech. This may not be enough to claim him for our own, except that he has referred to Wales as being an inspiration to his writing. “I knew I wanted to write books and I got those ambitions, that sensibility, from the time I spent in Wales.” He’s written some books that have become quite famous (!) and are devoured by children in Year 4 upwards (age 8).

Wendy White @Wendy_J_White

Hailing from Llanelli, Wendy White was inspired by her local library to become an author. Her books for children are available from Gwasg Gomer and have a Welsh theme. Welsh Cakes and Custard won the Tir-na-n-Og Award in 2014 and this year’s St David’s Day is Cancelled is a joyous tale for 7-9 year olds. Wendy writes under a pseudonym, Sara Gethin, for adults.

 

Eloise Williams @Eloisejwilliams

Eloise Williams lives in West Wales. She has worked on stage as a singer and an actress after graduating from the Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff. She has two books, both set in Wales and both from the Firefly publishing house. Gaslight, a Victorian thriller is currently causing a stir across the country and is best suited to Year 6 (age 10) upwards. Eloise was a Literature Wales bursary winner.

Justine Windsor @justinewindsor

Justine Windsor is a previously shortlisted author of The Times/Chicken House children’s fiction competition. She currently lives and works in London and this year saw the publication of her debut middle grade crime capers ‘Goodly and Grave’. A third installment, also with Harper Collins is due in 2018.

Thimble Holiday Havoc

Thimble Holiday Havoc

Jon Blake

Illustrated by Martin Chatterton

Firefly Press

Earlier this year, we reviewed the #lollies2017 nominated Thimble Monkey Superstar by the industrious Jon Blake. It proved a big hit with Nina, making a lasting impression with its genuinely laugh-out-loud episodes of hilarity. Well, Thimble is back and this time he’s going on holiday with the hapless Douglas Dawson and his family.

The Dawsons take part in a ‘house swap’, driving over to France with Thimble in tow. Thimble barely steps onto the continent before catastrophes and calamities strike. It’s clanger after clanger as the mischievous, manic monkey causes devastation in the rural village.

Nina found ‘Holiday Havoc’ even more hilarious than Monkey Thimble Superstar; in fact it’s bigger and better in many ways. It is quite literally a bigger book and seems to be written for a slightly older readership – recommended for 7 to 9 year olds. It is also extremely funny as the madcap humour and “crazy stuff” (Nina’s words) is ratcheted up a few notches: Thimble gets his hands on some superglue and does his worst; he manages to turn dad’s trousers into hot pants when he gets hold of the scissors; and you really don’t want to know the mayhem that is caused when Thimble finds the drill.

The Thimble stories are an absolute delight; fresh and funny, anarchic and inventive – they’re brilliant for reading aloud and totally accessible for newly independent readers. The illustrations by Martin Chatterton really bring the story to life. Both books now come highly recommended – Nina gives five stars or 10/10 (“whichever is higher”) and has already voted Thimble in the Laugh Out Loud Awards.

Thimble Holiday Havoc is published by firefly press and can be purchased online or at your local independent book shop.

We are grateful to Firefly Press for providing us with a review copy of the book.

Author Q & A: Zillah Bethell

Zillah Bethell’s second novel for children, ‘The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare’ is an absolute triumph with superlative writing – terrifically engaging, vibrant, life-affirming even. The official blurb on Zillah goes something like this… “She was born in Papua New Guinea, spent her childhood playing in the jungle, and didn’t own a pair of shoes until she came to the UK when she was eight. She was educated at Oxford University and now lives in Wales with her family.”

That free childhood in Papua New Guinea, she says, impacted on the Auden storyline, both in terms of the use of Artificial Intelligence and the effects of a global water shortage. “We didn’t have any technology in Papua New Guinea and I am both fascinated and appalled with it. Instinctively I don’t like it – I don’t even own a microwave – but rationally I see its enormous potential. I think I wrestle with this in my work – sometimes outlining the dangers of it, sometimes showing the wonders of it.” In The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare, Paragon the robot becomes a robot you can love, a robot with personality, even humanity. A machine with a conscience?

“Having grown up in Papua New Guinea I am acutely aware of the challenges third world countries face. Particularly water shortages. Wars over water are fought around the globe – civil war in Yemen was sparked by a water crisis – and water scarcity is now the number 1 global risk factor according to the World Economic Forum. It was a bold move to bring drought to the UK – higher latitudes are more likely to see an alternating pattern of flood and drought according to climate experts – but it seemed like the right move. It was fun thinking up details such as ornamental cacti replacing cut flowers and raising meat prices to ridiculous heights (dairy and meat production being very heavy on water). And, of course, a governing body headed by General Woolf with his Aquarian Protection Cross!”

Before the amazing Auden Dare, Zillah’s ‘Whisper of Horses’ was published in August 2016 which The Bookseller said ‘has the feel of a lyrical fable’. Prior to that 3 novels for adults were published by Honno and Seren Books.

We are delighted that Zillah has answered our questions, so without further ado…

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m currently re-reading If This is a Man by Primo Levi, a memoir of his time in Auschwitz. I also found a series of books in a second hand book shop called Jinny at Finmory by Patricia Leitch ostensibly for my eight year old daughter. They were written in the seventies and are beautiful books about a girl called Jinny and an Arab horse called Shantih (which means peace).

Could you tell us how you got into writing?

After studying French and English literature at university I decided I wanted to stop studying books and start writing them. I imagined myself in a leaky bedsit, drinking strong coffee and smoking cigarettes. I did live in a leaky bedsit but whenever I tried strong coffee or a cigarette I almost choked or passed out. I spent weekends labouring over words and internal rhymes when I should have been clubbing. You could say I had a wasted youth!

Where and when do you write?

Well I don’t have a writing shed at the bottom of the garden or space for a writing room of any sort. I have my head, a file and an old Dictaphone I keep for superstitious reasons. I scribble down notes in my file and record thoughts on the Dictaphone but unfortunately I can rarely decipher my own handwriting and my children find it amusing to fiddle with the speed on my Dictaphone so that when I listen back I either sound like a demented Bugs Bunny or an octogenarian who’s misplaced their teeth.

What inspired the book Auden Dare?

For a while I had the idea of a boy whose father is away fighting. I initially imagined it set in Silicon Valley in the 1970s – during Vietnam – but my editor wanted an alternate reality UK setting so I brought the story to Cambridge, England. I’m interested in Artificial Intelligence and I wanted to pose questions like what makes us human, and explore issues around identity and belonging.

How do you choose names for your characters?

I love names – their sounds and their meanings. Usually I think of a character and then a name kind of seems to suit them. Occasionally a name comes first. I once wrote a short story around the name Stuffy; and the tail end of a dream where I think my brain was saying ‘me fancy holiday’ became a character Myfanwy Halliday! Migishoo the parrot in The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare came from buying the Big Issue in Cardiff a few years ago from a guy who had a cold! I think I agree with Louis MacNeice who said he preferred sound over sense. There is a wonderful bit in Ulysees, I think, where a character is confessing to a priest. ‘I sch sch sch sch’ (says the character) ‘And did you cha cha cha cha’ (says the priest). Brilliant how sound conveys the sense of the words.

Which books and authors have inspired you in your career?

George Orwell, Margaret Atwood, Racine, Enid Blyton, Kazuo Ishiguro (I wish I’d written Never Let Me Go).

How important is a sense of place to your writing? In particular, has living in Wales any influence on your writing?

A Whisper of Horses is my homage to Wales, I suppose. A beautiful landscape with mountains and sea, not unlike the terrain of Papua New Guinea though not quite as hot. I get most of my ideas walking over the mountains near Llangynwyd. I think my books are more mindscapes but certainly a particular setting gives rise to a certain story and vice versa. 

We really enjoyed the narration in Auden Dare. How did you manage to find the voice of an 11-year-old boy?

I grew up with two older brothers and I have a twelve year old son. Need I say more?

There’s quite a bit of poetry in the book – who are your favourite poets?

Where to start and where to end? I like Yeats and Eliot. Sylvia Plath. Some of the thirties poets like Auden and MacNeice. And of course Dylan Thomas. I visited his house in Laugharne and the room where he wrote Under Milk Wood. Every now and again a recording played his voice reciting some of his poems. A schoolkid had written in the visitors’ book ‘very horrible, very creepy!’

Both of your books for children have been very powerful, dealing with social and environmental themes – is it important to you that your books carry a message?

My favourite part of writing is the ideas bit at the start. I love grappling with ideas. As a writer I would find just writing a story a little dull though, as a reader, I am perfectly happy reading a story without any message. Maybe I need to think about that a little…!

Tell us a bit about your rescue animals.

Someone once told me that it was my destiny to rescue animals and it does seem to be the case that if there’s a sick or injured animal around then it finds me or vice versa. Over the years I’ve saved a cuscus, a guillemot, a wild rabbit, several cats and a couple of dogs. Our current rescue pets are Domino the collie we found abandoned on the way to Tenby, Coco the terrier who turned up on our doorstep, Presto a black cat with two tabby kittens Mango and Beano; and a pony given to us by a lady who could no longer care for her. Cameo (the pony) is strawberry roan and she likes polo mints and pears. They all (apart from the horse of course) seem to spend their time on the sofa in the sitting room which only leaves the piano stool, a pouf and two hard chairs for the humans!

We know that you’re a big music fan. Do you have music on when you write? What’s the best music to accompany The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare?

I have to have silence when I write but my car CD currently includes Everything Everything’s Can’t Do, The National’s Walk It Back and Arcade Fire’s Everything Now. Music to accompany Auden Dare would have to be Purple Rain by Prince, She Comes in Colours by World of Twist, Yellow by Coldplay, Love is Full of Wonderful Colours by The Icicle Works, 99 Red Balloons by Nena, Blue Velvet by Bobby Vinton, Where Are We Now by David Bowie (for the lines ‘As long as there’s sun, As long as there’s rain’) and The National’s England (for the lines ‘You must be somewhere in London, You must be loving your life in the rain’).

What’s next for Zillah Bethell?

Well, I’ve had a bit of a break from writing and have recently been encouraged to start up again. My agent wants me to write ‘the Papua New Guinea story’ so I’m going to try and do that. I have a twelve-year-old girl in my head called Blue Wing and she is a shark caller (shark calling being a practice unique to that part of the world). Working title Book of the Long Now. I tried it out on my daughter the other night and she said ‘what does that even mean? Just call it Blue Wing!’ So I guess we’ll see where that ends up…

 

The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare is published by Piccadilly Press and is available online or in your local bookshop.

If you’d like to explore Zillah’s books for adults then please visit Seren Books and Honno.

We were inspired by a Q&A published on Typewritered and the quote at the top about water shortages came from a great Bethell-penned piece at the reading zone. There are also author blog posts worth checking out at Powered by Reading and Nayu’s Reading Corner

The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare

The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare

Zillah Bethell

Piccadilly Press

Zillah Bethell’s first book for children, A Whisper of Horses, was one of the Telegraph’s ‘Books of 2016’ and received high praise. Her writing is often described as evocative, vibrant and inventive so when The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare popped through my letterbox, I couldn’t wait to get started.

Extraordinary, is most definitely, the word. Although Roget would also suggest wonderful, remarkable and exceptional.

For me, the thrill of the book was in the not knowing. The plot is intriguing and unpredictable, so I am keen not to impart too many details. What I can tell you, is that 11-year-old Auden Dare’s perspective on life is influenced by the fact that he cannot see in colour. It’s a rare condition and it adds to the sense that Auden Dare is the underdog – useless at football, a weirdo in school, a target for bullies. Set in the future, there is also a war raging across the world due to water shortages – it doesn’t rain, everyone is filthy; water is very expensive and is rationed and controlled by the Water Authority Board.

Auden’s mother inherits a small bungalow in Cambridge from her brother who passes away suddenly and mysteriously. When they move to the new town, Auden begins to investigate the circumstances of Uncle Jonah’s death and meets a genuine friend in Vivi Rookmini. When they discover that Professor Jonah Bloom may have been working on a cure for Auden’s condition, the adventure begins. When they unearth a secret in Uncle Jonah’s garden shed, things really kick off!

Told in the first person, Auden’s 11 year old persona is entirely convincing – witty, self-deprecating and relaxed. He’s also rather fragile; he brushes most things off easily but is hurt when people show a lack of understanding of his condition.  On top of that, when a malicious rumour about his father spreads, it tips him to breaking point. But he has a friend and the relationship between Auden and Vivi is beautifully written – full of vibrancy and understanding.

Zillah Bethell’s writing is terrifically engaging, confident and highly entertaining. I found it nigh-on impossible to guess the ending which was met with tears of joy. A thoroughly enjoyable read, I was totally involved throughout – in turn laughing out loud, and biting my nails; wincing with every threat and grinning inside with every glimmer of hope.

As I approached the end of the novel, I was reminded of something the Dalai Lama has said in an address to the world’s youth. He said, (and I’m paraphrasing) “Whilst children should be happy and have fun in the here and now, they must not lose sight of their place in the world. Afterall, our individual interests ultimately depend on the global situation.”

If someone shows their true colours, then they reveal their real self. The true colours of Auden Dare are that of a young man with determined self-confidence and warm-heartedness; a boy of compassion and truth – the epitome of humanity – and there’s something quite extraordinary about that.

 

 

Thanks to Piccadilly Press for sending me a review copy of The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare (it’s available in the shops now).

You can buy The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare from Hive or better still, from your local bookshop.

You can follow Zillah Bethell on Twitter, as well as Matt Saunders who designed the cover.

Sky Dancer

Sky Dancer

Gill Lewis

Oxford University Press

So here’s the thing…

I read Sky Dancer over the summer holiday and absolutely loved it. In fact, I loved it so much I’ve been worrying about doing it justice in a review. So let’s make it clear – Sky Dancer is a fabulous read – an emotionally gripping, totally uplifting, captivating story with an important environmental theme.

The novel deals with the pressing issue of decreasing numbers of hen harriers. This is largely due to the ‘management’ of estates and moors to preserve the numbers of grouse for the shooting season. Lewis deals with the issue fairly, without preaching, and both sides of the argument have convincing vehicles in the believable characters of the village of Hartstone. Having said this, you’re left in no doubt as to the author’s own opinion on the matter.

Whilst this issue is important and a very powerful aspect of the book’s appeal, the real joy of the novel is in the characters that dwell within the 270 pages. Joe loves the moors and the wildlife, and is happy spending his days wandering the heathers and rocks. However, since the death of his father he has wrestled both with his conscience and his elder brother as he struggles to stand up for what he believes. He has to come to terms with his own ideology which often conflicts with that of his family and his heritage. To add to the entanglement, his best friend is the daughter of the landowner, his teacher was responsible for sending his father to jail and his mother is struggling to support her fractured family. These relationships are so engrossing and entirely credible – a real affirmation of the prowess of Lewis as an author.

The real strength of Sky Dancer is in the confident and convincing storytelling, and the gritty and authentic characters with whom we can easily empathise. The writing has a classic feel, like Morpurgo or Ransome; yet this is clearly a modern-day adventure and Lewis’ prose is inspiriting and heartening. Here is a story about finding yourself, finding your voice and having the courage to speak out.

I absolutely loved it. Get yourself a copy.

 

Thanks to OUP for sending me a review copy of Sky Dancer (it’s available in the shops from October 5th 2017).

You can buy Sky Dancer from Hive or better still, from your local bookshop.

Do check out the reviews by Zoe Toft, and Dara McAnulty for further opinion.

Follow Gill Lewis on Twitter and why not follow RSPB Sky Dancer too?

Jon Blake Introduces Thimble…

An exclusive article by author Jon Blake to mark our first ever blog tour (#Lollies2017)
Jon Blake with his son

I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce Thimble Monkey Superstar to those who haven’t yet read it and after this introduction possibly never will.

Thimble Monkey Superstar is set in a bungalow.  This is important because ‘bungalow’ is one of my favourite words and also the type of house in which I grew up.  There were three bedrooms at one end of our bungalow and a kitchen and lounge at the other, joined by a brief hall.  My dad was a big man and if he took up a strategic position in this hall he was inescapable.  And believe me, there were times when we needed to escape.  Psychologists have theorised that children’s writers often suffer from arrested development due to their own bad experiences in childhood, and I can –  

I’m sorry, I’ve gone completely off the point.  Yes, Thimble is set in a bungalow, inhabited by failed children’s author Douglas Dawson, who is under the illusion he lives in a castle complete with portcullis and dancing bears.  Douglas is a kind of cross between Alan Partridge and Martin Amis.  He has a disabled son, Jams, who is a kind of cross between sunshine and Spongebob.  Jams is loosely based on my own son and chief cuddling partner, Jordi.  Last but not least there is Nora, Jams’ mum, on whose income as a green energy something-or-other they all depend.  How Nora became Douglas’s partner is a considerable mystery, but once Thimble arrives there is no doubt whose company she prefers.  Thimble, as you may have guessed from the title, is the star of the show, a kind of cross between a capuchin and Harpo Marx.

Douglas Dawson is less than happy playing second fiddle to a monkey and keen to remove him by any means necessary.  Jams, having the best friend he always dreamed of, is not.  Therein lies the basis of the tale, which features (among other things) nits, tarantulas, mechanical diggers, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, monkey charades and a near-death experience.  There is only one poo joke and I would modestly suggest it’s quite a good one.

Thimble Monkey Superstar is illustrated by the legendary Martin Chatterton and published by Welsh indie publishers Firefly Press. I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank them for rescuing my long career as a children’s writer from oblivion. In my own mind it’s a little bit like Heaven 17 resurrecting Tina Turner back in the 80s. Then again, my own mind is a little bit like Douglas Dawson’s: no stranger to fantasy.  

Find out more about Thimble Monkey Superstar here

Read our full Q and A with Jon Blake here

Follow Jon on Twitter @jonblakeauthor

Follow Firefly on Twitter @fireflypress

Author Q & A: Jon Blake

#Lollies2017 Blog Tour Post

As part of the Laugh Out Loud Blog Tour, we are thrilled to bring you an interview with Jon Blake, author of Thimble Monkey Superstar. Thimble is nominated in the category for Best Laugh Out Loud Book for 6-8 year olds. The full list of nominees is as follows:

Thimble Monkey Superstar by Jon Blake and Martin Chatterton (Firefly Press)
Hamish and the Neverpeople by Danny Wallace and Jamie Littler (Simon and Schuster)
Eddy Stone and the Epic Holiday Mash-Up by Simon Cherry (Usborne)
Future Ratboy and the Invasion of the Nom Noms by Jim Smith (Egmont)

Thimble is a rollicking, shoulder-heaving romp of a book with the tearaway monkey causing havoc from the outset. Calamity follows catastrophe as the Dawsons look after the monkey while the neighbours are away. Daddy Worm read this in school to a class of 8 year olds and they were rolling around on the floor with fits of the giggles. If you’d like to read Nina’s full review, it’s available here. Alternatively, Jon Blake has written an exclusive introduction to Thimble Monkey Superstar. 

Jon Blake has lived in Cardiff for the past 30 years and has built a reputation for quality, slightly absurd, children’s fiction. He teaches creative writing, specialising in writing for children although is also experienced at writing for TV and radio. He is delighted to be nominated for this major award and the worms (especially Nina) were overjoyed to be able to put their questions to him:

Your website describes you as an “egalitarian author”. What does this mean?

Broadly speaking, it means I’m on the side of the underdog, or sometimes the undermonkey!

Where and when do you write?

I’ve been thrown out of my office so my six-year-old can have a bedroom, so now write in what used to be the kids’ playroom, which has no windows!  I don’t write every day, unless I’m in the middle of a book, and then I write whenever my brain is working!

You’ve written a lot of books. Which was the quickest book to write and which book took the longest?

I’ve had 60 books published and have probably written as many which never made it.  I once wrote a book for the OUP called Rover (about a pet spider) which was about 80 words and took a day.  Then there was the Last Free Cat, my YA thriller, which I started in 2001 and finished in 2007.  But that was because I got stuck.

How do you choose names for your characters?

These usually come to me with very little conscious thought: the name ‘Thimble’ for example.  On the other hand, ‘Jams’ is a homage to the writer Flann O’Brien, and ‘Douglas Dawson’ was the name of a boy in my primary school who regularly fainted in assembly.

Which books (apart from your own!) make you laugh out loud?

The last book which made me laugh out loud was ‘Rich’, the biography of Richard Burton.  It was extracts from his diary.  Flann O’Brien always makes me laugh, especially ‘The Third Policeman’. As to children’s authors, for me Mark Twain is way the funniest, followed by Lewis Carroll and A.A.Milne. 

Which books and authors have inspired you in your career?

Besides those already mentioned I have to pay respect to Barrie Hines, author of ‘Kes’, who sadly died last year.  As an English teacher in the 80s I was indebted to him for engaging comprehensive school pupils who didn’t like anything else!  I must also mention Erica Jong, who inspired me to write my first (adult) novel, and Robert Leeson, who wrote a brilliant history of children’s fiction, ‘Reading and Righting’.  But the writer who obsessed me as a young man was one of the least humourous authors to set pen to paper, D.H. Lawrence! 

How important is Wales and the Cardiff community to your writing?

I’m rarely specific about place in my books, but there’s a whole lot of Wales under the surface of most of them.  Several scenes in Thimble were inspired by what was going on around me in Canton, Cardiff – the demolition of the police station for example.  And ‘The Last Free Cat’ begins in a fictionalised Adamsdown, where I lived to nineteen years. As the story moves on you might spot Twmbarlwm, Talybont-on-Usk and a few other places if you’re observant!

Thimble Monkey Superstar features a character with cerebral palsy and the book has been included in several lists that encourage diversity in children’s fiction. How important is it that Thimble promotes disability awareness?

My son Jordi has cerebral palsy so obviously it’s a big issue for me.  It’s important that children understand disability and regard it as an everyday fact of life, not something alien, funny or frightening. I hope Thimble will contribute to that worldview, not by preaching, but by readers identifying with Jams.  

If someone really enjoys Thimble, which other books by Jon Blake can you recommend to them?

The next Thimble!  ‘Thimble Holiday Havoc’ comes out on November 9.  From my back catalogue, there’s ‘One Girl School’ and ‘Stinky Finger’s House of Fun’. For older kids, ‘The Last Free Cat’.  But check out the list at www.jonblake.co.uk, as there are so many!

Do you ever laugh out loud when you’re writing your own books?

Oh yes.  Fortunately we have very understanding neighbours.

 

Thank you so much to Jon Blake for this interview. If you’d like to win a copy of Thimble Monkey Superstar (courtesy of Firefly Press), we’ll be launching a competition on our Twitter feed today. You can catch up with the other nominees for the #Lollies2017 by visiting the other wonderful blogging sites shown below.

The winning book in each Lollies category will be decided solely by children’s votes, with schools and parents encouraged to help kids get involved and vote via the Lollies website, www.scholastic.co.uk/lollies, or via the Scholastic channel on the PopJam app.

Eyes of Me

Through The Eyes of Me

Jon Roberts

Illustrations: Hannah Rounding

Graffeg

Through The Eyes of Me is an adorable, heartwarming celebration of a child with autism. Written by Jon Roberts and inspired by his daughter, we learn of the everyday pleasures and quirks of four year old Kya. Broader than this, it is a celebration of the individual and what makes us who we are.

The picture book is brimming with delightfully playful illustrations by Hannah Rounding who expertly conveys Kya’s world with charm and love. Author Jon Roberts talks more about the book in this video:

I shared the book with Nina (age 8) who empathised greatly with Kya and recognised the characteristics of autism before it was made clear. She has friends in school who are diagnosed with autism and knows individuals who share some of Kya’s dislikes – particularly loud noises and strangely textured food. She also recognised that she was like Kya in some ways and we were able to have a conversation about similarities and differences between individuals.

The book warrants endorsement by an autism charity – Jon Roberts’ text encourages empathy and understanding and the book should be available everywhere it might educate, inform and help as broad an audience as possible.