The Train to Impossible Places

The Train to Impossible Places: A Cursed Delivery

P.G. Bell

Usborne

Review by Noah

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 below 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

Children’s Book of the Year 2017 (age 7-9)

Thimble Holiday Havoc, Jon Blake (author) Martin Chatterton (illustrator) FIREFLY PRESS
The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, Stephanie Burgis BLOOMSBURY
The Marsh Road Mysteries: Dogs and Doctors, Elen Caldecott BLOOMSBURY
The White Fox, Jackie Morris BARRINGTON STOKE
The Story of King Arthur, Sian Lewis (author) Graham Howells (illustrator) RILY
Planet Adventures: The Lost Moon, Pat Roper (author) Huw Aaron (illustrator) BURST
St. David’s Day is Cancelled, Wendy White (author) Huw Aaron (illustrator) GWASG GOMER

MG (Middle Grade) Book of the Year 2017

The Bus Stop at The End of the World, Dan Anthony GWASG GOMER
The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare, Zillah Bethell PICADILLY PRESS
Aubrey and the Terrible Ladybirds, Horatio Clare FIREFLY PRESS
Accidental Pirates Journey to Dragon Island, Claire Fayers MACMILLAN
Sky Dancer, Gill Lewis OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS
Gaslight, Eloise Williams FIREFLY PRESS
Goodly and Grave in a Deadly Case of Murder, Justine Windsor HARPER COLLINS

International Book of the Year 2017

Moonlocket, Peter Bunzl USBORNE
The Starman and Me, Sharon Cohen QUERCUS
Who Let The Dogs Out, Maz Evans CHICKEN HOUSE
The Song From Somewhere Else, AF Harold (author) Levi Pinfold (Illustrator) BLOOMSBURY
Alex Sparrow and the Really Big Stink, Jennifer Killick FIREFLY PRESS
The Five Realms: The Legend of Podkin One-Ear, Kieran Larwood FABER AND FABER
Beetle Queen, MG Leonard CHICKEN HOUSE
Where The World Ends, Geraldine McCaughrean USBORNE
Radio Boy, Christian O’Connell HARPER COLLINS
The Explorer, Katherine Rundell BLOOMSBURY
Dragon’s Green, Scarlett Thomas CANONGATE

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.

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

Most Anticipated New Books from Welsh Authors and Publishers

Daddy Bookworm looks ahead to the next few months of Welsh books

So we’ve already had a few corkers in 2017 – our favourites being The Bus Stop at the End of the World by Dan Anthony (Gomer Press) and Elias Martin by Nicola Davies (Graffeg). We thought we’d look ahead to what’s on offer in the coming months, with a few books from Welsh publishers getting us VERY excited…

Next week sees the publication of Gaslight by Eloise Williams (Firefly Press). From what we’ve heard, it’s comparable to Pullman’s Ruby in the Smoke and is a dark and rich Victorian thriller. Can’t wait for our copy.

The amazing Nicola Davies has so many books out this year; I bet even she is struggling to keep pace. There will be two more supernatural tales in the Shadows and Light series published in September and another release through Graffeg in May. The Pond is a second collaboration with Cathy Fisher (see Perfect) exploring a difficult topic – the death of a father. Graffeg do a brilliant job in making hardback editions to treasure – we’re sure this will be no exception.

Nicola Davies works with other publishers too and has two books coming out with Walker. King of the Sky will be published in May, but our most anticipated Nicola Davies book is Lots: The Diversity of Life on Earth. This will be out in June and is a collaboration with Emily Sutton – the team that brought you Tiny, The Invisible World of Microbes. From what we’ve seen (only snippets of pages on Twitter!) the illustrations look absolutely gorgeous and completely captivating.

Nine year old Noah’s most anticipated book is Aubrey and the Terrible Ladybirds by Horatio Clare (Firefly Press). The first Aubrey book won the Branford Boase Award and was also longlisted for this year’s Carnegie – scandalous that it didn’t make the shortlist! This is the book we are most excited about!

I guess Noah should also be quite excited about Jackie Morris’ Mrs Noah’s Pockets (Otter Barry Books). This is a collaboration between Jackie and James Mayhew; text by Jackie, illustrations by James. We have to wait for September for this one, but it’s such a brilliant idea and definitely one I’ll be taking in to school to share.

Jackie Morris also has two books being republished in large hardback versions by Graffeg – The Ice Bear and Snow Leopard will be published in September. These formats show off Jackie Morris’ illustrations magnificently well.

Claire Fayers’ Accidental Pirates are currently doing battle with Michael Morpurgo and a Jam Doughnut in the Younger Readers’ Book Award from FCBG (Federation of Children’s Book Groups). The second instalment is due in the middle of May and is called Journey to Dragon Island (MacMillan Kids).

Other bookish highlights include Through The Eyes of Me, written from the perspective of a child with autism (by Jon Roberts, Graffeg) and the reveal of the Tir Na n-Og winner in May. The three books battling it out are:

Alien Rain by Ruth Morgan (Firefly Press)

Sweet Pizza by Giancarlo Gemin (Nosy Crow)

The Haunting of Jessop Rise by Danny Weston (Andersen Press)

So we’ll get those read and let you know which one we prefer. In the meantime, if we’ve missed any great releases by fabulous Welsh authors or publishers, please let us know in the comments below. Thanks.

Noah’s Top Ten

So here are Noah’s favourite reads. He’s ordered them from top to bottom in the picture, and we’ll take them in reverse order. He’s given a one-word review of each book.

10. Cogheart, Peter Bunzl – Exciting

9. Swallows and Amazons, Arthur Ransome – Gripping

8. A Boy Called Christmas, Matt Haig – Emotional

7. Jinks O’Hare Funfair Repair, Reeves & McIntyre – Magical

6. The Imaginary, A.F. Harrold – Imaginative

5.  Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot, Horatio Clare – Innovative

4. Fizzlebert Stump and the Bearded Boy, A.F. Harrold – Hilarious

3. Radio Boy, Christian O’Connell – Heroic

2. The Bus Stop at the End of the World, Dan Anthony – Mythical

1. Wolf Wilder, Katherine Rundell – Adventurous

 

Some observations: A.F. Harrold makes 2 appearances; there’s no room for Harry Potter (11), Tom Gates (12) or Wimpy Kid (erm, probably 20); two of the authors are Welsh; Swallows and Amazons is clearly the oldest book on the list (1930), swiftly followed by Fizzlebert Stump (2013!); the remaining books have been published since 2014 with numbers 2 and 3 being published this year.