New reviews: Beautiful picture books to warm the heart..!

 

What could be better on a cold winter’s day than two beautiful picture books to warm the heart?  Old Barn Books publish some stunning titles and these two are no exception, both having been nominated for the 2018 Kate Greenaway Medal.  They would make lovely gifts for little ones and budding readers to enjoy.

 

9781910646342_Pea_Pod_Lullaby_1024x1024

Pea Pod Lullaby by Glenda Millard illustrated by Stephen Michael King.

This is a beautiful lyrical lullaby putting into a very few words just how important we can be to each other, especially during times of great need. A family – mother, baby, boy and dog – are escaping danger across the sea in a tiny boat, through wind and rain.

Pea_Pod_Lullaby_9781910646342_spd_1_1024x1024

During their journey they come across a stranded polar bear, who too needs help. Together they cross the ocean and eventually both the family and the polar bear find a place of safety.

Pea_Pod_Lullaby_9781910646342_spd_2_1024x1024

The stunning illustrations depict the many wondrous ways we can help each other – shelter, reassurance, food, light, acceptance, love.  The words are perfectly and lovingly placed to appear just at the right moment as your eyes travel over the pages. Pea Pod Lullaby is a wonderful example of how words and pictures can effortlessly communicate a truly heartfelt message – a message that can speak to any and every situation where we might find ourselves in need.

9781760293642

Storm Whale by Sarah Brennan illustrated by Jane Tanner

A beautifully illustrated exhilarating tale, Storm Whale tells of three sisters who visit the beach one windy day and find a whale washed up on the shore.  Their family day at the seaside is transformed; they battle the wind and waves all day to save the whale seemingly to no avail. As night closes in, they have no choice but to return home.  In the morning they rush to the beach only to find no sign of the stranded whale….for with their help and the power of the storm, he has returned to the sea.

9781760293642-3

The poetic narrative in Storm Whale reads like an ancient tale and captures the enormity of the task in front of the girls, from which they do not falter. Amazing scenic illustrations, each like a canvas in its own right, bring to life the wildness of the sea, the sound of the wind, the awe of waves and the bravery of the three sisters.

9781760293642-1

There is something other worldly about the sea and the creatures who live in it and Storm Whale creates a wonderful connection between ‘our’ world and theirs.   It also depicts a sense of family and warmth between the sisters which I loved.  Despite the danger and the incredible force of nature, their bravery and determination wins through, showing how even though a problem may seem insurmountable it is possible to make a difference.

Both of these picture books would be a wonderful addition to any bookshelf to be enjoyed by readers young and old!

With thanks to Old Barn Books for sending me these books to review.

Find out more at: 

https://sarahbrennanblog.com/category/storm-whale/

http://www.janetanner.com.au/Home.html

https://glendamillard.com/

https://www.stephenmichaelking.com/books/

 

 

 

 

 

Pets as therapy – in books and in action!

dog

When Madeline Finn and the Library Dog arrived from Old Barn Books, it was clear this was a very special book.  The story, written and illustrated by Lisa Papp, features Madeline Finn a little girl who really does not like to read – at all.  Madeline struggles with reading so she really does not enjoy it, especially when she has to read aloud at school.

9781910646328_spd_1_1024x1024

So when she meets Bonnie the library dog at her local library, something quite wonderful happens. Madeline stops worrying about getting it wrong; she stops worrying about being stuck and she learns to be patient with herself. Bonnie makes her feel that it’s okay to go slowly and Bonnie doesn’t laugh at her like the other children in the class do so Madeline can practice her reading aloud without any worries.  And on the day when Bonnie isn’t there to help her, Madeline pretends that she is and reads so well that she even gets a special star from her teacher!

9781910646328-1

Madeline Finn and the Library Dog perfectly illustrates how some children struggle to read and how those struggles take away any joy they might discover between the pages of a book.  Madeline could have been any number of children I have worked with during my career as a librarian – I wish I’d had a library dog on hand to help.  What an amazing way to help a child feel more confident in themselves!  Beautiful illustrations depict the frustration and joy Madeline experiences and of course, bring to life the gorgeous dog Bonnie. This really is a lovely book and one that could help struggling readers understand they’re not alone and those who can read well feel more empathy with those who can’t. For every copy of this book sold Old Barn will donate 50p to support the work of the Read2Dogs programme run by Pets as Therapy.

It seemed a huge coincidence that at the time of receiving this book, I heard that the school my son attends, Warden Park Secondary Academy, had got a therapy dog.  I wanted to find out more so I’m delighted to say that the teacher behind the scheme, Amanda Bell, joins me on the blog today to share how this came about and the impact the gorgeous dog has had so far. Welcome to the blog Amanda!

Tell us how you came to have a therapy dog at Warden Park. The idea originated from setting up the garden space which was an area developed through an ASDAN course we were running. Part of that project led us into getting chickens and ducks. I watched the impact these animals had on bringing the children into school but also taking responsibility for their care. I wanted to see how I could engage a wider audience through animals and so researched the organisation ‘Pets as Therapy dogs’ and then contacted schools that already had a therapy dog. This enabled me to research into the impact of a dog in classrooms.

How did you go about finding/choosing the right dog? I researched the breeds – mainly for their temperament in working with children but also with regard to their ability to be trained and came up with a Springador which is a cross between a Labrador and a springer spaniel.

SAMPLED_10130335_930_698_nocrop__

Tell us about her! We decided to call our dog a name that links with the Forest as this was another initiative we had recently brought into the department. This would mean that we would not favour a particular child’s name – however, we did find out that we had one child with this name so I asked him if he would mind if we called our dog after him! We first brought our therapy dog into school at just ten weeks old to get her used to the noise and lots of different people. We also secured the help of Michelle Garvey from Essentially Paws who has already trained eight school therapy dogs. She did a few training sessions with me and then I worked on this over the summer holiday. At nearly seven months old, Oakley is now involved with individual students, tutor groups, interventions and staff book her for lessons in a variety of subjects. We have a ‘puppy points’ scheme where students have a card that they can collect points on essentially for acts of kindness towards each other, staff or the environment. Once they have accumulated some points, they can earn free time with Oakley, teaching her tricks or just being with her.

What is the main purpose of your therapy dog? Oakley helps with the well being of the students and just has a ‘feel good factor’. Classes respond with calmness. Some teachers have a group task where they present/read to Oakley. For some students, they are able to express how they feel more readily to the dog than a member of staff! Research has shown that during interventions, students are more likely to engage with the sessions and attend than without a dog present. We will be gathering data to measure impact. Oakley will also be around the school at lunchtimes and breaktimes and allows students to engage with her who may not have a pet at home.

How have the students responded?  There must be a queue to see him at times! Students have engaged really well with the dog. Their role is to ensure that they take control and make her sit before stroking her. They also have to ask if it is OK to stroke her before doing so in case she is in training or on a toilet break. They really love her being in their class and many students have collected a puppy points card. Each week, Oakley writes a blog in the newsletter and currently there is a little competition for students to identify where she is from a photo.

Would you encourage other schools to do the same? It can be time consuming in the first few months and it is essential to get the training right so that the dog learns to respond appropriately to students. However, only a few months in we would definitely repeat the experience as there have been many more benefits that we had not anticipated!

Thank you Amanda. I think the work you and Oakley are doing sounds like an incredible opportunity to support and encourage students in school in a completely unique way.  

Find out more about the above book and pet therapy at www.lisapapp.comwww.petsastherapy.orgwww.wardenpark.co.uk

With thanks to Old Barn Books for sending me this book to review.

 

 

 

New review: The Secret Diaries series by Philip Ardagh, illustrated by Jamie Littler

Blending fiction and non fiction can create a perfect harmony, bringing stories AND facts to life so children can enjoy learning about the world around them. This is exactly what happens in the fantastic series written by Philip Ardagh, illustrated by Jamie Littler and published by Nosy Crow in partnership with The National Trust. The Secret Diaries series introduce wonderful fictional characters who live and work in a particular time in history and share their experiences with the reader through diary entries.

The Secret Diary of John Drawbridge Medieval Knight in Training and The Secret Diary of Jane Pinny Victorian House Maid describe what daily life was like for a working young person, with each central character brilliantly brought to life. Younger readers might need a little guidance with the authentic accents but they’ll soon get the hang of it! All the facts and trivia are supported by footnotes that explain various terms and phrases along the way and give a wonderful insight to the time period in question.  There is a fictional narrative running through each book with a mystery to solve or a thrilling adventure to be had, ensuring the reader is fully engaged, all the while learning through the story.  The wider cast of characters featured give an opportunity to share what different roles people had and how the class system worked.

In Medieval Knight in Training we learn who the kennel boy was (poor chap!), how people ate, all about falconry and what a Fletcher did!  In Victorian House Maid in Training we discover how a chimney was cleaned, what ‘pinny’ is short for, the huge number of people who worked in a Victorian mansion and just how hard a maid had to work! All the while John Drawbridge survives a plan to overthrow the castle and solves the mystery of the attack; and Jane Pinny uses her detective skills to find out who stole a beautiful necklace.  Each book is brilliantly illustrated by Jamie Littler with drawings that bring to life the humour and adventure as well as the historical trivia.

IMG_5237

All in all The Secret Diaries series is ideal for young readers wanting to learn more about history and enjoy a great fun story.

With thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me these books to review. 

Bookchat: Mark Powers, author of Spy Toys!

banner new

Have you met the Spy Toys?! If not, Christmas might be a great time to introduce them to your children!!  There’s Dan, the super-strong teddy bear, Arabella, the doll with a serious temper, and Flax, the gadget-crazy robot rabbit.  Originally unwanted, now they’re part of a top-secret agency whose job it is to save the world – of course! In their latest hilarious and thrilling adventure Spy Toys: Out of Control, the trio do battle with a deadly unicorn and even a slightly jumbled up jigsaw. Complete with state of the art gadgets and daring deeds, brilliantly brought to life  by Tim Wesson’s fantastic illustrations, the Spy Toys series would be a fantastic addition to any young reader’s bookshelf!

Today, author Mark Powers joins me for a bookchat and shares some of the inspiration behind the adventures. Welcome to the blog Mark!

Congratulations on the publication of the second in the Spy Toys series! Tell us about the inspiration behind the stories. Thank you! I’d had the three main characters – a teddy bear, a rabbit and a rag doll – in my head for quite a while. I imagined them sharing a flat and bickering a bit like characters in a sitcom. Then I saw Marvel’s first Avengers film and it struck me it would be fun to turn this trio of toys into a crime-fighting team, to give each special powers and action scenes that would allow them to fire off snappy one-liners at the bad guys. I like writing about teams and how clashing personalities can sometimes get in the way of solving problems.

The Spy Toys stories are full of fun and it feels like you’re having great fun as a writer with the characters and the humour throughout.  Has your experience of writing them been as enjoyable as it seems?! It’s been enormous fun. I get a real kick out of writing for these characters. The fact they’re not human means I can push the slapstick a lot further than I’d normally be allowed in children’s fiction. There’s a cartoony aspect to it. If a major character in a regular children’s book got their head chopped off, it would be a pretty horrific thing. If it happens to one of the SPY TOYS, they can just have it reattached with a screwdriver at the end of the scene.

What were your childhood experiences of writing and reading and how have they helped inform your creativity? I loved reading and writing. In primary school I would often read fairly adult stuff like Ray Bradbury and Douglas Adams. When I got to comprehensive school, my friend Richard and I used to write and record comedy sketches on tape using BBC sound effects records. We did that for a good few years and it was fantastic practice at comedy writing. So much so, in fact, that by the time I was in the school 6th form, I was earning money regularly by writing material for comedy shows on Radio 4 and Radio 2.

The books include great illustrations by Tim Wesson. Did you always plan to have the stories illustrated and how do you work with Tim to bring the characters to life?It was always the plan to have illustrations. I had input and approval over how the characters looked but really the main liaison with Tim was done by the editor and designer at Bloomsbury. When I first started to write children’s books I imagined they’d be meetings with writer, illustrator, designer and editor sitting around a table (with cakes, preferably) and thrashing out between us what we wanted the illustrations to be. In reality, things are much more rarefied and most communication is via email.

The Spy Toys characters each have their own unique personality; I love the idea of the bear who hugs too hard and even the slightly less amiable rough and tough sunshine doll!! How do you go about creating the characters featured in the books?In any story, but particularly with comedy, you need contrasting character types. So a placid teddy bear, a spiky rag doll and a nerdy rabbit seemed a good combination. Again, I was lucky in having three non-human central characters. Kid heroes in books can be a bit bland and it’s the sidekick or supporting characters who tend to be the really funny ones. With SPY TOYS I have three fairly dysfunctional characters centre stage, so it’s easy to set them bickering with each other or anyone else they encounter.

Spy Toys has been described as James Bond meets Toy Story. If you could be any character – good or bad – in a spy story who would it be and why?! It might be fun to be a super-villain of the type you get in Bond films. To come up with some dastardly plan. Maybe I’d create a machine that zaps people if they talk during a film or open sweet wrappers noisily.

What can we expect in the next Spy Toys mission ‘Undercover’?! I can’t wait to see who the villain is – how will you top the dastardly unicorn?!! Oh, the usual mix of action, adventure, laughs, high emotion and petty squabbling. Glad you liked John the Unicorn! He was a lot of fun to write. In Undercover we meet diminutive child genius April Spume, who’s leader of a SPECTRE-like evil organisation of super-intelligent kids (called SIKBAG!) In this book, our three heroes go undercover in an ordinary primary school. The first book concentrated on Dan the teddy bear, the second on Arabella the rag doll, so in this third the main focus is on Flax, the ex-police rabbit. Slightly to my surprise, he’s shaping up to be the most popular character of the three.

Thank you Mark! I’m looking forward to reading Spy Toys: Undercover!

 

banner new

Find out more at www.spytoysbooks.co and www.timwesson.co.uk.

With thanks to Bloomsbury for sending me this book to review and organising this bookchat!

 

 

 

 

 

Guest blog: James Brown, illustrator of Al’s Awesome Science.

How many times have you opened a book and marvelled at the illustrations inside?  I often do and feel somewhat envious of someone who can pick up a pencil, pen or paintbrush and create a little bit of magic, bringing to life an authors’ words! AAS_CVR_WEB

James Brown is just such a person and his delightful illustrations in Al’s Awesome Science: Egg-speriments! written by Jane Clarke demonstrate how words and pictures work together to capture the imagination.

Today on the blog, James is sharing his experiences of working on Al’s Awesome Science and insight into his illustration techniques. Welcome to the blog James!

 

“Pictures don’t just trigger the imagination, they fire it up. And in particular for the Al’s Awesome Science series, which features lots of science experiments for young readers to try at home, it was important to get things ‘spot on’. How else could readers give the experiments a go? I think that’s what drew me most to it – the buoyancy, the action and how to convey this visually to readers.

I remember as a child being a bit disappointed when images were repeated in books or when there were insufficient drawings. Al’s Awesome Science is filled with pictures of all the key hilarious moments in the story, but the series also allows for the ‘extras’ – awesome facts and experiments – the refreshing bits and bobs which the designer Becky places so quirkily throughout each book. I admit the experiment pages bring out the kid in me. I like doing them snappily, like I used to do in my homework diary at school. I was forever doodling. I used to Tipp-Ex the inside lid of my pencil case and draw repeatedly on it. Once it was filled, I’d blob over it and start again. If it was a caricature of the teacher I could always hide the evidence!

al-jumping-e1510727220291.jpg

When I’m out and about, especially on trains, I love using sketchbooks. I’ve got lots of Moleskin ones, a different colour per project. But, I confess that, in the main, when I’m working up an idea, character or spread, I use everyday plain A4 white paper – and reams of it!  Squiggle, scratch, swirl, sweep. I’m not sure how many other illustrators do this, but I also enjoy sketching in biro first. It’s all about getting the right shape and movement – those ‘unprecious’ sketches and scorings loosen up my initial drawings. Now I understand why editors always jump to the back of portfolios to find the sketchy stuff!

 

Then, from this sketchy beginning, I start refining, trying to retain some of that initial energy. I think that’s why my other favourite stage is watercolour (which I save ‘til last). No matter how adept you might think you are, watercolour has its own mind and it can sometimes surprise you. Often the happy accidents are the ones that add more character, either to clothing or backgrounds.

Al epxressions.jpg

Using my lightbox really helps to overlay and position. I do less-rough roughs on my iPad, using Procreate, then crayon, watercolour and gouache for the finals. I always aim to do the final artwork in character batches, for continuity, and have whole afternoons or evenings on just one person. You really get to ‘know’ them that way!

Sometimes characters pop up first time around. Einstein, for instance, is very similar to the first sketch I drew. I was given free rein, which is always exciting. I knew he had to be big, hairy and animated. Immediately I thought of THE Einstein and gave him a big, bushy moustache and scraggly hair. The lolling tongue and sideways eyes gave him just the look I was after. Mr Boffin is basically me (if I ate my spinach, drank umpteen protein shakes and actually went to the gym, that is). Mrs Good is a take on my mum (sorry, Mum!). But Mr Good, who was a little portly at first, took a bit of slimming down… The twins Lottie and Al were a little too old at first but soon lost a couple of years.

The freedom to try things out has been the most splendid aspect of illustrating this series. It’s very much a two-way conversation between me and the creative team. We always bounce ideas back and forth! I think flexibility and being open to ideas is important. My editor Natascha even sends me videos of her son doing the experiments! Then, BINGO! I can picture it and so too (hopefully) can the young scientists reading it with their own sketches and diagrams and oodles of doodles.

finished scene.JPG

 

Al’s Awesome Science: Egg-speriments! by Jane Clarke, illustrated by James Brown is out now, £6.99 paperback (published by Five Quills). Look out for more fun and experiments with Al and Lottie in book two, Splash Down!, coming spring 2018!

AAS_CVR_WEB

With thanks to Catherine Ward and Five Quills for sending me this book to review. Find out more about the illustrator at www.jamesbrownillustration.com.

Fabulous Non-Fiction!

It’s National Non-Fiction November so the perfect time to share some of the wonderful non-fiction books published recently.  I often tell children that there are so many amazing books written for them that they are spoilt for choice! And they really are; especially when it comes to beautifully produced non-fiction books like those featured on the blog today. With Christmas not too far away these books would make wonderful gifts!  They also demonstrate the brilliance of text and illustration working together to bring the world to life for young readers.

9781408884867

The Picture Atlas An Incredible Journey by Simon Holland, illustrated by Jill Calder

This is an absolutely wonderful atlas exploring the world continent by continent. Stunning, detailed illustrations give life to the wealth of facts and information to be found on every page.

91i7QMtrjDL

Delving into each continent, the history of the people, artefacts, the landforms, the animals inhabiting the land and even the food are described through the perfect combination of words and pictures.

 

 

Every time you read it you discover something new and there’s a helpful glossary at the end of the book. This is a wonderful book to encourage children’s natural curiosity and a fantastic way to support learning about the world.

Find out more about the illustrator at www.jillcalder.com

The Picture Atlas is published by Bloomsbury

 

6168RtnnKwL._SX364_BO1,204,203,200_

How to Think Like a Coder without even trying!

by Jim Christian illustrated by Paul Boston

Have you ever wondered how on earth computer programmes actually work? Well according to this book, you already know! With straightforward explanations of what coding is, a fascinating look at early computers and of course, the most amazing computer of all, the human brain, the book explores all aspects of coding and gives the reader the chance to try their hand at creating code.

91YFAN17Z+L

 

For independent young readers, everyday situations are turned into opportunities to code – and of course, adults can join in too.  You don’t even need a computer!

 

 

It’s packed full of information and lively illustrations featuring fun robot characters who enliven the text throughout.  How to Think like a Coder takes what can be a rather intimidating topic and makes it more accessible and something all the family can share!

Find out more at www.jimchristian.net and www.paulboston.net

Published by Pavilion Books.

 

61u6ZMfPCDL

Her Right Foot by Dave Eggars, illustrated by Shawn Harris

I will admit to having a big soft spot for New York having spent my honeymoon there.  But even as a child, I was always fascinated by Statue of Liberty (anyone remember she came to life in Ghostbusters 2!) so this book was an ideal opportunity to re-acquaint myself with the story behind it.

81jElaGY7hL

Her Right Foot is absolutely fascinating, full of things I didn’t know about how the Statue was built to how people feel about it.  A non-fiction picture book, it’s totally accessible and a wonderful book to read aloud.

91p4MGTTWnL

Pages-from-HerRightFoot_FNL22

The fantastic, vibrant illustrations capture the narrative brilliantly and history comes to life before your eyes – an impressive debut for illustrator Shawn Harris. And even more incredible is the message ‘found’ in the small trait of the Statue’s right foot that encapsulates the freedom the Statue of Liberty represents.

9163zyUZ0FL

71KTKh7cfaL

 

A very timely publication, this book will be enjoyed not just for an entertaining take on history; but also for the deeper meaning of tolerance and acceptance behind it.

Find out more about the illustrator at www.shawnharris.info

Published by Abrams & Chronicle Books

With thanks to all the publishers of these books for sending me copies to review.

 

 

Bookchat: A.F Harrold, poet and author

banner newThe last time I saw A F Harrold, he was performing poetry to a classroom full of utterly enraptured children at the Bookchat Roadshow.  It was absolutely brilliant to see how much the children enjoyed the poems and the performer!  I’m delighted he is joining us today to talk about his new book, Greta Zargo and the Death Robots from Outer Space (review available here, illustrated by Joe Todd Stanton) and all things writing. Thank you for participating Mr Harrold!

184_the-book-activist-bookchat-roadshow_s1500.jpg

A F Harrold performing poetry

Congratulations on the publication of Greta Zargo and the Death Robots from Outer Space! It’s fun, full of quirky characters and a great mix of sci-fi and sleuthing . Can you tell us about the inspiration behind it? Hi Victoria. Greta comes from a combination of things I typed and things I mistyped. Back in the first Fizzlebert Stump book one of the books Fizz borrows from the library was called The Great Zargo of somewhere or other. It sounded a good sort of science fictiony sort of thing Fizz might enjoy, and when I came, a few years later, to start thinking about a new series the name popped back into my mind. I type quite quickly, but because of the ways in which my fingers move there are a few words I’m forever typing wrong and having to go back and correct… one of these is ‘great’, which, if I’m typing at a gallop, always comes out ‘greta’. And so Greta was born, inside the spelling mistake that appears inside the book!

I’ve always read science fiction, and always loved science fiction, but I’d never really written any (The Song From Somewhere Else probably counts, but that’s about it), and this seemed a bit odd. So I wanted to write some. And I wanted it to be funny. Because funny books are a Good Thing. And so, after a lot of sitting around and staring into the air, several baths, and quite a few biscuits, Greta Zargo and the Death Robots from Outer Space was born.

Throughout the story there are footnotes (or more appropriately sidenotes) adding interesting anecdotes to the narrative which I loved; why did you decide to include these?  Who doesn’t love footnotes? They’re a way of having ‘a bit more’ without getting in the way of the story. They’re especially useful for (a) comedy (because you add in extra jokes) or (b) academic articles about herring pickling in 18th century Sweden (because you can cite your sources). Fortunately, as far as I can see, no one has mistaken Greta Zargo for an academic article about herring pickling in 18th century Sweden.

There are some wonderful and quirky characters in the story. I particularly loved Greta’s eccentric Aunt. Where do you draw inspiration from for your characters? And I have to say, how do you decide on the fantastic names you’ve given them?! Characters just walk into scenes as I type and if they’re at all interesting then they stay. There are occasionally very boring ones who turn up, but I’m ruthless in deleting them at the first opportunity, unless they’re boring in a funny way. That might sound a bit odd, but it’s true, the best characters walk in and surprise me. I don’t know what they’re going to say to Greta when she questions them and I listen to their answers as I type them. This is the most exciting bit about writing these books, I think, is finding out about the inhabitants of Upper Lowerbridge at the same time as the reader.

Where do their names come from? I blame the parents.

Being married to huge fan of cake, I can very well imagine the consternation if cake was stolen from my household. Can you tell us- 1) do you eat cake? 2) if so, what is your favourite? 3) if not, why not? (And what do you have with tea if not cake?!) (1) Yes, I eat cake if the opportunity arises. (2) I’m going to say Battenberg, because it has just the right amount of marzipan. (3) I said I do, so I don’t have to answer this one.

The sci-fi elements in the story are great and often times, very amusing – even with the inevitable destruction of planets going on – the Bar-Tarry-Tuffians spring to mind! Did this involve any scientific research – I’m thinking of the impressive references to hyper spatial physics, measuring of light years and so on?! I don’t remember doing any particular research before writing any of the outer space chapters, other than a lifetime of reading and watching sci-fi and sci-fact books and programmes.

That lifetime of experience has been composting inside my head for long enough that some of it made sense when mixed up and spilt onto the page. It’s fascinating to look back and remember when I was a kid we knew of no other planets outside our solar system, and now there are thousands of exo-planets known. And as our techniques and our instruments become better we’re finder smaller and more Earth-like planets out there, even around nearby stars. I don’t doubt that on some of these worlds life has arisen, and maybe even what we would call ‘intelligent’ life.

The gaps between the stars are so immense though, that it would take many lifetimes for people to travel between and so one of the ways it has been suggested we explore the galaxy is by making self-replicating robots, like the ones in the book. Because these robots don’t grow old like we do, they could spend the centuries travelling between planets without dying or going mad. And when they get there, if they have the ability to make more copies of themselves they can then send those out to other star systems.

These self-replicating machines are called Von Neumann probes, and I don’t remember where I first heard about them. But they’re not my idea, just something that made its way into the book because it made sense. The lesson of this is – those useless bits of information you once learnt might turn out to be useful after all, so never turn them away… let them live in your head – one day they might become a book.

When you’re writing fiction, do words come more easily than when you’re writing poetry? Do you have a specific process for each form of writing? I try not to think too much about it, either sort of writing. I just try to get on with it, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t and it feels like your banging an empty head against a brick wall of blank paper, then that just means it’s time to go have another bath.

When we last met at the Bookchat Roadshow, you had some wonderful advice for the audience regards encouraging children’s creativity. You said that whatever their means of expression – writing, art, poetry, drama – we should encourage children to express themselves in the way that’s best for them.  Who has given you the greatest encouragement for your work and what motivates you to keep writing? What motivates me to keep writing? That’s an odd question. I don’t know what else to do. I think it’s as simple as that. I don’t write every day and I don’t write an awful lot, but if I go any length of time without making something (and the making is usually with words in one way or another) then I feel antsy and irritable and unfulfilled and awkward and sad. I would make things with words (poems, stories, songs…) even if no one wanted to read them, even if no one was paying me to do it. Maybe not the books I’m writing right now, but who knows? (After all, I spent many years writing things that no one paid me for, before I ever had a book published.)

As for who has encouraged me… there’s such a long list, but a few I would like to mention include my editors at Bloomsbury, Kate and Hannah and Zöe, who have helped make the books we’ve published better than they would have been if I’d been doing it on my own. Part of their job is to send me back to my desk when what I’ve given them hasn’t been good enough, or funny enough, or right enough. And the fact they think I can do better makes me try harder and make the books better. Also my partner, Iszi, who suggested I try writing stories for kids, instead of just poems, in the first place. And more abstractly, out there in the world of children’s writing, many authors whose books I read or who I meet at events – they inspire me, by making Good Things themselves and showing that it can be done.

And finally, two very special sets of people – the kids I meet when I visit schools… the fact that some of them have been reading my books and seem to enjoy them makes the effort that sometimes went into making the books seem worthwhile – and secondly, the illustrators who get given my words and who make the books look so beautiful (Sarah Horne, Emily Gravett, Levi Pinfold, Chris Riddell and, for Greta Joe Todd-Stanton)… seeing what they do, the magic they work… oh it makes me want to do good, for them. I don’t want them wasting their time on any old rubbish!

So lots of people encourage and inspire me and my work.

Thank you so much for taking the time to join us and share the inspiration behind your work. 

9781408869482

Read my review of Greta Zargo here.

Find out more at www.afharroldkids.com and www.joetoddstanton.com

With thanks to Bloomsbury Books for organising this interview.

banner new