Bookchat: Jo Simmons author of I Swapped my Brother on the Internet!

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I’m very pleased to welcome author Jo Simmons to the blog today! Jo’s latest book ‘I Swapped My Brother on the Internet!’ is her first book for Bloomsbury. Read my full review here.

Jo began her life as a journalist and her first fiction series for children, Pip Street, was inspired by her own kids’ love of funny fiction.Jo Simmons Author PicMore books followed and in addition to children’s fiction, Jo has co-written several non-fiction books for adults.  She lives in Brighton with her family and her dog.

Welcome to the blog Jo! Congratulations on the publication of your latest book! Tell us about the inspiration for the story. Back in about 2014, a friend of mine told me how her daughter was being grumpy one evening and said she wished there was a website where she could swap her mum and get a better one. It was that classic light-bulb moment. What a great idea! I knew I wanted to write that story, but with brothers, partly because I have two sons but also because I wanted to keep the drama between and about children.

9781408877753How did you decide on who Jonny would receive as a swap? Were there lots of characters in mind – I can imagine the possibilities must have been endless!! (Henry the Eighth’s ghost was particularly funny!)  I decided each failed swap had to teach Jonny something about his actual brother, Ted, and about himself, too. Gradually, Jonny would work out that Ted was the only brother he could ever have and the best one, too, for all his flaws. I also love writing daft characters, so I wanted there to be a good mix of oddballs and impossible people, to make the comedy more left field. So there’s a merboy and the boy raised by meerkats. I think I was reading Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel at the time, and loving it, so Henry VIII plays a big part, too!

It’s a very funny take on sibling rivalry – do you have siblings and if so, would you ever be tempted to swap them?! I have an older brother. He definitely bossed me about and teased me when we were little. The time he squashed a Dairylea Triangle against my forehead in front of our friends has gone down in family legend. I was also very loyal to him, though, and we have a great bond today. I dedicated the book to him and no, I wouldn’t be tempted to swap him. I also have two sons and, when writing the story, I was watching the older one pulling away from his little brother. He had started secondary school and was becoming more grown up and, as a result, more critical of his little sibling. Ted and Jonny mirror, to some extent, what was happening at home with my two boys.

Children often ask for something funny to read when they’re choosing a book. Why do you think humour in books for children is important? For so many reasons! Laughing comes naturally to kids so they’re really up for funny fiction; they get it! It can also tempt reluctant readers in and persuade them that reading isn’t boring or worthy. It works for reluctant parents, too. I always preferred reading funny books to my children at bedtime, after a long day. We’d do the voices and snort at the jokes and it was a lovely bonding experience. Funny fiction tends to have an energy and anarchy to it, too, which I think children relate to. It can still deal with issues important to youngsters, from fear of change to friendship troubles, but does it with a light touch. Finally, funny fiction tends to include a triad of delights – funny characters, funny language and funny situations – that entertain young readers and can put a fire under their own creative writing, too, showing them what’s possible when you’re writing for laughs.

You have written a number of books for children and also nonfiction for adults and worked as a journalist. How does the writing process and experience differ when writing for children? I find writing fiction the hardest. There is a lot that goes into even just a 10,000 word book. Dreaming up the characters, creating a decent plot, making sure it clips along – it’s surprisingly tricky. But I love writing for children above all else, especially funny fiction. There is license to be silly and imaginative, to push the bounds of possibility and create really joyful, daft characters, often based on people you know, but considerably exaggerated. It’s just great, great fun.

It must have been fun seeing your characters brought to life through illustration – tell us about working with an illustrator.  I’ve never met Nathan who illustrated I Swapped My Brother On The Internet, but we do chat together over email. My editor and I drew up a shortlist of possible scenes to be illustrated then he got to work, but it was super exciting seeing his first roughs and how he had interpreted the characters. That leap from description to illustration is thrilling, and good illustrators like Nathan always bring more to each character than the writer can alone, adding little quirky details that just make the story fly.

Are you planning on any more adventures for Jonny or working on something different? Not for Jonny, but I do have a new book out with Bloomsbury in August 2018, featuring a boy called Danny and an amazing discovery he makes on a tiny Scottish island. It’s called The Dodo Made Me Do It.

Thank you Jo for participating in bookchat! I can’t wait to read all about Danny and his adventures.banner new

 

With thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing for arranging this bookchat!

New review: The Dollmaker of Krakow by R.M.Romero

I was instantly drawn to The Dollmaker of Krakow, a story that weaves together magic, folklore and history.  It was always going to be a challenging read given the time period and it was indeed very moving.  An impressive debut novel for ages 9+, it was also utterly unique, full of imagination and heart.  This, coupled with the amazing artwork throughout, created a story that stays with you and one that I would highly recommend.

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The Dollmaker of Krakow by R M Romero illustrated by Tomislav Tomic

Krakow, Poland, 1939. Magic brings a little doll named Karolina to life in a toyshop. She becomes friends with the gentle, broken-hearted Dollmaker who owns the shop.  When the darkness of the Nazi occupation sweeps over the city, Karolina and the Dollmaker must use their magic to save their Jewish friends from a terrible danger, no matter what the risks.

Karolina comes from The Land of the Dolls, brought to life in the Dollmaker’s shop by the kind wind, who helps her escape from her own war torn land.  For The Land of the Dolls has been invaded by rats, who do nothing more than destroy everything Karolina has ever known and loved –even her beautiful home where she sews wishes into the clothes of her customers. So Karolina is heart-broken and it is the Dollmaker’s kindness that repairs her heart. And in so doing Karolina helps the Dollmaker himself recover and rediscover his magic, having been plagued with sadness for many years. Together, Karolina and the Dollmaker find friendship not just with each other, but with their Jewish neighbours Rena and her father Jozef. It is only as the Nazi occupation of Krakow takes over their way of life that they all realise the danger they are in, especially when a Nazi commandant discovers their secret.

The Dollmaker of Krakow is a moving and terribly sad story of the holocaust. Beautifully written and full of folk lore, there is a timeless quality to it. I loved the interspersing of the fables from the Land of the Dolls and the parallels this drew with what happens in the ‘real’ world. It depicts the realities of war in a way even young readers will understand. The friendship between Karolina and the Dollmaker is beautiful and their courage and bravery in helping the Trzmiels is inspiring. The magical realism is original and brilliantly described, as is the Dollmaker’s reluctance to believe his own power – until he realises he can use it to save his friends.

I will be honest I wasn’t expecting the ending at first but as soon as I realised what was happening it seemed inevitable. As ever with stories about the holocaust, you just cannot fathom man’s inhumanity to man and the monstrous treatment of the Jews and many others by the Nazis. This story sheds light on what it was like to be not only ‘occupied’ but have your whole way of life obliterated – even down to the changing of Polish street names to be ‘German’. The Nazi commandant embodies much that is hateful and represents the cruelty of the regime in chilling fashion.

At the end of the book there is a chronology of the real events of World War 2 and a note from the author R.M.Romero, where she gives some insight into why she wrote the story.  She ends with ‘Please, don’t let it happen again’. In a world where intolerance, prejudice and injustice are still rife, The Dollmaker of Krakow reminds us that bravery and kindness, love and friendship can overcome adversity and that we always have a choice.

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Find out more www.rmromero.com and www.walker.co.uk

 I borrowed this book from the library. Why not check out your local library today and see what’s new?! #loveourlibraries #saveourlibraries

 

New reviews: great reads for Spring!

Since starting the New Year as a ‘commuter’ many friends ask me how can I stand it?! Thankfully as a reader, I now have a whole lot more time to read – the perfect activity when you’re stuck on a train, even when there’s delays or no seats! So here’s just three of the six great books I’ve read over the last two weeks (more review to come!):

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I Swapped My Brother on the Internet by Jo Simmons

I can get a new brother? On the internet?’ Jonny muttered. `Oh sweet mangoes of heaven!’ Everyone has dreamed of being able to get rid of their brother or sister at one time or another – but for Jonny, the dream is about to become a reality with SiblingSwap.com! What could be better than someone awesome to replace Ted, Jonny’s obnoxious older brother. But finding the perfect brother isn’t easy, as Jonny discovers when Sibling Swap sends him a line of increasingly bizarre replacements: first a merboy, then a brother raised by meerkats, and then the ghost of Henry the Eighth! What’s coming next?! Suddenly old Ted isn’t looking so bad. But can Jonny ever get him back?

I’m sure many of us have been there – wishing we could somehow magically change our brother or sister who is driving us mad! But perhaps we haven’t all had our wish come true like Jonny. I Swapped My Brother on the Internet is a brilliantly funny tale of getting more than you bargained for – especially when using the internet – and finding out the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. With a thoroughly likeable hero in Jonny and a whole host of hilarious characters, readers will laugh out loud as Jonny works his way through the Sibling Swap replacements – none of whom quite live up to his expectations.  I particularly enjoyed Henry VII’s ghost as a potential new sibling!! Fast paced and full of gags (anyone heard of the Hanging Pants of Doom?!) and with fun, fantastic and lively illustrations, I Swapped My Brother on the Internet is a great read for middle grade children.  And with the added bonus of a positive message about not taking your sibling for granted, this could the answer to solving some of those sibling arguments!

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I Swapped My Brother on the Internet is published Bloomsbury.

Find out more www.bloomsbury.com and www.nathanreedillustration.com

A Taxonomy of Love by Rachael Allen

The moment Spencer meets Hope the summer before seventh g34227670rade, it’s . . . something at first sight. He knows she’s special, possibly even magical. The pair becomes fast friends, climbing trees and planning world travels. After years of being outshone by his older brother and teased because of his Tourette’s syndrome, Spencer finally feels like he belongs. But as Hope and Spencer get older and life gets messier, the clear label of “friend” gets messier, too. Through sibling feuds and family tragedies, new relationships and broken hearts, the two grow together and apart, and Spencer, an aspiring scientist, tries to map it all out using his trusty system of taxonomy. He wants to identify and classify their relationship, but in the end, he finds that life doesn’t always fit into easy-to-manage boxes, and it’s this messy complexity that makes life so rich and beautiful.

A totally enjoyable and at times very moving YA story of friendship, romance, love, family, teenage angst, loss and growing up.  A Taxonomy of Love covers a multitude of experiences reflecting the many and varied struggles that shape our lives.  Spencer is a brave character whose struggles with Tourette’s are well portrayed, creating instant empathy and giving the reader an insight into living with a neurological condition. I loved his use of taxonomy to try and make sense of things. Hope has a wonderful zest for life, which is abruptly altered by unexpected tragedy. Her subsequent self-destruct is painful to observe.   The ‘Will they? Won’t they? thread keeps you hooked – there is joy amidst the heartache and I loved the ending (no spoilers!). Through prose, letters and text conversations over six years, A Taxonomy of Love brings to life the relationship between the two protagonists, Spencer and Hope and their wider family relationships, creating people you care about, are rooting for and feel like you really know.

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A Taxonomy of Love is published by Abrams and Chronicle.

Find out more  rachaelallenwrites.blogspot.co.uk and www.abramsandchronicle.co.uk

 

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Eloise Undercover by Sarah Baker

The door to the library banged open. I looked around for a place to hide, but it was too late. An angry German voice barked an order. Boots clicked on the wooden floor of the corridor as he shouted at someone behind him. He there was a terrible silence. He was here.

It’s 1944 in Nazi-Occupied France.  Eloise’s world is in turmoil and her father is missing. In a world at war who can she trust? What secrets will she discover in the search for her father?

Eloise Undercover is a thrilling middle grade tale of survival, daring deeds and above all, hope in dark times. Living under Nazi occupation brings with it the stark realities of the war; these are dealt with in an age appropriate way, whilst not being made light of. The story features the fantastic location of Maison de Noyer from Sarah Baker’s previous novel Through the Mirror Door (see my review here) which I thought really clever; I love the idea of a house experiencing so much history through the ages. Twelve year old Eloise is a wonderful heroine who has a huge amount of courage and determination. With her father and friends gone, Eloise’s grandmother Amma is the only person left to care for her; but Amma has secrets of her own. Once Eloise uncovers the truth behind her father’s disappearance – that he was in fact part of the resistance – she insists she too can help fight against the Nazis and the adventures begin in earnest. With edge-of-your-seat action, clever plot twists and a cast of characters who embody both the brave and cruel sides of war, Eloise Undercover is a really great read, bringing history to life and reminding us of the importance of hope, trust and friendship.

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Eloise Undercover is published by Catnip Publishing.

Find out more www.bysarahbaker.com and www.bouncemarketing.co.uk

With thanks to Bloomsbury, Abrams and Chronicle and Catnip for sending me these books to review.