Author Archives: thebookactivist

About thebookactivist

Celebrating children & young people’s reading through all sorts of book-ish activities.

BLOG TOUR: Bug Belly Froggy Rescue by Paul Morton

It’s time for another Bug Belly adventure on the final day of the blog tour for Paul Morton’s second book in the Bug Belly series, Froggy Rescue published by Five Quills. Featuring the fabulous frog Bug Belly, this time on a rescue mission to save a froglet from a magpie’s nest! Read on for a bookchat Q & A with author illustrator Paul Morton

Uncle Bug Belly says frogs can FLY. But CAN they REALLY? Bug Belly and the froglets are about to find our in this dangerous rescue adventure.

Another lively, fun-filled adventure by talented author illustrated, Paul Morton, Bug Belly Froggy Rescue brings the inventive froggy and friends leaping to life! Once again Bug Belly’s rumbling tummy gets him into trouble and he fails to save one of his froglets from being snatched by a magpie. However, being the brilliantly inventive frog that he is, Bug Belly soon comes up with a daring rescue plan which involves an intrepid trek across the forest. On the way, Bug Belly and the froglets have to face all manner of dangers including not becoming fancy froggy fritters to owls and snakes! As ever Bug Belly finds ingenious ways to save them all – think rabbit poo amongst other things.

Bug Belly Froggy Rescue is as entertaining and exciting as the first adventure and young readers are sure to enjoy the story and the lively illustrations! I’m delighted to welcome Paul Morton to the blog for a bookchat Q & A.

What’s your typical working day like?  This is going to sound really lazy, especially when I have friends and colleagues producing books whilst they have full time teaching jobs for example. If I have any illustration commissioned work booked in I will spend maybe 3 or 4 hours on the Mac in my studio at home. I might mountain bike in the afternoon. Do some writing in the garden summerhouse (it used to be in cafes) and I like staying up late to work if the muse takes me. I work best in a quiet house at anything up to 2.30am.

How have the last 15 months been? As an author, have you found ways to connect with readers? I managed one single school visit the week before the first lockdown. Since then I have joined the Book Pen Pals scheme, where authors are paired up with schools, and they swap recommendations and craft ideas and stories. I have absolutely loved this. My 3 schools at the moment, in Darlington, Derby and Bradford have all been enthusiastic with their replies, completing Bug Belly crafts and recommending new books to me that they have been reading in class. I’ve have virtually visited a couple of them on Zoom and that was really fun too. I’m hoping to get out and about to more schools, bookshops and libraries as soon as it’s practical and safe to do so.

How did it feel to see Bug Belly included in the Summer Reading Challenge last year? Initially a great surprise and then I felt so proud that my first published book was chosen amongst some other great titles. It was a pity the scheme wasn’t able to run to its full potential due to the pandemic, but still a great feeling.

Are you working on other book projects at the moment? In addition to working on 2 or 3 further Bug Belly storylines I have two picture books at various stages of development. I’m looking forward to bringing those to submission. They are very different from Bug Belly, though both of them happen to feature a frog in the storyline!

Were you a keen reader as a child? If so, what kind of books did you enjoy? I must say that I don’t remember that many reading books from my childhood. The ones I can recall are all from school time. The Borrowers, Water Babies and a favourite was Stig of the Dump. At home and in holidays it was always comics, and as a treat I would buy 3 or 4 Batman comics with my pocket money.

And now? what do you like to read as an adult? Lots of ‘How to” books on creating children’s stories. Favourite books at the moment are still Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. David Almond. John Fowles. Unless we are on holiday I don’t seem to find the time or patience to read a longer adult novel so it’s picture books and early readers that I devour at home.

Which other authors and/or illustrators do you admire? I’m currently in the middle of writing a piece for the SCBWI Words and Pictures magazine about Brian Wildsmith. I’ve always loved the vibrancy and immediacy of his colours and images. I knew he was also from South Yorkshire but in my research I discovered that not only did he move to the same small village just outside Barnsley but we actually lived on the same road. Me at no. 89, the Wildsmiths at no. 22. Amazing! We were 27 years part though, so it’s not like I could have bumped into him. Currently I love the books of Benji Davies, Jim Field, Oliver Jeffers, Mo O’Hara and all the King Coo titles by Adam Stower.

Finally, what do you hope readers will take from your books?  A sense of fun and enjoyment from having been on a mini exciting adventure and left with a hunger to read about more Bug Belly antics. I have plenty more planned, so I hope so.

Bug Belly: Froggy Rescue by Paul Morton is published by Five Quills, £6.99 paperback – out now. Find out more at www.fivequills.co.uk / www.bugbelly.com. With thanks to Five Quills and Catherine Ward for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in the blog tour. Check out the rest of the tour for more Bug Belly fun!

GUEST POST: The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke by Kirsty Applebaum

The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke by Kirsty Applebaum

What if you could save lives? What if, with just the touch of your hand, you could stop an animal, or even a person, dying? You’d do it, wouldn’t you? But what if it meant you got older each time? Older and older….until you had no time left yourself. Would you do it then?

When this book came through the post, I knew instantly I would love it. Sometimes, a story just captures a little space in your imagination, before you’ve even read it. Lonny Quicke did that for me. Wonderfully written, authentic and engaging characters, and a compelling plot, I read The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke by Kirsty Applebaum, in one sitting.

At the heart of the story is Lonny, an ordinary boy with the extra-ordinary power of a lifeling. A power which enables him to heal or give life to the dying – at a great cost to himself. Such are the risks, Lonny and his family live in the forest, away from the town of Farstoke, to keep him safe – can you imagine what would happen if people knew? But of course, it’s hard to keep things hidden for long, especially when there are family to take care of and mouths to feed – and an extraordinary boy who longs to live an ordinary life. A narrative rich with folklore and stories, life or death choices will take on new meaning when you read this book and you’ll find yourself wondering, what would you do?

I am so pleased to welcome author Kirsty to the blog today, with a wonderful guest post about the songs behind the story (yes, that’s right – songs – you’ll have to read the book now!). Welcome to the blog Kirsty!

Songs in The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke

The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke tells the story of a twelve-year-old boy who is a lifeling, able to restore life to dying creatures with just the touch of his hand. Halfway through the story Lonny finds himself at street festival, surrounded by songs he knows but doesn’t remember learning and ‘stories that are nearly the same as the ones I’ve known forever.’ I incorporated four songs into the book at this point, to help build the festival atmosphere:

A Frog he would a-Wooing Go – A traditional folk song telling the story of a courting frog, understood to be satirising the highly political royal courtships of the 16th century.

My Grandfather’s Clock – Written in 1876 by Henry Clay Work, this song tells the story of an old man and his longcase clock. It’s said to be the source of the term ‘grandfather clock’, and the music sets a steady tick, tock pace throughout.

Oranges and Lemons – Each line of this traditional nursery rhyme represents the distinctive chime of a particular set of London church bells, except for the last few lines which depict a grisly death.

Green Grow the Rushes, Oh! – A folk song of unknown origins which has an intriguing mix of biblical, astronomical and possibly even pagan references.

The thing I find most interesting about these songs is that, as I wrote the book, they just appeared in my head, asking to be included. And when I examined them I realised they were ideal. Mr Frog, for example, disobeys a parent and goes out when he’s been told not to – just like Lonny. My Grandfather’s Clock and Oranges and Lemons have clear themes of time, life and death – all key themes in The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke. And Green Grow the Rushes, Oh! contains the line ‘Two! Two! The lily-white boys, all dressed up in green hi-ho!’ – which could easily be a description of Lonny and his brother at the festival. These songs, then, were lyrically perfect – but they also seemed to embody the essence of the book. With the exception of My Grandfather’s Clock, they all manifest themselves in many different versions, changing through time and place. This is exactly what I wanted to explore in Lonny Quicke about stories – that they change, depending on who is telling them and what message that particular storyteller is trying to get across. On top of that, all four songs have a timeless, folkloric quality. It’s as if they’ve been around forever. Again, this is exactly what I wanted to achieve with my lifeling folklore in The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke.

So the words and tunes that filled my childhood world – all the songs I’d been immersed in as I grew up – have become so much part of me that the right ones just rose out of my subconscious when I needed them. And these four songs of time and life, which I’ve always known but don’t remember learning, are perfect.”

Find out more at www.nosycrow.com. With thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me this book to review and to Kirsty Applebaum for contributing this guest post.

BLOG TOUR & GIVEAWAY: The Screen Thief by Helen and Thomas Docherty

I am absolutely thrilled to be hosting the final stop on the blog tour for the fantastic new picture book from Helen and Thomas Docherty, The Screen Thief published by Alison Green Books. You couldn’t ask for a better story to encourage everyone to put down their screens and discover that there’s so much more to life!

The Screen Thief by Helen and Thomas Docherty

When the Snaffle arrives in the city, she just wants to play. But nobody notices her: they’re all too busy staring at their screens. The Snaffle discovers that she likes screens, too -as a snack! She quickly chomps down every last phone, tablet and TV in the city. People are horrified -until they realise that life is much more fun when you actually play together.

A delightful, rhyming narrative and colourful, inviting illustrations combine to bring the Snaffle and her adventures to life, in this timely story about the over-use of screens in our lives. Not only does it remind us there’s more to life than what’s on screen, it also wonderfully captures the power of friendship, playtime, and being together. The Snaffle is a cute and quirky character and I love the double page spread towards the end showing the myraid of brilliant things we could be doing if we simply put down our screens. You really can’t fault this lovely picture book – in fact, I might have to buy a copy for everyone I know!

To the mark the end of The Screen Thief blog tour, I am running a giveaway – you can enter on Twitter (and then put down your screen in case you get snaffled..!)

With thanks to Harriet Dunlea and the team for inviting me to participate in this blog tour. Find out more about The Screen Thief here. Catch up with the rest of the tour here:

BLOG TOUR: Skyborn by Sinead O’Hart

Today is my stop on the blog tour for a wonderful new middle-grade novel from author Sinead O’Hart, Skyborn published by Little Tiger. A prequel to the much-loved Eye of the North, (read my review of this title here) fans will be delighted to discover Thing’s origin story, in a marvellous and richly drawn adventure set in a Circus. Author Sinead will be sharing insight into the inspiration for Skyborn with a guest post all about her love of the circus!

Skyborn by Sinead O’Hart

The circus has seen better days, but for Bastjan it’s home. He will do anything he can to save it, even if it means participating in a death-defying new act. But when that fails to draw in the crowds, the ringmaster makes a deal with a mysterious man by the name of Dr Bauer. In exchange for his help, Bauer wants a box that belonged to Bastjan’s mother and came from her birthplace – the faraway island of Melita. Bastjan is desperate to keep his only memento of his mother out of Bauer’s hands. And as he uncovers more about the strange objects contained within, he realizes it’s not only the circus that’s in terrible danger…

There is something magical about the circus and Skyborn effortlessly brings this to life, with all it’s wonder and excitement – as well as the darker and more dangerous side. A fantastic cast of characters who you care about, with Bastjan and runaway Alice, who has a significant birth mark on her face, at the heart of the tale. It’s a sprawling adventure which takes you from the sawdust ringside seats up to the trapeze and on to the dizzy heights of air ships and the strange island of Melita. There’s action aplenty, as Bastjan tries to find the truth about his mother, and escape the clutches of his nasty step-father, Ringmaster Quinn. Helped by the eccentric stars of the circus especially his guardian, strong man Crake, Bastjan and Alice face their worst fears as they uncover the mysteries of the box. With multiple themes woven into the narrative, Skyborn is a great book to escape into and I’m sure readers will be lining up to join this circus adventure!

I’m delighted to welcome author Sinead O’Hart to the blog with a guest post sharing the inspiration for Skyborn. Welcome to the blog Sinead!

“I have always loved the circus. When I was a little girl, the circus would come every year to the town I lived in, and my parents always made sure my brother and I had front-row seats (or as close to front-row as could be managed). The ringmaster of the circus was a lady, a beautiful lady, with long dark hair that fell in a cascade all the way down her back, and it was thrilling to watch it flying around her head in a thick braid as she strode around the ring. I admired her red and gold jacket, her riding trousers, her shiny boots, and her gleaming top hat – and that was before a single act had performed! I looked forward to the circus every year, but eventually, as all children do, we grew too old to want to go to the circus with our parents any more, and so they stopped buying our front-row tickets, and we busied ourselves with other things instead.

But the magic of those performances stayed with me. I can still recall so clearly the smell of the big top, the tang of animal dung and straw, the odour of popcorn and toffee, the clamour of the crowd beneath the canvas, the heat (because beneath a big top full of people, it gets hot), and the excitement of waiting for the show to start. I drew on all of this when I wrote my newest book, Skyborn, which is partly set in a circus. The big top, and the performers’ wagons, and their lives as travelling performers, take up about half the book. Much of it is imagined, but I hope I paid a good tribute to the wonder I felt as a little girl whenever that red-and-white striped tent would rise in a field at the edge of my town, and the performers would drive up and down the street in their brightly coloured trucks, beeping their horns and waving, and calling us to ‘come and see the show!’

However, as much as I love circuses, some aspects of them are not as magical now as they once were. One of the themes in Skyborn is captivity, and the injustice of keeping animals in cramped conditions. At the beginning of the book we meet the elephant, Mammoth, who lives in a cage barely big enough to hold him, and Bastjan – our main character – reflects on how cruel this seems. Skyborn is about giving characters back their freedom (or most of them, at least – you’ll have to read the book to find out more); it’s about the wrongness of keeping wild things locked up, whether they’re animals or something else, something like the character of Dawara in my book. Of course, modern circuses don’t use wild animals in their acts any longer, and that is something to be welcomed. There’s still plenty of magic to be found beneath the big top without the need for animal acts – and there’s plenty of magic at the heart of circus stories, too.

So, without further ado, take your front-row seats! The Skyborn Boy is ready to fly, and the performance is about to begin…”

With thanks to Little Tiger for inviting me to participate in this blog tour. Check out the rest of the blog tour:

It’s tomorrow! Empathy Day 2021

There’s a buzz in the air and it’s getting louder : the countdown for Empathy Day has been running and it’s nearly here! After a tough year, a celebration focusing on encouraging empathy and therefore, kindness, tolerance and understanding, is just what’s needed.

Organisers EmpathyLab have pulled out all the stops, with the aim of this year’s activities being to encourage children across the UK to walk in someone else’s shoes. There’s an amazing line-up of events planned including includes free online events with Joseph Coehlo, A.M.Dassu, Michelle Robinson, Jay Hulme, Patrice Lawrence, Nathan Byron, Rashmi Sirdeshpande, Bali Rai, Holly Bourne, Rob Biddulph, Cressida Cowell, Michael Rosen, Michael Morpurgo and Jacqueline Wilson. 

Launched by Children’s Laureate Cressida Cowell, the Empathy Day LIVE! programme takes audiences through three key steps: READ, CONNECT and ACT. It includes an Empathy Day draw along with Rob Biddulph; an “authors’ secrets” creative writing session with Malorie Blackman, Bali Rai and Holly Bourne; an Empathy Mirror body language game with A. M. Dassu and Adisa; making empathy resolutions with Nathan Bryon and Rashmi Sirdeshpande; and a listening lunch with Jacqueline Wilson. Michelle Robinson, Jay Hulme and Patrice Lawrence will run an Empathy Exhibition learning more about each other by sharing precious objects.


For adults, there’s a cutting-edge evening conversation with authors Catherine Johnson, Michael Rosen and David Baddiel. They will talk with Professor Dr Robin Banerjee, an expert in developmental psychology, about the role of empathy in society and using books to nurture young people’s empathy skills. Other free resources available to children and families in the run-up to the event include a newly-commissioned Empathy short story series, Empathy Illustrations and this year’s family activity pack. The 2021 Empathy Reads collection also features 50 specially chosen books for 4-16 years olds that help young people develop their empathy skills- download the lists here.


All Empathy Day LIVE! events can be watched live on EmpathyLab website and will be available to view after the event too. All in all, it’s not to be missed – for empathy, for amazing enrichment and for a celebration of stories.