Category Archives: News

Top of the Poems Children’s Poetry Book List with Mr Dilly on National Poetry Day 2021

Today I’m delighted to share a wonderful children’s book list in celebration of poetry! A collaboration with Mr Dilly, who is premiering a brand new free film resource for schools, ‘Top of the Poems’ this morning. Thousands of children across the UK will be watching the film, followed by Mr Dilly interviewing wonderful award-winning poet, Zaro Weil.

You can register for free to join this event -find out more here.

The Top of the Poems book list not only includes all the poems Mr Dilly features in his film, but also a whole host of fantastic children’s poetry books as chosen by me! Some old and some new, there’s something for everyone with classics by Spike Milligan and Michael Rosen alongside Joseph Coelho, Amanda Gorman and Laura Mucha.

Poetry has the most amazing ability to transport you to other worlds, capture the imagination and get to the heart of exactly how you feel. Use this book list to inspire readers to discover the wonderful world of poetry and try their writing their own poems too! Download the full list of 22 titles with descriptions below!

You can download the full list here

National Poetry Day is the annual mass celebration on the first Thursday of October that encourages all to enjoy, discover and share poetry. This year, National Poetry Day takes place on 7 October 2021, and the theme is Choice. Find out more about National Poetry Day here.

WINNER ANNOUCNED – 2021 Branford Boase Award

I’m delighted to share the news that Struan Murray and his editor Ben Horslen of Puffin have won the 2021 BRANFORD BOASE AWARD for the author and editor of an outstanding debut novel for children.

Last year I was honoured to participate on the judging panel for the Branford Boase Award so I can well imagine the challenge faced by the 2021 judges as they read through the impressive shortlist to pick a winner!

Founded in 2000, the Branford Boase Award was set up in memory of award-winning author Henrietta Branford and her editor Wendy Boase of Walker Books, who both died in 1999, and is unique in honouring editor as well as author. It has long been my favourite award for children’s books and is regarded as one of the most important, with an impressive record in picking out star authors at the start of their careers. Previous winners include Meg Rosoff, Mal Peet, Siobhan Dowd, Marcus Sedgwick, M.G. Leonard and Frances Hardinge. Winning editors include J K Rowling’s editor Barry Cunningham, Philip Pullman’s editor David Fickling and Fiona Kennedy, publisher of Michelle Paver, Marcus Sedgwick and Sally Gardner.

Struan Murray is the winner of the 2021 Branford Boase Award for the year’s outstanding debut novel for children for his ambitious, beautifully written fantasy adventure Orphans of the Tide, illustrated by Manuel Sumberac. Set in the last city of a drowned world, the book opens with a dead whale washing in with the tide, only for a living boy to climb out. The City’s religious authorities believe his body to house The Enemy, the god they hold responsible for putting the world in its watery grave but Ellie, a young inventor, is convinced he’s innocent. The award is shared with Murray’s editor, Ben Horslen, of Puffin.

The 2021 shortlist was particularly strong. Described as ‘a showcase for all that children’s literature can be’ it featured powerful contemporary stories, a wildly energetic comedy adventure, an ‘own voices’ novel starring a young girl with autism, a dark story of witches and witchcraft in the 17th century, and the first verse novel to feature in the award’s history. 

Orphans of the Tide was the only fantasy adventure on the list and impressed all the judges with its originality, Murray’s control of the story and the beauty of his writing. Judge Liz Hyder, author of Bearmouth and winner of the 2020 Branford Boase Award winner says of Orphans of the Tide, ‘This book utterly stole my heart. Exquisitely written, it’s a phenomenal page-turner with characters that leap off the page and straight into your imagination. Orphans of the Tide explores lots of big themes – environmental issues, friendship and xenophobia to name but a few – all wrapped up in an utterly compelling tale told by a master storyteller. Struan is an exceptional talent and I can’t wait to read everything else he ever writes.’

Struan Murray says, ‘I am so honoured and thrilled to have won. This award is extremely special as it celebrates not only the author but the editor too, and understands and recognises that writing is a collaborative process that wouldn’t be possible without the commitment, imagination and skill of the editor. Working with Ben has stretched me as a writer and his insight contributed so much to the world of Orphans of the Tide that I couldn’t imagine it without him.’

Ben Horslen said: ‘… The author-editor relationship lies at the very heart of our industry, and to have an award that celebrates and showcases that relationship is a very special thing indeed. To be nominated is a career highlight that every editor hopes for. To win is simply a dream come true.’

Children’s literature expert and chair of the judges Julia Eccleshare says, ‘The Branford Boase Award has always celebrated the special role new writers play in expanding the scope of what children read. New voices telling new stories add to the already rich seam of children’s books: in the hands of skillful storytellers they are vital in giving a fictional commentary on current emotional, social and political issues. This year’s shortlist includes books that show just how exciting, diverse and fresh storytelling for all ages of children can be. The level of talent among the new writers is extraordinary as is their determination to ensure all children can find themselves in a story. Congratulations to Struan and Ben and to all the authors and editors on the shortlist.’

The 2021 winners of the Branford Boase Award were announced by Liz Hyder on this evening as part of a public event presented by the LoveReading LitFest. The event featured contributions from all the shortlisted authors plus previous winners and culminated in a discussion with Struan Murray and his editor Ben Horslen.  Struan Murray receives a cheque for £1,000 and Struan and Ben both receive engraved trophies. Find out more at www.branfordboaseaward.org.uk.

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.

World Book Day….just around the corner!

A week today, it’s World Book Day (4th March); that time of year when we all go a bit more book-crazy!

I love World Book Day – the fact there is a whole day marked out for celebrating just how wonderful books are is brilliant. And I love the costumes (yes really I do – it helps being married to Mr Dilly who has a big costume cupboard!) Yes, books should be celebrated every day, but I think it’s great that the whole world comes together to celebrate books every Spring. A UNESCO initiative marked in over 100 countries around the world, World Book Day is enjoyed by hundreds of children – and dare I say it, adults too -up and down the country.

Working as a school librarian, World Book Day was always a great day to be in the library. Children would love to see what was happening – and generally just be excited to be in there, in costume, trying to find the book their character was from (if they hadn’t brought it in from home)! I’ve run Jackanory (always a huge favourite – teachers and other guests reading aloud), book breakfasts (food and books…),Mad-Hatter tea parties (more food and books …) a multitude of competitions (Show us your Shelfie, Guess Who’s reading, Get Caught Reading) book art sessions (crafting using old books), reading treasure hunts (use the clue to find the book). And then there’s the special World Book Day assemblies – I once delivered an assembly in my pyjamas (we chose to celebrate Bedtime Stories that year), as a Ringmaster (circus themed another year) and even using a Dr Who pop-up wardrobe through which teachers ‘appeared’ as their favourite book characters. Fond memories! Despite schools being closed for most, and in-person events not possible, there’s still plenty of ways to celebrate. This year more than ever, bringing the magic of books to life wherever you are, is a great idea and there are some brilliant online events that will help.

National charity, World Book Day, seeks to change lives through encouraging a love of books and shared reading. They’ve a planned a whole host of events and participation campaigns to mark the occasion, supported by high-profile partners, authors, illustrators and poets. On the World Book Day website you can access Early Years, Primary and Secondary toolkits with activities and discussion guides for teachers, parents and carers with useful downloads like ‘5 ways to encourage children to read’ and ‘Top Tips for Sharing Stories’. Also available now, there’s an Authors and Illustrators Academy with tutorial videos from this year’s World Book Day authors including Jonny Duddle, Joseph Coelho and Lydia Monks to encourage creativity. From the 1st March, a brilliant social media participation campaign #ShowYourShares invites everyone to post photos of themselves sharing a story (and maybe win a prize!).

From 3rd-5th March there’s a programme of FREE ‘Share a Story’ events featuring a range of children’s favourite authors – Katherine Rundell, Humza Arshad, Tom Fletcher, Sita Brahmachari to name a few. Each event runs between 25-30 minutes on the World Book Day YouTube channel or via their website and focuses on ‘Books that make us LOL’ (6yrs+) ‘Words and pictures -bringing reading to life’ (4yrs+) and ‘How reading helps us understand the real world’ (9yrs+).

All in all, World Book Day have made something for everyone and it’s all free. Not only that, the website is active all year round so you can keep celebrating, every day!

Find out more at www.worldbookday.com.

Resources to encourage creativity at home – inspired by books!

We know it’s good to encourage our children to ‘be creative’, alongside their homelearning. In particular time to read is so important, offering an ‘escape’ for young minds and inspiring imaginations. But with schoolwork to do, our own work to complete and the daily juggle on going, it’s a bit of a challenge, to say the least!

Help is at hand with the multiple online resources available to provide inspiration – but time to navigate these is also short! Today, I’ve gathered some on the blog that have caught my eye, and that I think will give your young readers the opportunity to get creative and encourage their reading for pleasure.

Picture Books

Award-winning Umbrella by Elena Arevalo Melville tells the story of Clara who finds a magical umbrella in the park which leads her on a wonderful journey of discovery! Read my review here. Ideal for storytime, author Elena has recorded the story (approx 10mins). There are delightful activities including inviting children to imagine what they would wish for if they found a magical umbrella! For more formal teaching, there is a scheme of work available exploring the themes and characters in the story. Published by Scallywag Press.

Larger-than-life story What’s in the Truck? by Philip Aardagh and Jason Chapman tells the tale of a dog prince and his ever changing vehicles! You can read an extract of the story and there are fun activities to entertain young readers. There’s also an online event hosted by indie bookshop, The Book Nook in Hove with Philip and Jason participating in a storytime and drawalong which children will love! Published by Faber.

Big Cat by Emma Lazell  is a hilarious story about Isobel and her Grandma and their discovery of a very Big Cat in the garden. Read my review here. Fans of cats will absolutely love this story; you can read an extract here, listen to Emma read the story aloud and there’s an activity pack to encourage budding young illustrators. Published by Pavilion Books

Sky Private Eye by Jane Clarke & Loretta Schauer is a delightful series featuring Sky, who can be found searching for clues and solving mysteries involving fairytale characters we know and love ( think Red Riding Hood, the Gingerbread Man) – and also has a fondness for baking! Read my review here. There are some lovely activities available including making cakes for the young bakers in your lives (but don’t let the Big Bad Wolf find out…!) Published by Five Quills.

Illustrated fiction

The Boy Who Grew Dragons by Andy Shepherd and illustrated by Sara Ogilvie is a hugely popular series for 7-9 year olds. The fifth and final book in the series published this month and the author has created a range of fantastic resources to bring the stories to life through activities, book talk and arts and crafts ideas. Andy has also created a brilliant mini dragon story resource with a video and ideas for illustration. Published by Piccadilly Press

Jasper and Scruff by Nicola Colton creates a fabulous new friendship between a cat and a dog! Warm and funny, young readers will love reading about Jasper and Scruff’s adventures. Nicola has created some brilliant illustration activities, so children can have a go at recreating this wonderful duo themselves. Book 3 in the series publishes next month, in the meantime you can watch a drawalong with Nicola here. Published by Little Tiger.

Poetry

The incomparable A F Harrold selected the poems in Midnight Feasts, illustrated by Katy Riddell. Shortlisted for the CLiPPA 2020 award, there is a full teaching sequence available from CLPE. Rather brilliantly you can also watch A F Harrold perform poems from the book via his website. A great way to keep children entertained and introduce them to the wonderful world of poetry. Published by Bloomsbury

Middle Grade

Wilde by Eloise Williams was definitely one of my favourite reads of 2020. A contemporary fantasy story, you can read my full review here. Author Eloise, the inaugural Welsh Children’s Laureate , has put together a whole host of creative writing activities and there is a resource pack available here. The pack includes story extracts, Shakespeare and illustration activities – ideal for building on the imagination brought to life in the story! Published by Firefly Press.

After the War by Tom Palmer is another triumph in accessible, historical fiction for author Tom, who has worked tirelessly to support Holocaust Memorial Day. This story is utterly moving – read my full review here – focusing on the lives of three Jewish boys rescued from a concentration camp. Tom has produced multiple teaching resources, video content and creative writing support and whilst Holocaust Memorial Day itself may have passed, the messages around After the War are relevant every day. Visit his website to find out more. Published by Barrington Stoke.

I absolutely adored Land of Roar by Jenny McLachlan and revisiting Roar in the sequel, Return to Roar. Author Jenny was previously a teacher and has created some inspiring, imaginative resources to encourage creativity including videos to make your own fantasy-land map, characters and fantasy poo!! There’s also a treasure hunt and ideas for bringing Roar to life at home and in the classroom. Great all round! Published by Egmont.

Faber Booktime is a fantastic resource featuring readings and activities from a huge variety of children’s authors – Chris Mould, Emma Carroll, Swapna Haddow & Sheena Dempsey and many more. Great for storytime and encouraging creativity in young storytellers. Find out more

Puffin Schools features multiple resource packs, one-off activities and video draw-alongs, storytime and the Puffin Storymakers Show. Search for an author or Puffin title to find an activity for your young readers – think Wimpy Kid, Jacqueline Wilson, Roald Dahl and other classroom favourites. Great for supporting literacy but also brilliant for encouraging reading for pleasure! Find out more.

These are just a few of the many and varied book-related resources that creative folk and their publishers have put together to help home-learning. Following #readingrocks, #edutwitter, #kidlit and of course #homelearning, will shine a light on others. And make sure you follow your children’s favourite authors, illustrators, poets and publishers on social media to keep a track of the live events and new content being published.