Bookchat: Q & A with Jennie Poh illustrator of The Pirate Tree

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The Pirate Tree written by Brigita Orel and illustrated by Jennie Poh is a tale of imagination and friendship, published by Lantana Publishing. It’s a beautiful picture book about Sam, who plays in a gnarled old tree which sometimes turns into a pirate ship! Sam is its fearless captain who one day sees another sailor, Agu from Nigeria, approach and must decide whether to let this stranger join the game.

A simple narrative combines with distinctive illustrations depicting the bond of friendship that forms, as Sam discovers Agu knows some very interesting things about treasure and boats. Suddenly their differences fade, and their joy in playing pirates takes over.  A great story to share, The Pirate Tree is a celebration of freindship and the joy of imaginative play.

I’m very pleased to welcome illustrator Jennie Poh to the blog today with a quick bookchat about her work. Jennie was born in England and grew up in Malaysia. She studied Fine Art at The Surrey Institute of Art & Design as well as Fashion Illustration at Central St. Martins.

How do you start illustrating once you have the narrative of the story in front of you? After a couple of reads through the manuscript I’m given a brief description of the characters by the publisher and author. I then play around with a lot of sketches, with this it was the ‘pirate tree’ different shapes and textures as this was going to heavily feature in the story. Once I was happy with this I did some development work with Agu and Sam.

What media have you used to create the pictures for The Pirate TreeI mainly work digitally, ‘Photoshop’ but scan in textures myslef and I make my own digital brushes to create a less digital feel to my colour work. Welcome to the blog Jennie!

The illustrations are gorgeous – I particularly love the expressions on the characters faces – including the fish. How do you go about capturing expression?  Thank you! I really loved illustrating these little fish. I think I try and pull these faces/expressions myself and do my best to put that down on paper. 

What stories do you recall from childhood that perhaps influence your work today? I read a lot of Beatrix Potter, Enid Blyton and always adored The Chronicles of Narnia. I think any illustrations that were enchanting, or heavily featured nature influened me as a child which has spilled through to my work.

Can you tell us about any new picture book projects you are working on? I’m currently working on a story about a biracial girl who is dealing with many questions about her heritage. I think this is a wonderful concept to work with.

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With thanks to Jennie Poh for participating in this Q & A and Lantana Publishing for sending me this book to review.

 

 

 

 

Reviews, reviews and more reviews! A big blog catch-up.

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How many books can you fit on one blog? I’ve read so many great books over the summer months into autumn– newly published and yet to be published- it’s hard to know where to start, but here are just some of the titles I’ve really enjoyed reading.

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The Doughnut of Doom by Elys Dolan brings us a new kind of super villain in a picture book tale reminiscent of all the best kinds of monster movies. Think King Kong with a slightly stickier coating! Great characters in the shape of different types of talking food – from peanut butter sandwiches to fried eggs to chilli peppers – bring the action to life and create a veritable feast of a story. Hilarious from the first page, The Doughnut of Doom will liven up bedtime reading and spark the imagination of young readers with its lively a narrative and even livelier illustrations.

Available now published by Nosy Crow age 2+

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Gallery of Cats by Ruth Brown is a gorgeous collection of pictures reminiscent of famous masterpieces, with a twist. Each picture features a cat with the characteristics of the painter, described in the accompanying narrative.  The story begins with Tom, a young boy visiting an art gallery and stumbling upon this very unusual exhibition and as he visits each picture the cat featured jumps down to join him on his tour.  Clever and humorous, Gallery of Cats is a fantastic introduction to the world of art and a lovely story to share.

Available now published by Scallywag Press for age 3+

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The Girl and the Dinosaur by Hollie Hughes and Sarah Massini is a captivating picture book sharing the wonder of the imagination and dreams.  A little girl discovers old dinosaurs bones on a beach and at bedtime wishes with all her heart that the dinosaur will come to life. And it does, taking her on the most marvellous adventure to a secret place where only children play in their dreams!  It’s a lovely tale, beautifully illustrated and captures the magic of children’s imagination.

Available now published by Bloomsbury for age 3+

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Beaver’s Big Adventure A Journey Home by Magnus Weightman is a gorgeous book exploring all kinds of animal homes brought to life in delightful, detailed illustrations. The story tells of Beaver embarking on his big dream to explore the world. From the big city to the forest, Beaver meets all kinds of animals living in different nests, underground burrows and even termite mountains. With illustrations reminiscent of the Busy World of Richard Scarry, this is a fantastic book to explore over and again, each time discovering something new.

Available from 1st October published by Five Quills for age 3+

Kitty by Paula Harrison illustrated by Jenny Lovie is a brand new six-book series introducing superhero-in-training Kitty.  Gorgeous colourful illustrations capture the action, as Kitty braves the night time to solve mysteries and recover stolen treasure in the first two adventures, Kitty and the Moonlight Rescue and Kitty and the Tiger Treasure.  These books are sure to be a hit with young readers, as they meet Kitty and her Cat Crew, including her number one companion Pumpkin the ginger cat!  Themes of bravery and friendship will capture the imagination of all who read Kitty’s adventures and with a Super Cat Facts section at the back of each book, cat lovers in particular will enjoy!

Available now published by Oxford University Press, for age 5+

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The Bakery of Happiness by Ian Beck is a heart-warming (and tummy tempting) story set in a bakery in the beautiful streets of Paris. It’s a sweet story of love and friendship that will surprise and delight all who read it, evoking the feel of a classic romance and the smells of wonderful baking!  The magic of Paul du Pains’ bakery is clear as every customer who enters, leaves feeling happier than before. But the magic doesn’t come from the fabulous cakes and breads he bakes – it comes from Marie, his marvellous assistant who serves each customer and has a voice to brighten even the most miserable person’s day. How will Paul restore the magic to his shop when Marie leaves for the opera? With lovely illustrations, The Bakery of Happiness will remind all who read it to take a chance on friendship and love as soon as it appears.

Available now published by Barrington Stoke for ages 5-8 

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White Fox by Chen Jiatong illustrated by Viola Wang is the first modern middle-grade children’s fiction series to be translated into English from Chinese. The series brings to life the adventures of an orphaned white fox cub, Dilah, who longs to be human.  Myth and magic combine as Dilah embarks on a quest guided by a magical moonstone, which will show him to a treasure that is said to transform animals into humans! An incredible adventure ensues, and Dilah makes new friends and discovers dangerous enemies as he seeks the treasure. Readers will be enthralled by the twists and turns of Dilah’s quest and desperate to find out what happens next to the young fox and his friends. A great read, White Fox is a fantastic introduction to Chinese children’s fiction.

Available now published by Chicken House for age 9+

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Teen Witch by Katy Birchill is fun, teen fiction at its best. Morgan Charmley is about to start a ‘normal’ school at the age of 13. But how will she fit in? Because Morgan is a witch and although she can control her powers, she can also cast a spell with a click of her fingers. And even though she’s passed the Young Witch Exam (after the eight time of taking it) the trials and tribulations of every day school life are somewhat challenging – especially when her witch familiar, Merlin, decides to turn himself into a tarantula on her first day at school. Join in the fun as Morgan deals with this and other incidents, and tries to fit in, inadvertently befriending a warlock.  Great fun!

Available now published by Scholastic for age 11+

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Anna at War by Helen Peters is a brilliant wartime adventure about a young German Jewish girl who finds herself sent away to safety in England.  Leaving her parents is hard enough but then Anna finds herself caught up in a web of spies, betrayal and intrigue as well as dealing with being a German in England whilst the war rages on.  Anna tries not to lose hope for her family and as the plot thickens she realises there are other ways to fight the Nazi’s. Great storytelling shows Anna’s bravery and the narrative is full of heart, capturing wartime efforts and shedding light on the experiences of German Jews. There’s a really beautiful moment towards the end of the story; you’ll need your tissues. Anna at War is a compelling, well-balanced read that will tug at the heart strings and the themes of conflict, courage and wartime displacement are all relevant for today.

Available now published by Nosy Crow for age 8+

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Alex Sparrow and the Zumbie Apocalypse by Jennifer Killick is the fantastic third book in this series about Alex, Jess and their very quirky superpowers. This time the action takes place in a local Zumba class, with Alex’s mum and grandma placed firmly in the danger zone as it appears the evil Montogomery McMonaghan is up to his usual dastardly tricks. Of course it’s up to Alex and Jess and their crew of unusual helpers including Bob the goldfish and Dexter the pigeon to solve the mystery. They meet some new and surprising characters along the way and face some really hairy moments keeping you on the edge of your seat! Alex and Jess are two of my favourite characters in middle-grade fiction today; I love that despite all the bonkers antics – or perhaps because of – they always discover something new about themselves and have a better friendship at the end of each tale.   Great fun, full of humour and totally entertaining, Alex Sparrow never disappoints!

Available now published by Firefly Press age 9+

With thanks to Barrington Stoke, Bloomsbury, Firefly Press, Five Quills, Nosy Crow, Oxford University Press, Scallywag Press and Scholastic for sending me these books to review.

 

BLOG TOUR: Spylark by Danny Rurlander

Spylark Jacket lowresI’m kicking off the autumn term on the blog with the first stop on the blog tour for Spylark by Danny Rurlander. What a great way to bring in the new term!  Spylark is a fantastic middle-grade thriller full of adventure, lots of action and some great characters – not to mention a really cool and clever idea at the heart of the story!  Spylark is set in the author’s native Lake District and uses the islands that inspired Swallows and Amazons as the backdrop. Danny Rurlander’s debut novel is a perfect adventure of the absolutely classic kind. With themes about the importance of friendship, bravery, terrorism and technology, readers will be swept up into the daring mission to save a Very Important Person from assassination. A thoroughly riveting read, Spylark is a must for middle grade bookshelves!

Danny Rurlander Photo.pngDanny Rurlander studied English Literature at the University of East Anglia, and worked in the finance sector for several years. He now serves on the staff team of a multi-cultural, city-centre church. While at University Danny spent two years learning to fly with RAF, as an officer cadet in the Cambridge University Air Squadron.  He has lived in Austria, Kenya, Devon and Australia, but always longed to return to his native Lake District where he grew up exploring the fells and camping on islands, so it’s no wonder his descriptions of the landscape where Spylark is set are so real! I’m delighted to welcome Danny to the blog today to share some insight into what inspiration means to him.

Inspiration

“There’s a moment, roughly half way through the book, when Jim Rothwell, an older man whose wisdom and life experience help the child protagonists navigate some of the trickier moments of their adventure, offers a challenging view of love.

 ‘Joel, my lad, love is not always a feeling. Sometimes it’s a decision.’

This down to earth and counter-intuitive idea of love is also true, in my experience, of ‘inspiration’.  Inspiration, for the fiction writer, is not so much a feeling, but a decision, an act of the will.  If you sit around waiting for it to turn up, you’ll never write anything. But where does inspiration come from?  The answer is so obvious it seems almost unnecessary to say it.  Inspiration comes from two spheres: what you already know and what you don’t know, but know you need to know.

In writing Spylark a number of key influences and experiences (the first sphere of inspiration) found their way into the book: my own childhood adventures in the part of the world where the book is set; a first-hand knowledge of flying aeroplanes gained through my time with the RAF; and perhaps most of all, memories of books I read as a child.  In particular I grew up not only reading Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons adventures but trying to live them out!

Spylark is a classic action-adventure thriller, involving spies, criminals, and a group of child heroes who save the day.  But the book plays with this genre by means of a key technological concept. Tom, the main character, who has suffered a life-changing accident several years before the story begins, ‘escapes’ the harsh realities of his life by means of his home made drone.  This enables him to be in two places at once, and enables the narrative to switch between locations in the blink of an eye.

This brings me to the second source of inspiration – what you don’t know, but know you need to know. Before I started I knew nothing at all about drones.  So I had to find out enough to make the story convincing.  Writers traditionally call this ‘research’ but that has always sounded rather outfacing and dull when you are itching to get going with the story.  I prefer to think of it as fueling the tanks for the creative energy of writing.

The internet makes this easy of course. I subscribed to a few drone blogs to understand the technical stuff.  I then tried to get my head around what could actually be possible, and how a terrorist might use this technology for destructive purposes.  (At one stage if – for some reason – my hard drive had been examined by the police, it could have looked rather suspicious!)  But it’s a good idea not to rely too heavily on Google.  I also bought a book on drones, went out to the local beach to watch people flying them, and met up with a local enthusiast to watch him at work and ask him questions.

The key to this is not to think of what you don’t know as a barrier but an opportunity.  I often say that writers are nosey-parkers!  They learn to listen in on other people’s conversations on the bus; they observe the world around them in fine detail, tune into the stories of other people’s lives and actively imagine the world from someone else’s point of view.  After all, one of the reasons children read is to learn about what they don’t know.  If as a writer you can learn something new, the chances are the story will be even more vivid and fresh than those that come from your experience.”

Find out more at dannyrurlander.com and chickenhousebooks.com. SPYLARK by Danny Rurlander is out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)

With thanks to Chicken House for sending me this book to review. Be sure to follow the rest of the blog tour:

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Book of the Month: The Land of Roar by Jenny McLachlan

book of the monthThe Land of Roar by Jenny McLachlan, published by Egmont, is a joyous celebration of the wonder of imagination. I absolutely loved it – not just because it took me back to being a young girl playing imaginary games in the garden, but because it is storytelling at its best. So I’m really pleased to make it my Book of the Month!  It’s Jenny McLachlan’s middle grade debut and demonstrates her skill at weaving wonderful stories full of heart and imagination.  Illustrations by Ben Mantle throughout will no doubt bring this to life if the cover art is anything to go by (I saw a proof copy).

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The Land of Roar by Jenny McLachlan

When Arthur and Rose were little they were heroes in the Land of Roar, an imaginary world that they found by climbing through the folding bed in their Grandad’s attic. Roar was filled with things they loved – dragons, mermaids, ninja wizards and adventure – as well as things that scared them (including a very creepy scarecrow…). Now the twins are eleven, Roar is just a memory. But when they help Grandad clean out the attic, Arthur is horrified as Grandad is pulled into the folding bed and vanishes. Is he playing a joke? Or is Roar…..real?

Arthur and Rose might be twins but as now they’re eleven, and secondary school beckons, they couldn’t be more different. Rose is only interested in her friends and her mobile phone; whereas Arthur longs for things as they used to be when he and his sister played together.  Sibling frustrations simmer off the page, so when Grandad suggests sorting out the attic so they can create a more grown-up den, the twins are given a welcome distraction. But as they sort through the junk in the attic, reminders of their imaginary games are rife– an old rocking horse, a wizard hat and even a map of Roar. Is someone trying to get their attention?  It seems that way especially when Arthur is convinced he can hear the ominous rustle of feathers from the Z-bed – the gateway to Roar. Rose refuses to be drawn back into her childhood world but Arthur is convinced in her heart, she remembers Roar – and does care about it.  And he’s right. For when their Grandad vanishes and Arthur follows to rescue him, Rose isn’t far behind. It’s clear the twins’ connection to Roar is more important that they could ever have realised! Together with their best imaginary friends – Wininja the Wizard, Prosecco the Moonlight Stallion and dragons Pickle and Vlad they must defeat their arch nemesis and surely the most creepy of villains, Crowky the winged scarecrow, in order to save Grandad.

The Land of Roar is just as fantastic as you could imagine and you are quickly immersed in the magic, as Arthur and Rose rediscover their role as Heroes of Roar.  With engaging characters, just the right amount of humour and a whole lot of heart, this story will bring out your inner child and you’ll want to go through the z-bed too!  Jenny McLachlan’s skill is creating stories with characters you care about, with narratives that are as exciting as they are heart-warming and The Land of Roar is no exception. Grandad is delightful with his eccentricity and care for his grandchildren. Rose and Arthur’s changing relationship is perfectly captured as they prepare for their new school.  Their trip to Roar reminds them (and us) that you never have to stop believing in the power of imagination. It’s no wonder my son and niece were so inspired by it they played for hours in the garden their very own imaginary quest, using a map to guide them! I hope there will be more adventures to come – Hear me Roar!

Find out more at www.jennymclachlan.com

With thanks to Egmont for sending me this book to review.

 

 

 

New reviews: picture books for brightening up the bookshelf!

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Today I’m sharing my reviews of some really delightful quirky picture books, perfect to brighten up any young readers bookshelf and brilliant for sharing.  Step into a world of dinosaurs, cheeky rabbits and magical umbrellas to name a few – you won’t be disappointed!

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The Truth about Dinosaurs by award-winning author and illustrator, Guido Van Genechten, is a wonderful picture book all about dinosaurs – but with a twist! Learn all about what chickens and dinosaurs have in common told from the chicken’s perspective as he takes us on a tour of his family tree. Travel back millions of years and see how dinosaurs evolved and actually really are related to one of our favourite farm yard birds. This is a great fun read, full of fascinating facts and lively colourful illustrations bringing the world of dinosaurs (and chickens!) to life!

Find out more www.fivequills.co.uk

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The Happy Lion by Louise Fatio and Roger Duvoisin is a gorgeous story about a very friendly lion, who lives in a zoo in France. Every day he greets the inhabitants of the town as they walk past his enclosure and they always smile and say hello.  But one day when his gate is left open and he decides to take a stroll, all the town folk no longer smile and wave – they run the other way! Except for young Francois who knows just what to do.  The Happy Lion is a lovely tale with wonderful artwork about understanding who you are and finding friends, and is sure to be a firm favourite with a new generation of readers of all ages! A re-issue of a popular classic, The Happy Lion won the inaugural German’s Children’s Book Prize in 1956.

Find out more at www.scallywagpress.co.uk

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Grandma Z by Daniel Gray-Barnett is a delightful story celebrating the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren.  Albert’s birthday is rather dull until the moment Grandma Z sweeps in and takes him on an extraordinary adventure. Showing Albert how to find excitement even in the most ordinary of things, Grandma Z creates a birthday never to forget. Illustrations leap off the page bringing their adventures to life and drawing you in to the excitement. A perfect story for reminding us of the wonder of the world and just how special our grandparents can be, Grandma Z is full of joy!

Find out more from www.scribblekidsbooks.com

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Nits by Stephanie Blake is a vibrant and cheeky story featuring Simon the rabbit – and some rather pesky nits! Simon is totally in love with the new girl Lou, but she doesn’t notice him – that is until she comes into school with nits! Suddenly she needs a friend and Simon is ready to help with a hug and a kiss. Full of fun, Nits is guaranteed to entertain young children – and tackles the rather itchy subject of nits in a light-hearted way.

Find out more at www.geckopress.com

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Umbrella by Elena Arevalo Melville is a lovely tale about a magical umbrella. Clara is feeling rather sad as she has no one to play with at the park. She picks up an old umbrella and to her surprise it comes to life! Beautiful muted illustrations capture the magic as, from that moment on, Clara is introduced to a world where anything is possible  – from helping old Mr Roberts climb trees again to stopping the Moodies from crying. The umbrella has the answer for everything where kindness is concerned and we see that friends come in all shapes and sizes. Young readers will want to experience the magic of the umbrella again and again – and see the ordinary become extraordinary! Umbrella is endorsed by Amnesty International because it celebrates our rights to express ourselves and to choose our own friends.

Find out more at www.scallywagpress.co.uk

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Iced Out by C K Smouha and Isabelle Bunnell is lively picture book featuring the antics of Wilfred the Walrus and Neville the Narwhal as they try and fit in amongst a class of not very friendly seals.  In a story even young children will identify with, Wilfred and Neville are not popular because they’re different – that is until Betty Beluga arrives! Betty changes everything and even though she impresses everyone with all her talents – especially Wilfred and Neville- she isn’t bothered about being popular. She helps Wilfred and Neville see that being different doesn’t matter and they become firm friends.  Bright and expressive illustrations capture the narrative in this engaging tale about friendship and being happy with who you are.  Great fun!

Find out more at www.cicadabooks.co.uk

With thanks to Cicada Books, Five Quills, Gecko Press, Scallywag and Scribble for sending me these books to review.

Guest post and review: The Switching Hour by Damaris Young

Today is publication day for a brilliant debut middle-grade novel from author Damaris Young, The Switching Hour – congratulations! Damaris studied on the Writing for Young People MA at Bath University, where she wrote this novel taking inspiration from her childhood in Southern and Central Africa.  Damaris now lives in the UK and I’m very excited to be hosting a guest post by her on the blog today!

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Cover art: Kelsy Buzzell

The Switching Hour is set in a land suffering from a terrible drought, which has unleashed a dark and dangerous creature, Badoko, who snatches children away to eat their dreams. One night, Amaya’s little brother Kalen is taken and Amaya embarks on a nerve-wracking, spine-tingling chase to rescue him.  She only has three days before The Sorrow Sickness sets in and all memory of her brother is lost.  Accompanied by her faithful companion, her goat Tau, Amaya meets Mally, and finds the true value of friendship as together they search for Kalen in the heart of the Blackened Forest. Full of bravery and heart, The Switching Hour, weaves a wonderful tale, drawing you in, bewitching the senses and showing the true power of family bonds, in the face of absolute peril. A fantastic read and one that highlights the havoc that climate change can cause – watch out for the Badoko!

I’m delighted to welcome author Damaris Young to the blog today to share her thoughts on writing about the weather in The Swtiching Hour and how it represents a force to be reckoned with.

Writing About Weather In The Switching Hour by Damaris Young

“Writing about weather can very easily get overlooked when you’re speeding ahead to get the exciting bits of the plot, but it is such a vital part of writing a story. Weather is a key player and often drives the action by affecting the characters behaviour or mood, or adds tension and conflict, like a storm on the horizon.

I find that it’s all too easy to resort to clichés when it comes to writing about weather, so I allocate time to really think about new and fresh ways to describe it. I find it helpful to go outside into the garden or the park and close my eyes; can I smell the rain? Can I hear the wind? Can I feel the cold or the heat?

In The Switching Hour, it was very important to get the weather right, as it is set during a terrible drought. In my story the drought unleashes a creature that is my interpretation of climate change, a monster that eats the dreams of the young in much the same way that climate change affects the generations to come.

To immerse the reader in the story, I had to focus on some of the main elements of weather: wind, temperature, pressure, humidity, clouds, and precipitation. In every scene, I had to be thinking how the temperature would affect the characters, how the lack of clouds would mean the sun was brighter and harsher, the lack of wind would mean there was no reprieve from the heat. My protagonist, Amaya, seeks out shade on her journey but the ground beneath her feet becomes increasingly too hot to walk on. The lack of rain means that the leaves fall off the trees, the ground cracks and the food resources become scarce.

I lived in the Kalahari Desert in Botswana for many years growing up, where there is low rainfall for large parts of the year and where the natural plants and animals are adapted to the climate. I drew on that experience to write about the heat and the lack of rain, but what I wanted for The Switching Hour was to write a story about an extreme weather event and its devastating effects, much like climate change has an impact on global weather patterns.

For me, the most important thing to remember when writing about weather was not to underestimate its value to the story. I wanted the drought to be a character in itself and so I treated it like a character, giving it motives and thoughts and desires through Badeko, the Dream Eater. This in turn, changed the weather from an afterthought to becoming something real and powerful, a force to be reckoned with.”

Find out more www.damarisyoungauthor.com 

With thanks to Scholastic for sending me this book to review and inviting me to host a guest post.

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New review: The Story of Little Mole who knew it was None of his Business by Werner Holzwarth and Wolf Erlbruch

 

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Celebrating 30 years of publication, The Story of Little Mole who knew it was None of his Business has delighted readers young and old. It is written by Werner Holzwarth and Wolf Erlbruch, a German author/illustrator team, who are highly regarded for their humourous and playful characters. This quirky detective story enjoys a cult following and has been published in ‘plop-up’ format – and would you believe, has even been performed as musical theatre?!

When it arrived on my doorstep, I will admit to being totally surprised by the theme having not come across it before. But it is very funny and given how much toilet humour can be found in many funny books for children, this book was clearly way ahead of its time when it was originally published in 1989.

 

The Story of Little Mole who knew it was None of his Business tells the tale of a little mole who wakes up one morning only to find another animal has ‘done it’s business’ on his head! Furious, he sets off to find out who and what follows is a very funny investigation of animals and their varying types of poo! Mole manages to solve the mystery and exact a rather fitting (if slightly smaller) revenge.  I can imagine young children laughing out loud and sharing lots of ‘ewwww’s’ as they hear and see Mole’s journey of discovery!  This would be a great story to read aloud, with the large text and illustrations making it easy to share in a group setting.

There will be Little Mole events at the Edinburgh and Bath Children’s Literature Festivals this year and there are some great downloadable activity packs available from Pavilion here.

I’m delighted to be offering x3 copies of The Story of the Little Mole courtesy of Pavilion to giveaway.  Find out more on my Twitter account.

With thanks to Pavilion for sending me this book to review.

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