New review & Bookchat: Taking Time by Jo Loring-Fisher

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Taking Time by Jo Loring-Fisher from Lantana Publishing is an absolutely stunning book focusing on taking time to enjoy our world and the wonder of it all around us. ‘Time’ is something that perhaps we are all having to reevaluate at present and how we spend it is markedly different from even just a month ago. Whilst the UK publication of this book has been postponed until September (the US release goes ahead on 7th April), so relevant is this book right now I am very pleased to share my review and bookchat with author-illustrator Jo Loring-Fisher today.

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Taking Time is a beautiful poem set against the backdrop of stunning illustrations capturing just how much wonder there is in the world and encouraging us to notice it. From listening to birdsong, to watching a spider build it’s web; from staring into the eyes of someone you love to enjoying the love of your cat or dog – wonder can be found everywhere. Each spread is set in a different part of the world because no matter who or where you are, you can marvel at your surroundings, inspired by principles of mindfulness. It is a simple, calming read, evoking an idea I think we can all embrace at this difficult time. Taking Time is a book to cherish and one that inspires the reader to embrace life in all its beauty and simplicity.

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The good news is that Taking Time is available to buy direct from the publisher. I am so glad to have read it and I am equally glad to welcome Jo Loring-Fisher to the blog for a bookchat today. Welcome to the blog jo!

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What was the inspiration behind writing Taking Time? I wrote Taking Time when I was out walking the dog in my old home of Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire. I often write when I am walking, jotting ideas down on the Notes app on my phone, which I later email to myself. I was specifically writing a piece with Lantana Publishing in mind. I had just completed illustrating Maisie’s Scrapbook by Samuel Narh, for them and very much enjoyed working with them and I love their ethos. I was looking up at the trees watching birds and looking for inspiration, when the concept came to me. I knew I wanted the work to be multi-cultural and about the things that connect us as humans. We always hear about our cultural differences, but I feel there are so many more similarities than differences, between us. I like that a child in the UK could be as fascinated by a spider spinning its web, as a child in Nepal, or anywhere else, could. I didn’t start out with the intention of writing about mindfulness, it was my publisher Alice Curry, that saw this. I love that another person can see something in my work, and she was right!

How do you think it can be interpreted for everyday life, especially in the current circumstances? Although mindfulness is an innate skill in many ways, I think it has been lost because we are all under so much pressure and this, unfortunately, applies to children. Consciously bringing mindfulness to our attention in a simple way and accessible way, is important and this is my intention with Taking Time.

The circumstances in which we find ourselves right now, are quite frightening and uncertain. I like the idea that parents and carers can sit quietly with a child, look at each spread and pause to discuss the words and images and perhaps chat about how this relates to the child and children of the world. For example, what does it feel like when you bury your hand in your dog’s fur? I hope that it will do the same for the adults sharing the book as well. We all need a bit of that!

I think the skills of mindfulness are so lost to us that they can be hard to relearn, but they really are a life skill and I hope that the book will prove to be a gentle way to encourage this. When it gets a bit frenetic at home, and in the current circumstances this is going to be an issue, hopefully Taking Time will act as a guide and bring some peace. I think that there is plenty to discuss and relate to in each spread and this can spark conversations about different peoples and cultures across our wonderful world. I would love the book to be the basis of activities in the home or garden. A child could be asked to shut their eyes and try to remember their journey to school, for example. It could then be extended to an imagined place that can be described using all the senses. What does the place, real or imagined, smell like? What sounds can the child hear? What does it feel like under foot? It could be used as a springboard for art and crafts activities or an exploration in the garden or around the house. What object would the child bring with them, for example?

Do you practice mindfulness yourself and if so, how has it helped you and how do you believe it can help others? Those moments that make us stop and notice something outside of ourselves are so important. As a child, I was always the one to point out the spider spinning a web on the way to school, or a fern leaf unfurling and I am unchanged in that way. When I feel stressed or my mood is a bit low, taking a walk outside with my Spaniel, Flossie, always helps. I’m also interested in the idea of forest bathing. Immersing myself in the countryside, particularly the forest, can really help to give me clarity. Being still and becoming more and more aware of those gentle sounds around you, the wind in the tree, birds singing, the feel of a leaf as it brushes past your ear falling to the ground, are wonderful things to connect with. It isn’t quite so easy in the city, but any green space can be beneficial.

The poem encourages the reader to take in the wonder of the world and reminds us how precious life is – even in the small things – how do you think life will change following this period? I really hope that the world as a whole can learn from this experience. My hope is that we will rediscover a more contented and grounded way of life and one which doesn’t exploit the riches of the natural world, or the most vulnerable. I feel that things have been spinning out of control and that this could be a wake-up call, we need to slow down and live more lightly on this planet. I truly hope and pray that we learn from it and a change is brought about in individuals and communities.

Can you tell us a bit about your illustration process? Do the words or pictures come first? Sometimes an idea comes to me as words first and other times it’s images that take the lead. When I’m working the images out, I might jot down a very rough sketch. These are then turned into thumbnails-tiny illustrations that allow you to put together your ideas and help you to see how the spreads will work as a whole. Some images come to me very easily and remain pretty much unchanged, and other times I am unsure of how they will be until I work on them. It was like this with the Ecuador image, where I had a rough idea, but the finished image came to me as I was putting it together. I draw my characters and scan them in to the computer. I’ve made lots of textures using paint and printmaking, and I use them to collage over the drawings using Photoshop.

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What new projects are you working on and how will you be spending your time whilst required to stay at home? In the next few months I have two more books being published, one with Otter-Barry Books and another with Frances Lincoln, so I have been working very hard on them. I’d like to say I’m going to take it a bit easier, but I have new projects that I’m working on and that’s exciting. We have moved fairly recently, so I plan to tackle the garden over the coming months and create some beds to grow vegetables. We had a ready-made veg plot in our previous garden, so I’ve got used to the cycle of planting, picking and cooking the food I’ve grown, and I love it!

What would your top suggestions be to help parents and carers encourage their child’s creativity at home? I have four children, three of whom are adults now, and two pursuing careers in the creative industries. Books played a big role in their upbringing and I know they have been very inspired by this. I have taught art to children and adults, and what I have discovered time and time again, is the notion that each and every mark must be just right and just so and recognisable. I’ve overheard parents correcting their children while they’re drawing something and even take over from them. This creates fear and acts as a barrier to the creative process and really puts children off even trying to draw and very often this lasts into adulthood. I’d say leave children alone to experiment and have fun. Don’t worry if they make a mess (make sure there is lots of newspaper down) and don’t expect the drawing to look like an actual, real thing! Encourage and praise. Tissue paper ‘painting’ is fun, this involves laying pieces of tissue paper down on paper and painting water onto it. Once the paper has dried it can be removed and leaves beautiful, brightly coloured prints. Coloured pencils are also a less messy way for a child to enjoy image making. More than anything, praise children and don’t criticise what they have produced.

With thanks to Jo Loring-Fisher for participating in this bookchat! Find out more at www.joloringfisher.com and follow on Twitter: @JoLoringFisher

Author biography

As a child Jo’s favourite pastime was drawing and writing stories. She grew up in Sussex, close to Ashdown Forest where Winnie-the-pooh was written and felt that forest’s magic! Jo now lives in the beautiful city of Bath with my husband, and two younger daughters. The natural world inspires her greatly, but she also loves to people watch and living in a city gives her lots of opportunities to do just that! Jo says: “Being passionate about art and children’s books, it is wonderful to be able to spend my time combining the two. As a mum of four, I have spent many an hour sharing my love of books with my children and have witnessed the impact this has had on them.”

With thanks to Lantana Publishing for sending me this book to read and review.

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New review: Planet SOS by Marie G.Rhode

A brand new book published by What on Earth Books on 2nd April, brings to life the global environmental crisis for young eco-warriors in a whole new way! Planet SOS: 22 Modern Monsters Threatening Our Environment by Marie G.Rhode shines a light on the biggest issues facing the environment and what young readers can do to help!

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Amazing illustrations and high quality production make this a really stunning book to behold! Mythical monsters are given new names and used to represent some of the biggest threats to the planet such as the Smogosaurus, who fills the air with toxic fumes and the Trash Kong, who thrives on rubbish and waste and the Atmosdragon who is causing global warming.

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The good news is that young eco-heroes can help by learning about these threats and then taking action! Each spread focuses on one threat and has a Monster Card showing what we can do to beat it, from reducing our carbon footprint to eating vegetables! Fold-out guides and a world map along with a glossary, index and source notes keep young readers fully armed with knowledge about how to save the planet.  Imaginative and informative, Planet SOS is a fantastic book full of inspiration and practical ideas – a great addition to any boookshelf.

About the author
On finishing her architectural studies in Sweden, Marie G. Rohde entered a children’s books competition and began a new and unexpected chapter in her life. This book is the result of a lifelong interest in myths and environmental issues. Marie G. Rohde lives in Barcelona.

With thanks to What On Earth Books for sending me this book to read and review. 

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BLOG TOUR: The Thirteenth Home of Noah Bradley by Amber Lee Dodd

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Welcome to DAY THREE of the blog tour celebrating publication of The Thirteenth Home of Noah Bradley written by Amber Lee Dodd, published by Scholastic!  I’m delighted to be hosting today’s stop and sharing a spooky post from the author herself, featuring the story of an infamous historical curse.

Why, I hear you ask? Well a curse is at the heart of The Thirteenth Home of Noah Bradley, a fantastic family adventure story with a magical twist.

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The Bradley family are constantly escaping from a centuries old curse which means that every home they have ever lived in is destroyed – floods, fire, earthquakes – all manner of destruction. They have just moved to their thirteenth house and although the threat of the curse looms ever closer, Noah is desperate not to have to leave this new home – where he finally feels like a ‘normal’ boy and that he could have a happy life. However, at the sign of a black cat, Noah knows the curse is once again about to strike– can he find a way to break it with the help of his brother and new neighbour, Neena?

I’ve been a fan of Amber Lee Dodd since her brilliant first book, We Are Giants, so I was very excited to read this, her latest title.  It doesn’t disappoint – I was hooked from the first page! Totally engaging, The Thirteenth Home of Noah Bradley is an original story with a clever plot, that has so much for readers to relate too. There are so many great characters and I adored Noah and his brother Billy and the bond they share. Noah’s care and concern for Billy, who is deaf, is heart-warming. The narrative captures just how important it is to have a place called home and how difficult it can be to constantly move house, change schools and have to make new friends.  Noah struggles with his own desires to fit in, even at the expense of true friendship, but as the story progress we see him realise that fitting in shouldn’t be that hard if people will accept you for who you are.  References throughout to Noah’s love of nature and the situations he finds himself in reflecting animal behaviour bring an added dimension to the story. Add to this the magical elements of a frightening family curse and you have a wonderful tale of family, friendship, bravery and adventure!  Definitely one for the bookshelf!

Today, author Amber Lee Dodd is sharing the story of her favourite historical curse. Welcome to the blog Amber!

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“One of my favourite historical curses is the curse of the Pharaohs. It’s said that the well-known curse brings down illness, bad luck and death upon any who disturb the tombs. The curse was so well feared that inscriptions were carved into some Royal Egyptian tombs reading,

“Cursed be those that disturb the rest of Pharaoh. They that shall break the seal of this tomb shall meet death by a disease which no doctor can diagnose.”

Even stranger is the real-life story of the six archaeologists who died shortly after opening King Tutankhamun’s tomb. Followed by five more deaths in ten years of people who first visited the tomb, or where involved in disturbing the King. All the mysterious deaths were of course due to natural causes, misadventures and even murder! But that hasn’t stopped people wondering if the curse was real. Spooky!”

Amber Lee Dodd grew up in Portsmouth, where she rode the waltzers, swam in the winter sea and lost her wellies in the marshes. She has worked as a Learning Support Worker in schools with disabled students, and is passionate about incorporating disability representation in her books for children. Amber struggled with undiagnosed dyslexia and dyspraxia at school and on discovering stories, found her very own magic power – telling stories!

Find out more at www.amberleedodd.com. With thanks to Scholastic for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in the blog tour. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the blog tour:

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Bookchat: Bug Belly written and illustrated by Paul Morton

Congratulations to author-illustrator, Paul Morton, whose debut funny fiction series is published today by Five Quills! It’s a huge pleasure to feature Bug Belly on the blog today – a book that will make you smile from the very first page.  Delightful and engaging throughout, the story introduces a new children’s character in the shape of a fabulous and funny frog, Bug Belly! And Paul Morton joins us on the blog today to share some of the inspiration behind the story.

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It’s Uncle Bug Belly’s turn to babysit! The taddies and the froglets can’t wait to PLAY. But when Uncle Bug Belly’s tummy goes URGLE-GURGLE GLUMP everyone knows it spells trouble!

Imaginative and full of lively, humourous illustrations, the first book in the series entitled Bug Belly: Babysitting Trouble, follows Bug Belly’s adventures as he babysits a whole pondful of tadpoles and young froglets. Full of great ideas to keep them entertained, all is going swimmingly (!) when Bug Belly’s hungry tummy gets the better of him and disaster strikes.  However, not to be beaten by the threat of a dried up pond, a greedy fish, bird AND snake, Bug Belly comes up with an ingenious plan to save the day.  Young readers will love following the adventures and seeing how Bug Belly doesn’t give up even when all seems lost. There are even diagrams to highlight all Bug Belly’s fantastic ideas; a great addition to the story and perhaps inspiration for budding young inventors!  Bug Belly: Babysitting Trouble is a wonderful addition to the world of illustrated fiction and I can’t wait to see what Bug Belly does next!

I’m very pleased to welcome Paul Morton to the blog today for a bookchat – welcome to the blog Paul!

Tell us a bit about your new book, Bug Belly: Babysitting Trouble. The book is the first in a new series of young fiction titles, aimed at readers age 5-8 – both for children who still enjoy being read to as well as those venturing out on their own. Bug Belly is an ingenious, inventive and super fun froggy uncle to lots of little tadpoles and froglets in Top Pond. In this first story, he’s supposed to be babysitting all the taddies, but his hungry belly distracts him and causes a bit of a disaster, resulting in all the water draining from the pond. Bug Belly must race against the clock to save all the tadpoles. He loves a challenge, though, and comes up with an inventive plan to save the day, with the help of three young frogs, Splish, Splash and Splodge. It’s action packed, fun and exciting!

What do you hope readers will enjoy about the book? I hope they will enjoy the humour and action in the story, and I’ve included lots of illustrations throughout the book to introduce the characters, highlight the action and show the funny scenarios Bug Belly finds himself in. The text is great for reading aloud, too, so I hope will be shared in classrooms as well as at home. I recently did a school event which I really enjoyed – sharing tips on writing and firing children’s imaginations, and I hope to do many more of those in the future. I’ve created lots of activity sheets and resources to engage children with the series, so they can have a lot of fun exploring the stories in different ways.

How did you first come up with the idea for Bug Belly? I was playing a game with my nephew. Bug Belly is a rubber frog he has that had lost its squeaker, so insects could be stuffed into its tummy. I thought, ‘there’s a great idea for a children’s book!’ I’ve always been interested in animals, though, and have drawn many frog characters in my career as an illustrator and graphic designer. As a child I owned a green super-bouncy ball, that I kept in my pocket and pretended was a frog that could jump! Now, I’m lucky enough now to have a pond in my garden that is full of frogspawn, tadpoles and frogs every year!

How did you develop Bug Belly’s character, and the stories for this book series? I started by imagining some busy scenes from the story, for example the one where Bug Belly is planning to bag more bugs for his breakfast. I began wondering about all of the gadgets that Bug Belly might use to help him catch the bugs, and I developed his kit bag which you’ll see drawings of in the book – and developed various scenes from there which I stitched together into what I hope is an exciting story.

How do you plan and develop the illustrations for your books? First, I draw the main scenes as rough pencil sketches in my various notebooks and sketchbooks. Then I draw them in more detail on A4 sheets, before scanning them into my computer to add the colour digitally. In total, I produced around 1,000 drawings for Bug Belly: Babysitting Trouble! One of the biggest challenges was all the individual tadpoles! I drew 2,000 of those for this book!

What can we expect in future Bug Belly stories? More fast paced fun and even trickier challenges for Bug Belly. Book two is being developed at the moment and involves a daring rescue mission to save one of the little froglets. Obviously I don’t want to give too much away but the story will feature sneaky snake and other predators, oh – and flying frogs!!

With thanks to Five Quills for sending me this book to review and inviting me to host a bookchat! Bug Belly by Paul Morton publishes today (Five Quills), £6.99 paperback.

Sample chapters, activity sheet downloads and lots of other resources available from www.bugbelly.com

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Book of the Month: Sock Story by C K Smouha illustrated by Eleonora Marton

book of the monthSock Story by C K Smouha and Eleonora Marton, is a delightfully funny and light-hearted tale of a pair of socks and what happens during their weekly visit to the washing machine! Published by Cicada Books to critical acclaim in hardback last September, Sock Story is available in paperback this month.

 

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Sock Story by C K Smouha and Eleonora Marton

It’s Phil and Dale’s favourite time of the week – the wash! But when the two socks get separated, Dale must face the prospect of life on his own…

You’ll never look at your odd socks in the same way after reading this story!  I have a bag of odd socks just in case the missing one turns up (which does occasionally happen believe it or not) and I’m definitely not going to get rid of them now….Sock Story brings laundry to life in a lively, humourous tale which is sure to delight young readers (and parents and carers too).

Phil and Dale are a pair of socks and whilst enjoying their usual wash-time acrobatics -attracting eye rolls from the other clothes in the wash with them – Phil gets stuck at the bottom of the machine and Dale is all alone.  Not even a friendly shirt can help him feel better and you can’t help but smile as Dale considers all he is good for now as an odd sock – being a sock puppet or a golf club cosy!

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Colourful, lively crayon illustrations capture the fun throughout, as Dale finally finds Phil – who no longer looks like he did before (as grown-ups will know, clothes can turn a different colour if left in the machine on the wrong wash..!). But Dale must remember all the wonderful things that really make them a pair as he and Phil enjoy the wash together again!  Sock Story is a really great way to spark a conversation on things we have in common, outside of the way we look and will provide lots of laughter at story time.

C K Smouha is the author of Iced Out – review here.

With thanks to Cicada Books for sending me this book to review.