BLOG TOUR! The Wardrobe Monster by Bryony Thomson.

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I’m so pleased to be participating in the blog tour today for The Wardrobe Monster, especially as it’s my current Book of the Month!

The Wardrobe Monster is a delightful story written and illustrated by Bryony Thomson, published by Old Barn Books.  The tale features a young girl Dora and her three toy friends who’ve been unable to sleep at night due to the strange and scary sound coming from the wardrobe.  No matter how much they try to ignore it they simply can’t and eventually Dora plucks up the courage, with the help of her friends, to find out just exactly who or what is making all the noise….

I absolutely loved this story. It’s childlike appeal creates a gentle narrative accompanied by beautifully drawn, unique illustrations. With utterly endearing characters, the enduring theme of being scared of the dark and imagining monsters in the wardrobe is one we can all relate too. The reassurance as we discover that what’s in the wardrobe isn’t scary at all is palpable and little ones will be delighted with the gorgeous green and pink Wardrobe Monster who topples out!  The best stories are ones we can identify with and I’m sure many will be pleased to know they are not alone in their night time fears and feel much relieved to see things are never as scary as we imagine. The Wardrobe Monster is a warm-hearted story, great to read aloud and sure to become a firm bedtime favourite.

I’m delighted to host a guest post today for the blog tour by Bryony, sharing more about the inspiration for The Wardrobe Monster.  Bryony studied fine art and completed an MA in Children’s Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Art. Her work has already achieved critical acclaim in the form of a High Commended award in the MacMillan Prize and being shortlisted for the Bridgeman Studio Award.  Definitely one to watch!

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“The basic idea for The Wardrobe Monster was floating around in my head for a long time before I managed to get it down on paper – I think perhaps it needed to stew like a good cup of tea! Most of my stories are based on my own life or things I have seen, overheard or experienced and so it takes a little while to figure out how to turn them into a more universal story that can hopefully be enjoyed by everyone.

The inspiration for The Wardrobe Monster came quite directly from my own experiences. I went away to boarding school when I was eight years old which was a little scary and daunting. The school was in a very old stately home in Norfolk and we slept in these huge Georgian dormitories which had enormous looming wardrobes and somewhat temperamental plumbing. The result was that once you were tucked up in bed and the lights went out there were a lot of dark shadows lurking in the corners and strange clanking and banging noises throughout the night. I can remember lying there under the duvet much like Dora with my rather overactive imagination running wild, picturing all the different, unpleasant and scary things that could be making these noises!WM Spd1.jpg

I remember feeling silly for being frightened and so through the story of The Wardrobe Monster I wanted to show that it is OK to be scared – everyone is at one point or another, even those who put on a good facade. But also that if you can summon up the courage to be brave you will often discover that the thing you were afraid of isn’t nearly as bad as you thought. I’m not sure this is a lesson I’ve learnt yet, but it’s something I remind myself of fairly frequently! Ultimately in The Wardrobe Monster I was aiming to create the kind of story that would have made my eight year old self feel better.

Just as the story was inspired by my experiences, the characters are also based on real people. For me this is a really helpful approach as it means that I already know how they will react to certain situations and the kind of mannerisms they will use. Bear is very much my Mum, always taking the rational approach and trying to calm everyone down; Penguin is a bit like my Dad, especially in his sense of foreboding and slight tendency to melodrama, and Lion is definitely my husband getting a little bit over-excited and keen to dive in head first. The only character not based on anyone is Wardrobe Monster himself but I think this is because his character was always ‘other’, he was the scary unknown and so couldn’t be based on anything I was familiar with. In the end though it turns out he’s just a big cuddly monster who’s no less scared than anyone else!”

Thank you Bryony for sharing this insight with us – it’s great to hear where your ideas came from and how this story is rooted in your desire to reassure young readers and encourage them to be brave!

With thanks to Old Barn Books and Liz Scott for inviting me to participate in this blog tour and sending me a copy of The Wardrobe Monster to review.

Find out more at www.bryonythomson.com and www.oldbarnbooks.com

Check out the next stop on the blog tour at https://jillrbennett.wordpress.com

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Children’s Book Award BLOG TOUR: I Have No Secrets by Penny Joelson

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I am hugely excited to be participating in the Children’s Book Award official blog tour in the books for older readers category.  It’s the only national book award to be voted for entirely by children from start to finish, so I can imagine how wonderful it must feel as an author to be nominated by the readers. Today I am sharing I Have No Secrets by Penny Joelson, a London based author who says:Penny Joelson “I was delighted when I heard that ‘I Have No Secrets’ had made the top ten for this award – one of three books in the older children category. It is particularly special as I know it is an award where the voting is entirely by children and young people themselves. I enjoyed writing this book so much and it is wonderful to think about so many young people reading it now.  I can only say – I am utterly thrilled!”

I Have No Secrets, published by Electric Monkey features fourteen year old Jemma, who has severe cerebral palsy. Unable to communicate or move, she relies on her family and carer for everything. She has a sharp brain and inquisitive nature, and knows all sorts of things about everyone. But when she is confronted with a terrible secret, she is utterly powerless to do anything. Though that might be about to change…

9781405286152I was filled with a certain amount of trepidation before reading this book.  Having grown up with an older sister who was completely physically disabled and had round the clock care, I wasn’t sure how I would feel ‘hearing’ a story told from the point of view of someone suffering a similar condition.  However, I’m glad I did read it. The opening hooks the reader instantly by introducing a really unpleasant bad guy and immediately you are on Jemma’s side -not because she’s disabled but because she is brave and determined. The narrative isn’t just centred on Jemma’s disability, it focuses on the relationships between those around her; her carer Sarah, her foster parents, her foster brother who is autistic and her foster sister who has behavioural issues.  Suffice to say there is a lot going on but the story doesn’t get bogged down and as the plot thickens, you wonder just how on earth Jemma is going to bring the culprit to justice, when she cannot speak. Jemma’s world is further turned upside down by the arrival of her long lost twin sister from whom she was separated at birth and the emotional turmoil that ensues is incredibly moving.

Some really insightful moments caused me to draw breath and wonder how many times I’d left the room with my sister feeling frustrated she couldn’t say what she really wanted to. The author brilliantly captures the reality of looking after a severely disabled person and the difficulties that arise from this. Given the themes covered in I Have No Secrets, it is particularly inspiring to know that young people themselves have nominated the book for this award. But not surprising – it’s a well-written thriller told from a unique perspective, with believable characters and a great plot. You can’t ask for more than that and I am really pleased to welcome author Penny Joelson to the blog to share more of her story with us!

Congratulations on the publication of your novel Penny!  I Have No Secrets is a great story – I read it in one sitting. Tell us a bit about your career so far as a writer and the inspiration behind this story. I’ve loved writing and reading since I was a young child. As an adult I did writing courses with the London School of Journalism and at City Lit in Covent Garden, London, where I now teach. I enjoy thrillers and family dramas and I wanted to combine both these things in my work. I had the idea for a thriller in which the protagonist knew the identity of a murderer but was unable to tell anyone. The character of Jemma popped into my head. It took me three years to write and then nine months to get an agent and more months to secure a publishing contract with Egmont.

Why did you decide to write the story from the perspective of a character with a disability? I didn’t set out to write a story from this perspective. The concept came first and then the character. I was a very shy child and became interested in my teens in people for whom communication was difficult for other reasons. I did voluntary work for several years with deaf-blind children and children with cerebral palsy, so I had some experience to draw on. I was also influenced by a play I’d seen at the Chickenshed Theatre about and starring Paula Rees, who has severe cerebral palsy and was unable to communicate until she was ten years old.

How did you go about researching what life would be like for someone who is unable to talk? It was only when I started looking for other books with a character who had cerebral palsy or other severe disabilities, that I realised how few books there are. I felt a huge responsibility as someone who can talk and does not have cerebral palsy myself, to make sure I gave a realistic and convincing portrayal. I knew it would be a challenge to write from this perspective.

As part of my research I spoke to people with cerebral palsy, people who use devices to communicate and people connected to them – family and professionals, charities including ‘Communication Matters’ and ‘One Voice’, as well as doing research online. I wrote however, mainly from the heart. Jemma’s character came alive in my head and sometimes it was as if she was telling my what to write or acting as a critic and telling me to change things. Once I had a draft I was reasonably happy with, I got people with cerebral palsy, AAC users (people who use alternative ways of communicating) and professionals with relevant experience to read the manuscript and give feedback. When someone with cerebral palsy told me how strongly he could relate to it and how he thought even his parents could learn more about what it was like to be him from my book, I was very moved. Since publication I have had very positive feedback from people with cerebral palsy and this has meant so much to me.

Jemma is cared for in a foster family and her foster parents are clearly remarkable people in that they are caring for three children with very distinct needs. Why did you decide to introduce this theme? Years ago, I was involved as a volunteer and then leader for holidays for deaf-blind children with the charity SENSE. As leaders we used to go and meet the children and their parents before the holidays and I came across amazing foster parents who have stayed in my mind ever since. They were the inspiration for Jemma’s family.

Aside from enjoying the story, what do you hope readers will gain from reading I Have No SecretsI hope that readers will feel more empathy with disabled people and be less likely to assume that if someone can’t communicate they are unintelligent or have nothing to say.

Thank you Penny for participating and we wish you every success with I Have No Secrets!  Penny’s next book Girl in the Window is out in August. Find out more at www.pennyjoelson.co.uk and follow Penny on twitter @pennyjoelson

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The Children’s Book Award is the only national award voted for solely by children from start to finish. Any child up to the age of 18 can visit to vote for their favourite books from the top 10. It is highly regarded by parents, teachers, librarians, publishers and children’s authors and illustrators as it truly represents the children’s choice. Thanks to the support of the publishers, over 1,000 new books are donated to be read and reviewed by our Testing Groups across the country every year, with over 150,000 total votes being cast in the process. At the end of each testing year, nearly 12,000 books are donated to hospitals, women’s refuges, nurseries and disadvantaged schools by our groups. Previous winners of the award include, Michael Morpurgo and Michael Foreman, Quentin Blake, JK Rowling, Jacqueline Wilson and Rick Riordan.

Voting is now open for this year’s award closes on Friday 18th May 2018! Follow the award on Twitter @cbacoordinator and use #fcbgcba18.

With thanks to Kate, the coordinator of the Children’s Book Award, for inviting me to participate in this wonderful award blog tour. Thank you to Egmont for sending me a copy of I Have No Secrets to review.

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Blog Tour: Nimesh the Adventurer by Ranjit Singh illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini

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I’m thrilled to be hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for fantastic picture book Nimesh the Adventurer, a debut for author Ranjit Singh who is a British children’s book author of East Indian heritage. Nimesh the Adventurer is a wonderful story about a little boy with a BIG imagination. Featuring striking illustrations by Mehrdokht Amini, the story begins when the school day has finished and it’s time for Nimesh to walk home from school.  But this is no ordinary walk home – for there are dragons and sharks and all manner of adventures to be had by little Nimesh, bringing the world around him to life in the most fantastical way!  It’s a wonderful celebration of the places our imagination can take us, and how magical the world can be through a child’s eyes.nimesh 1

It’s with great pleasure I am talking to Mehrdokht Amini today, an Iranian-born illustrator who has won the Children’s Africana Best Book Award and been nominated for a Kate Greenaway Medal. Her illustrations bring Nimesh and his adventures virtually leaping off the page!

Welcome to the blog! And congratulations on the publication of Nimesh the Adventurer. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to illustrate this story. Many thanks for having me here! I spent the best moments of my childhood in a small garden in a small city surrounded by glorious mountains in a far away land. I used to imagine that behind the mountains there was a magical land where fairies and jinns lived. Years passed by and I never set foot in the magical land behind the mountains. I grew up and learned that adults have more serious matters to deal with. That is, until the day I decided to become a children’s book illustrator. Once again I found myself in the parallel world of dreams and magic and now I had an excuse to be there. So I guess the reason I became a book illustrator is the sheer enjoyment I get from living in the world of fantasy. I still like to think that maybe somewhere in the darkest place in the world a dragon is fast asleep in a cave or maybe fairies are flapping their wings around my head right now.

As for how I came to illustrate Nimesh the Adventurer, this is my second collaboration with Lantana. I had worked on another book with them, which is called Chicken in The Kitchen in 2013, which won Best Book at the Children’s Africana Book Awards and was nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal. So when Alice Curry the founder of Lantana contacted me to do this book for them, I was overjoyed by the possibility of working with them again.

The illustrations are striking; a mix of media, wonderful colour and pattern. Can you tell us about the methods you used? Thank you! For this book I tried to explore new techniques and adopt my style to match the playful mood of the story. It was really exciting because for years I had worked solely with digital software and this project allowed me to discover new ways of expressing myself through hand painting and collage. I have to thank Lantana for letting me explore the boundaries that I hadn’t crossed before.

As for my method, let me explain it through one of the pictures of the book. After brooding over the overall composition in my mind for some time, I started with some quick sketching with a UNI PIN pen just to make sure the composition worked for the spread. This is usually the most important part of the work for me because it is the foundation of the work and the basic ideas and overall composition is hardly changed in the next stages.

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Then I started to work on each element of the picture separately and scanned the whole thing into digital files. image2.jpgSometimes I shoot some photos or use my own photo archive for some details. Looking at some related pictures and doing an intense research also helps me to come up with ideas. For this spread I looked at lots of images from the Indian and Persian miniatures.

 

After taking all the materials into Photoshop I assembled them and finalised the sketch and then sent it to my editor for approval. image5.jpgAfter approval I started all over again going through each element on separate layers in Photoshop.image6.jpgIn a detailed picture like this one sometimes I have to work on twenty to thirty layers, which is a complex process. But I also have to add here that after the approval of the sketch the rest of the process is really fun to do. image7.jpg

What an incredible process. Thank you for your sharing this with us! Nimesh the Adventurer is Ranjit Singh’s debut picture book. It must have been exciting to work on this with him and also quite a responsibility.  Do you have a particular process when you are illustrating another author’s work? I don’t have a particular process but I prefer not to meet the author before the sketching stage because I worry about being influenced by the way the writer imagines the story. Once a picture is formed in my mind, whether it is coming from the writer/editor or my own, it is difficult for me to shake it off so I would rather feel free to imagine the story as I like in this stage. Occasionally I have worked with authors who have tried to control the visual aspects of the work and I have found it a bit difficult. In the case of Nimesh I really felt at ease with Ranjit and although we discussed some imagery through the editors we trusted in each other’s ability from the start.

Do you have a favourite scene in the story? Mine is the princess scene. I had a vivid picture in my mind for this spread from the beginning and the fact that its orientation is different from the rest of the images makes it more interesting for me.

I love your dedication at the beginning to all the “little ones with big imaginations”! How important is it to celebrate and encourage this in children? I think that childhood is a stage for imagination to flourish because children still don’t know about the laws of nature and fantasising about their surroundings often satisfies their curiosity. In a child’s mind it is easy to make a ladder and go to the moon, get into a serious discussion with a toy, and wait for the arrival of Santa. Sadly we lose this ability gradually when we start to learn about the facts of life and the law of causality.  In my view this period of imagination and fantasy is vital for a child’s mental development because the richer and more colourful it is the more creative the child becomes later in life. Books play a pivotal role in enriching this period of life for children.

I couldn’t agree more and I wish you every success with Nimesh the Adventurer! Thank you for sharing your inspiration and insight with us today.

Find out more at www.lantanapublishing.com. With thanks to Lantana Publishing for inviting me to participate in this blog tour.  Hear more about this wonderful story on the rest of the blog tour:

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New review: Make More Noise!

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Make More Noise! features short stories by ten fabulous female authors.  It is a celebration of inspirational girls and women in honour of the centenary anniversary of women’s suffrage.  Published by Nosy Crow, to mark the passing of the Representation of the People Act in February 1918, some of the stories are inspired by real events and real people, some are totally imagined; but they all hold freedom and equality at their heart.  Written by some of our most favourite female authors there are contributions from M. G Leonard, Patrice Lawrence, Katherine Woodfine and Kiran Millwood Hargrave who comments: “I’m honoured to be contributing to an anthology that celebrates girls in all their complexity and world-changing power.”

The thing about reading short stories is that you want more and you want to know what happens to the characters – a sign of really great storytelling! Where do they end up? Do they manage to achieve their goals? Do they defeat their persecutors? Do they finally get the freedom they so desire?  That was certainly the case for me reading these stories. With settings ranging from the East End slums in the 1800s to an unusual ghost story to an intrepid bike ride around the world, each story holds a unique insight into the lives of girls and women through the ages.

I particularly enjoyed Tea and Jam by Katharine Woodfine with a lovely character Eveline trying to do her best to be good at her job of house maid and “not get ideas above her station”.  However when she discovers that there are libraries where books are free and there are activities to help you continue your education, the idea of freedom is suddenly much more appealing.  I wonder whether she got there in the end?!  I also enjoyed The Green-Hearted Girl by Kiran Millwood Hargrave which brought to life a beautiful, fantastical world created by a great flood where tree people inhabit the branches of every kind of tree.  Again, I wanted to know what happened next and whether the green hearted-girl was able to unite the treeple!

Each of the stories in this collection has a unique perspective on freedom and the bravery of women and girls to achieve equality and stand up for themselves whether on a personal level or contributing to a national cause.  Make More Noise! is a brilliant book to introduce the ideas behind women’s suffrage to a new generation and to celebrate the sacrifices that were made a hundred years ago so women can vote today.

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With thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Book of the Month: Fabio The World’s Greatest Flamingo Detective: The Case of the Missing Hippo by Laura James

book of the monthWhat a gorgeous book!  I opened the package from Bloomsbury and out fell this fabulous illustrated chapter book.  You can’t help but fall in love with Fabio the flamingo, a brand new character from author Laura James (who writes the Adventures of Pug series) with fabulous illustrations by Emily Fox!

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Fabio The World’s Greatest Flamingo Detective: The Case of the Missing Hippo by Laura James, illustrated by Emily Fox

Fabio, the world’s greatest flamingo detective, just wants to sit on the veranda of the Hotel Royale and drink pink lemonade, not judge the local talent show.  But when Julia the jazz-singing hippo disappears from the stage, Fabio knows he’s been served a tall, refreshing glass of crime.

This first story in the series sees Fabio the flamingo on the case of finding a missing hippo of all things.  Having been roped into judging the local talent contest, Fabio uses his detective skills to find out just who is behind the disappearance, all the while hearing the many and varied talents of the local residents of Lake Laloozee!  Aided by his somewhat hapless assistant, a giraffe called Gilbert who loves to be helpful and put on a disguise, Fabio cleverly weaves his way through the suspects to find out who kidnapped the star-songstress Julia.  It seems nearly everyone has a motive, but Fabio is not one to give up easily and notices everything – after all he’s the world’s greatest flamingo detective!

I thoroughly enjoyed this story, which had echoes of many of my favourite detective novels.  A convincing setting; a fantastic cast of characters from moody hotel owner Smith the vulture to the fabulous jazz band trio of crocodiles Kevin, Delilah and Tiny Bob; and plenty of suspects – this read like an Agatha Christie for kids! The imaginative plot will keep young readers guessing and laughing out loud; especially where Gilbert the Giraffe is concerned.  I absolutely loved the artwork and three colour illustrations throughout, bringing to life the animals and their various personalities. Fabio, of course, is the favourite – who knew a flamingo could be so suave and sophisticated?! The culprit is of course caught but it’s a suitably happy ending with the world’s greatest detective in charge! I absolutely cannot wait for the next adventure and am sure this series will be a hit with young readers far and wide.

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Find out more at www.laurajamesauthor.com and www.emilyafox.co.uk.

With thanks to Bloomsbury for sending me this book to review!

 

New review: The Chinese Emperor’s New Clothes by Ying Chang Compestine

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The Chinese Emperor’s New Clothes by Ying Chang Compestine, illustrated by David Roberts.

Ming Da is only nine years old when he becomes emperor of China and soon, his three advisers take advantage of the young emperor by stealing his rice, gold and precious stones. But Ming Da has a plan. With the help of his tailors, he comes up with a clever idea to outsmart his devious advisors: He asks his tailors to make “magical” new clothes for him. Anyone how is dishonest, the young emperor explains, will see the clothes’ true splendour, but anyone who is dishonest will only see burlap sacks.  The emperor dons a burlap sack and the ministers can’t help fall for his cunning trick….

This is a fabulous retelling of The Emperor’s New Clothes that was inspired by the award-winning author’s childhood and growing up in the Chinese Cultural Revolution, at a time when Western fairy tales were banned.  As a child the author got her hands on a dog-eared translation of Hans Christian Andersen’s tale and it sparked her own version of the story, now published in this beautifully illustrated picture book.

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The Chinese twist gives a glimpse into the beautiful culture of China and David Robert’s gorgeous artwork brings this all to life. Full of humour and a wonderful example of generosity and courage in Ming Da the young emperor, it is very satisfying to see him win the day!   Readers are invited to make their own Chinese New Year Robe with step by step instructions at the back of the book.  The Chinese Emperor’s New Clothes introduces this classic fairytale and the lessons that can be learned from it to a new generation.

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Find out more at www.yingc.com and www.davidrobertsillustration.tumblr.com/

With thanks to Abrams & Chronicle for sending me this book to review.

 

Book of the Month: The Eye of the North by Sinead O’Hart

book of the monthI thoroughly enjoyed this debut novel by Sinéad O’Hart which publishes on the 8th February from Stripes Publishing.  The story weaves elements of fantasy, magic and mythical creatures into an epic voyage.  You can find out more about the author and the inspiration behind The Eye of the North in the blog tour which will be stopping here on Sunday (see below for details)!

The Eye of the North by Sinéad O’Hart

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Emmeline Widget has never left Widget Manor – and that’s the way she likes it. But when her scientist parents mysteriously disappear, she finds herself being packed off on a ship to France, heading for a safe house in Paris. Onboard she is befriended by an urchin stowaway called Thing. But before she can reach her destination she is kidnapped by the sinister Dr Siegfried Bauer. Dr Bauer is bound for the ice fields of Greenland to summon a legendary monster from the deep. And he isn’t the only one determined to unleash the creature. The Northwitch has laid claim to the beast, too. Can Emmeline and Thing stop their fiendish plans and save the world? 

Emmeline Widget has always been convinced her scientist parents were trying to kill her.  But on discovering they’ve disappeared, everything is not as it once seemed.  An epic adventure begins during which Emmeline meets a cast of strange and mysterious characters, some of whom are friends and some very clearly foes.  Members of the Secret Order of the White flower make themselves known but Emmeline and Thing don’t know who they can trust. As she travels deeper into the frozen north, the sinister nature of Dr Bauer’s intentions are revealed, the Northwitch stakes her claim and Emmeline finds herself mortal peril.  But with the help of Thing and some very fantastical creatures, her courage and bravery will surely be rewarded.

The Eye of the North is an exciting fantasy adventure transporting the reader to a magical frozen landscape, full of unexpected delights and terrible threats. The perfect storytelling ingredients create a thrilling plot which has plenty of edge-of-your-seat action scenes. With a feisty heroine in Emmeline, an unusual but likeable sidekick in Thing and a wide cast of mysterious characters, the adventures keep the reader guessing.  The story culminates in a breathtaking final sequence, leaving the door open to a sequel that I would be delighted to read!  A really great middle grade debut novel.

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Find out more at https://sjohart.wordpress.com/ and www.littletiger.co.uk.

With thanks to Stripes Publishing for sending me this book to review.

Don’t miss the blog tour starting on the 5th February!

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