Tag Archives: Creativity

New reviews: Beautiful picture books to warm the heart..!

 

What could be better on a cold winter’s day than two beautiful picture books to warm the heart?  Old Barn Books publish some stunning titles and these two are no exception, both having been nominated for the 2018 Kate Greenaway Medal.  They would make lovely gifts for little ones and budding readers to enjoy.

 

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Pea Pod Lullaby by Glenda Millard illustrated by Stephen Michael King.

This is a beautiful lyrical lullaby putting into a very few words just how important we can be to each other, especially during times of great need. A family – mother, baby, boy and dog – are escaping danger across the sea in a tiny boat, through wind and rain.

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During their journey they come across a stranded polar bear, who too needs help. Together they cross the ocean and eventually both the family and the polar bear find a place of safety.

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The stunning illustrations depict the many wondrous ways we can help each other – shelter, reassurance, food, light, acceptance, love.  The words are perfectly and lovingly placed to appear just at the right moment as your eyes travel over the pages. Pea Pod Lullaby is a wonderful example of how words and pictures can effortlessly communicate a truly heartfelt message – a message that can speak to any and every situation where we might find ourselves in need.

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Storm Whale by Sarah Brennan illustrated by Jane Tanner

A beautifully illustrated exhilarating tale, Storm Whale tells of three sisters who visit the beach one windy day and find a whale washed up on the shore.  Their family day at the seaside is transformed; they battle the wind and waves all day to save the whale seemingly to no avail. As night closes in, they have no choice but to return home.  In the morning they rush to the beach only to find no sign of the stranded whale….for with their help and the power of the storm, he has returned to the sea.

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The poetic narrative in Storm Whale reads like an ancient tale and captures the enormity of the task in front of the girls, from which they do not falter. Amazing scenic illustrations, each like a canvas in its own right, bring to life the wildness of the sea, the sound of the wind, the awe of waves and the bravery of the three sisters.

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There is something other worldly about the sea and the creatures who live in it and Storm Whale creates a wonderful connection between ‘our’ world and theirs.   It also depicts a sense of family and warmth between the sisters which I loved.  Despite the danger and the incredible force of nature, their bravery and determination wins through, showing how even though a problem may seem insurmountable it is possible to make a difference.

Both of these picture books would be a wonderful addition to any bookshelf to be enjoyed by readers young and old!

With thanks to Old Barn Books for sending me these books to review.

Find out more at: 

https://sarahbrennanblog.com/category/storm-whale/

http://www.janetanner.com.au/Home.html

https://glendamillard.com/

https://www.stephenmichaelking.com/books/

 

 

 

 

 

Bookchat: A.F Harrold, poet and author

banner newThe last time I saw A F Harrold, he was performing poetry to a classroom full of utterly enraptured children at the Bookchat Roadshow.  It was absolutely brilliant to see how much the children enjoyed the poems and the performer!  I’m delighted he is joining us today to talk about his new book, Greta Zargo and the Death Robots from Outer Space (review available here, illustrated by Joe Todd Stanton) and all things writing. Thank you for participating Mr Harrold!

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A F Harrold performing poetry

Congratulations on the publication of Greta Zargo and the Death Robots from Outer Space! It’s fun, full of quirky characters and a great mix of sci-fi and sleuthing . Can you tell us about the inspiration behind it? Hi Victoria. Greta comes from a combination of things I typed and things I mistyped. Back in the first Fizzlebert Stump book one of the books Fizz borrows from the library was called The Great Zargo of somewhere or other. It sounded a good sort of science fictiony sort of thing Fizz might enjoy, and when I came, a few years later, to start thinking about a new series the name popped back into my mind. I type quite quickly, but because of the ways in which my fingers move there are a few words I’m forever typing wrong and having to go back and correct… one of these is ‘great’, which, if I’m typing at a gallop, always comes out ‘greta’. And so Greta was born, inside the spelling mistake that appears inside the book!

I’ve always read science fiction, and always loved science fiction, but I’d never really written any (The Song From Somewhere Else probably counts, but that’s about it), and this seemed a bit odd. So I wanted to write some. And I wanted it to be funny. Because funny books are a Good Thing. And so, after a lot of sitting around and staring into the air, several baths, and quite a few biscuits, Greta Zargo and the Death Robots from Outer Space was born.

Throughout the story there are footnotes (or more appropriately sidenotes) adding interesting anecdotes to the narrative which I loved; why did you decide to include these?  Who doesn’t love footnotes? They’re a way of having ‘a bit more’ without getting in the way of the story. They’re especially useful for (a) comedy (because you add in extra jokes) or (b) academic articles about herring pickling in 18th century Sweden (because you can cite your sources). Fortunately, as far as I can see, no one has mistaken Greta Zargo for an academic article about herring pickling in 18th century Sweden.

There are some wonderful and quirky characters in the story. I particularly loved Greta’s eccentric Aunt. Where do you draw inspiration from for your characters? And I have to say, how do you decide on the fantastic names you’ve given them?! Characters just walk into scenes as I type and if they’re at all interesting then they stay. There are occasionally very boring ones who turn up, but I’m ruthless in deleting them at the first opportunity, unless they’re boring in a funny way. That might sound a bit odd, but it’s true, the best characters walk in and surprise me. I don’t know what they’re going to say to Greta when she questions them and I listen to their answers as I type them. This is the most exciting bit about writing these books, I think, is finding out about the inhabitants of Upper Lowerbridge at the same time as the reader.

Where do their names come from? I blame the parents.

Being married to huge fan of cake, I can very well imagine the consternation if cake was stolen from my household. Can you tell us- 1) do you eat cake? 2) if so, what is your favourite? 3) if not, why not? (And what do you have with tea if not cake?!) (1) Yes, I eat cake if the opportunity arises. (2) I’m going to say Battenberg, because it has just the right amount of marzipan. (3) I said I do, so I don’t have to answer this one.

The sci-fi elements in the story are great and often times, very amusing – even with the inevitable destruction of planets going on – the Bar-Tarry-Tuffians spring to mind! Did this involve any scientific research – I’m thinking of the impressive references to hyper spatial physics, measuring of light years and so on?! I don’t remember doing any particular research before writing any of the outer space chapters, other than a lifetime of reading and watching sci-fi and sci-fact books and programmes.

That lifetime of experience has been composting inside my head for long enough that some of it made sense when mixed up and spilt onto the page. It’s fascinating to look back and remember when I was a kid we knew of no other planets outside our solar system, and now there are thousands of exo-planets known. And as our techniques and our instruments become better we’re finder smaller and more Earth-like planets out there, even around nearby stars. I don’t doubt that on some of these worlds life has arisen, and maybe even what we would call ‘intelligent’ life.

The gaps between the stars are so immense though, that it would take many lifetimes for people to travel between and so one of the ways it has been suggested we explore the galaxy is by making self-replicating robots, like the ones in the book. Because these robots don’t grow old like we do, they could spend the centuries travelling between planets without dying or going mad. And when they get there, if they have the ability to make more copies of themselves they can then send those out to other star systems.

These self-replicating machines are called Von Neumann probes, and I don’t remember where I first heard about them. But they’re not my idea, just something that made its way into the book because it made sense. The lesson of this is – those useless bits of information you once learnt might turn out to be useful after all, so never turn them away… let them live in your head – one day they might become a book.

When you’re writing fiction, do words come more easily than when you’re writing poetry? Do you have a specific process for each form of writing? I try not to think too much about it, either sort of writing. I just try to get on with it, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t and it feels like your banging an empty head against a brick wall of blank paper, then that just means it’s time to go have another bath.

When we last met at the Bookchat Roadshow, you had some wonderful advice for the audience regards encouraging children’s creativity. You said that whatever their means of expression – writing, art, poetry, drama – we should encourage children to express themselves in the way that’s best for them.  Who has given you the greatest encouragement for your work and what motivates you to keep writing? What motivates me to keep writing? That’s an odd question. I don’t know what else to do. I think it’s as simple as that. I don’t write every day and I don’t write an awful lot, but if I go any length of time without making something (and the making is usually with words in one way or another) then I feel antsy and irritable and unfulfilled and awkward and sad. I would make things with words (poems, stories, songs…) even if no one wanted to read them, even if no one was paying me to do it. Maybe not the books I’m writing right now, but who knows? (After all, I spent many years writing things that no one paid me for, before I ever had a book published.)

As for who has encouraged me… there’s such a long list, but a few I would like to mention include my editors at Bloomsbury, Kate and Hannah and Zöe, who have helped make the books we’ve published better than they would have been if I’d been doing it on my own. Part of their job is to send me back to my desk when what I’ve given them hasn’t been good enough, or funny enough, or right enough. And the fact they think I can do better makes me try harder and make the books better. Also my partner, Iszi, who suggested I try writing stories for kids, instead of just poems, in the first place. And more abstractly, out there in the world of children’s writing, many authors whose books I read or who I meet at events – they inspire me, by making Good Things themselves and showing that it can be done.

And finally, two very special sets of people – the kids I meet when I visit schools… the fact that some of them have been reading my books and seem to enjoy them makes the effort that sometimes went into making the books seem worthwhile – and secondly, the illustrators who get given my words and who make the books look so beautiful (Sarah Horne, Emily Gravett, Levi Pinfold, Chris Riddell and, for Greta Joe Todd-Stanton)… seeing what they do, the magic they work… oh it makes me want to do good, for them. I don’t want them wasting their time on any old rubbish!

So lots of people encourage and inspire me and my work.

Thank you so much for taking the time to join us and share the inspiration behind your work. 

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Read my review of Greta Zargo here.

Find out more at www.afharroldkids.com and www.joetoddstanton.com

With thanks to Bloomsbury Books for organising this interview.

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Bookchat: Alison Jay, author and illustrator

banner newThe wonder of books is that there is always something new to discover.  So when Old Barn Books who publish simply gorgeous titles, sent me two books by Alison Jay, I found a new favourite author and illustrator! How I’ve missed her all this time, I have no idea.  I absolutely love Alison’s artwork; her illustrations are beautiful as is her storytelling – whether through pictures, words or both.

In Bee & Me, the story of a little girls’ friendship with a bee is told through pictures. We go on a wonderful journey of discovery, not just of finding new friends but also of seeing the importance of bees to nature. The detail in the drawings is stunning and totally immersive, making you feel you too could fly on the back of a bee!  We learn how crucial these tiny creatures are to our world, and at the end of the story there’s a helpful guide on how we can ‘Bee Aware’.

Looking for Yesterday is quite simply one of the most beautiful picture books I have encountered and it pulls gently at your heart strings.  A little boy wants to get back to yesterday, for that was the best day ever. Touching on thoughts of time and space, the boy tries all sorts of things to get back to the past.  But his grandfather has other ideas and gently shows him how every day gives the opportunity for new adventures! For anyone who has ever been blessed enough to have an inspirational person in their lives, you will appreciate the nostalgia explored in this story; whilst memories are so important, it’s today that matters most!  I just loved it.

I am thrilled to introduce Alison to the blog for a Bookchat today.  Thank you so much for joining us Alison!

Congratulations on the publication of Looking for Yesterday – an absolutely beautiful story. I love the nostalgia of the story but also the message of making the most of today. Can you tell us the why you wrote it? The idea for Looking for Yesterday came to me after listening to a radio programme about the universe and stars. They also talked about wormholes and time travel. I really don’t understand quantum physics but the theory that it might be possible to travel backwards or forwards in time I think is fascinating to both adults and children.

You capture the relationship between Boy and his Grandad so well. Was this inspired by your own family? I never met either of my Grandads unfortunately,  but the Grandad in Looking for Yesterday is a bit like my Dad. He was an engineer and worked for an aeronautical company for a few years. He didn’t ride a classic motor bike but he was always busy making and mending things, including  old cars . The boy in the book is like my brother Mark as a child: he loved everything to do with space and the universe. He was given a telescope one Christmas  when he was about 8 years old and is still fascinated with the universe. He  read The Theory of Everything a few years ago and was even lucky enough to meet Professor Steven Hawking very briefly.

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Your illustrations have a beautiful timeless quality to them. How has your distinctive style developed over time and what has influenced you, if anything/one?My style has developed quite a lot since my college days. I used to work in a much simpler childlike way. I used to make strange 3D figures out of paper and glue. I would paint them then make background sets so they could be photographed. I also worked in pen and ink. When I left college I was told the work was not commercial enough to be published, so after working for a few years in animation studios I gradually developed a new style with paint and varnish and started to get commissions in the new style. I love all sorts of different artists from Breughel to Jean-Michel Basquiat and lots of others in between. I think probably,  like most illustrators and artists, I have developed my style from lots of different influences which sort of melt down and hopefully produce a style which is unique to the individual.

Speaking of time (!) if you could go back to ‘yesterday’ where would you go and why? I think if I could go back to any time in history it would just be to meet members of my family that are long gone. It would be interesting to meet them  but I would just pop back for a few hours. I think I wouldn’t want to stay. I am happy living today. It is more exciting not knowing what is going to happen which is what the book tries to say.

Bee & Me made me want to have a pet bee and plant a garden full of bee friendly flowers! It’s a gorgeous story – I love all the tiny detail in your illustrations. Do you find it easier to tell the story with or without words? Yes, much easier without words. I find writing very difficult. I think my wordless books are more like storyboards for films which probably comes from my days working in animation. In Bee andMe I had the chance to add all the  different peoples lives going on in the windows of the tower blocks. I put a writer, an artist, a cake-maker and lots more. It was really fun to make up little narratives and how things changed through the seasons.

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You have illustrated some wonderful stories. If you could choose to illustrate any story ever written (!), which would it be and why? I have always loved James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, so I would really like to illustrate that book. I have a mad love of painting absurdly large fruit and vegetables for some reason. I also like painting insects even though I am the first to scream if something crawls on me.

What do you most enjoy about telling stories through illustration? I think I love that you can communicate narratives, ideas and emotions with or without words. Visual art  is  very immediate but  with lots of detail it can take a bit longer to look and find other narratives within the pictures. I like the idea that the child or adult notices little things they missed at first. I think it make you want to keep looking through the book  again and again to find new  little stories .

Finally, if you could tell a budding illustrator/author just one thing to help them what would it be? I think my advice would be to find the subject matter and way of working you enjoy most. It will always show in the work and the enjoyment will keep you going for ever.

Thank you Alison for giving us an insight into your work and sharing your inspiration with us.

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For more information visit www.oldbarnbooks.com.

With thanks to Old Barn Books for sending me these books to review.

Guest blog: Mixing Fact and Fiction by Jane Clarke

I’m delighted to welcome Jane Clarke to the blog today, author of Al’s Awesome Science: Egg-speriments, a brilliant new series of science-based adventures for younger readers.  Whether they are budding scientists or maybe are just curious about how the world works, this series is sure to entertain them. Full of great characters (I particularly love Einstein the dog!), wonderful illustrations by James Brown and of course, super science experiments that can easily be tried at home, Al’s Awesome Science is a fantastic blend of fact and fiction. Jane, an award winning author of over 80 children’s books, is sharing today how she achieves this.  Welcome to the blog Jane!

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“In the Al’s Awesome Science books, I aim to write a great story, filled with fun science facts and experiments, that’s an entertaining read regardless of how much the reader knows about the subject. Continue reading

Bookchat: Adam Hargreaves

 

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I am so very excited to say that Adam Hargreaves is on the blog today! I think if someone had told me when I was young that one day I’d be talking to one of the creators of the Mr Men, I would never have believed them!

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Adam is the son of original Mr Men creator, Roger Hargreaves.  Not only has he continued the work of his father, Adam is also a painter, creating beautiful oil on canvas landscapes.  I was delighted to be invited to interview Adam following the publication of his first book from his very own series, Molly Mischief: My Perfect Pet!  The adventures of Molly are bound to delight young and old alike. I read the story aloud with my five year old niece who laughed out loud and announced that Molly was exactly like her!

Molly is a wonderful character – full of life, mischief and mayhem – exactly what an inquisitive little girl should be.  Her first adventure centres on a trip to the zoo, where Molly becomes inspired to find a pet more perfect than her own little mouse, Polka.  The antics that follow as Molly tries to find her ‘perfect’ pet are very funny and utterly endearing.  Try as she might, none of the animals she ‘borrows’ from the zoo quite fit at home, from a hippo to a giraffe to an elephant.  Eventually she realises that maybe her pet mouse, Polka, is more perfect than anything else – much to the relief of her family (except maybe her brother…!).  Molly Mischief: My Perfect Pet is exactly what a children’s story should be – funny, full of imagination, with a valuable lesson to be learned. And perfect for sharing!

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Welcome to the blog Adam and congratulations on the publication of Molly Mischief!  I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed it – as did my five year old niece who said ‘Molly reminds me of me!”. It’s a wonderful story and feels like an absolute classic. Can you tell us about your inspiration for writing it? The inspiration for Molly comes from the wonderful ability that children have to imagine something and for that to also be real for them. I particularly remember this when my kids were young. My son Jacob would dress up as Batman and then we would have these surreal conversations about what Jacob was doing in another room in the house. I wanted to capture this power of imagination in a character. Molly can be or do anything she wishes.

This is your first children’s book outside of the Mr Men. Was creating Molly a very different experience from working on the Mr MenThe creation of the idea for Molly Mischief was obviously quite different, but writing and illustrating Mr Men books has given me a lot of experience which I have been able to apply to writing Molly. Over the years I have developed a sort of process that fits to anything I am trying to write.

Can you tell us about the creative process behind Molly? I hand draw everything and then scan the black line drawing into my computer where I colour the illustration as I like the flat finish I can achieve that way. I have a pretty good idea of the page layouts from the start, so don’t often need to make any major changes to composition later on. It took a while and a few variations to pin down exactly who I wanted Molly to be (and she went through various name changes before Molly Mischief, but now she is a Molly I can’t think of her in any other way), but once I had given her a mischievous nature then everything fell into place. Strangely, even for lots of different versions of drawing her, she has always had the same outfit.

When I was young, my sister and I would literally spend hours drawing the Mr Men; some drawings were more successful than others!  Molly Mischief is wonderfully drawn and I particularly love her mischievous expressions. What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators and artists to help them develop their creative talent – particularly when it comes to storytelling? The more you draw the better you get, so keep practising and then, as you get better, the more fun it becomes. Drawing is all about observation, so it is important to look at things very hard when you are trying to draw them.

What adventures can we expect from Molly in the future? I am writing a second story about Molly which explores the advantages and pitfalls of being a superhero. And her superpowers, of course, involve a lot of chaos and mayhem for her family.

Thank you very much for taking the time to answer these questions. I’m looking forward to reading Molly’s next adventure (and so is my niece!)

Adam Hargreaves will be introducing Molly Mischief, including a live draw-along, at the Bath Festival of Children’s Literature. Sunday 1stOctober, 1.30pm.

For more information visit www.pavilionbooks.com.  With thanks to Pavilion Books for sending me a copy of this wonderful book.

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