I am delighted to be taking part in the Storm Horse Blog Tour for Dyslexia Awareness Week.
Part A: A review of Storm Horse by Melissa Jordan
“My great-great grandad. Cuthbert H Brown Junior, lived in a car. His ma slept in the front seas, his pa in the driving seat and Cuthbert H Brown Junior, who was small like me, curled up on the back seat with his sister Dora and brother Frank…” p1 Storm Horse, by Jame Elson
The main character is a boy called Daniel Margate who lives on the Beckham Estate. You immediately know this story features characters often not portrayed in children’s books.
You learn that Daniel went to the food bank two months earlier with his mum, that he finds it difficult to find any quiet space in his flat and that he is Dyslexic. I love how it shares through the story how Daniel is supported to find out more about his Dyslexia and encouraged to think of it as ‘being different but good’.
I haven’t even mentioned the horses, two feature in the story one historical and one modern day.
When Daniel needs to escape he goes to a shed near the Animal Rescue Centre where his mum works. There he reads his great-great-grandfathers scrapbook, which contains letters he wrote to the legendary Seabiscuit, the race horse that was too short and had knobbly knees, but who despite the odds won races, giving hope to millions of American’s devastated by the American Great Depression.
The second horse is Jamie Dodger, which Daniel names after his favourite biscuit. When one stormy night a horse turns up at the shed.
In an unlucky twist of fate Daniel some how manages to be entered into a national reading contest and a running race on the same day, when he isn’t much good at either.
But, when a band of misfits, 4 boys and one girls group together to form the ‘Secret Horse Society’ and make a pact to keep him Jamie Dodger (the storm horse) secret until the day of the contest to and look him their lives open up in many ways.
Part B: “World Beyond the Book: Opening the up the world of Rescue Animals to Young People. ” by Jane Elson
Find out about author Jane Elson’s passion for animals that influenced her books Storm Horse and Moon Dog.
What shaped her writing of ‘gritty middle grade realism’ In her blog post below which I am sharing as part of the storm horse blog tour.
My challenge as an author is to make the extraordinary happen within the ordinary –
that challenge is what excites me.
Some children want to jump into the pages of a book when they finish it and stay there. I was one of those children and as an author of gritty middle grade realism it’s very important that I am responsible in the world that I offer children, after they have finished the last page. For example, Will You Catch Me? is about Nell Hobbs, the child of an alcoholic, so at the back of the book I’ve included the details of charity Nacoa (The National Association for Children of Alcoholics nacoa.org.uk) so that if a reader thinks, ’This is my world, this is happening to me,’ they have somewhere to go. I am now a proud ambassador for Nacoa.
Storm Horse and my previous book Moon Dog are both partly set around the Beckham Animal Rescue Centre. My hope is that children who read these books will become rescue-animal minded, and want to love and care for the creatures around them.
The Beckham Animal Rescue Centre is fictitious but as an advocate for the rescue charity All Dogs Matter, it is really important to me that the way it exists on the page is bound by realism. I don’t offer a world where children charge into rescue centres, wandering around by themselves, taking over and independently rescuing animals willy nilly in an unrealistic way.
I know that All Dogs Matter get many phone calls from parents asking if their children can volunteer in their centre. To volunteer at ADM you have to be 18 and over, so it’s really important that I don’t show children working in rescue centres in my books. However, my books do show them how they can be rescue animal minded as young people.
My challenge as an author is to make the extraordinary happen within the ordinary – that challenge is what excites me
My extraordinary within the ordinary in Storm Horse is that the children find a horse and keep him secret, but again I spent hours justifying how it could be possible, and constructing a scenario where Daniel would have access to the resources in order to do this.
It’s really important when writing realism that I keep an eye on the world around me. My books have happened to overlap with topical issues again and again. Moon Dog raises awareness about cruel puppy farms where puppies are bred on a mass scale with little thought for the animals’ welfare, often kept in terrible conditions resulting in disease and heartbreak. I had no inkling whilst writing Moon Dog that the pandemic was about to happen, and that the demand for buying puppies would fly up. Everybody decided they wanted a dog and puppies have been sold for ridiculous prices on the Internet by dodgy puppy farmers and backstreet breeders. To make matters worse, when people realise they’ve made a mistake and no longer want their puppy, rather than doing the responsible thing and taking it to a rescue centre they are reselling the poor little thing online to get some of their money back. The result is a population of puppies with separation anxiety.
Whilst writing Storm Horse and Moon Dog, I was in full consultation with Ira Moss, the general manager of All Dogs Matter throughout. I could not have written the books without her. She checked all the rescue centre content for me and gave me very useful notes resulting in several parts being rewritten. For example, at no time was Daniel ever wandering around the Beckham Animal Rescue Centre on his own as this is not allowed and any interaction he had with animals was done responsibly – even though the children were keeping a secret horse!
All Dogs Matter rescue and rehoming charity work in and around London to transform the lives of unwanted and abandoned dogs, they have also rehomed dogs from overseas. An example of their work is in 2019 when they rehomed over 370 dogs with new owners and found homes for 27 unwanted and abandoned dogs from China, Italy and Egypt. I am in awe of the work they do.
All Dogs Matter are such a creative charity and run lots of fun competitions, so if you do have an animal-loving youngster in your life or indeed if you yourself feel like entering, do checkout their website. They have a wonderful scheme called Mini Paws with lots of fun ideas for young people to get involved in fundraising. Here is the link: https://alldogsmatter.co.uk/team-mini-paws/
I’m often invited to judge their competitions and am counting the days until live events can happen again as they are always an important part of my calendar.
Find out more about All Dogs Matter here.
I was delighted to have the chance to review this new picture books from Maverick publishing, and be part of the blog tour. The front cover is eye-catching and the kind of image that will immediately grab children’s attention. I can see this being a popular choice in libraries. There is something exciting about stories that involve flight and the possibilities that this offers for different visual perspectives and adventure.
The Raccoon in this story is an especially loveable character. The illustrator Kritsten Humphrey has done a great job with the Raccoon’s expressions which will help young readers understand what she is feeling at different points in the story.
At the start of the story the Raccoon rescues a chick from a tree. The Raccoon dreams of being able to fly, this page reminded me so much of Mog the Forgetful cat, where he dreams about flying.
I love how the image of the hot air balloon is repeated across the page so you get the sense of movement. However, some young children might need it explaining that this is the same hot air balloon and not 4 moving across the page!
Most of the story is about the accidental ride the Raccoon takes in a hot air balloon. Towards the end the Eagle (who’s chick Raccoon rescued) and it’s friends rescue her. It would be a great additional task to try and identify all the birds in this picture. A story of adventure, kindness and looking out for others.
The author Jill Atkins has created a strong narrative story. She also cleverly introduces her reader to some great descriptive words and a number of sound words.I have listed the sound words below. Also attached at the bottom of this blog is a downloadable resource sheet with the 5 sound words and 5 matching pictures.
This story would make a fun and engaging read aloud for 3 to 7 year olds. There are also some great ways you could link it to the curriculum.
Click here to download the Sound Words ACTIVITY SHEET
As my stop on the Blog Tour for Melt I decided to ask the author Ele Fountain a few questions about her writing process.
You can also read my book review here.
1) I thought the part where Bea is trying to settle into a new place and new school was really well done and you could really get a sense of what she had to deal with. Where did the inspiration for this part of the story come from?
Teenagers have a lot to deal with. It’s a time when many kids want to work out how they fit in and are struggling with what people see on the outside versus how they feel inside. Bea experiences an intense version of this. I wanted to show that there are many ways to ‘fit in’, but you will probably be happiest with those who let you be yourself.
2a) The character of Yutu is clearly rooted in his traditional Arctic village. How did you find out about or research the background for this character? (I am particularly interested in this as you mention in the back that your wrote this book in lockdown?)
I love research. Writing a book allows you to become briefly expert in many things from how to take off in a light aircraft, to the distance an average snowmobile can travel on one tank of fuel. My sources are diverse. From scholarly to home videos. The trouble is, research can be such a rabbit hole – the more I learn, the more I need to know. As I began to research Inuit language and culture, I became fascinated by the clothing made from sealskin and caribou. There were waterproof bodysuits and winter footwear made of up to five different layers. I wanted the richness of this incredible adaptation to infuse the story too.
2b) I noticed how it is the inter-relationships between Yutu and his Granma (whom he lives with) that help you to understand the character. Any tips on how you can use the communication and/or dialogue between two characters to help you understand them?
I find that with dialogue it’s as much about what characters don’t say, as what they do. Miki chooses her words carefully; much of the time she listens. Resisting the urge to make your characters speak when they wouldn’t, or say more than they should, I find really helps.
3) In the second part of the story, there are quite a bit of layering, as the different parts of the plot come to light. I love how you reader begins to make sense of what is going on as Bea herself does. (I notice you did this in Lost, your story set in India too). It gives a real-time feel and sense of urgency to the narrative. Did you know where your story was going when you started or did it evolve?
I always plot my stories, but many of my favourite details weave themselves into the narrative as I go along. I know from my many years as an editor, the disaster that can lie at the end of an un plotted story. What I didn’t know, until I started writing myself, is quite how much your imagination can take over as you write, adding all kinds of ‘extras’.
You can purchase this book from me at Readers that Care here.
To find out more about this book be sure to check out the other stops on the blog tour.
A heart-warming coming of age story set against the back drop of fast paced survival adventure in the snowy wilderness of northern Canada. This story has it all: well developed characters, an action-packed adventure in the wilderness, secrets to unravel and some wider messages about: taking risks, global warming and how we treat our planet. I highly recommend it for ages 9 to 80!
Written as a dual narrative from the perspective of two teenagers Bea and Yutu. The young people don’t know each other at the start of their story, but they end up depending on each other for their survival.
Bea and Yutu are struggling with transitions in their lives. Bea has just moved house for the 5th time in 5 years. She is finding it hard to find her place in her new school, and her dad seems distracted and distant with his work. Yutu lives with his grandma in a remote Arctic village not accessible by roads. He is beginning to wonder about his future in the world and what lies beyond his village. He is wondering if his grandma will let him take the necessary risks to explore the wilderness on his own.
Bea and her dad share an interest, which is flying small aircraft together. So when Bea’s dad asks her to accompany him on a work flight into the Arctic circle she in initially excited. However, when things take a turn for the worse, her life collides with Yutu and they find themselves depending on each other for their survival.
To find out more about this book and for some insights into Ele Fountains writing process check out my Blog Tour post here.
Thank you to publishers Pushkin Press for an advance copy of the book and inviting me to take part in the blog tour (details below, insert jpeg).
To see my interview with author Ele Fountain check out my next post
The books is available to buy from me at Readers that Care click here.
Mini-book Review: Escape: One Day we had to run by Ming and Wah, and illustrated by Carmen Vela
I was delighted to invited by Lantana publishing to take part in the Escape: One day we had to run blog tour. This picture book explores why people around the world are forced to flee their homes. It takes a unique angle on the topic. Choosing 12 words and a personal story to go with each word. Each is presented on a double page spread with bright and bold illustrations, which combine with powerful effect.
I love the range of stories included. There are examples from different time periods and places in the world. It includes: Syria, Climate Refugees fleeing Pacific Islands, a long-distance runner escaping Eritrea, Bonnie Prince Charlie in Scotland and someone escaping the Cultural Revolution in China.
This book will help broaden the readers understanding of why people have to flee their homes, and help them to see the individual stories behind the headlines. It provides plenty to discuss, and is likely to prompt further research. Highly recommend for 9 to 80 years.
Spotlight: Blog Tour
The publisher asked us to choose a person to spotlight for the Blog Tour. I ended up choosing two people. Read on to find out why.
Flee 2007 Ioane Teitota left the Pacific Islands for New Zealand
I wanted to feature Ioane’s story for several reasons. Firstly, it’s the first time I have come across environmental and climate reasons for a person fleeing their country in a children’s book. In Ioane’s case rising sea levels were destroying the Pacific Island he lived on.
Secondly, when I looked into his story, I realised it had taken him a 13-year struggle to get official Refugee status. Because until recently environmental and climate reasons were not recognised as qualifying criteria which forced people to leave their homes.
In January 2020 Ioane Teitota and his family took their case to the United Nations Human Refugee Committee. It became a landmark case in the rights of people fleeing their homes for environmental or climate change reasons. Shortly, afterwards Jacinda Arden established a special status for a small number of ‘Climate Refugees’ from the Pacific Islands and Ioane and his family were granted the right to stay in New Zealand. This is another example of the forward thinking and compassionate leadership of New Zealand’s president Jacinda Arden.
Fly – Ivo Zdarsky Czechoslovakia to Austria 1984
I chose Ivo’s story because it has always interested me the extra-ordinary lengths a few individuals went to escape Soviet Russia and/or the Eastern bloc during the Cold War. Ivo Zdarsky in 1984 did something very brave he built his own light aircraft and flew it across the border to Austria.
Another reason for choosing this example was to highlight the economic benefits refugees can bring to the new county they settle in. Ivo was helped by a refugee group to emigrate to the Unite States. Where he eventually built a successful aircraft propeller business called Ivoprop. I decided to do a bit more research about Ivo and was fascinated to find out more about what he went on to do next. A story which will interest many young people.
I also hope that by spotlighting this story readers will be encouraged to look up some of the different ways people escaped the Soviet Bloc or from East to West Germany (which is also featured in the book).
To watch a video about Ivo Zdarsky’s life click here (scroll to bottom of article)
Escape: Once Day we had to Run is available to purchase in all good bookshops from 6th May in UK and from 4th May in USA and Canada.
purchase from me at Readers that Care for £11.49, free postage to Mainland UK. Click here.
You at also purchase direct from Lantana publishing, click here.
I loved reading Darwin’s Dragon, one of my most anticipated books of the year which has finally arrived. My daughters a big fan of Lindsay Galvin’s the Secret of the Deep, so I was expecting great things. It didn’t disappoint.
The story begins in 1835. It’s about what could have happened during one of Darwin’s expeditions to the Galapagos Islands. It is written from the perspective of Syms Covington. Who first joined Darwins ship the Beagle, as a cabin boy and a fiddler. He then worked his way up to become Darwin’s assistant. With short chapters, and plenty of nail-biting action there is lot’s to draw readers in.
The story is a most intriguing and unique combination of historical fiction, weird and wonderful detail on the animals and habitats of the Galapagos, and fantasy (a real life Dragon). There is a survival theme running through the story. To begin with is is how Sym survives on an uninhabited island and later it’s about the lizard.
In chapter 2 Syms rescues Darwin from the sea, but is then swept away and is washed up on a strange uninhabited island. On the island he is befriended by a lizard, who he names Farthing after his copper coloured eyes. She helps him survive on the island and escape the dragon.
I found some of part 2 harder to read. I think at that point I was still getting my head round there only being one human character and lots of the weird landscape of the Galapagos which is so well portrayed in Lindsays writing. If using in the classroom some real pictures of the Galapagos might help. I mention this as some readers may benefit from being read the beginning of part 2 as they will love the next bit.
I loved how Syms fiddle features in his survival story, and serves as a tool to introduce us to some of his back history and to help him survive the present. And the clever placing of the objects in the cave, which helped Syms and the eggs to escape the island was really clever storytelling, which could be used to help children write their own stories.
After Syms is rescued, Darwin’s ship makes its voyage back to London. In London we get to find out more about Farthing, the lizard and the dragons eggs. We also see Syms taking on a role in looking out for Farthing. There is also a great fictional connection to Queen Victoria.
The story covers a number of years in Darwins’s life, not just his expedition to Galapagos. With insights into the collating and publishing of his work on evolution in London, and the need for him to stay away from additional controversy as his ideas on the Origin of the Species were controversial enough at the time. Finally a the end Syms re-visits the island with one of his daughters.
Cleverly interweaving real facts and information with action packed adventure, and fantasy and cleverly twisted facts to create believable fiction this is not to be missed. A story that will keep you in the moment and which you will want to re-visit. Highly recommend for 9/10+ to 99 years.
Thank you to the publishers Chicken House books for a free advance copy.
Darwins’s Dragons is published on 7th January 2021. Available to pre-order from me an independent bookseller at Readers that Care. In a special 2 book bundle, choose 2nd book from a selection of over 20 titles.
Freddie’s Impossible Dream is based on a true story of the author Nigel Lungenmuss-Ward life, who overcome many obstacles to realise his dream of being in a band. Robbie who is now aged 9 years, illustrated the story. As my stop on the blog tour I wanted to find out how farther and son worked together to produce the book, and in particular how they collaborated to decided on the pictures for the story. I discovered how the inspiration for Crabby the crab came about and that Freddie Mercury’s life helped give Nigel the confidence to ask to join a band.
I asked Nigel:
1. Having decided to write and illustrate a book together, how did you decide to break up the story into pages that could be illustrated?
Initially, I wrote the story down in a notebook with some basic notes about what I imagined the illustrations might look like. I also showed Robbie some pictures that I took at the First Light Festival, as he did not attend this event. Secondly, I wrote the story in a sketch pad, placing the text where I wanted it on the page. Robbie then got to work on drawing the images. To start with, Robbie and I conflicted with what the pages should look like. His vision and mine didn’t really align.
However, I realised that I was killing his creativity for the project. So, I made the decision to let him complete the first draft before I saw any of the images. I am so glad that I made that decision and he really took off with the project and I think he did an outstanding job with them.
2. Where did the inspiration for the story come from?
The story is autobiographical. Freddie is me. It is the story about how I joined a band called The Rogue Shanty Buoys. We sing sea shanty songs. Our website is www.shanties.co.uk
I called the story Freddie’s Impossible Dream because the night before I went to the festival, and saw the band perform, I watched the Bohemian Rhapsody, about Freddie Mercury. The film inspired me so when I saw Stephen (The lead singer of the band) on the beach I decided to be brave and ask about joining the band. Maybe, if I hadn’t watched the film I wouldn’t be in the band and the book wouldn’t exist.
I asked Robbie (The IllustraTor):
3. I Notice a crab keeps appearing in the story. How did the idea of the crab come about?
The crab character in the story (Crabby) is my creation. Dad did not have a crab in the story at all to start with. Our publisher asked us to draw a back cover, as we hadn’t done one already. After completing it, dad said to me that it is a little bare and we need to add something else in. This is when I drew Crabby. Then I had lots of ideas of how we should add Crabby in other parts of the story too. I thought it would be funny if Crabby liked ice-cream and that he could skydive. Whenever I tell anyone about Crabby they always laugh, so I think people will like him.
4. What materials, techniques and/or tools did you use to draw the pictures?
I use a pencil – HB and a normal rubber. I just love drawing and I do a lot of it. I have filled up all my sketch books and I keep having to ask Farther Christmas for more. Sometimes I use fine liner pens to draw around the outline of the picture I am drawing.
5. What are your Top Tips for other children that might help them to illustrate a story?
- If you want to illustrate a book then find an author or write a story yourself.
- Practice drawing what is going to be in the book, like if the story is about cars the practise drawing cars.
- Finally be positive about it because I have done it and so can you.
You can pre-order a copy of the book. Straight from the publishers Grace Wright publishing, here.
Lori and Max by Catherine O’Flynn – Book 1
I absolutely loved book one in the Lori and Max detective series, book two is dues out in October so I thought it was a great time to do a mini review of it.
Two heart-warming characters with eye opening insights into how tough some kids lives can be. I also love Lori’s perceptive observations on her year 6 class. Combine this with an exciting detective narrative that keeps you turning the pages this is not to be missed. I would highly recommend it for children aged 9+ years.
- Max has moved house a lot and school a lot
- She has a book that she loves to look at called: ‘Wildlife Atlas of the World’ which has been with her on all her house moves. It’s the book she retreats to when things get tough. I love the way the author Catherine has interwoven this with the story line.
- Max lives above a fried chicken takeaway
- Her dad has a gambling problem and keeps taking the family money.
- Lives with her Nan Lori’s parents died when she was a baby
- A wannabe detective who would like a really life mystery to solve not just her Nan’s glasses down the back of the sofa!
- Lori keeps a secret notebook, where she writes down clues.
One day Lori has a real mystery to solve. When both Max and some money go missing Lori is the only person who doesn’t think Max has stolen it. Written in dual narrative, with separate chapter for each character you get great insights into what each is thinking. You really hope Lori will find out what is going on before it is too late. With walkie talkies instead of mobiles (as there is no reception), a links to a fisherman, the class hamster, a coded message with something about ‘dandelion and burdock’ there is plenty to intrigue and unravel.
Book 2 is out on 8th October: Lori and Max and the Book Thieves
You can buy the books from me at Readers that Care
There have been many original stories published for children aged 7 to 9 year years in the past few years. This is certainly one of them. Duncan versus the Googleys would come near the top of this list for its quirky, wacky and original story-line which make it a very unique story. Duncan is sent to live with his Great-Aunt for the summer holidays, who is not pleased to see him. However, all is not what is seems in Arthritis Hall. With the help of the caretakers daughter Ursula, Duncan begins to unravel what is going on. This story will keep readers of all ages intrigued and engaged with its unravelling plot lines and all sorts of quirky ‘incidents’ where you never quite sure what will happen next. It comes with a warning that if you prefer linear and predictable stories this may not be for you:
“It is only fair to warn you, before we go much further, that so much in this story is upside down, backwards, twisted, devious and downright peculiar. It is not a story for the faint-hearted. …….If you are the kind of person who likes things to plod along in a predictable fashion from A to B then this story is not for you. I would suggest you go and do something useful instead, like sorting out your socks. ” (p12)
One of the fascinating things about Kate Milner’s story it the way an online game world is intertwined with the mysterious goings on in a big large house. Duncan loves playing a game called Poo-Chi Planet. So does an old lady called Mrs Pettigrew! Duncan has three gaming friends that live in other parts of the world: RatboyRyan ( Australia) Kobe (Kenya) and a Chinese girl called Zhang who lives in Shanghai. When Duncan and Ursula get into a tricky situation with an unusual robotic monster called Fluffkin, can the coding and hacking skills of his gaming friends help them understand this monster in time to save the day?
If this hasn’t already got your attention there is plenty more going on. Duncan’s Great-Aunt is gathering a collection of crooks and villains for her big plan. They are gathering under the disguise of a ‘Knitting Circle’. The illustrator had added some of her own illustrations which really help to bring some of the characters to life. The Great-Aunt also seems to have some way of seeing what goes on everywhere (well almost everywhere) in this big large house, but luckily for Duncan Ursula knows many secret passageways. There is also a plot to unravel about who the Googleys are and what their connection is to Arthritis hall.
There is both a directness and unique perspective to the narrative voice. Which helps to bring it all together. It provided just the kind of wry humour and observational perspectives that I needed to distract me in these extra-ordinary times we are currently living in.
I would highly recommend it to children and adults aged 8 to 88 years. Please note because the plot jumps about a bit, some less confident readers may need an adult to share this story with them – but then again they may be more than happy to be absorbed in all the quirky and slightly off the wall detail!
You can buy a copy from my small online bookshop, Readers that Care, here.
Thanks to Pushkin Press for a free copy to review. You can find about other books they publish here.