Monday, 7 November 2016

The Princess and the Christmas Rescue

The sofa and mince pie adverts are on the telly, shops are pumping out seasonal music and last year's Christmas pudding has been opened to make way for this year's... and so we can't avoid it for very much longer.  Christmas is coming.

But fret not.  This year, we have created for you the perfect Christmas or pre-Christmas gift! It's cheaper than a trip to Starbucks and bursting with more wonderful pictures and rhymes than you would ever find in a John Lewes ad. 

Yes, it's the latest Princess Book from me, Sarah Warburton and Nosy Crow and I think you'll like it! (Well, I HOPE you will!)

We introduce yet another feisty, independent, clever Princesses who takes matters into her own hands to find solutions to her problems.

This book features Princess Eliza, who is brilliant at inventing things. She makes all sorts of gadgets and gizmos to keep herself busy in her crystal palace at the top of the world.  She only lacks one thing... Princess Eliza does not have any friends and she doesn't really know how to make any either.

Then, one day, she stumbles across Santa's workshop.  Santa is poorly and the elves are in a tizzy.  Luckily Princess Eliza gets out her rubber bands and paperclips, scissors and glue and has soon made some whizzy contraptions to help the elves.  Can she help get everything ready in time for Christmas?  And will she make any friends along the way?  

Well, this IS a Christmas story!

Find it in all good bookshops or buy a signed copy from me via my website.

Buy a signed book here

Happy Shopping!

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Diversity in Books

Over the past ten years I have spent a lot of time in schools, whipping children up into a frenzy of excitement about books and reading and writing.  It has been nothing but joy for me to see faces light up and hands shoot up bursting with ideas.

There is no doubt in my mind that books can inspire children. Books can give children a different perspective on life and can really open up their imaginations and truly raise their aspirations across the board.

I often have teachers approach me at the end of the day telling me about a child in their class who has written a story that takes up a whole page.  A child who had barely ever written a sentence up until that day.  I can't tell you how truly satisfying this is.

But visiting schools has also opened up my eyes to a world I had no idea existed.  A world I am shocked and saddened to discover is all too common.

I was in a school a couple of weeks ago in area two stone throws from some of the biggest mansions and richest footballers-wives' haunts.  An excellent school filled with bright images and a brand new library.  A school were 78% of parents are unemployed, and 68% have NEVER had a job.

Two years ago, when the current headteacher arrived, he began asking children about their aspirations. What did they want to be when they grew up?  Of the some 400 children in school only two... TWO wanted a job. One wanted to work at the local Co-op.  The other wanted to work at ASDA because it was further away and a job there would mean she had to learn to drive a car.
Another child, a boy, seven years old said his dad told him he had to get a girl pregnant so he could get a house.

Are you shocked?  You should be.

These are children who rarely leave their estate.  Many have few or no books at home.  Few visit the library because it is an hour away.  And what is more shocking is that this is not unusual.  I have visited scores of schools in similar situations.  And we wonder why these children have no aspirations?

Over the past two years, this school has worked tirelessly to bring in working adults to talk to children, they have created a beautiful library at the heart of the school where children are bombarded with books.  They walk through book shelves to access their classrooms. They walk past books to get to the hall.  Any child excluded from a classroom for poor behaviour will be sat next to a bookcase, from which they are free to pick up a book and read.  And over the past two years aspirations have started to improve.

During my visit children told me they wanted to be:  an author or a dancer, a firefighter, a footballer, a kangaroo, a doctor.  This is progress, and yet I do wonder just how many of these kids will break free from the cycle they are in and pull themselves up enough to lead more fulfilled lives.  Perhaps that is a white middle-class judgement, perhaps their parents feel they DO have fulfilled lives.  I don't want to patronise or judge, but I can't help thinking that these children deserve more.

At the other end of the spectrum, I have worked with children in private schools who are so disciplined and so channelled in their thinking that they find it hard to let go and have fun.  One four year old told me he wants to be a banker AND a lawyer.  Four years old!

Which brings me to the point of this piece.

Children need role models.  They need to see a world beyond the end of their own street.  They need to see and identify with lives that are different from their own. Books give them that.  And I feel now, more than ever, how important it is for the books we make to reflect the diversity of the culture we live in.  Children need to identify with the characters  they are reading about.  They need to be able to imagine themselves in the shoes of the characters they see and read about.  They need books to be relevant and accessible no matter what their own background may be. No matter what their home life may be like. No matter what their parents expectations may be.

For me, a vital part of creating books that really speak to children are the illustrations.  I admit that when I first started writing, the thought didn't even enter my head.  Because the only people I ever really met were white, middle-class people like me.  But having spent so much time in schools, some with up to thirty languages spoken, my eyes have been well and truly opened and I now make it clear with all my editors that I want my books to reflect at least some of the great diversity of race, culture and socioeconomic backgrounds of the children (and parents) that I'm writing for.

So I am very proud to be working with Lauren Tobia on a first experiences series for Walker Books. Lauren has a fantastic track record of creating beautiful, culturally diverse illustrations.  This series is no exception and I'm absolutely thrilled to be part of this project.

I hope that when you read my other books, you might notice that I include both male and female characters. I include characters with different skin colours and from different socio-economic backgrounds.  Most of this is hopefully subtle.  I'm not about producing in-your-face messages. I just want to create books that children from all backgrounds will love and identify with.

And I hope other authors and illustrators, editors and designers will work more and more to do this too.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

How to Save a Superhero is Here!

What on earth is Albie up to now?  He's supposed to be tidying his bedroom, but when someone steals his last puzzle piece, things get a bit hairy.

Can Albie save his new friends Scoot and Rascal from the clutches of The Collector?

Will he manage to tidy his room before Mum's timer goes off?

You'll find all this and more in Albie's latest adventure!

PLUS... Get your hands on loads of AWESOME How to Save  a Superhero activities - They;'re all FREE!!

Take me to the Superhero Activities

How to Save a Superhero is gorgeously illustrated by the Ed-the-Incredible Eaves and published by the totally Supertastic Simon and Schuster.   Get your signed copy now in my Bookshop.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

The Princess and the Giant East Midlands Award WIN!!


WE WON the Geoffrey Trease Prize for Children's Writing! 

This is an extra, discretionary award only rarely given, so we are extra-super pleased to have won it!!

Thank you to everyone at the awards, and to Sarah Warburton for her outstanding illustrations and to Nosy Crow for publishing it!

I'm over the moon to bring you more award news! This time it's a little closer to home.

The Princess and the Giant has been shortlisted for the East Midlands Book Award.  This is a regional award open to writers based in the East Midlands. It's the first time a picture book has ever been shortlisted so getting this far is totally amazing!

There are six books in all, including novels by Steven Dunne, Tom Preston, Jonathon Taylor, Jess Green and Eve Makis.  Winners will be announced at Lowdham Book Festival in June.

The prize is £1000 so keep your fingers crossed and Sarah Warburton and I might just get a fancy afternoon tea out!

The Princess and the Giant is illustrated by Sarah Warburton and published by Nosy Crow. Find out more here.

Find out more about the East Midlands Book Award

The Princess and the Presents wins Magnolia Award

I am delighted to announce that The Princess and the Presents, published by Nosy Crow and illustrated by Sarah Warburton, has won the Magnolia Children's Choice Award for the State of Mississippi USA!

The Award aims to "introduce the children of Mississippi to current children's literature and instil a love of reading."

Lindsay Beck, Secretary, and PreK-2nd Selection Committee Chair for the Award, said, "Your book was a hit with our committee and I can also say as a school librarian, who went through the voting process with all of my students, that it was a hit with them too! Please accept my congratulations on behalf of the committee and the children of Mississippi."

I am planning a skype session with Ms Beck's class so watch this space for photos and more!

Find out more about the awards here.

Find out more about The Princess and the Presents

King's School Macclesfield and Simply Books

I had a great day with pre-school, reception and infant children at The King's School Macclesfield.  Here we are posing for a photo, kindly sent to me by Simon Carter, press photographer for Macclesfield newspapers.  

Children grew their own beanstalks, designed their own germs, made up rhymes and joined in with LOTS of stories.  I do love being in school! 

Infant Vice-Principle, Emma Warburton, told me that the children were buzzing after their sessions with me and she kept hearing snippets of conversation about what they had been doing.  Having me in was a rather brave move, as it was their first day back after the Easter holidays,  But the kids were great and it was a good way to get them in the mood as they are spending the whole week off-curriculum to focus on books and reading.  Bravo King's!

The school got in touch after working with local bookseller Simply Books, based in Bramhall. Simply Books provide a fantastic service for schools in their area, from sending goodie-boxes of books beautifully wrapped, to stocking whole libraries and advising schools on new publications and author visits.  They have a wonderful shop and cafe with home-made cakes, so do drop in if you get a chance.  

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Sheffield Writing Competition - Win a Lego Fire Station!

Calling all Sheffield primary school children!  

How would you like to win a fantastic Lego Fire Station set, worth over £100??

I'm excited to announce that the South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service have launched a writing competition - and this fabulous Lego set is the prize!  

All you have to do is write a story or some non-fiction about The Day in the Life of a Firefighter.

Entries must include at least one fire-safety message.

The fire service have invited me to judge the shortlisted entries which is super-exciting as I know there are a lot of really fantastic writers in Sheffield.  The competition is open to children aged 5-11, and the closing date is 13 May 2016.

So get out your pencils, pens, paper, tablets, phones or computers and get writing!  Runners up will receive a signed book from me!

Click here to find out more.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Albie Books - Whole Term on Curriculum

I had a very inspiring day at Sandringham Primary in E7 London last week. The Year 1s have been using Albie books by me and Ed Eaves for the whole term. They've found the books especially helpful when teaching expression, making stories exciting and writing new stories. I was bowled over at the quality of teaching in this amazing school. Here's a picture of one of their displays.

Check our their blog posts!

Thursday, 17 March 2016

The Invincibles are Almost Here!

I am extremely excited to announce that Sarah Warburton and I have been working away at a new series with award-winning publishers Nosy Crow.  It's called The Invincibles and the first book is out in April.

This project is especially exciting for me as its something I've been working on for a very long time. It started life over seven years ago.  Yes SEVEN! And it is very close to my heart because the main character, Nell Henry, is very much like me.  Her best friend, Freddie Spoon is based on MY best friend when I was around six or seven years old.  He was called Richard Marvin but everyone called him "Diddy."  In reality we may have only been friends for a few weeks or months, but he must have made a huge impression on me and I often think back to that time.

Anyway, these stories are full of the sort of crazy antics that I enjoyed as a child - fishing for frog spawn, building dens, tracking wild beasts and having picnics in trees. 

And they also include some of the more daring escapades that I WOULD have got up to, if I'd had Freddie Spoon by my side. Things like rescuing piglets and saving little old ladies from robbers.

So Nosy Crow have done this awesome thing where you can read the first part of the first story. How cool is that?  It's called The Piglet Pickle and you can find it here

Find  out more about The Invincibles

So go on, have a nosy.  You know you want to!

Oh, and Diddy Marvin, if you're out there, do get in touch!

Saturday, 5 March 2016

It's World Book Day Week Month Term!

Every year around mid February, I start visiting schools in preparation for World Book Day.  It's a fantastic celebration and I love spending time with all the children, especially when they are dressed up as their favourite book characters.  

Luckily schools are flexible, which means that, for me, World Book Day lasts for most of a school term!  

This year, I spent the day itself at Manningham Library in Bradford with 35 pre-schoolers and around 55 Year 1s and 2s. We had a lovely time reading stories, including lots of actions, joining in and songs.  

The little ones loved meeting Whiffy Wilson and rummaging through his wash bag, while the older ones got active digging the garden and running away from the T-Rex in How to Grow a Dinosaur.  

After each session, children had lots of fun colouring in Whiffy Wilson in his bath and giving him lots of bubbles.  Older children made Dragon Chompers and took home lots of ideas and a story sheet to make up their own Albie adventures.

Visit my website for lots of fun activities to do at home and in school.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Potty Training? Here you go!

This cute little lad wants to go dragon hunting with his cousin, Sir Brian the Bold but he can't get his armour on because of his huge nappy.  

What is he going to to?

Well, he's going to use the potty of course. Only, he can't decide quite how it works.  Oh dear!

Don't worry, there's nothing gruesome in this book. Only wonderful illustrations by the hugely talented Laura Ellen Anderson.

Published by Orchard Books on 5 May 2016.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Whiffy Wilson - one of The Guardian's Top Ten Worriers

In a recent article in The Guardian, Georgia Pritchett identified her Top 10  worriers in children's literature.  They range from the adorable Piglet in Winnie the Pooh to Scaredy Squirrel, a wonderful character created by Melanie Watts.  

I was very chuffed to discover that the list also includes Whiffy Wilson! Here's what Georgia has to say:

"This is one of my favourite books. It is about a Wolf who is scared of baths. I read it to my stinky children a lot. It is a rhyming story, skilfully written and with superb illustrations. I hope Scaredy Squirrel never meets Whiffy Wilson..."

Thank you so much Georgia!

Dinosaurs at Russell Scott Primary School

The Year 1 and 2s at Russell Scott Primary, Denton, have been having lots of fun with How to Grow a Dinosaur. Look what happened in their playground the other day!

They've done some brilliant writing and are reading the story with excellent expression! Well done Year 1 and 2!