Great books for great readers

Happy Hallowe’en… and a happy, published Holly!

Happy Hallowe’en to you all!

And, while October 31 is meant to be a night of frights, we have some delights here too, as Holly won her first ever short story competition – Waterstones Oxford’s Terrifyingly Short Story Competition 2014. To say she was thrilled would be a complete understatement.

Holly next to the display of her short story next to Dave Shelton's new chiller 'Thirteen Chairs'.

Holly next to the display of her short story next to Dave Shelton’s new chiller ‘Thirteen Chairs’.

Holly was invited, along with the runners-up, to a special event with author Dave Shelton, who has just published a chilling ghost story called Thirteen Chairs. Dave read the opening pages of his book, which left us all desperate for more. Luckily for Holly, she received a copy of the book with a token to spend in Waterstones, and asked Mr Shelton to sign the book after his reading. We were also treated to a short story, previously unpublished, which really was quite terrifying, in the vein of MR James.

Dave Shelton signing a copy of his new book Thirteen Chairs for Holly. He drew a little grave stone with RIP on it too!

Dave Shelton signing a copy of his new book Thirteen Chairs for Holly. He drew a little grave stone with RIP on it too!

Winning the competition was wonderful enough but we were amazed and ecstatic to see that Waterstones had printed special copies of it, bound in red ribbon, and with a fab illustration to accompany it. Dave Shelton had also written a foreword explaining why Holly’s story was a winner.

Holly's story 'Sophie in the Cellar' was handed out in specially printed and illustrated copies - an extra treat!

Holly’s story ‘Sophie in the Cellar’ was handed out in specially printed and illustrated copies – an extra treat!

We will post the story shortly – it’s been a long day and night here and we’re tired. But we’d love to share it with all our readers and extend the Hallowe’en spookiness a little longer!

Stay well and stay safe tonight everyone!

Our one and only pumpkin from the garden, living up to its purpose (and tasting delicious in a pie!).

Our one and only pumpkin from the garden, living up to its purpose (and tasting delicious in a pie!).


Review: Dog on Stilts

Today’s review is of Dog on Stilts, by James Thorp and Angus MacKinnon

image courtesy of

What it’s about:

This book is about a dog who feels too ordinary and wants to be different so he builds a pair of stilts and goes around feeling great on them. But who knows what twists and turns this book is going to take?

Holly’s review:

An amusingly written book by the Superhairies (James and Angus) with a moral that says you are fine the way you are. The pictures in this book are well coordinated and based around the same colours, which I like. This book is written in rhyme and has a nice rhythm to it to keep it going at the same pace throughout the book.

I enjoyed the story because it is a well written book and I love rhymes. It’s so funny and you want to read it. It’s amazing! The books by James Thorp and Angus MacKinnon are always a pleasure to read.

In conclusion I recommend this book to younger children. Some grown-up children might think they are too grown up to read it because it is a picture book but I would. I can’t wait to be seeing more of the Superhairies’ books!

Sam’s review:

Books with morals always run the risk of preaching to their readers but this book is never in danger of doing so. The clever rhymes and marvellous pictures make this a fast-paced, amusing romp, telling children that being themselves is just fine without ever dipping into sentimentality. In fact, Dog is not totally convinced at the end either, showing how we often don’t accept a fact just because others tell us to. The illustrations are lively and done in MacKinnon’s unique style, with vibrant colours that leap from the page and draw the reader in. Holly summed it up nicely when she said we look forward to each book that this talented pair produce – they are a breath of fresh air in children’s publishing.

Disclaimer: We were sent this book to review by the publishers, Digital Leaf, but all views expressed here are our own and were not in any way influenced.


In celebration of ‘Book’

Today was the peak in the ‘Books are my Bag’ 2014 calendar, with many independent bookshops celebrating what they do and the wonderful products they sell. So what better time to review John Agard’s new and marvellous title Book?

I was sent the title to review by We Love This Book, a website for which I review regularly – mainly children’s and young adults’ books but occasionally adults’ titles too. You can read my review here: but I couldn’t resist posting a piece on it on Childtastic because, well, that’s what this website is all about!

image courtesy of

As a book lover, this was a piece of heaven. Agard, in his gentle and poetic style, takes the reader through the history of books, from a time before we ever had the written word, right up to e-books and Kindles. Book is the narrator, spilling plenty of secrets and trivia which delights even the mildest bibliophile (and there is information on where that word came from, too). The strapline says: ‘My name is Book and I’ll tell you the story of my life’, which sounds like a huge undertaking but Book is a slim volume, which packs a huge amount of knowledge into its small pages. It can be read in one go or broken into chunks and is suitable for reading aloud to younger audiences too, with black and white illustrations, poems, quotes, and excerpts from other books.

There is a gentle political message in Agard’s writing, cleverly woven into Book’s place in public libraries. We find out that ‘there were libraries in Rome as early as the first century AD’ although they weren’t open to the public till the middle of the nineteenth century ‘for free’ and that, once upon a time, signs outside libraries read ‘NO CHILDREN OR DOGS ALLOWED’. It is wonderful, therefore, that children can have access to the wealth of learning and possibilities that libraries provide… if they are allowed a future. At this point, ‘Book’ alerts us to the danger of losing libraries if funding is cut, saying ‘When politicians talk about closing a library to save money, I feel like knocking them over the head. And my hardback spine can give a jolly hard knock, I can tell you.’ If you have ever loved libraries, you can understand this sentiment, along with the wisdom of the Ancient Greeks who called a library ‘the “medicine chest of the soul”‘.

I urge you to buy Book for anyone and everyone who loves books. Or even likes them. And possibly those who are wavering between appreciation and indifference. It’s one of my top books of the year, and will stay with me for a long time.


Why I like the Harry Potter books

Today’s post comes from Holly, who is writing about why she likes the Harry Potter books so much! Over to Holly…

In Year 4, at primary school, which was three years ago, I read the Harry Potter books. I loved them so much I thought I better write a review about them as nothing really matches up to them.

I was influenced to read the books after a friend said how good they were. I was six when we read the first one but never got round to reading the rest. When I was 9, I started reading them again from book two and couldn’t get my head out of them. By the time I had finished them I was sad and had to try and find something else but my head was so full of Harry Potter and still is.

The Harry Potter series is amazing. As you read them your imagination takes over and images fill your mind and encourages you to read more. The words wash around your mind like music. After one adventure is finished you start the next one. You begin to have a desperate longing to finish the books but when you get to the end you begin to feel sad.

When I finished the series I was disappointed because there was no more Harry Potter and I just had to find some other books. I just found that I didn’t want it to end. I think you only get that feeling with books and you can’t get that feeling with TV.

The Harry Potter books are wonderful, magical books to read and I would encourage anyone to read. They just unravel you into such a mysterious, exciting tale. I would like to thank JK Rowling for making me enjoy reading more than I ever have before. I would also like to thank JK Rowling for writing these amazing enthralling stories.

TIP for Harry Potter fans: Go to the Harry Potter Studios – they are amazing.

Do you like Harry Potter? Which is your favourite book? Or your favourite character?


Listening to a literary heroine: Judith Kerr

Last night, I listened to the wonderful Judith Kerr talk to the Sunday Times’ Children’s Book Editor Nicolette Jones at Lady Margaret Hall in Oxford. I heard about her inspirations, her creative practice, her incredible experiences as a German-Jewish refugee in World War II and her love of cats.

At the risk of sounding unattractively gushing, I have long-awaited the opportunity to see one of my literary heroines in person. On a couple of previous occasions, the events were cancelled at the last minute as Kerr, who is an amazing 91 this year, was taken ill. Third time did prove to be lucky though and I am so glad that I had this opportunity, and in my home town too.

My first exposure to Judith Kerr was when I lived in Canada, when my class read When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, Kerr’s fictionalized autobiography of her family’s experiences as refugees during the Second World War. I always remember my  horror that Anna, the young Judith, chose a games compendium as her one toy to take when they left their house, leaving her beloved pink rabbit behind. Anna believed, with the optimism of youth, that she would soon be home to collect her rabbit. Unfortunately this would never happen.

I read the book just before I moved to the UK from Canada and my mother and I were packing up our things to take. Unlike Anna, I was allowed to take my cuddly toys (the moving man even insisted upon it) and they were placed carefully in a crate, to travel slowly by boat and arrive 6 months later. My beloved rabbit Hoppy travelled with me though by air. She was too precious to risk leaving behind or getting lost at sea (which one of our boxes did).

Hoppy, my beloved childhood companion

Hoppy, my beloved childhood companion

Hoppy profile

The proof of how well Hoppy is loved is in her lack of one ear!

For ages, I worried about what had happened to Anna’s rabbit and whether Hitler’s men did take the toy.

A pink rabbit appears in, I think, the only Mog book we hadn’t read till last night, when I dashed out to buy it after the talk: Mog and Bunny. The toy looks incredibly like the pink rabbit of the memoir’s name, though Kerr laughed this off as coincidence:

image courtesy of (who hosted the talk)

Kerr told us that the idea for the story came from one of her cats (she has lived with 9 to this day), who walked around mewing with a toy rabbit hanging out her mouth and treated it like a kitten until she was old enough to have kittens herself. When she lined up her kittens, the toy rabbit would be there too, though the cat was becoming increasingly puzzled as to its inactivity. In the end, the cat gave it a gentle nudge towards independence by leaving it in a quiet corner of the garden with a dead mouse beside it for sustenance.

Little gems like these are fascinating to hear and Judith Kerr related them with warmth and humour. Despite attempts by some critics to read a deeper psychological meaning into her texts, Kerr humours their theories – saying they are ‘good’ but gently rejecting them. Why did she choose a tiger as the unannounced visitor in The Tiger Who Came to Tea? A tiger was an apt symbol for a Nazi, surely? And the story a metaphor for the fear she and her family felt as refugees fleeing from Hitler’s men? Smiling, Kerr replied ‘A Nazi might come into your house and eat everything there but would you cuddle it?’

One person asked whether the cat that can be seen on one page in her new book The Crocodile Under the Bed was a nod to Mog (the two look remarkably similar). Kerr smiled and said if so it wasn’t a conscious choice – she just likes to fill blank spaces with cats, which she said are easier to draw than geese, for example.

Her most recent research centres on seals and she was keen to extol the virtues of Google. She had previously planned to travel to a seal sanctuary in Scotland to observe and draw them but then discovered a plethora of images within seconds by just Googling ‘seals’. She was quite animated about the ease of the internet and how she now communicates with her editor nearly entirely by email. But she still prefers more traditional forms of artwork in her own creations, with pencils and paper her preferred form.

I loved hearing about the work, the inspiration but what really struck a chord with me was Kerr’s attitude to life. She naturally eschews self-pity for a genuine and infectious optimism and joy in life. She firmly states that she enjoyed her experience as a refugee, recalling her delight at viewing Paris from the window of their  run-down rooms, telling her father how lucky they were to  be living that kind of life. She says that this view is not just her own either – other refugee children felt similarly excited. Kerr admitted that life during the Blitz was difficult, but preferred to focus on how lovely people were in times of hardship, especially when her parents spoke English with very heavily accented German accents. She carries this pleasure with the small things in everyday life to this day, leaving everyone who listened to her marveling at her happiness. It is this quality that shines through her words and pictures and no doubt will continue enchanting generations to come.



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