Posted in general and welcome

Our future writers

What a wonderful start to today.

After a week of mud-slinging, bitterness and tragedy in news stories and on social media, it was wonderful to hear Chris Evans and his team celebrating our future writers via the annual 500 words competition.

Back in February, I was sent a tranche of entries to judge in the 10-13 years-old category. Even at this early stage I was struck by the imagination of these young people. It was hard to select a shortlist because I wanted to reward everyone who had entered for taking the time and effort, for daring to put pen to paper and produce a complete story in such few words (it’s actually pretty hard!).

As I listened to the winning entries, I had to keep reminding myself that the writers were all under the age of 14. The ability and talent were amazing, inspirational and a salve to the unkindness and sadness in the rest of the world. There were hilarious tales of prosthetics for slugs, a beard for a lady, and a rather yobbish Miss Riding Hood who increasingly drives a polite Mr Wolf to despair. Then a tale filled with horror and suspense based on Jack and Jill which made me envious as a wannabe ghost story writer. One of the most moving entries was by Lauren Cook, in the 5-9 years-old category, called The Kindest of Strangers, which looks at how a hungry, homeless man gives his last piece of food to a girl he thinks is even hungrier than him.

As David Walliams commented, on the standard of entries: “I feel like giving up.”

You can read all the shortlisted stories here:

So today, after a week of becoming increasingly more despondent every time I look at the headlines or read updates on social media, I have felt my heart lift in happiness and gladness. We have some truly awesome future writers out there to look forward to. Let’s celebrate their success, and the wonderful initiative of 500 Words, which seeks to champion children’s writing. Let’s thank Chris Evans and his team for running this with such enthusiasm and commitment every year and for making it the fun and inspirational event that it is. And let’s applaud the actors who help bring the stories to life and thrill the young writers whose work they read.

You all did good today.

Thank you.


Posted in general and welcome

Winnie the Pooh for Prime Minister? Why not?

While adults are getting geared up for the election and heading off to polling stations (I hope) to exercise their constitutional right, I decided to dedicate my Library Lunchtime session today to the importance of voting with some children from Year 2. I grabbed a potted biography of Emmeline Pankhurst and sat them down to listen and debate.

The biography was specially written for their age group and had authentic photographs from last century. One they particularly wanted to see was Mrs Pankhurst being carried away by a policeman after protesting outside of Buckingham Palace. The book explained what the suffragette movement was and how she started it.

Her life story inspired the children to think about what it would be like to live in a society where not everyone has the right to vote but it had a few tricky moments – particularly when relating the violent methods the suffragettes used to put their view across – smashing windows with hammers, etc. The children ooohed and ahhhed about this, with mischief sparkling in their eyes and I felt a moment of conflict – I totally owe my right to vote to these brave and unstoppable women but I also had to remind the children that we can’t solve problems with violence, or else they’d go and clobber one another on the playground. Hmmmm…

We also looked at the punishments inflicted on these women for trying to stand up for their rights, including imprisonment. When I revealed that the women went on hunger strike to protest, the children were astounded by this (having just had lunch). When I then said that an act was passed releasing starving women home until they had gained their strength and then imprisoning them again once they were stronger (the suffragettes called this the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’),  this caused more bafflement. I asked them to guess how many times Ms Pankhurst was released and re-imprisoned. “One thousand!” yelled one child and I had to disappoint them by saying “Eight”. I thought this was quite enough but … you know … kids.

The children had a basic knowledge of the suffragettes and were quite interested to hear more about them. When I revealed that Emily Davison had died on this day in 1913 after being knocked down by the King’s horse, they were amazed by the coincidence in date.

This then went rather off-topic, as is typical of discussions with young children. When they heard that Ms Davison had died, they started telling me about all their relatives who had died, and then asking each other what the cause of death was, and then talking about attending (or not) the parades (funerals) of family members. Apparently having white hair can be a cause of death – I did not previously know this.

Anyway, I then asked who they would vote for if they could today. A couple of girls shouted “Jeremy Corbyn!”, having heard his name a lot at home. The majority of children didn’t really know the electoral options, so I widened the scope. If they could pick anyone – real or imaginary – to lead the country, who would they choose?

One girl picked herself – “Because I like me!”

Another picked Jesus – “Because he was a very nice man”

And another picked Winnie the Pooh – “I like him!”

I think that’s a pretty good field, actually.

Which fictitious character would you vote for?


Posted in general and welcome, picture books

Rhyming seating plans for animals

When deciding where animals should sit, the best plan is to do so through rhymes. Or so says Frog in Oi Dog! the hilarious follow-up to award-winning Oi Frog! by Kes and Clare Gray and Jim Field, published by Hodder Children’s.,204,203,200_.jpg

What it’s about
Frog is fed up with dogs sitting on frogs (understandably)…

.. so he’s decided to change the rules: ‘From now on, dogs sit on logs, not frogs!’
And that’s not the only change. All the other animals in the book are reassigned, such as:

  • cats on gnats
  • whales on nails

  • and – the children’s favourite – elephants must sit on smelly pants:

But what will frog sit on? I’ll give you one hint – it won’t be on logs. Instead, the frog in our story decides that amphibians like him can sit on something far more comfortable and non-rhyming.

The children loved this book – it’s fast-paced, witty, unpredictable and rhyming. The frog is cheeky – another big plus for a child audience – and he’s also pretty clever, too. Reading it aloud encouraged the children to participate in guessing what rhymes the frog might come up with for the different animals. At the end, there’s also an opportunity to test their memory skills when Cat and Dog restate the different seating options.

As part of our weekly Library Lunchtime, I decided to base an activity on the book. While we all admired the frog’s cunning, we felt that he needed some punishment for the outcomes he inflicted on his acquaintances. Therefore, I sketched a quick and rather bad version of Frog on a piece of paper (sorry Jim Field!) and asked the children to come up with their own ideas for what he could sit on. The results were interesting, but also pretty violent (worrying!):


(L-R) Tom was actually quite kind and allowed Frog to sit on a scooter, while Gabe gave him thorns and Isabella allocated him a volcanic seat with a dog sitting on his head.


(L-R) Seth felt that a bomb with nails was suitable, Hayden preferred a volcano with stinging nettles and a gun, and Sabrina chose a bomb with fire.


(L-R) Martina chose stinging nettles plus thorns in the Frog’s pants (ouch), Renee thought fireworks were good and another child, who wished to remain anonymous, afflicted the Frog with superglue and wasps.


(L-R) Isabella gave the Frog a bomb and fire, Alessia chose nails and a volcano plus some sort of virulent virus that causes spots, and Jillian condemned him to Super-Duper Sticky Honey.

We’re super-excited to hear that a new book in the series – Oi Cat! – will be published this September!,204,203,200_.jpg


Posted in general and welcome, picture books

An alphabet of animals

You may have heard of an armadillo or an orangutan but if I asked you what a ‘quoll’ was, would you know the answer?

I didn’t when I first browsed through Graham Carter’s beautiful book Alphamals (alphabetical animals!) so I was fascinated to learn that it is a small but fierce creature that ‘sleeps through the day then wakes at night. With a long, dark snout and speckled coat, he prowls the shady forest floor, feasting on birds and other beasts.’

Carter’s book is an A to Z of animals, insects, birds and fish. Each double-page spread has, on the left side, a description of the creature (written in a stanza form) and on the right side, an illustration. The colours are gorgeous and inviting – 26 pieces of art within a children’s book (there is only one creature per letter). Sometimes the exact details of the animals are a little unclear so perhaps it doesn’t work as a reference book, but it is certainly something that is visually stunning while still having interesting information.

I showed the book to the children in my library and everyone pored over it. When we looked at the quoll it started off a conversation about nonsense animals (even though the quoll is real!) so we decided it would be good fun to invent an animals, either just by creating a whacky name from nowhere or by combining the names of different real animals.

To aid the children in their creativity I also read them Spike Milligan’s poem, ‘The Hipporhinostricow’

Such a beast is the Hipporhiostricow

How it got so mixed up we’ll never know how;

It sleeps all day, and whistles all night,

And it wears yellow socks which are far too tight.


If you laugh at the Hipporhinostricow,

You’re bound to get into an awful row;

The creature is protected you see

From silly people like you and me.


The results were very interesting:


Left to right, we have:

a Higer: Higer is a horse and a tiger it / likes to eat nuts and tires / it always gets tangled in a wire / They hire there job before they / get fired don’t come next to Higer / or he’ll give you a rhymer and that / rhymer is me.

a Mimi-Lily-Cuty: There is a creature in the forest / Its name is Mimi-Lily Cuty…

a Noctopus: a Noctopus is an octopus / that lives in the night, / It doesn’t like the light, / because it’s to bright. / It’s black with white spots / that don’t look like dots / The fish that it eats / are kept under locks / because it doesn’t want / them adventuring near the docks.

a Poodle Doodle: a Hoodle that eats noodles / and likes to doodle on woodles / and toodles don’t come next to Poodle / or he’ll give you a flue-doll

a Wider: A whale and a spider / create an enormous Wider / It loves looking at pies / With all eight eyes.

Which is your favourite?

Alphamals, by Graham Carter, is published by Big Picture Press.,204,203,200_.jpg

Posted in general and welcome

A little self-promotion

Normally I use this blog to review and publicise work that other authors, editors, illustrators and publishers do, but tonight I wanted to share something that I’ve just set up.

As many of you know, I am a freelance writer, editor and general wordsmith and I’ve worked on a huge range of projects and for a diverse variety of clients. (A little-known fact: my first real freelance gig was writing an article on tattoos for the sadly now defunct women’s magazine New Woman:)


After the birth of my daughter, I became a Community Manager for a parenting website called Babyworld and specialised in articles on parenting (surprise, surprise!). As my daughter grew older, this blog came into being, alongside my other writing and editing projects for clients such as Oxfam and the National Literacy Trust. And I was lucky enough to have some time to pursue a second degree in Literature, then an MA in Children’s Literature, which helped me to get my current part-time job as a primary school librarian and as a writer for Scholastic.

Now I want to build on all this and develop working relationships with others in publishing – in children’s literature and beyond – so I have created my own website: I hope you visit it and like it! And I hope that I can report back in time with good news.

Thank you for letting me indulge in a little bit of self-promotion :-).



Posted in blog tours, general and welcome

Happy, Sad, Feeling Glad Blog Tour comes to Childtastic!

Here at Childtastic, we are delighted to be part of the ‘Happy, Sad, Feeling Glad’ blog tour to celebrate award-winning author, illustrator and animator Yasmeen Ismail’s new book, by the same name, published on 3 April by Laurence King Publishing.


Happy, Sad, Feeling Glad is a lovely book that not only talks about the different emotions we all feel but also encourages young artists to get creative in helping Dog, Cat and Donkey when their feelings get a little too much. For example, when Dog and Cat are scared, Yasmeen asks you to draw what might be frightening them, while, in another scene, dog is nervous when swimming, while cat is relaxed. What is it that causes their different reactions?

Yasmeen Ismail in her Studio on 28.2.17

Photo of Yasmeen Ismail’s studio and book, by Olivia Hemingway

As usual, Yasmeen’s drawings are fun and full of life, which makes it easy for the reader to want to join in the fun – even me, the worst artist I know! This would make a perfect present for any child, but particularly one who loves exploring through images, or who perhaps needs a little help in expressing their emotions.

Yasmeen Ismail’s Five Favourite Children’s Books

Yasmeen Ismail in her Studio on 28.2.17

Photo of Yasmeen Ismail, by Olivia Hemingway

As part of the tour, Yasmeen has kindly shared with us her five favourite children’s books and why she has chosen them, so read and enjoy!



5 Melrose and Croc: Together at Christmas by Emma Chichester Clark

This was the first book I bought my new baby nephew (nearly a decade ago), and essentially the first time I had been in the children’s section of a bookstore since I was a child. It was before I became an illustrator and I was so excited to be choosing him a book. It was strange because these books were always there waiting for me, but it was as if there was an unspoken rule that unless you are a kid or buying for kids I could only shop for grown up books. All that changed rapidly, and after decades this was the story that I picked up. Although contemporary it felt immediately classic. The story makes me cry.

4 The Rabbits’ Wedding by Garth Williams

I found this book again (after maybe 30 years since last seeing it) just recently. I saw the pictures and I knew that I already knew this book. It was like being reunited with a very old friend. Reading it again I still have the same feelings. It is the most romantic story, tinged with a little sadness.

3 Gaston by Christian Robinson and Kelly Di Pucchio

I bought this book without really looking. I just saw it and I immediately knew that I had to have it. The story is so very charming. It’s extremely well written, and the illustrations are just perfect. The composition from a dog’s point of view. Just everything is so classic and pure. A perfect picture book. Just perfect.

2 Burglar Bill by Janet and Allan Ahlberg 

Another old friend. I saw this and nearly cried. I picked it up and kept repeating “I remember this! I remember!”. I remembered the baby in his nappy made out of big towels, and the naughty burglar, and the box that the baby was kept in, the cat and the rainbow baby-gro. I remembered the lunch that Burglar Bill made, and the fish and chips he stole. My heart was fit to burst. A very evocative book with a great story too.

1 All the Harry Potter books! JK Rowling

Well, this is obviously self-explanatory. For me, everything that JK Rowling writes is just perfect. I am comforted by these books. They are brilliant. Just brilliant.

We’d like to thank Yasmeen for including Childtastic on her blog tour and wish her all the best with the publication of Happy, Sad, Feeling Glad. If you’re looking for a wonderful alternative to chocolate this Easter, this would be the perfect present.

Posted in general and welcome, picture books

M’encanta aquest llibre (sempre!)

Today’s review is of a book by a writer and illustrator from Barcelona – Anna Llenas – so I couldn’t resist attempting a little Catalan in honour of her work, and in memory of the months I spent in the city over 20 years ago. I just hope I got it right!

The expression “opposites attract” is much used to describe relationships, and I can’t think of a better summary for the subject matter of Llenas’s new book I Love You (Nearly Always), published by Templar.

In this delightful picture book, Roly – a woodlouse – and Rita – a firefly – are best buddies … who sometimes get on each other’s nerves. Rita thinks that Roly’s suit is too hard, while Roly thinks that Rita shines too brightly. The two get into a massive row one day and the future’s not looking too bright for their relationship (even with Rita’s natural glow). Roly has even gone to the trouble of creating a Book of Complaints about his best friend, which he digs out of his bookshelf when the two have an argument.

Of course, the two can’t stay angry at each other for long and, through a mature process of compromise, try to lessen those aspects that are most annoying for the other because, “Roly and Rita know they are very different, and this is why they love each other.” The illustrations don’t sanitise anger for the children – even at the end, the two are scowling at each other in one scene, but they return to happiness and affection in the last spread.

This is a funny and engaging read that encourages younger children to think about emotions (I can think of many adults who might benefit from this too). Anna Llenas uses a wide range of illustrative techniques to make reading the book a much more active experience – there are pop-up pictures, pull/lift-the-flaps and other little surprises, such as an actual tiny book of complaints to read, that little fingers will love. The architecture of the book is clever and, boy, is it BIG – even including a mini-scene with real bunting and string. I was amazed at the amount of work that went into this, and the young children I shared it with couldn’t stop playing with the pages.

As with most stories aimed at children, I Love You (Nearly Always) has a message, a moral. However, no one likes being lectured to, and in this story, we’re not. We’re seeing that, while being different can cause arguments, it can also bring enrichment into our lives. And also – it’s OK to argue sometimes! To suggest that life should always be peaceful is untrue – it’s the making-up that matters.

Llenas’s almost frenetic artwork suit this subject matter perfectly, especially when Roly and Rita are at war with one another; the dark, almost violent crayon lines express anger and movement exceptionally well. The entire book feels full of life and fun and will be appreciated by any child who picks this up. I look forward to seeing more from Anna Llenas in the future (perhaps in her native language – Catalan!)

Anna Llenas