Great books for great readers

Sorry for the hiatus

I know. It’s really not good enough. After the blogathon of Advent in December I have been remiss in keeping Childtastic up to date but there have been some good reasons, including starting the blog for St Michael’s School Library, where I am the librarian. Please do check it out as I’ve been putting up posts on that gradually, including book reviews and book-related activities (most recently, making Supertatoes and Evil Peas in honour of Sue Hendra’s fantastic picture book Supertato).

Regardless, I have a fair amount of content to load onto Childtastic soon, such as a review on young adult ghost stories (of which I have been reading A LOT recently because of my MA dissertation), general posts on children’s literature (there has been a lot in the news lately to comment on) and a write-up of a fantastic workshop I attended last week at the Oxford Playhouse on storytelling and ghost stories. It was BRILLIANT! And it gave me ideas on how to story map my own novel, which I am writing for my MA. I’ve just heard that I can now proceed onto the final stage, so it’s six months now of hard work as I pull together my story (more anon). I’ve been doing some fascinating research though lately, taking me around graveyards, so I’ve become a bit of a ghoul in my spare time.

Until my next post, here’s a photo of children’s author Kenneth Grahame’s grave, who of course is most famous for his beloved story The Wind in the Willows. He’s buried here in Oxford, in Holywell Cemetery, which is a lovely place to wander – sort of wild but inspiring. Well, it is if you’re like me and love graveyards! ;-)

Have a great weekend!

Kenneth Grahame's grave in Holywell Cemetery, Oxford.

Kenneth Grahame’s grave in Holywell Cemetery, Oxford.

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Blog Tour: Adventures of the Steampunk Pirates, by Gareth P Jones

Childtastic Books is pleased to be part of the Gareth Jones Blog Tour!

His latest book, Adventures of the Steampunk Pirates: The Leaky Battery Sets Sail, was published on 2 February 2015 and, as well as our review of the book, Gareth Jones has written a piece for us called ‘Gareth Talks Funny’. Enjoy! 

Please note that while I was sent a review copy of this book, the reviews represented in this book are entirely my own.


What it’s about:

The Steampunk Pirates are searching the seven seas for gold, causing chaos and comedy wherever they go. However, it’s not plain sailing; the evil Iron Duke has his sights set on a generous reward from the King in exchange for capturing the robotic seamen. Will he deliver them dead or alive or can they ride out the storm?

Sam’s review

Gareth P Jones has garnered a well deserved reputation for crazy comedy through his Ninja Meerkat series, and the Steampunk Pirates books look set to follow suit. There are jokes aplenty on each page, driving the story forward at a manic pace. Children who love pirate stories and lots of laughs will adore this book, and it appeals to both boys and girls alike, with the sole human on board Captain Clockheart’s boat, Pendle, being a girl disguised as a boy.

The illustrations match the zaniness of the narration well and will draw even reluctant readers into the story. The Steampunk Pirates has had a promising start and the seas look calm for future success.

As part of this blog tour, Gareth has shared with us how and why he writes funny books. Read and enjoy his tips and secrets!


I think books should be funny. Even ones that are sad or scary or exciting should have something funny in them, because life is funny and even the sad or scary or exciting days should involve something that makes you laugh.

When I came up with the idea for The Adventures of The Steampunk Pirates it was important to me to make these books funny as well as exciting, interesting and fun to read.

But humour is a subjective thing. People find different things funny so it’s important to include different kinds of jokes. These are some of the ways in which I have tried to make the series funny:


The Steampunk Pirates are steam powered. This means that whenever they gorge themselves on wood and coal, they let out all kinds of revolting smells and noises.  You wouldn’t want to be stuck in their dining cabin while they tucked into a bowl of Old Tinder’s spicy woodchip stew. Also, the pirates are made out of iron, so there are more than a few rusty nuts and bolts along the way… and the occasional squeaky bottom. Of course, the godfather of gross-out humour is Roald Dahl and I remember The Twits making me laugh out loud at its vivid descriptions of those wonderfully grotesque characters.


Wordplay and puns are never going to be the favourite of those trying to sell your foreign rights but I can’t resist them. My Ninja Meerkats series was full of silly names such as Claire Verclogs (a philosopher), Hans Free (a unicyclist) and the Delhi Llama (a llama from Delhi). You can blame Norton Juster for this. In his classic, The Phantom Tollbooth, characters jump to an island called conclusions, there’s a Watch Dog that has a large watch attached to him and people quite literally get stuck in the Doldrums.


When I was writing the Ninja Meerkats, my favourite character was Bruce. Not because he is super strong and can knock a door off its hinges (although that was handy), but because he isn’t the sharpest pencil in box. A character who doesn’t fully understand what’s going on will usually be funnier than one who is firing on all cylinders. The Steampunk Pirates are certainly not doing that. They are malfunctioning machines and that makes them unpredictable … and hopefully funny. One of the funniest characters ever created is William Brown from the Just William books. I had them on tape read by Kenneth Williams. Richmal Crompton’s William is not only funny for the ideas and schemes he comes up with. He is funny because of the way he expresses himself. Which brings us on to…


This is the biggest one for me. I love writing scenes with funny characters having silly arguments and getting wound up with each other. Some of my favourite chapters in this new series are those involving the King, the Iron Duke and poor old Admiral Fussington. As the Steampunk Pirates thwart their attempts to bring them to justice, it opens up plenty of opportunities for them to say funny things. There are loads of great books with funny dialogue but one that sticks in my mind is The Demon Headmaster by Gillian Cross because it demonstrates how a book can have an exciting plot, great characters and still be packed with loads of laugh-out-loud dialogue.

Funny books require various types of humour as you never know who will find what funny. Quite often, I put things in just because they make me laugh even though I know it’s only going to be me that finds them funny. For example, in the second Steampunk Pirates book, there is a bit where the Dread Captain Inkybeard (who keeps a squid called Nancy on his head because he needs the ink to die his beard black) is talking to a man called Chas (who is painted gold, tied to the front of a ship, and has just admitted to eating seaweed) when he calls him “a gold-plated seaweed muncher.” I’m not sure why, but it makes me smile every time I read it. I realise you are probably reading this thinking, What’s funny about that? Or maybe you’re thinking, Gosh, that last sentence was really long. I hope he doesn’t overuse brackets like this in his books. Or maybe you’re thinking, Is this going to end with a neatly made point that links to the opening paragraph or maybe something a bit more profound such as how the most tragic situations often generate the biggest laughs? Or is it just going to suddenly end on this question?

The Adventures of the Steampunk Pirates: The Leaky Battery Sets Sail was published by Stripes on February 2nd 2015.

Watch the trailer here:

Gareth’s website:


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Please visit our library!

Back in October 2014 I was ecstatic to be appointed Librarian at St Michael’s CE Primary School in Oxford. Being surrounded by books and being able to pass on my passion for books was such a brilliant opportunity and I have loved every minute of it since.

Last month I set up a blog/website for the Library so I could record what we are doing on a regular basis and include things like reviews by pupils and updates on activities. I have been absolutely amazed at the children’s eagerness to get involved – I have a queue of book reviews to put on the site and have already posted three fantastic samples by children in years 2, 4 and 6. Each week someone comes to me waving a piece of paper that they’ve worked hard on and it’s so rewarding seeing how engaged the pupils are and how much they enjoy their library.

We would love it if you could visit our library! The website is: and we’re adding to it several times a week. If you like the stuff I write about on Childtastic you will enjoy the posts on the library site. As well as reviews, I add updates on what we do in Book Club (most recently making Doughbots for our year 3-4 book: Monster and Chips). I’ve pasted the post below to give you a flavour!

We look forward to welcoming you onto the site! :-)

Making Doughbots with Years 3 and 4

On Wednesday lunchtimes, years 3 and 4 have been meeting to talk about the book group’s current title: Monster and Chips Night of the Living Bread.

Everyone is enjoying the mad antics of the monsters in their diner, though some of us are squeamish at the sound of the daily specials. They really are revolting!

One of the first big things to happen in the book is when ‘hooman’ Joe makes a Doughbot with the monsters, in an attempt to create a robot to help them. It is rather like a mixture of Mary Shelley’s Monster in Frankenstein and the massive cookie monster in Shrek 2 and unfortunately it turns out to have very evil intentions. We thought it would be fun to create our own Doughbots and this is what happened!

Sophie tries hard not to eat her Doughbot!

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How to do this at home

It’s really easy to make your own Doughbot. The hardest part is the vacuuming afterwards!

1. Purchase any rolls – hotdog shapes are great for bodies and limbs, while hamburger rolls work well for heads (or round bodies!).

2. We tried to let the bread go stale for as long as possible so it doesn’t break up too easily when working with it.

3. Cheap lollipop sticks from Poundland or similar work well for legs, arms, hair, teeth, eyes, tongues…. (you get the picture!)

4. Googly eyes from Poundland or similar are fantastic fun to add.

5. Coloured pens make it easy to decorate the rolls however you wish.

WARNING: You will find it difficult to stop the children from eating them! Even when they have just had lunch!

If you make your own Doughbot please share it with us!

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Top ten books for reluctant and dyslexic readers

Tom Palmer, in the Guardian, recently published his top 10 books for reluctant and dyslexic readers, and the results made for interesting reading for me, as a writer on children’s literature and a primary school librarian.

You can read the whole article here.

The list is mostly indicative of the reading preferences the children in my primary school possess. Favourites like:

The Diary of a Wimpy Kid (series)

Dork Diaries (series)

Alex Rider (series)

Horrid Henry (series)

Rainbow Fairies (series)

are all regularly borrowed and requested in my library. In fact, the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid has spent less than a whole week on the shelf since we bought it in November, and each time years 3-4 come in, the girls head straight to the Rainbow Fairies section.

The thing is, children often enjoy series, and if a reluctant reader can be encouraged to try one of the above-mentioned books, and likes it, the great news for them is there are more where it came from. Boys particularly enjoy reading their way through series, often competing with each other in the process, while girls devour school stories, such as those by Enid Blyton (still popular with the children in my school).

While I agree with Palmer’s list, I would have also added the following recommendations:

  • The Mr Gum series, by Andy Stanton – hilarious, well illustrated and chunky enough to look like a decent sized book without the density of text
  • David Walliams’ books – while not really a series, they all do have the recurring character of shopkeeper Raj, and the humour and illustrations make them appealing – Awful Auntie has been constantly on loan since November
  • Beast Quest – another popular series that appeals to both boys and girls
  • Comics and cartoons, such as the Asterix and Lucky Luke series – these are borrowed by girls and boys from years 2 to 6 (7-11) and are always chosen as relaxation reads when children come into the library in breaks
  • Non-fiction – this is a huge attraction to our pupils. They like the easy facts in things such as the Guinness Book of Records and animal books in particular are extremely popular.

Children are lucky these days in the sheer breadth of choice available. I firmly believe that there is a book for every child out there – the difficulty of course is in finding it when time is so limited these days.

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The Incredible Book Eating Boy, by Oliver Jeffers

I am so sorry for the silence over the last couple of weeks. After the Advent Blogathon, I had a break over Christmas as I had to submit my proposal for my MA creative dissertation. It took a LONG time! I will write a bit about this when my proposal has been accepted but suffice it to say it concerns ghost stories, graveyards and the Gothic. I am in my element! :-)

Anyway, on to my review of The Incredible Book Eating Boy, by Oliver Jeffers.

image courtesy of

You’re supposed to read books, right?


According to Henry, books are for eating: first a word, then a sentence, then a whole page and finally a whole book at a time. At first, this satisfies Henry’s hunger for knowledge and… well, I suppose paper, but then all the books give him verbal indigestions and things start going very wrong.

Jeffers’ story is a humorous look at how books are good for you … when they are consumed correctly! His trademark illustrations bring the story to life and are unique, almost tactile in appearance, placed over pages from other sources such as dictionaries, graph paper, etc.

 image courtesy of

The Year 2s I read this to yesterday loved the above picture, especially how a book can show a boy being sick in the loo. Some didn’t know that you COULD be sick in the loo, which made me rather concerned about where they normally head to when they feel unwell. And there’s a great Irish word for being sick in this too – ‘boke’ so even in grossness there is learning!

The book went down well with the seven-year-olds, who listened attentively to the story. We chatted about what books might taste like – suggestions included ‘wood’ and ‘slime buckets’ and ‘paper’. Henry’s favourite books are red ones, and the children thought that these must either taste of strawberries or tomato ketchup. When I asked whether eating all these books could really make Henry the smartest being in the world (he becomes smarter than his parents and teacher), one girl very seriously said that God was the smartest and no one could beat him. They were relieved when Henry started using books in the ‘traditional’ way – ie reading them – and thought that eating them was not a great idea because our library wouldn’t be in such a nice state if we had people like Henry in the world.

The end pages and cover of the book have been cleverly printed, with teeth-like chunks taken out of the bottom corner. The children actually thought that Henry had been in the library and had bitten the book! When I reassured them that this was clever book-making, they were keen to see that their teeth matched the size of the fake ones. It was all I could do to stop them taking their own little bites.

This is a superb book for all children, and would work very well with those who feel a little reluctant about reading. As a book to read with a group, there are all sorts of fun talking points, such as what books taste like and which type would you choose, how difficult it would be to eat a book, and what happens when you eat words.

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