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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: humour, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 165
1. The best bums in children’s fiction – or, why so many kid’s books about bottoms? – Emma Barnes

A favourite bottom book!

And another!
I’ve jumped onto the bottom bandwagon!

I didn’t meant to. I didn’t consciously set out to write a book featuring bottoms. It was only when Penny Dolan wrote that Wild Thing was “much more than a book that gets 8 year-old children laughing because they enjoy reading about rude words” that I realized what I’d done. I, too, had written a book featuring children's fascination with their nether regions.

 It’s not exactly an untapped theme in children’s literature. (In modern times, anyway – you won’t find Jo March, Anne of Green Gables or even Just William having much to say about posteriors.) But whether it’s Nicholas Allen’s delightful Cinderella’s Bum or the famously scatological The Little Mole Who Thought It Was None Of His Business, there’s a whole branch of kids’ books about rear ends and what comes out of them. In fact when I (rather bravely) did some googling, I was stunned to find out just how many titles there were.

I suppose the whole bottom thing can be seen as a cynical ploy. If you want to get children laughing, then “rude words” as Penny implies, are a good way to do it. This wasn’t really on my mind, though. The truth is, having spent the last several years in close contact with young children, I’ve been forcibly reminded how fascinating all things bum and poo –related are to them. I’ve walked behind four year olds whose only obsession is with spotting possible dog poo – and not to avoid standing in it, but out of pure fascination with the subject. “No, that’s only a dead leaf,” I’ve said wearily, more times than I can  remember.

So it’s not surprising the theme cropped up in Wild Thing, which is at heart a realistic, family story. The subject first arises when an inadvertent slip of the tongue by Gran allows five year old Wild Thing to get going on a favourite subject.

“Gran said bottom!” 
“No, she didn’t.” 
“Yes, she did.” Wild Thing grinned. “A butt is a bottom.You’ve got a big butt!” She pointed at me. “And Gran’s got a wrinkly one!” 
Then she danced off across the garden, shouting, “BUTT! BEHIND! BOTTOM! BUM!” at the top of her voice. She almost crashed into a tree. 

Wild Thing waggles her bum (Jamie Littler illustrator)

The incident leads to a wild chase and the invention of the Bite the Bottom game – yet another source of daily embarrassment for poor older sister Kate! When I’ve read the passage aloud in schools, the effect has been electrifying. On the occasion where I had a staff member “signing” the bottom-biting scene (and giving a fine theatrical performance of the bottom-chomping incident) I thought everyone was going to be reduced to a dangerous level of hysteria.

It’s true, folks. Rude bits really do make them laugh.
In school...the arrow fittingly pointing at a certain place!

Grown-ups can be a bit sniffy, I suppose, and feel that the whole bottom thing is crude, overdone, and playing to the crowd. But then children feel much the same about adult interests. Remember The Princess Bride and the little boy recoiling from the sloppy bits – “Yuk kissing!” Anyone who has watched TV with a child will recognize that response. (It’s also beautifully captured in Judith Viorst’s classic picture book, Alexander’s Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day – where the kissing on TV is almost as bad as the lima beans for dinner.)

So let’s allow children their interests, just as adults are allowed theirs. After all, for the average five year old, toilet training and bed wetting are still very immediate issues, and getting oneself to the toilet on time can be a source of pride (or sometimes an embarrassing failure). Adults take all this for granted – although actually, of course, many adults, especially in later life, don’t. Sadly, it often becomes a source of shame and embarrassment again, with many incontinent adults suffering in silence. So if children can openly laugh and celebrate all things rear-end, then let’s embrace that! Humour, as a recent ABBA poster pointed out, is also a way of dealing with things that trouble us.

So Bottoms Up, folks! And why not nominate your own favourite rude title?

Emma's new book, Wild Thing,  about the naughtiest little sister ever (and her bottom-biting ways), is out now from Scholastic. It is the first of a series for readers 8+.
"Hilarious and heart-warming" The Scotsman
"Charming modern version of My Naughty Little Sister" Armadillo Mag

 Wolfie is published by Strident.   Sometimes a Girl’s Best Friend is…a Wolf. 
"A real cracker of a book" Armadillo 
"Funny, clever and satisfying...thoroughly recommended" Books for Keeps
"This delightful story is an ideal mix of love and loyalty, stirred together with a little magic and fantasy" Carousel 

Emma's Website
Emma’s Facebook Fanpage
Emma on Twitter - @EmmaBarnesWrite

0 Comments on The best bums in children’s fiction – or, why so many kid’s books about bottoms? – Emma Barnes as of 4/17/2014 2:01:00 AM
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2. 42? Sausages? On the meaning of life and Tim Hopgood’s Little Answer

littleanswerBoth giggle inducing and surreptitiously brain expanding, Little Answer by Tim Hopgood is about BIG questions (“What is the meaning of life?”, “What is the secret to happiness?”).

And sausages.

Yes, really. It’s about sausages.

And I say that even though you could in fact argue Little Answer is ultimately about the biggest existential questions any of us face; it’s about trying to find out who we are, about trying to understand how we fit into the big wide world.

Profound AND full of laugh out loud moments, kindness and good old fashioned silliness, this is a fabulous book for all ages.

In this philosophical and joyously absurd book Little Answer actually knows his name (‘Sausages‘), but the worrying problem is that he can’t find his question. Something’s missing in his life, and until he can find the Q to his A, things just don’t feel right.

With help from a friend, Little Answer asks around. Could he be the answer to “What makes the wind blow?” or “Where did everything come from?”. There must be a question out there just right for him to answer…

Children will recognise themselves in the gloriously satisfying end to this book, and they and their parents will enjoy the inclusion of brief answers to all the more challenging questions posed in the story. Indeed this is the perfect book for children always asking “Why?”

Tim’s richly textured illustrations are bright and beautiful. His scribbles and prints, full of energy, have an appealing child-like quality to them. Thick crayon strokes look like they’ve just been drawn on the page. And Little Answer’s characterization is brilliant; he’s utterly personable and endearing!


Tim’s told me that the idea for this book came to him during a question and answer session at the end of one his school visits.

One boy put his hand up and said “I’ve got a guinea-pig” and the teacher then explained to the boy that that wasn’t a question.

She then asked the class “What does a question need?” to which they all replied “An answer!”.

And at that point Tim immediately thought, “But what if the answer can’t find its question…”

I do hope that little boy and his guinea pig one day find out they’ve inspired a wonderful, witty, and warm book perfect for feeding (and satisfying) curiosity.


You know a book’s hit home when within just a couple of hours of it arriving, the kids are already at play, inspired by the book. And so it was with Little Answer. Balloons were filled with rice (making them lovely to hold), and then eyes, smiles and legs were added to make our own Little Answers.


M couldn’t resist making a BIG Answer too! And the answers didn’t go nameless for long.


They were called:

  • Butterfly
  • Mummy
  • Chocolate
  • Loa Loa
  • Ovaries
  • Mint
  • and… 55 (she was the BIG Answer)

  • The girls told me that these were all answers to questions they had come up with, and it was now my job to find out what those questions were.

    Well I like a challenge, and I was certain that one of the questions must involve cake, so off we set for a cafe.


    To the huge delight of the girls, I was WRONG! None of their answers involved anything to do with a cafe (though they were more than happy to try some cake, just to be sure).


    I thought I better up my game, so I then decided that the local library would be a good place to look for questions. M was very obliging and looked up the dewey numbers for the books which might help me find the right questions to the answers she and her sister had prepared.


    So at least I was in the right section for some of my questions…. and I started knuckled down to work, with the Little Answers looking along side me.


    The Big Answer preferred to lounge about!


    I have to admit, it was quite a struggle to find the right questions. But in case you’re wondering what they were here they are:

  • What has antennae, wings and is beautiful?
  • Who do you find in Ancient Egyptian tombs?
  • What does Cadburys make?
  • Name a nematode that might live in your gut
  • Name a part of a flower
  • What’s my (M’s) favourite herb?

  • And are you ready for the really really BIG question?

  • What is 165 divided by 3?
  • I especially liked the big question. It really reminds you how different the world can see when you’re a kid!

    Even if I struggled to find all the questions in the library, we had so much fun with this activity. Any game where the kids are in the know and the adults are clueless is always popular in this home! Plus, along the way we got to practise research skills and giggle a great deal. What could be better?

    Music we listened to whilst making our little answers included:

  • There Are More Questions Than Answers by Johnny Nash
  • The Dewey Decimal Rap
  • What’s The Answer? by Gene Harris & The Three Sounds
  • Other fun activities to try out alongside reading Little Answer include:

  • Playing Sausages! Great for a quick giggle… go on, give it a go!
  • Printing your own fabric to match the dress worn by Daisy in the book. Here’s a how the Artful Parent did child friendly fabric printing.
  • Making a snail friend for your little answers. Older children might enjoy making these ones from old tights or sweaters, whilst everyone will love eating these ones!
  • Reading Tim Hopgood’s BIG! (here’s my review) or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, both of which pair perfectly (though in different ways) with Little Answer.
  • What are you the answer to? What questions are you looking for? :-)

    Disclosure: I received a free review copy of Little Answer from the author.

    3 Comments on 42? Sausages? On the meaning of life and Tim Hopgood’s Little Answer, last added: 4/17/2014
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    3. The Good Little Devil and Other Tales by Pierre Gripari plus 7 ways to turn your (child’s) words and pictures into a book

    Do you think there is an age at which you’ll stop reading aloud to your children?

    Have you already reached that stage?

    Why might you keep reading to an older child who can already read themselves?

    These are some of the questions I’ve been contemplating as part of a discussion, initiated by Clara Vulliamy, about reading to big kids. I’ve also been thinking about books which I think work especially well as read-alouds to big kids, kids who can read perfectly well themselves.

    the-good-little-devil The absurd, magical, funny collection of tales which make up The Good Little Devil and Other Tales by Pierre Gripari, with illustrations by Puig Rosado, translated by Sophie Lewis are curious and intriguing, and make for especially interesting read-alouds to “big” kids.

    Adults in these fairy tales are often foolish and fooled, children save the day, taking everything in their stride, there is great humour, wit and cheekiness, as well as the occasional tinge of gruesomeness. Plot twists and turns which might leave my grown-up sensibilities unsatisfied perfectly resemble stories children will tell themselves, with little psychology, minimal internal reason, but plenty of pace. Talking potatoes, giants and shoes in love, witches hiding in cupboards – this book is full of off-beat, silly and enjoyable stories.

    But one of the reasons why I think this book works particularly well as a read-aloud, as a shared experience with an adult, is that the book – translated from the French – is full of richness and new horizons that are easier to explore with someone else along for the ride. The book is set in Paris, and has a distinctly Gallic flavour (from the illustration featuring a naked female chest, to a helter skelter ride through French history, via a strong, albeit often tongue-in-cheek Roman Catholic presence), and whilst the wackiness of the tales will be enjoyed by older children reading alone, I think lots that could be missed on a solo reading might be fruitfully explored and doubly enjoyed with a grown-up around.

    Each story in this collection has one or two drawings by the Spanish illustrator Puig Rosado

    Each story in this collection has one or two drawings by the Spanish illustrator Puig Rosado

    Perhaps this all sounds a bit worthy and educational, and that’s not at all what I’m aiming at. Rather, I’m thinking about to what extent books are enjoyed with or without (some) background knowledge. The language and style of writing in this book is perfect for say 9 year olds to read themselves, (and it clearly is enjoyed by lots of children, having been translated into 17 languages, with more than 1.5 million copies sold around the world) but my experience of it was that it was a book which became considerably enriched by sharing it.

    Library Mice says: “The Good Little Devil and Other Tales is the one book I’d recommend to any child of any age, from any country.
    Julia Eccleshare says: “Delightful trickery abounds in this collection of magical tales all of which are spiced with a sophisticated sense of humour and sharp wit.
    The Independent says: “[For] Readers of all ages who appreciate a good story and a kooky sense of humour“.

    A view down rue Broca. No. 69 is on the left, just after Les Delices des Broca. Image taken from Google street view.

    A view down rue Broca. No. 69 is on the left, just after Les Delices de Broca. Image taken from Google street view.

    One aspect that my kids and I particularly enjoyed about The Good Little Devil and Other Tales was the discovery Gripari wrote these stories with children: Gripari created them along with kids who would sit with him outside his favourite cafe in Rue Broca, Paris in the 1960s. As Gripari writes in his afterword:

    The stories in the collection were. thus, not written by Monsieur Pierre alone. They were improvised by him in collaboration with his listeners – and whoever has not worked in this way may struggle to imagine all that the children could contribute, from solid ideas to poetic discoveries and even dramatic situations, often surprisingly bold ones.

    My kids were so excited by the idea that kids just liked them had helped a “real author” write a “real book”. It was an inspirational moment for them, and with a glint in their eyes they were soon asking how they could turn their stories into books.

    And so it was I started to investigate ways to turn M and J’s own words and pictures, stories and illustrations into books of their own. I soon realised that I was not only finding ways to support my kids desire to write, I was also discovering ways to store all those creations of theirs I can’t bear to part with, as well as objects that could be turned into unique Christmas or birthday presents for family members.

    Here are 7 ways to turn your child’s words and pictures into a book. Some of these approaches could also be used by classes or creative writing/art groups, to create publications that could be used for fundraising projects.

    1. The slip-in book

    displaybookStationers and chemists sell a variety of display books that can be adapted for self publication. Choose the size you want and simply slip in your pictures and text! Photo albums often offer greater variety of binding, and come in many more sizes, so these are useful if you want to include documents which aren’t a standard size. Display books typically have either 20 or 40 pockets, giving you 40 or 80 pages in total. Depending on whether there is a separate pocket for a title page, you can use stickers to give your book a title.

    Advantages: Very easy to produce, and cheap. Minimal printing required, and no typesetting needed! Older children can make these books themselves as all it requires is for them to slip the original into the binding.
    Disadvantages: Only one copy of each book can be made this way (unless you photocopy the originals).
    Cost: £ (Display books in my local stationers started at £2.50, and photo albums at £5 for larger ones)
    Ideal for: Storage solutions, one-off books.

    2. Comb bound

    Comb_bind_examplesMany local stationers offer a cheap and quick option using comb binding. For this option you’ll need to prepare your images and texts so that they can be printed (normally at A4/letter size, not at smaller or nonstandard sizes), and this may involved scanning images and a certain amount of typesetting. Once you’ve prepared your document, binding can be very quick (a matter of minutes), and because you’ve prepared an electronic copy you can bind as many copies as you’d like. It’s possible to buy coil binders (£100-£300) and this might be an effective option for schools.

    Advantages: Cheap and quick, good for multiple copies.
    Disadvantages: Can look a bit “cheap” (I think slip in books look more appealing; they can look like real hard back books), can be a little flimsy.
    Cost: £ (comb binding at my local stationers – Rymans, for UK folk – started at £3.49 for 25 sheets, going up to £7.49 for 450 sheets). Don’t forget you’ll have to include printing costs too.
    Ideal for: short runs of books at a low price

    3. Glue bound

    Image Source:  University of Birmingham Bindery

    Image Source: University of Birmingham Bindery

    Is there a university near you? If so, they will often have a binding service, aimed at students with dissertations, but open to the public too. If you’re looking for something which looks a little more like a paperback than a comb bound book, a glue bound book might be for you. Again, you’ll need to prepare your text and images so they can be printed, but once you’ve done that, you can print and bind as many copies as you like.

    Glue binding (sometimes known as Thermo binding) is quick (often a while-you-wait) service, and you can often get your pages printed and bound at A5 size rather than A4 (making the finished product look more like a “real” book).

    Advantages: Finished book can look quite a lot like a “real” book, which is very satisfying!
    Disadvantages: Glue binding is considered “temporary” and so isn’t ideal for books which are going to be read very many times. Glue binding won’t work if you’ve very few pages in your book; most binders I’ve spoken to recommend an absolute minimum of 24 sides (12 pages).
    Cost: ££ (glue binding at my local university was £7.50 per book). Don’t forget you’ll have to include printing costs too.
    Ideal for: When you want a cheapish option which looks like a real book. University binderies are also often able to give some advice on typesetting and layout, so if you’re not confident about your skills in those areas.

    4. Self published via Amazon’s CreateSpace

    createsapceCreateSpace is a fairly easy tool to use to create paperback books. It has an extremely clear step by step process you can follow. There’s quite a variety of formats, both in terms of size, black and white printing or full colour, or cream paper instead of white (the former being better if you want to be dyslexia friendly, though this option is only available for black and white printing). To make your life much easier, you can download templates with much of the formatting done for you (for example margins set up correctly) – I’d definitely recommend doing this, though it isn’t a requirement. Once you’ve downloaded the template you’ll fill it in with your child’s writing and images, just like you would in a word processing document.

    Both my kids have used the template and typed straight into it (rather than writing by hand and then me typing up their words). Adding images works just like it does in a word document, the only thing I’ve found you need to be careful of is making sure your images are of a high enough resolution. When you/your child has finished their document (perhaps with multiple stories and images) you need to upload your work as a print-ready .pdf, .doc, .docx, or .rt. CreateSpace then checks everything is ok before you go on to design your book cover.

    You can order M's first book by clicking on this photo!

    You can order M’s first book by clicking on this photo!

    Advantages: The CreateSpace step-by-step guide is thorough and pretty easy to use. The resulting books have definitely had the “wow” factor with my kids.
    Disadvantages: For a whole variety of ethical reasons you might not want to deal with Amazon. Everything is done online so you may want to think about personal details. M has used a pen name, so her real name doesn’t appear online, and if you were publishing work by children in a school you might want to consider only using children’s first names, especially if the name of the school also appears on the book you create (this is less of a concern if you don’t make the book available for the public to buy).
    Cost: ££ The cost to create the book is nil. The final purchase price depends partly on page number and the use of colour (the more pages, and the use of colour make books more expensive), and whether you want to sell book at cost or to make a profit. M’s book (64 pages, 6″x9″, full colour) has a public cost price of £6.24 (although price is actually set in $). although as the author M can order copies at about half that price (though there are then postage costs to pay).
    Ideal for: Producing books which really look like paperback books. Great if you want family and friends to be able to buy their own copy. You can also choose to publish your book in Kindle format.


    5. Self published via Lulu

    lulu-logoI’ve yet to use Lulu, but Juliet Clare Bell has a really useful post on using Lulu in school over on Picture Book Den. Having taken a quick look at Lulu it looks quite similar to CreateSpace, although you can do hard covers, and A5 and A4 sized books (CreateSpace mostly does standard US Trade sizes, and doesn’t offer hardbacks.)

    6. Using the Scholastic We Are Writers scheme

    we-are-writersThe Scholastic We Are Writers scheme is specifically designed with schools in mind. It costs nothing for the school to set up and publish, thought each final book costs £5.99 (though you can sell it for more if you wish to make a profit) subject to a minimum order quantity of 50 books. A nice feature is that the books come with an introduction written by a leading children’s author (although this isn’t personalised to your school)

    Advantages: You can run We Are Writers as part of your Scholastic Book Fair to earn Scholastic Rewards for your school.
    Disadvantages: Not ideal if you just want a few copies of the book you create. Although the cover is full colour, the interior of the book is black and white only, so not ideal if you wish to include artwork. Books must contain a minimum of 50 pages.
    Cost: ££
    Ideal for: Schools wanting to create books which are text based.

    7. Book Creator for iPad

    bookcreator200pxThe Book Creator App makes ‘fixed layout’ e-books and is apparently very easy for kids to use to create books with lots of images. I’ve not used it, but here’s a series of case studies where it has been used in the classroom, and it would seem families at home could also easily use this app (free for your 1st book, then up to $4.99 for unlimited use).

    My thanks to @candyliongirl and @sue_cowley for helpful suggestions when exploring options for creating books.

    Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of The Good Little Devil from the publishers.

    3 Comments on The Good Little Devil and Other Tales by Pierre Gripari plus 7 ways to turn your (child’s) words and pictures into a book, last added: 3/24/2014
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    4. Great deal on Kindle!

    Amazing offer right now, children’s humorous fantasy only £1.99 on Kindle for a limited period. Winner of The Book Awards, February 2014!
    Click here for offer.

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    5. Free novelties at Book Signing event!

    So, what would you like FREE from Granny Grimthorpe’s cauldron? Come along to the book signing for ‘Caution: Witch in Progress’ at Waterstones, Wigan on Saturday 22nd March from 12 to 3pm and take your pick!

    Granny's Cauldron

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    6. Caution: Witch in Progress-Award Winner!

    We did it! Thank you so much to each and every one of you who voted!

    Book Awards Winner February14

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    7. Three cheers for Rosie Revere!

    The last couple of weeks on the blog have really reminded me how books can take you everywhere and anywhere. From “pink” books, to the Holocaust, to environmental campaigning, I do love the journey my blog takes me on.

    rosiefrontcoverToday’s roving brings us to contemplate engineering and what constitutes failure, with Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts, a follow up to this same team’s ingenious Iggy Peck, Architect.

    Rosie dreams of being an engineer. She loves collecting rubbish and creating contraptions. But people laugh at her creations and her emerging confidence is soon crushed. When Great Great Aunt Rose tells young Rosie how she built aeroplanes during the war, Rosie is once again inspired. But will Rosie’s engineering work this time? What if her plans fail?

    An upbeat rhyming tale about the value of trying and trying again, Rosie Revere, Engineer encourages readers to hold on to their passions, and to never give up, even if things don’t work out the first time. Great for encouraging a can-do approach to whatever life throws at you, Rosie’s tale also leads naturally into discussions about women’s roles during the Second World War, and women who have broken the mould in various fields, notably that of flight.

    463px-We_Can_Do_It!Rosie is creative, thoughtful, passionate, full of a sense of fun, and with more than a nod to Rosie the Riveter, not least with her matching headscarf, and the slogan “We Can Do It” on her flying machine.

    Roberts’ illustrations are a scrapheap challenge (junkyard ward) junkie’s dream come true. Littered with curious details to pore over (can you spot a Wild Thing, or follow the unwritten story of the baby bird?) the colours are bright and pen drawings clear. Often on expanses of white, Roberts’ work is vibrant, crisp and fresh, perfectly matching the confident and purposeful message at the heart of the book.


    There is a decidedly American flavour to the text (some rhymes, I assume, work better with certain US accents than my UK one, and cheese spray may seem rather mind boggling to many on this side of the pond) so a little contextualisation might be handy, but my young engineers didn’t bat an eyelid at this. They were simply delighted by this Rosie and her take on life. Spunky, funky and full of fun and inspiration, three cheers for Rosie Revere!

    To go alongside reading Rosie Revere, Engineer I set up a little after-school structural engineering project involving essential tools of the trade: tooth picks and sweets.


    The aim of the game was to see what we could build and how we could build it using just these two materials, plus some imagination, and a little bit of concentration…


    Space rockets and climbing frames soon rose from the kitchen table.


    A spider’s web of construction emerged, with lots of experimental investigation as to what made our feats of engineering stand strong.


    We also got to explore the roles of different materials, as we quickly discovered that most dolly mixtures aren’t very good for this type of project, whilst mini wine gums and gum drops are excellent. (If you want to go for just one, the wine gums are a better bet as they are less messy; the gum drops litter the kitchen table with sugar sprinkles, and also make fingers stickier).


    We all thoroughly enjoyed this engineering project, and M is very keen to try it again soon to model chemical compound structure (her idea!); different sweets for different elements? Definitely sounds fun to me.

    Whilst designing, engineering and building we listened to some brilliant music:

  • I’m Gonna be an Engineer, written by Peggy Seeger, performed in this video by her half brother, Pete Seeger. Full lyrics (which are just fabulous) here.
  • Rosie The Riveter by The Four Vagabonds
  • Dave Rawlings Machine’s The Monkey and The Engineer

  • Other activities which would be great fun to get up to alongside reading Rosie Revere, Engineer include:

  • Junk Modelling! Indeed, Rosie Revere, Engineer cries out for you to rifle the recycling bin and get sticking and gluing and making. Here’s how we like to junk model!
  • Watching this classic car advert showing the domino effect, and invite the kids to try to set up something similar.
  • Tipping the lego all over the floor and seeing what you can build together. This lego website has lots of ideas, but we prefer to have this book open nearby.

  • Don’t miss the teacher’s guide to Rosie Revere either.

    What are you going to engineer today?

    Disclosure: I recieved a free reivew copy of Rosie Revere, Engineer from the publishers.


    3 Comments on Three cheers for Rosie Revere!, last added: 9/18/2013
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    8. Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for Halloween

    Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for Halloween (CAN, JP, US, INT)

    Written and Illustrated by: Mélanie Watt

    Published by: Kids Can Press

    Published on: September 1, 2013

    Ages:  4+

    Provided by the publisher via Netgalley for review. All opinions expressed are my own.

    The leaves are falling and the weather is cooling off. This must mean it's time for Halloween!

    You would think that Halloween would be the best or worst holiday for Scaredy Squirrel, depending what side of the fence you fall on. Do you love it when Scaredy flips out because he's scared? Or are you rooting for this loveable Squirrel to get back in his safe tree and never be scared again?

    My kids are firm fans of the freak out. So they loved this book.

    Scaredy Squirrel's humour has gotten more and more cheeky as time goes on. This book is full of great ideas, but the best ones are where Scaredy is laughing at himself. Take, for example, his ideas for villain costumes; Killer Bee, Shark, Germ. The best is the scare-ometer rating the scariness of each costume. It will come as no surprise that the Germ is the most terrifying.

    Usually when I read a book out loud to a group of non-native speaker kids, I don't choose stories that don't have a narrative, just because it is hard for them to follow along. This never happens with Scaredy though, kids laugh and laugh from beginning to end.

    Mélanie Watt has another hit on her hands, and I fully expect everyone to see Scaredy Squirrel- faces on the pumpkins of homes with young kids from this year.

    This is the twelfth book I have reviewed for the Seventh Canadian Book Challenge.

    2 Comments on Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for Halloween, last added: 9/16/2013
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    9. Murphy's Wake

    It was the last time I would go to Finn, I swore to myself as I searched for him in the Elmdale Tavern. He was around one of the regular spots. I needed to see him fast. At the Carleton Tavern I found Finn with a quart and money coming out of every pocket. I sat down with him, ordered a pint. It was still early in the day. I hit Finn up for fifty bucks to pay Murphy. Finn charged a fee for even handing you the loan. It cost sixty to borrow fifty for a week, but it would be worth it. Finn copied phone numbers and odds as he readied himself for a busy day ahead. Sunday, of course, was his big day because of the NFL betting. This was Saturday when college football and pro baseball took most gamblers’ attention. I finished my pint, said goodbye to Finn, caught Murphy at the Prescott Tavern, gave him a lift to Mary’s. Murphy and Mary had been engaged for twenty years. He still visited her little flower shop every morning. We stopped so he could pick a bouquet of flowers for her in a city park. Murphy didn’t believe in paying for flowers. When they were in season, he helped himself. It was a bone of contention between them. Murphy believed that flowers were given to man by the good Lord, shouldn’t be bought and sold. Mary believed that people gladly paid for the little ray of sunshine they purchased with a nice bouquet of flowers. Murphy had a friend named Calhoun in Montreal who could, for a price, buy a block of tickets in a provincial lottery which would produce winners. All I had to do was give fifty dollars to Murphy. I didn’t follow the whole scam back to the actual score, but I questioned Murphy enough to know that it felt like a winner. He assured me that fifty dollars would produce five thousand for me. Added to some others and passed through the right hands, it would yield twice as much, for him. This guy, Calhoun, had an in, was sharing the wealth. Murphy did it for me out of the kindness of his heart and good business sense. He didn’t have to include me, but he saw me as a good luck charm. I dropped Murphy off, went home to a weekend of sports on t.v. and too much beer. It didn’t cheer me up, to hear, on Monday morning, that Murphy had died on the weekend from a heart attack. I drove to Mary’s which was above her flower shop. It isn’t decent and polite to speak ill of the deceased, but getting lottery tickets was another matter. He always wore the same suit, his best, for giving and taking payments, more taking than giving, it always seemed with Murphy as he did his weekend rounds, careful not to exceed his booze limit. The lottery tickets had to be in his suit. Mary was in her shop with a short, dark, Scottish lawyer named Jack Scullion. She introduced us without mentioning if the man even knew Murphy. I listened with polite sadness, shook my head regretfully. Mary described Murphy’s last moments. It seemed that he died in her arms. Just after they had named a date. They had been engaged now for twenty years, so they were celebrating the twentieth year by marriage. She was as good as his wife anyway, Mary said. I agreed and inquired about Murphy’s “effects” as diplomatically as possible. Perhaps it was a little too vaguely phrased. Mary didn’t respond. Jack Scullion walked around the shop like he was looking for something suspicious. He kept an ear cocked in our direction though. He was trying to figure out who I was, where I fit in. Margaret, Murphy’s sister, appeared with her husband, Ralph, a used car lot owner. It was safe to say that the vultures were circling. I managed to find out that Murphy would be dressed in his best suit tomorrow at Ralph’s showroom. They were having the wake there. Ralph told me, in confidence, that it was his idea. It seemed a bit greedy for Ralph to take advantage of the crowd of potential customers which would gather to send Murphy off, but I wasn’t one to judge. There didn’t seem to be much of a chance of getting at Murphy’s suit pockets until the next day so I drove home and waited. I joined the line of people entering Ralph’s showroom. The place had a western theme, the staff were dressed as cowboys and cowgirls. They wore black armbands while Ralph himself was resplendent in a black western suit with tie and boots to match. He had probably considered wearing his black, ten gallon Stetson, but decided against it in case of misinterpretation by the mourners. There was a good mixture at Murphy’s wake. A crowd of children were the offspring of Murphy’s family. The older ones were Murphy’s cousins, uncles and aunts. When Murphy had mentioned his family at poker games or at the end of late night pub crawls, he gave the impression that he was the black sheep. His own opinion was that the family disliked him because they were jealous of his money and freedom. The people grew noisier as the booze flowed freely. Their presence was welcome. I needed as much attention diverted as possible while I sought the tickets. Most of the sniffling and crying came from Mary and Margaret. As I shuffled along toward them in the line, I could hear Margaret declaring that Murphy looked like himself. Mary’s voice rose over Margaret’s, in grief stricken tones, to tell someone that her brother had called to extend his condolences. He added that it was nice to think about old Murphy finally laying quiet with his big yap shut. People in the line who heard it at first looked puzzled, then made clucking noises. They agreed that it was a down to earth, honest assessment of the deceased, rest his soul. I eyed the coffin, snuck a peek at Murphy within. He did look like himself, I will say that. The dark, pinstriped suit, Murphy’s best, with the vest done up, decorated his body. His face was pinker than normal, but I only saw him in bars or restaurants so maybe this was what he really looked like. He had his hands folded peacefully over his pot belly and, all in all, looked like he had just exhaled and forgotten to inhale. There was no doubt about it, the life had gone out of Murphy. I could smell the gin on Margaret when she hugged me and the rye on Mary’s breath as she looked at me with red rimmed eyes and running mascara I managed to nod sadly and escape her while giving Murphy another quick, visual once over. Jack Scullion hovered in the background, watching everyone, especially me. There was plenty of drink and some sandwiches which the ladies had made. I helped myself to the food, found the coffee. It would take a clear head, whatever I did. Ralph was giving a sales pitch to a couple beside a beat up old clunker which looked like it had recently been retired from delivering pizza. He made the mistake of leaning a little too hard on the front bumper when he pushed it to demonstrate the shocks. The bumper fell off, barely missing his cowboy boots. Ralph never lost a beat. He made a note to see the mechanic about “bodywork problems”, kicked the offending bumper under the car. The pile of sawdust beneath it was turning black, absorbing oil. Jack Scullion approached me with a beer in one hand and a smoke in the other. He had jet black hair, scars on his nose and around his eyes. He bore all the signs of a fighter feeling no pain. He stood spread legged in front of me and asked if I was in Murphy’s will. When I told him I didn’t think so, he seemed to relax. As much as a short, Glaswegian lawyer can relax. His shifty eyes wondered how I could benefit from Murphy’s death. He turned and stood by my side with a wide stance. He gestured alternately with the beer and the smoke while he surveyed the room. “Ach, it’s a right shower here, just noo, Jimmy” I nodded, but I didn’t really know what he meant. He didn’t notice, went on with his monologue, sometimes addressing the room, sometimes confiding to me. “Aye, they’re aw here noo. The vultures’re here. Look at em circlin, look at yersels, ach. See em? They’re after his money. The poor old boy isn’t even cauld yet. See em? They’re a right shower a bastards” No doubt, like most of his race, the Scottish lawyer was a little crazy and extremely violent. Rather than point out that he, too, was in attendance for strictly financial reasons, I managed to escape back to Margaret and Mary. I was getting desperate. Mary and Margaret had been absorbing the alcohol at a rapid rate. They had run out of tears. Their mutual hostility emerged with each drink. I addressed them with an eye on the coffin. “Well, ladies, it must be tense waiting for the will to be read. To see who gets what of Murphy’s. I understand that Mary here was just about to tie the knot with poor Murphy” Margaret frowned and produced many heretofore unseen lines in her face. “Hah” She blurted out with a laugh. “Tie the knot. He’s been engaged to her for twenty years” Mary reacted with bug eyed indignation. Her truthfulness about Murphy’s last moments was being questioned. “We were like man and wife. He didn’t spend time with his other family” she said before she found another glass of rye. Ralph had finished his pitch, but had no takers. He threw regretful glances at the bumper as he approached us, beer in hand. “Anyone got a few words to say?” he asked with a kindly smile. “Ha. Family’s family. It’s his blood in my veins” Margaret asserted. Jack Scullion had joined us. He had a fresh beer, stood spread legged with shoulders back. It was as though he was bracing himself on a heaving deck. “The will overrides everything” said Mary pugnaciously in Margaret’s direction. This hostility caught Jack’s attention, it was right up his alley. He looked around for an opponent, saw Ralph about to speak. I sidled toward the casket as Ralph began what he thought was sort of a eulogy for Murphy, but which he never finished. He never really got it started. Mary took offence at the look which Margaret gave her, hit the dead man’s sister with her purse. Jack saw his opportunity, gave Ralph a Glaswegian handshake which could be heard all over the showroom. There was evidence of Jack’s nutting ability the next day in the taverns; quite a few black eyes and bandaids sported by the mourners who clashed with him He made up for his lack of height by jumping straight at the other man’s face, applying the head, around the hairline, into whatever features were available. With Ralph sitting in a pool of the blood which was spouting from his nose, the women shrieking as they rolled around in front of him, I made it to the casket. Jack was taking on all comers. He seemed to be enjoying himself. I searched Murphy’s vest and trouser pockets with one hand, the other still holding my coffee cup. I was about to try his jacket when the lights went out. It wasn’t dark, but it turned everything in the showroom shadowy. The struggling figures in the brawl were being joined by others, the children shooed to the office. Maybe it was one of them who was responsible for the half light. I checked one side of Murphy’s jacket pockets and found nothing. The noise of fighting and breaking glass became louder. I tried the other pocket, felt cardboard. I pulled the lottery tickets out of Murphy’s pocket, squinted at them. They were the right ones. I was saying a prayer of thanks to my dead chum and the good Lord when I dropped the tickets. They slid down on the other side of Murphy. I panicked for a moment. Placing my cup between Murphy’s folded hands, I used one of my hands to shift his weight, the other to feel for the tickets. I grasped them just as a bottle crashed against the casket and a sliding body took my feet out from under me. Ralph had provided a fold out table from the lunch room upon which to place Murphy’s casket. As my weight shifted, the casket slid off the table. Murphy sat up with my coffee cup in his hands. Crawling toward the door, tickets in my hand, I glanced back. Murphy’s sudden rise from the prone to the sitting position, had caused a pause in the fighting. I heard various opinions of this phenomenon. “It’s a sign” The words “miracle” and “resurrection”were mentioned several times.. When I joined Finn, the next day, at the Carleton Tavern and paid him back, cheerfully, he gave me a curious look. He was totalling up the weekend’s action over a quart, asked me if I’d been to Murphy’s funeral after the donnybrook at his wake. I confirmed that I’d attended the burial. It was a sad and solemn affair for all involved including Murphy’s family and everyone’s legal representatives. We drank a memorial toast to Murphy that day before I bought everyone a round and placed a few bets.

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    10. Feature Friday by Alesha L. Escobar: Caution:Witch in Progress

    I didn’t get into reading fantasy literature until a bit later in life, but something tells me that as a kid with a voracious appetite for books, I would’ve loved to have picked up Lynne North’s Caution: Witch in Progress. I’m very delighted to feature this book to you all, so take a peek and check out Ms. North’s work!


    Children’s Fantasy, humor

    Book Description

    Gertie Grimthorpe is born into a society of witches and grows up in Vile Vale, but there is something very wrong with her…

    She is beautiful and couldn’t be nasty if she tried. When she finds out that she is to attend a private academy for magical children, Gertie hopes to find her witchy way in the world. With a moat monster suffering from stomach ache, a short-sighted owl familiar and mishaps galore, Gertie’s adventures are hilarious and heartwarming.

    Join Gertie as she struggles with growing up (and longing to grow her first wart), learning magic and working out how to deal with a grumpy enchanted umbrella, named Bat.

    “What a wonderful read this book is! Fun and laughter from beginning to end. Are we getting anymore ‘Gertie’ books? Can’t wait!” – Amazon Review

    Caution - cover FINAL

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    11. Children's Party by Ogden Nash

    May I join you in the doghouse, Rover? I wish to retire till the party's over. Since three o'clock I've done my best To entertain each tiny guest. My conscience now I've left behind me, And if they want me, let them find me. I blew their bubbles, I sailed their boats, I kept them from each other's throats. I told them tales of magic lands, I took them out to wash their hands. I sorted their

    4 Comments on Children's Party by Ogden Nash, last added: 7/19/2013
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    12. Trends – New bends in the path to publication. By J.R.Poulter

    Some time last year, Erica Wagner, Publisher at Allen and Unwin, is reported as having said that there was a lot to be gained by having a text already illustrated [not that Allen & Unwin published picture books]. This is seemingly a change in direction.

    Some writers/illustrators I know have recently signed contracts for ‘print ready’ books.  This is not self-publishing, but submission to a royalty paying publisher of a book that is ‘ready to go’ in publishing terms.

    What constitutes a ‘print ready’ book?  It is a book that has been -

    • professionally edited,
    • proofread, has been
    • designed to industry standards,
    • professionally designed cover and,
    • if illustrated, has all images appropriately set.

    This is a great way to go for authors who are able to pay illustrators and book designers up front. Most authors are not able to do this.  This then means all creators involved in a book project agreeing to royalty share and working between paid projects to collaborate on their book.

    What have I gleaned about such ‘print ready’ deals? One company, smaller and reasonably new, offered a small advance and a good contract, by industry standards, with higher than regular royalty share for creators. An offer of help with promotion was also part of the deal. Another company, medium sized and established, offered no advance but better than average royalty shares for creators and help with promotion and marketing of the book.

    How does this stack up against what is generally on offer now?

    • Small and middle range publishers, in general, do not offer advances.
    • Larger publishers offer advances depending on the book, depending on the author, and depending on the agent involved.
    • Smaller and middle range publishers often [there are exceptions] expect the author to do it all in relation to promotion, even requiring the submission of a marketing plan.
    • Larger publishers vary greatly as to how much promotion they will give a book.
    • Generally, publishers will submit copies of their publishing output for major awards, such as the CBCA, and to a selection of leading review outlets.

    What’s the down side for author, illustrator, book designer, [often the illustrator], to go down the  ‘print ready’ publishing path?

    • It IS a lot of extra work for all creators involved to ensure the book is ‘professional’ standard even before it is submitted.
    • There is no money upfront.

    Are the rewards worth the effort?

    • If you love collaborative work, it is a big plus.
    • Creators have much more project control to create the book they have collaboratively envisaged.
    • A quality product, ‘print ready’,  is a major bargaining point for creators/agents. ‘Print ready’ saves the publisher heaps!

    The first company mentioned does small print runs, sells out their print runs, reprints and even sells out reprints and so it seems to be gradually snowballing.

    It is too early to know in the second instance.  [I’ll keep you posted!]

    My feeling is that, if Erica Wagner was sensing a ‘trend’ and if these companies make a success of it, we will see more such deals.  It’s something to think about!

    To be launched end of June – “Toofs!” a collaboration between J.R. and Estelle A.Poulter an illustrators Monica Rondino and Andrea Pucci. More to come on what was a ‘print ready’ deal.

    TOOFS by J.R.Poulter & Estelle A. Poulter, illustrated by Monica Rondino & Andrea Pucci

    TOOFS by J.R.Poulter & Estelle A. Poulter, illustrated by Monica Rondino & Andrea Pucci

    0 Comments on Trends – New bends in the path to publication. By J.R.Poulter as of 3/5/2013 11:04:00 PM
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    13. Mark Waid’s four panels that never work

    2e35b2037d7d09f67cbd9a3b5f90af3e72162096 Mark Waids four panels that never work
    This homage to Wally Wood’s 22 Panels That ALWAYS Work by Mark Waid and Jeremy Rock at The Gutters nails quite a few good ones. Go to the link for the other four—oh and a snark about a DC executive. CAN U GUESS WHO?

    15 Comments on Mark Waid’s four panels that never work, last added: 8/9/2012
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    14. 10 best jokes from Edinburgh Festival

    Just because it's a cold, grey day in August. Just because I am re-writing and revising and need a break. Just because humour is as important as the serious stuff and often so much harder to write...for all those reasons here are the ten best jokes from the 2011 Edinburgh Festival as decided by Dave - the digital TV channel. 
    Scroll down to the bottom and you'll find the worst joke of the festival. 
    1) Nick Helm: "I needed a password eight characters long so I picked Snow White and the Seven Dwarves."
    2) Tim Vine: "Crime in multi-storey car parks. That is wrong on so many different levels."
    3) Hannibal Buress: "People say 'I'm taking it one day at a time'. You know what? So is everybody. That's how time works."
    4) Tim Key: "Drive-Thru McDonalds was more expensive than I thought... once you've hired the car..."
    5) Matt Kirshen: "I was playing chess with my friend and he said, 'Let's make this interesting'. So we stopped playing chess."
    6) Sarah Millican: "My mother told me, you don't have to put anything in your mouth you don't want to. Then she made me eat broccoli, which felt like double standards."
    7) Alan Sharp: "I was in a band which we called The Prevention, because we hoped people would say we were better than The Cure."
    8) Mark Watson: "Someone asked me recently - what would I rather give up, food or sex. Neither! I'm not falling for that one again, wife."
    9) Andrew Lawrence: "I admire these phone hackers. I think they have a lot of patience. I can't even be bothered to check my OWN voicemails."
    10) DeAnne Smith: "My friend died doing what he loved ... Heroin."
    Veteran entertainer Paul Daniels for: 
    "I said to a fella 'Is there a B&Q in Henley?' He said 'No, there's an H, an E, an N an L and a Y'."

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    15. Back to Grandma’s House We Go


    I spoke about those memories of Grandma, as opposed to Granny, who was Dad’s mother. Have to keep those straight, you know. I’d like to talk more about my maternal grandmother for one more day.

    She was a tiny lady, who loved to shop when she had the opportunity. By the time I knew her she was already in her sixties and had triumphed over many obstacles and trials during her life. She had the soul of an artist, of a healer, and of a naturalist. Bundled within the diminutive frame resided a wicked sense of humor and a passion for professional wrestling.

    Of course, the weekly broadcast of wrestling took precedence only when Perry Mason or Oral Roberts were not.

    Her faith kept her going, I think, through all the lean years. In short, she was indomitable. What I learned from Grandma was reinforced by my own mother. She reflected many of her mother’s traits and strengths.

    I will admit that oddities abounded around the little woman. Two massive native persimmon trees kept sentinel at the rear of her yard. In the spring, beneath those trees, grew mushrooms, morels to be exact. Those wrinkled beauties returned each year, spring and fall.

    “Fall?” you ask. “Yes,” I reply. Morels aren’t known for appearing in the autumn, but hers did. The brilliant yellow buttercups would act as backdrop for them in the spring and the hickory nut bounty would accompany them in the fall. Sort of a two-fer event for the equinoxes.

    She also had a passion for flowers and plants. Zinnias were her favorite annual, and she worked for years to develop a pure white zinnia. She didn’t get her project finished before she died. The ten thousand dollar prize must have gone to someone else, because not too many years ago such a flower was introduced to the public.

    Grandma wanted a blue rose, as well, long before they were bred. My grandfather couldn’t find one for her and so settled for a favorite fruit tree instead. He brought her home a larger sapling peach tree. The first year it produced peaches, we were taken to see the tree. There, sprouting from the base of the tree was a blue rose; not a pale purple one, but a blue one.

    At least that’s the memory of I have that event. She was ecstatic with her “miracle.” I can’t remember any other time seeing her that happy. Something precious had been validated for her that day, having to do with that rose. The rest of the adults seemed more stunned than ecstatic.

    Grandma was one of those people who believed in all things being possible within nature. She could be staid, practical to a fault sometimes, and definitely opinionated, but for her things were always possible if she believed strongly enough.

    She had her rules to live by and taught them with quiet modeling. If we were lucky, we got to learn those rules and emulate them within our own lives. That’s quite an accomplishment for anyone on this earth, I think.

    1 Comments on Back to Grandma’s House We Go, last added: 2/12/2012
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    16. Collaborating, incorporating an Interview with Joanna Marple on uTales

    Interview: Joanna Marple on uTales.

    Darshana Shah Khiani‘s interview on her Children’s Book Review site, “Flowering Minds”, with new children’s picture book author, Joanna Marple, is revealing on lots lof levels.

    Joanna and Darshana met on children’s writer and illustrator FaceBook site, 12 x 12 , a very lively, supportive, share and learn community set up by Julie Hedlund. When Joanna released her very first picture book, a collaboration with the very talented Maja Sereda, Darshana jumped in with the interview offer.

    “Snow Games” is a fun tumble and rumpus in winter’s wonderland aimed at 3 to 7 year olds. Maja’s wonderfully endearing little animal characterisations beautifully complement the story.

    Joanna  shares what it was like to collaborate with Maja to create “Snow Games”. Close collaboration between author  and illustrator is a circumstance largely [and sadly] foreign to most traditional print publishing. For Joanna and Maja it was a fun and very rewarding experince. But the interview goes beyond the creation of  ”Snow Games”. It also details Joanna’s experience of the uTales website and her thoughts on traditional and digital publishing.

    Joanna mentions my collaboration with noted animal and wildlife illustrator, Muza Ulasowski, a story about surviving change, “The Sea Cat Dreams”. Muza was one of many wonderful illustrators I met on the uTales Facebook group and have since worked with to create a varied range of children’s books.

    I have found the opportunity to collaborate with illustrators something eminently rewarding, an experience that  enriches both participants and results in a more vibrant and much richer work. My first picture book, “Mending Lucille” was also a result of a collaboration. Working with the amazing Sarah Davis was inspirational! I have gone on to collaborate closely with illustrators all over the world to create numbers of other picture books, some digitally published**, some in process with p

    3 Comments on Collaborating, incorporating an Interview with Joanna Marple on uTales, last added: 5/18/2012
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    17. Aliens at school, and how (and why) to choose books to read to large groups of kids

    For last week’s book+activity session I held at the girls’ school we read and played aliens. First up was a new book by Sue Hendra, Wanda’s Space Party.

    For Wanda’s birthday treat, her friend, the alien, takes Wanda to his planet for a special space party. Wanda is amazed by all the new things she sees on the way to the party and the different ways things are done on her friend’s planet. But will she like the what her friend has prepared for her birthday celebration? Or will alien customs be all a little too… well, alien for Wanda?

    With her trademark gorgeously bright, bold, modern and zingy illustrations (which look oh so ripe for adaptation to tv animation – think Octonauts, which has a not dissimilar aesthetic) Sue Hendra has written a lovely story about differences and similarities across customs and cultures. Kids will enjoy the apparently far-out traditions on the alien’s planet (such as brushing your toes instead of your teeth before you go to bed). On a more serious note, it provides an easy route in to talking about how we’re not all the same, and that such differences are enriching rather than threatening.

    Next we read Colin McNaughton’s The Aliens are Coming (I think originally recommended by a reader of this blog, but I can’t track down who it was – thank you to whoever you are!).

    An alien invasion has been launched. All sorts of aliens are heading this way; wobbly ones, two-headed ones, ones that have eyeballs stuck on stalks, the list goes on… It’s a terrifying prospect! But as the aliens approach and catch sight of us, the readers, what do they do? What do they see? Who is more frightened? Us or them?

    This book is so much fun to read aloud! It’s told in rollicking rhyme so the words just bounce along and the illustrations are hilarious (even when trying to be scary). The yuck factor is just right (with squelching, smelly gases and some burping) and the denouement is perfect – [spoiler alert] the penultimate page has a mirror in it, so we can see what the aliens see… and what they see is enough to stop the attack and get them retreating back to outer space. The listening kids emerge as the victors, more mighty and powerful than a whole host of extra terrestrial life forms. Hurray!

    For our session at school we had several different activities on offer after reading the books (all photos below are from the dry run I did at home with M and J as I’m not allowed to take photos in school). Kids could make alien spaceships out of foil plates and plastic bowls, decorated with permanent pens and stickers.

    3 Comments on Aliens at school, and how (and why) to choose books to read to large groups of kids, last added: 5/28/2012

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    18. Nicola’s Monsters! An interview with illustrator turned author, Nicola L. Robinson

    Interview with Nicola L. Robinson, illustrator turned author and the trials, tribulations and triumphs of a change of hats!

    Hi Nicola

    First off, HEARTY CONGRATULATIONS on the release of “The Monster Machine” with Pavilion Books – a sort of mad inventor meets Granny’s knitted nightmares joy of a book!

    Have you always had a strong visual sense of story?

    Yes I have, I’ve always loved drawing (like all illustrators I should imagine!) but particularly loved drawing pictures with something happening in them, be it a big thing chasing a small thing or any kind of interaction between my creations. As a child I’d name the characters and make up stories around them..

    I grew up and went to university and did a degree in Fine Art, which was fantastic, but I realised my work was more illustration and less ‘Fine Art’. I have always looked for the story in the picture, and love adding narrative details to things, be it a little mouse hiding behind a teapot or something more sinister watching through a crack in the curtain... I am a visual thinker, but at this point I didn’t consider writing the actual words down to go with the illustrations.

    What were your favourite storybook images as a child and how did they influence you as an illustrator and the style you adopted as ‘you’?

    I didn’t have many traditional picture books, I did however pour over photos of crocodiles and snakes from a really old book on ‘The Animal Kingdom’. One of my favourite storybooks was a book of Greek Myths which had a lot of colour plates inside of the various mythological beasts and some nice black and white ink illustrations, fairly traditional in style. My favourites were always the ones I could imagine myself being in, something with some perspective, or one where you can see inside an open door or window. I also loved the Hobbit by JRR Tolkien, with Smaug the dragon. I have drawn many dragons since then and continue to do so today.

    I have always loved the traditional fairytale illustrators like Arthur Rackham and others like Aubrey Beardsley and more recently Edward Gorey. Black and white ink illustrations in particular have always appealed to me, as has the sinister so I expect I have absorbed a little of their influence into my current working style. I certainly hope so!

    Do you have a favourite among your previous illustrative projects? Would you tell us something of the creative process involved in bringing the images to light?

     My favourites change all the time, but I am still very attached to a detailed illustration from last year titled ‘Downtown’

    It started off like so many drawings as a few scribbles on the page, I could see a cityscape of sorts in my head… I often write lists of words and ideas to include in a piece, little descriptions like ‘Dark alleys’ and ‘Iron Bridges’ just as little word pictures, alongside thumbnails which I find very helpful.

    1 The Rough idea is drawn

    From here it gets its structure and is drawn out. If I’m going to be working in colour I usually stretch some paper at this point before transferring the idea to it.

    I work up the details in pencil…

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    19. Canada Day Greeting Card

    Hey y’all! I created a little something for Canada Day (July 1st) A free downloadable 5×7″ greeting card! Just a little something by me to share in the festivities. : )

    Below is a sample of the front. The inside is blank. Just click on this link  to open up a printable pdf version of the card. Then download, print, fold and trim (Careful with that X-Acto knife!). Voila! A card is born!

    Thanks, and have a great weekend!


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    20. For when life is just not fair

    I couldn’t have written a better script… J was off ill a few days ago and M stomped to school with fury all over her face.

    “IT’S NOT FAIR! Why can’t I stay at home?”

    The pavement (and my ears) got a fair bashing from M that morning, and before 9am I was already exhausted! But my book-fairy-godmother must have heard my exasperated cries for help; as if by magic the postman delivered…

    It’s Not Fairy by Ros Asquith.

    Siblings Bill and Mary complain that when they get different things, life’s just not fair. Fortunately, the kids’ parents know about the It’s Not Fairy, who’s on a mission around the world to help sort out what’s wrong and right, but who also likes to eat those who complain a little too much.

    Bill and Mary scoff at the idea of the It’s Not Fairy, but when they hear their parents complaining about life being unfair (for example, when Mum does all the housework and Dad just slouches in his chair), they are quick to remind their elders about her penchant for gobbling up grumblers.

    When the parents produce their supposed trump card, “It’s up to us to say what’s FAIR!” the It’s Not Fairy can’t hold back any longer and makes an appearance to berate the family. She ask them to think about what really constitutes fairness and justice, and to see their gripes in a wider context. If they can’t do that, she threatens to bake them all in one big fairy cake.

    In lesser hands this could be a pompous moral tale told with a big wagging finger hanging over the reader and listener, but Ros Asquith has brilliantly written a tremendously funny, (and, yes, useful!) story I can’t recommend enough. Everyone has fun poked at them, not only the parents, but even the It’s Not Fairy herself, reminding us that even though we’re not all perfect, and we do all complain from time to time, it’s ok to have a moan, and it’s even more ok to take a deep breath and remember the bigger picture.

    The rhyming text is fun to read aloud and also draws in listeners who will quickly be joining in. The illustrations, familiar to those who read Asquith’s regular cartoon strips in the Guardian newspaper, are full of textual detail that pack even more giggles into this book.

    A punchy way to start a more meaningful discussion about what is and isn’t fair, every primary school should have this book for use in classrooms. Every parent should have a copy too because it’s a gift – now when I get moans from the kids about things not being fair, I just remind them about the It’s Not Fairy, and a grumpy situation is turned round into one where we can laugh and actually talk about what we’re feeling.

    It’s Not Fairy comes with a great recipe for baking your own It’s Not Fairy Cakes so of course we tried them out. For “Fairy Dust”, to sprinkle on the icing, we made

    3 Comments on For when life is just not fair, last added: 7/5/2012
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    21. Wow of a launch results in 3 titles in reprint already!

    Andrea has gotten it spectacularly right! The CEO of Tell Me a Story launched 10 new titles on 30th June, this year. I was privileged to be guest speaker at an event that had even seasoned politicians, Ian Rickuss, MP Lockyer, and Steve Jones, Mayor, Lockyer Valley Regional Council,  commenting on attendance numbers!

    Assembled authors, illustrators and guest panelists with Andrea Kwast

    Muza Ulasowski [Panelist] and Guest Speaker, J.R.Poulter

    The audience was rapt. I have seldom been at a publishing event where everyone’s eyes shone! Andrea has the  devoted support of her very wide community of readers and growing. She also has the  good fortune to have a very devoted group of assistants in administrator, Rel, and local photographer and budding author herself, Jenni Smith.

    Research and innovation, preparedness to think out of the box, are hallmarks of Andrea and her team. She believes stories are lurking everywhere and it just takes the right determination, editing and dedication to bring them out. That she is succeeding over and above expetaction is more than demonstrated by the sellout and reprint, within the first few weeks since the launch, of no fewer than 3 titles!

    Hearty Congratulations Andrea and Team and to all her authors – keep writing!

    Click to view slideshow.
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    22. Taking blogging too far? Torturing my kids to get a blog post…

    Sometimes this blog gives the impression that life in our home is idyllic, that I’m some sort of super mum and that our house gives off a continual pleasant, warm and loving glow.

    Well. Let me assure you that this is not the case.

    In order to get the material for this post I caused my kids to weep and scream at me. I even took photos of them yelling at me.

    And why?

    Well, I may score good marks on the glitter and glue front but I’ve failed utterly and totally when it comes to my kids and food: M is the fussiest eater I know, and J loves to copy her big sister so she too eats a hugely self-restricted diet (M will only eat 4 cooked things: sausages, egg noodles, fish fingers and, at a push, beefburgers. Yep, that’s it…).

    So when along came a really lovely picture book about being a fussy eater I was delighted. Might it provide the breakthrough I’m constantly looking for?

    One day Katharine Quarmby and Piet Grobler‘s Fussy Freya decides all the food she used to like is no longer yummy. She simply refuses to touch it. Her parents try to keep their cool but when the food they’ve lovingly prepared gets thrown on the floor they despair and decide to call on Grandma’s help.

    When Freya throws down the gauntlet and tells her granny that she want to eat giraffe and other wild animals, Grandma calls her bluff and prepares precisely what Freya has requested. Warthog stuffed with cheese, grilled giraffe with cheese or mashed monkey, any one? Will this revolting food be a hit with Freya, or will she realise that what her parents offer her is actually rather yummy and so much more appealing than the exotic dishes her grandparents prepare for her?

    Katharine Quarmby’s rolling, rhyming tale of a fussy eater is great fun. There’s a lovely little refrain that kids will quickly pick up on and join in with, and the mixture of humour, naughtiness and rather shocking dishes (most kids love a little bit of squeamishness, especially if it’s safely at arms’ length in the pages of a book) are great ingredients combined to make a satisfying tale. Piet Grobler’s illustrations are full of gorgeous colour and perfectly match the slightly grotesque story, being both full of love and warmth, and seasoned with a sharp edge.

    One final aspect I really like about Fussy Freya is that Freya’s family is a mixed race family. This isn’t commented upon at all in the story – her’s is just a normal, “unremarkable” family. It’s great to see this in a picture book as it doesn’t happen often.

    In the spirit of Fussy Freya I thought I’d offer my girls some really ghastly food in the hope that they’d realise that my offerings of “normal” food were actually quite ok.

    For starters I gave them a bowl of snot. (Can you think of a child who doesn’t pick her nose?)

    Cream cheese with a bit of food colouring, and bread st

    4 Comments on Taking blogging too far? Torturing my kids to get a blog post…, last added: 7/15/2012
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    23. Journey of a Book – children’s literature creation under the microscope

    Click to view slideshow.Books are created from the imagination and inspiration of authors and the insightful vision of illustrators. They are then crafted. The authorial crafting may be right brain with a touch of editing or slow and laborious left brain plotting. For an illustrator, it may be  inspiration flowing like rivers from brush or  stylus or it may be  storybook or dummy creation then rethinks, scrap some ideas, adapt others. Eventually, a book emerges that is then ‘ready for submission’. These days, that may mean  adding animation and audio to make the book a digital production for app developers like  Utales or Flying Books, or for YA, formatting it for Kindle or Nook e-publishers. It may mean self publishing on Createspace  or Lightningsource, Smashwords or Lulu.  Or it will mean the long road via submission to traditional publishers.

    If the latter is chosen, the publisher will often require more editing, changes and perhaps more changes. My own book, started under contract to one publisher, was already well underway with the inimitable Sarah Davis as illustrator. We were having a ball creating our book. Then our publisher was taken over and the new publisher wanted  to  institute changes. At first, the major change – ‘get rid of the dead bird’ – seemed straight forward. Then we realised  the book needed the bird but, to keep it, we had to  make some big adjustments. An injured bird can’t just disappear in a children’s book, it has to get better and be released, which, in our picture book, meant its story  had to be woven into the fabric of the main story seamlessly. No problem, a few days and Sarah and I had nailed it! As book creators, you have to be flexible and, especially if going the traditional publisher route, you can’t be too precious about your creation.

    SO! This exhibition is about the journey numbers of wonderful children’s and YA books took from creation to  bookshelf! Each book has a different creation story to reveal - something the public doesn’t see, it’s behind the scenes. Now the reader can take a peek backstage, behind the scenes to how it all came together!


    Setting up was not straight forward. The spaces has to be utilised to best advantage and the  items displayed needed to be seen from as many angles as possible given I had a two shelf rectangular glass case.  I didn’t end up using everything I brought with me. It would have been too cluttered. Last minute inclusion, bulldog clips, proved life-savers! They held the  photographic prints in place.

    I had never ‘hung’ a painting before at an exhibition and that proved ‘interesting. Sarah Davis sent up her wonderful original painting via kindly courier, Peter Taylor, but it was unframed. I had no time to find a frame. Fortunately, I had one around the house that was  a good match colour-wise though not quite the  perfect size.

    Given my exhibit was about my close collaboration with Sarah, the items displayed needed to reflect the two minds working together to make a new creative whole – our book! Sources of inspiration, stages in text change, changes in images, cover and trivia relating to the characters, objects and places in the book all combined to make a successful ( I hope you agree) exhibit!

    Click to view slideshow.


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    24. I know it’s not Easter, but indulge me in some eggy goodness…

    Image: be_khe

    Yes, I know it’s not Easter, but I have two lovely egg themed books that deserve to be read NOW, not only in 9 months time so please go and scrabble in the back of your kitchen cupboards to find that secret stash of chocolate I won’t tell anyone about, break off a piece and enjoy whilst I tell about these two egg-tastic picture books.

    Croc and Bird by Alexis Deacon explores how very different two friends can be (so different they come from quite separate species), and yet, how they can still be the best of friends if they listen to their own hearts, and are not forced into conformity by others. If you like, it’s a reworking of the themes explored in Stellaluna by Janell Cannon, but this time with a crocodile instead of a bat.

    It asks questions about who your family is. Can long lasting ties only be based on shared customs and cultures, or can friendship and love transcend such differences?

    Deacon’s illustrations have a magical and somewhat mysterious air about them; indeed they reminded me of William Blake‘s paintings. Unlike Deacon’s earlier Beegu, the characters in this book are not so cute. The young bird is as ugly as they come – and this too says something about friendship and brotherly love.

    Croc and Bird is not a sugary, all sweetness-and-light picture book. I think its themes and images are somewhat more challenging and thought provoking than you’ll find in many books on the kids’ bestseller list, but its is not without humour and it’s certainly full of hope.

    The Fishing Trip by Béatrice Rodriguez (sold in the US under a different title – Fox and Hen Together) is also about cross-species friendship, this time between a chicken and a fox.

    In this wordless story Chicken entrusts the care of her Egg to Fox (it is clear they have set up home together), whilst Chicken goes off to bring food home for them all. The fishing trip referred to in the title turns out to be a rather hair-raising, risky experience, but

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    25. A triumphant trio of boy-friendly books

    One of the truly great discoveries for me this summer has been the Swedish author Ulf Stark. Last week I couldn’t resist telling you about his bittersweet exploration of identity, Fruitloops and Dipsticks, likely to be enjoyed most by kids in their early years at secondary school or there abouts.

    Today, however, I want to tell you about a trio of books that will delight slightly younger children, all of them about a young boy, Ulf, his friendships, school and family life. Each is packed with humour and acute observations about relationships, between friends and enemies, and children and adults. They share an unpatronising approach to their readers, mirroring aspects of their own lives in a honest and yet thoughtful, nearly always funny, and sometimes heartbreaking manner. They struck me as the next step up from the naughty and adorable Nicholas books by Goscinny and Sempe – perfect for slightly older kids, who still love getting in to trouble but who can also appreciate meatier issues.

    When we’re first introduced to Ulf, in My friend Percy’s Magical Gym Shoes, we soon discover he is chubby and poor at sports. But when a new boy, Percy, arrives at his school, Ulf finds someone he looks up to, someone he wants to emulate; Percy seems suave and full of self assurance, powers which apparently stem from his magical gym shoes. Ulf is determined to buy Percy’s shoes from him, so he too can be cool and confident. And indeed, once Ulf has the shoes, his life does become much more exciting as he and his new best friend get into all sorts of scrapes and japes. But these adventures are not appreciated by the adults around and Ulf starts to get a bad reputation. Does Ulf want to be known as a bad boy? Does he need to be so wild to gain the respect he wishes for from his peers? Will he and Percy manage to stay friends?

    In My friend Percy & The Sheik we learn that Ulf’s father is a ham radio buff, and through his hobby has made contact with a sheik (True Fact: former King Hussein of Jordan was an amateur radio hobbyist and often chatted with ‘regular’ people all around the world). The sheik promises to visit Ulf’s father but will the trip come off? Will Ulf be the laughing stock amongst his friends? This second volume sees Ulf and Percy’s friendship cemented as they deal with bullying, a first crush, and the threat that Percy’s family will have to move away.

    By the time we reach My friend Percy & Buffalo Bill the boys are 10, and 3 years into their friendship. They spend one summer together on a Swedish island at Ulf’s grandparents home and it turns out to be an amazing summer, the summer you dream of as a kid, building dens, taming wild horses, fishing and swimming around the island. But at the heart of this story is Percy and Ulf’s relationship with Ulf’s heartbroken grandfather. A curmudgeonly old so-and-so, Percy gains the grandfather’s respect by standing up to him, and gradually a friendship develops that in the end will bring tears to your eyes. I haven’t read many books which focus on male friendships that manage to be laugh out loud funny and also profoundly moving.

    My friend Percy’s M

    3 Comments on A triumphant trio of boy-friendly books, last added: 8/8/2012
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