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Reviews of children's picture books and interviews with authors and illustrators.
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1. The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver: Review

 It was inevitable that a novel featuring my three favourite historic figures (Diego Riveira, Frida Kahlo and Leon Trotsky) should find its way into my supermarket basket. How glad I am that it did!

The Lacuna is a well-researched and beautifully written epic novel that captured my imagination and held my attention from its early pages. It combines modern and ancient Mexican history with modern US history and an anti-war message. It tells the life of Harrison Shepherd, an American boy growing up in Mexico, and later of his career and exile in the USA. His story is interwoven with that of famous artists Riveira and Kahlo, and the Bolshevik leader, Trotsky.

Chancing to meet Frida Kahlo in the market place one day, he offers to carry her basket, and not discouraged by her rather scornful reply, he follows her home – the start of a complicated life-long friendship and his first job in the Riveira/Kahlo home.

Shepherd makes himself indispensible as a mixer of the best plaster, a fine cook and a secretary. When the household takes in exiled Russian leader, Leon Trotsky, Shepherd becomes his main scribe and translator. His diaries give colourful descriptions of the vibrant personalities he lived amongst and of a life under constant threat of attack.

After Shepherd’s death, he makes his way to small-town American and establishes a new life as an author. He leads a reclusive life and tries as much as possible to be unnoticed, but his novels are overnight successes and draw a lot of attention from women (in which Shepherd) is not remotely interested) and from the media.

As McCarthy’s witch-hunt against Communism draws momentum, Shepherd comes under suspicion by his former association with Riveira, Kahlo and Trotsky and is drawn into an ugly legal battle.

Will he clear his name? You will just have to read this fascinating and entertaining story to find out.  Highly recommended.

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2. The Fearsome Beastie by Giles Paley-Phillips

It's always exciting to receive a new picture book to review and "The Fearsome Beastie" was quite a treat. It cast me back to childhood when we were threatened with the bogeyman if we didn't behave.

The Fearsome Beastie is quite a threat as he eats children (there's seven live next door to me that he's quite welcome to!) The story is told in simple rhyme that is fun to read out loud and easy for children to memorise, and the dark humour appeals to adults too.

The children try to hide from the Fearsome Beastie but he is sly and cunning at hunting them down. By pretending to be lonely and just wanting to play, he gets a meal - an important lesson in not talking to strangers.

In the end, in a scene that is reminiscent of Red Riding Hood, Granny saves the day by chopping the Beastie in two so that the children can escape.

The story is superbly illustrated by Gabriel Antonini, in a style that reminded me of another famous beastie, 'the Gruffalo'. The beastie is scary, but not so scary that children would be too frightened to look at the book. The expressions of fear on the children's faces is well-captured and Granny is a great character with her big bloomers.

All in all, an entertaining, well-written and beautifully illustrated book that deserves to be a bed-time favourite.

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3. Out of the Shadows by Jason Wallace (Carnegie finalist)

This book generated the best discussion so far, which surprised me as I really hadn’t been sure at all what the girls’ reaction to it would be. The school staff, whilst not disliking it as such, had found it quite a bleak read with nothing positive happening in it to draw you out of the misery.

This novel is set in Zimbabwean boarding school for boys, in the early years of the Mugabe government after a long, bitter struggle for black independence. Long held school traditions are being overturned by the admission of a few black teachers and students and this breeds resentment amongst many of the pupils.

New pupil, Robert Jacklin, freshly arrived from England, initially makes friends with a young black boy, the first pupil he meets there. But in the end, he turns his back on his friend in an attempt to avoid the vicious bullying of Ivan, and he is drawn into his gang’s violent and racist games.

The girls felt that they could empathise with Robert’s predicament and inner turmoil and felt greatly sorry for him as his home life was a mess too. Although they did not understand a lot of the history and political references, they felt that this did not detract from their enjoyment of the book. This scored the highest so far amongst the group.

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4. Prisoner of the Inquisition by Theresa Breslin (Carnegie finalist)

Our second book, “Prisoner of the Inquisition” by Teresa Breslin was a historical novel set in the era of the Spanish Inquisition and the exploratory voyages of Christopher Colombus. It is fast paced and begins with a harrowing scene of a woman being burnt at the stake for treason.

The story has two main characters – Zarita who is the spoilt daughter of the rich town’s magistrate. Saulo is the son of a peasant who is hanged by that magistrate and he seeks revenge on the family.

The majority of the girls in my group loved the book. Its simple language explained the history behind the Inquisition in a way that was easy to understand and inspired them to get on Wikipedia and find out more about it, and the instruments of torture used! In particular, they enjoyed the swashbuckling chapters of the sea voyage and the battle with pirates. At the same time the romance between Saulo and Zarita satisfied those who had been yearning for the Carnegie to present a Mills & Boons type of offering. They also recognised the moral that runs throughout that even your smallest action can set of a chain of reaction that has huge and devastating consequences for those around you.

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5. The Death Defying Pepper Roux - Geraldine McCaughrean (Carnegie finalist)

Shadowing the Carnegie Medal is without doubt my favourite time of the school year as it affords me the opportunity to read books that I normally wouldn’t pick up. I have discovered some great authors this way. This year, I have a Year 9 group from the independent girls’ school where I work. Their differing (generally very strong!) opinions are as entertaining as the books themselves – sometimes more so. So far, we have read three of the books on the short list.

The Death Defying Pepper Roux – Geraldine McCaughrean

Personally, I was disappointed with this book as I had loved one of her previous novels, “The Kite Rider,” and had high hopes for this story. From the group, one of the girls absolutely loved it and gave it top marks of 20 (the same girls has top- marked all the books so far!). The rest felt that it was too far-fetched and unbelievable and were bored rather than amused by it. They could not understand what period it was set it or why it had to be set in France. Their favourite character was the Duchess (although there was some confusion as to whether he was male or female). Pepper’s many changes of identity also confused and they did not believe that he would have been accepted as a Captain on the ship. Most of the girls said that they had looked forward to reading this book but it had ultimately disappointed. The book was scored from 0 to 20, with 7 been the average mark given.

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6. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

It beggars belief to learn that once your cells leave your body, you are considered to have voluntarily given them up and they no longer belong to you.  This is as true to day as it was in 1951, when Henrietta Lacks, a poor young Afro-American woman was admitted to a hospital in Baltimore with an exceptionally invasive and aggressive form of cancer.

A biopsy was taken of these cells without her knowledge or consent.  At this time, human tissue culture was in its infancy and researchers struggled to keep the cells alive.  Yet, they found that Henrietta's cells not only lived, but thrived and multiplied and seemed nigh impossible to kill.  Soon, these cells, named 'HeLa' were being used in medical research experiments worldwide, and became big business.

In this book, Rebecca Skloot aims to tell the personal story of Henrietta, her life of poverty, her illness and death, and the way her death has contributed to huge advances in science.  She talks to the people who knew Henrietta, and to her family who were initially hostile and suspicious of her motives.  Despite the fortunes that Henrietta's cells made for those who controlled them, her family never received a penny and remained unable to afford healthcare.  The story exposes the racism and hypocrisy of the medical industry of that time.  Despite being a science book, it is very accessible and easy to understand and reads more like a fiction novel.  It is a book that enrages and inspires, and I recommend it to all.

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7. The Various Flavours of Coffee by Anthony Capella

When it comes to coffee, I admit that I'm a bit of a Philistine.  I hate cappuccino, espresso, latte and all that Italian muck that has taken over coffee shops worldwide.  Given the choice, I'm much happier with a decent filter coffee, and happier still with a mug of plain old Nescafe.  I can't resist my local newsagent's bargain price and don't care that the jar may be written in Russian or Arabic.

Despite my unrefined tastes, I was drawn to the idea in Anthony Capella's novel of being able to define coffee its aromas and tastes.  The main character Wallis is pretty much blackmailed into working for Pinker's coffee shop, where he soon sets his sights on the owner's daughter, Emily and her father's money.  She accepts his proposal but before they can wed, Wallis is sent away to Africa to start a coffee plantation (a shrewd move by her father who hopes the playboy will be out of sight and out of mind there).  Once in Africa, Wallis promptly falls for a slave girl.

I don't want to give away too much of the plot, but this is a really fun, rollicking good read, frequently bawdy, and gives a flavour of life in Edwardian London as well as colonial Africa.  It is also interwoven with politics - Emily despite marrying a Liberal MP, is an active member of the Suffragettes.

Make yourself a cup of your favourite coffee, sit down and get stuck in.  You're in for a treat.

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8. Why can't we have a decent book review series?

Programmes about books are few and far between, but this year promises to be a treat for book lovers as the BBC are running several series to celebrate The Year of the Book.  So far, I have especially enjoyed "The Beauty of Books", and not surprisingly my favourite episode covered children's illustration especially the many artists of one of my favourite books, Alice in Wonderland.

There are regular programmes that review new films, and countless digital stations dedicated to music of all genres, but we are seriously lacking a regular television programme that discusses and reviews new books.  The few book programmes there are, by and large, are made on shoestring budgets, with dire and unenticing graphics, and appalling sets (a few shabby sofas and a coffee table).  Yet, we read and buy books in their millions every year.  Don't we therefore deserve something more?  As a license payer, why should I continue to fund other people' sporting obsessions when my desire for an intelligent and long-running book programme goes ignored?

It is in recognition and celebration of the Year of the Book, that I am reviving "The Bookworm Reads."   Whereas previously I have reviewed mainly independently published children's picture books, from now on I will be reviewing every book that I read and in between, reviewing and commenting on books that have inspired and moved me in the past.

Please come back tomorrow for a review of "The Various Flavours of Coffee" by Anthony Capella.

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9. Hayseed's First Race by Sally Schrock


Hayseed’s First Race is a classic story of an underdog who wins the day. Hayseed is a funny looking horse and certainly no thoroughbred, but he is happy with who and what he is. When he comes to run his first race, he is taunted by his rival ‘Prince Perfect’ (who believes he lives up to his name). Prince Perfect tells him he does not belong and Hayseed begins to doubt himself. Then he remembers his mother’s advice to love himself for who he is and wins the race by a photo finish.

Any child who is a ‘little bit different’ will identify with Hayseed and the story encourages them to have confidence in themselves. Maybe too, those ‘Prince Perfects’ will learn to be more tolerant and accepting.

Sally Schrock’s bright and humorous cartoons make this a picture book to treasure.

Exclusively available from

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10. Interview with Sally Schrock

Please can you tell us a little about your childhood and background?
I was born in Kansas City, Missouri, the oldest of three children. As a toddler, I was diagnosed as being profoundly deaf, the result of my mother contracting rubella, or German measles, during her pregnancy. As a child, I was fitted with my first hearing aid and enrolled in a special preschool for hearing-impaired and deaf children, during which time I learned to speak and lip-read with the help of my mother, who by that time had gone back to college to earn her master’s degree in audiology. I was mainstreamed into a regular classroom in the fourth grade and remained in the public school system until I graduated from Olathe (Kansas) North High School.

Was it difficult to adjust to that?
It wasn’t all that much of a challenge for me because I already felt very comfortable around most hearing people, especially my family. I have rarely ever had any problems communicating with most people, and vice versa, and that carried over into a mainstreamed classroom. If I had grown up using sign language as my main form of communication, it would have been considerably more difficult to become integrated into a hearing environment – but since my parents insisted that I learn how to speak and lipread, I didn’t have all that much trouble adjusting.

How were you treated by hearing children? Were you picked on for being deaf?
Yes, this happened more in grade school, especially with boys who made fun of me, but they were pretty isolated incidents for the most part. Once I got into junior high school, I was treated pretty much like anyone else and nobody made my deafness an issue then.

Did you study further than high school?
Yes, I went on to Washington, D.C., where I earned a B.A. in English at Gallaudet College, the world’s only liberal-arts institution of higher learning for the deaf and hearing-impaired.

When and how did you first become an illustrator?
It was at a very young age when I discovered my passion for art and horses, two loves that naturally went hand in hand. Quite often during class I would take a pencil and draw realistic sketches of horses in the margins of my notebook when I was supposed to be paying attention to the teacher. It wasn’t until I was a sophomore at Gallaudet that I found out I could draw cartoons, and Hayseed was “born” in 1981 on the college campus there. I have been drawing him ever since.

What is the inspiration behind Hayseed?
Well, Hayseed is loosely based on an Appaloosa gelding I owned as a teenager, named Rainbeau Shayne, or Shayne, as I called him. Hayseed actually has a number of influences. The one thing that inspired me to draw him in the first place was a Bernard Kliban cartoon of a cat wearing tennis shoes on all four feet. I also have a very old birthday card with a horse on the front that must have been in the back of my mind when I drew Hayseed for the first time. When I came across it after Hayseed was created, I was amazed at the similarities between Hayseed and that greeting card horse.

Who and what has influenced you artistically?
My early artistic influences came from Walt Disney’s classic animated films, and more recently, Pixar Animation Studios’ brilliantly innovative 3D comedies and Japanese animation director Hayao Miyazaki (“Spirited Away”

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11. The Great Snowball Escapade - Jan D Holiday

Wilhelmina has had a rotten Christmas, thanks to her mean cousin Bud coming to stay. Things don’t get any better when she returns to school – not only is Bud in the same class, but she has to sit next to him! Bud is the school bully. He dictates who is allowed to play and where, he fights with Wil and her friends, deliberately gets her into trouble with teachers and her Mum, and there is no getting away from him because now he lives in her home!

Bud’s parents are going through a divorce, and Wil’s Mum encourages her to be understanding and nice to Bud, but that’s not easy when he’s so mean.

“The Great Snowball Escapade” has a believable and likeable heroine and children will easily identify with her and the situations she finds herself in. The book is effectively illustrated throughout with simple line-drawings.

Do Bud and Wil finally sort out their differences? You’ll just have to read the book to find out.

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12. Interview with Jan D Holiday, Author & Illustrator

How did you get started?
In 1983 I started writing seriously when a friend asked me to read a few pages from a historical romance she was writing. I told her what I thought about it and she asked me to help her write the book. We did finish it and sent it to an agent who was kind and sent the manuscript back with a detailed account of what was wrong with it - and there was plenty wrong with it! My friend went on to other things while I found that I loved writing and did not want to stop.
Did you always want to be an author?
No, I didn't. My father was a writer too. He wrote every weekend for as long as I can remember, though I never thought of writing myself when he was alive, apart from one rainy day in sixth grade which I spent writing a story and enjoyed doing so. But I was so self-conscioius about my spelling difficulties that I didn't think I could write seriously.

What type of stories do you write and how many books have you written?
I have written many short stories which I like writing. They are quick to write and I find it fun to compact everything into one small story that can stand on its own. I have found that my love is writing children's stories and doing the illustrations myself. I have ten stories written that need illustrations and two are teen novels that are yet unfinished. I have two published books so far.
How do you know that an idea is worth following?
I don't know. I just start working on a project and researching the topics I need to know about to write the story and in most cases, I finish it.
How do you create your characters?
I really can't say. They just come to me and none of them are based on people I know.
How long does it take you to write and illustrate a book?
That always depends on what is going on around me. As I said earlier, most of my stories I wrote a while ago, but I think most of them took a few months and even up to eight months for the longer stories.
My newly published book, The Great Snowball Escapade, is a chapter book for 6 to 8 year olds which I wrote in 1989. I just finished the illustrations which took about 6 months fitting them in around my family, work, cooking and pets (who all come first).

Have you had any formal art training?
Not really, although I had art for 4 years in high school and have taken many art classes along the way.
What's the hardest thing for you to draw?
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13. The Cloud Seekers by Robert L Calixto


As a child, I frequently saw pictures and faces in the fire, cracks in the ceiling, and the garish 1960's patterned wallpaper or curtains. So, it is easy for me to identify with the Cloud Seekers.

The book encourages children to look beyond the obvious and to use their imagination. The story is simply written and easy to read for beginners.

Illustrator, Russel Wayne, has done a great job at depicting the six culturally diverse friends and there is likely to be a character that each child will identify with - whether they are an animal lover or a lover of biscuits! The images in the clouds are recognisable whilst still remaining 'cloud-like.'

The book opens up possiblities of discussing types of clouds (I was always fascinated with the different names and trying to identify the different kinds) and how clouds are formed so could be used as part of such a lesson.

Available from Halo Publishing

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14. The Bookworm Reads: Interview with Robert L. Calixto - Author and Dreamer

The Bookworm Reads: Interview with Robert L. Calixto - Author and Dreamer

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15. Interview with Robert L. Calixto - Author and Dreamer

Roberto L Calixto's first book, "The Cloud Seekers: A Pirate Ship in the Clouds" will be published by Halo Publishing during the first week of March.

What type of reading inspires you to write and what kind of books did you enjoy most as a child?
To find inspiration to write, I try to read anything and everything I can get my hands on, includingonline sites like Wikipedia and various blogs. Lately, I've been reading a lot of biographies of great-minded people, especially writers like E.B. White, Roald Dahl and Oscar Wilde. As a relatively new writer, I find E.B. White's life story a great beacon for aspiring writers. I also have a collection of inspirational self-help books that I have collected over the years. I spent my childhood in Manila,Philippines until I was eleven years old. My parents seldom read children's books to me, so I had to catch up in my early teens in America. I still enjoy reading some of the great children's classics like 'Charlotte's Web', 'Alice in Wonderland' and every by Dr. Seuss to my children. These books always seem to loosen my imagination. I have to also mention that in my early teens, I used to enjoy reading my Mom's Reader's Digest subscription. I was addicted. I couldn't wait for those little things to come in the mail and read them from front to back. There were a lot of inspiring stories in those mags!
What is the inspiration behind the Cloud Seekers?
The Cloud Seekers is quite special. As a young child growing up in the tropical islands of the Philippines, during the rainy seasons I spent countless hours on the corrugated metal roof of my grandmother's bodega-style house, staring at the clouds. There was a particular day when it all got started. Just before I turned six, as one of my earliest memories, I remember my entire family plus several cousins spending an entire afternoon looking at the clouds; seeing faces, animals, cars, hearts, and a really huge barge, amongst other things. In the first book of the Cloud Seekers series, I turned the barge into a pirate ship. I still remember going up to the roof by myself, constantly trying to find "things" in the clouds. When my family migrated to America, the clouds just weren't quite the same. To this day, I still have a habit of looking up at the clouds. As a son of immigrant parents, I equate the experience of cloud seeking as a metaphor for finding a better life. I shared this childhood experience in the back of "A Pirate Ship in the Clouds", called "A Cloud Seeker's Story". A friend read the story and she convinced me to include it in the book. I'm very glad that I did.
What do you think is required for a character to be believable? How do you create yours?
To create a character, you have to start with a theme for your story. That's a major part of the foundation of your story. The characters suport that theme in their actions and words. And of course, your characters have to be believable. To be believable, a character has to be someone that anyone and everyone can identify with. In my book, all of the characters are children between the ages of five and nine. They al

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16. Interview with Shelina Ishani, creator of the Jazzy series

What kind of books from your childhood inspired you to write?

There are many books from my childhood that have inspired me to write the Jazzy series. The most memorable one is the Twinkle short stories. This was a great series about a young girl, Twinkle, who with the help of her puppy, Lulu was involved in many adventures. I remember looking forward to reading the stories every week.
What was the inspiration behind the Jazzy series of books?
The inspiration behind the Jazzy series is my three year old daughter, Jenna. Jenna is an animal lover just like Jazzy. All the pets in the Jazzy series are out own pets, thanks to Jenna. Puppy is our 16 year old cat. Snowball is our 8 month old dog. Furry and Precious are our budgies and Shue was our goldfish who recently passed away. So, yep, our house is full of pets. I love animals and so do my kids. I feel that kids learn unconditional love and kindness when growing up with pets.
What is required for a character to be believable? How do you create yours?
I feel that for a characer to be believable, the read should be able to relate to it. I created Jazzy because I felt that there is a lack of books depicting the power of animals in a child's life. Research has indicated that children who grow up with animals learn to be kind and gentle adults. This is exactly what I am trying to achieve with the Jazzy series.
Are you equally good at telling stories orally?
Well, I hope so. I know my kids enjoy me reading stories to them. So far, I have read the Jazzy books to my son's preschool class, a mixed group of kids and my older son's third grade class. All of them really enjoyed the stories. Next month, I'm booked to read in two elementary schools in Edina, MN. So...I really hope that I am a good story teller.
Does reader feedback help you? How do you obtain this?
I really appreciate reader feedback because after all, it is the readers that I am trying to relate to with the Jazzy series. I rely on the reader's feedback on the type of story, the illustrations, the media tha tI use to illustrate with and the font that I use. If my readers enjoy the books that I have created, then I feel that I have achieved success. So, I strongly feel that reader feedback is critical in this field. I obtina reader feedback firstly from the most critical group ... my family. My husband and three kids show me no mercy when they read one of my books for the first time. I then pass it on to extended family, friends and neighbours. Once those suggestions have been incorporated, I get the first proof of the book which I pass on to reviewers, librarians and teachers. Then the final copy is done, I ask fellow authors to post review of the books on Amazo

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17. An ideal series for beginner readers

The Jazzy Series by author/illustrator Shelina Ishani

The Jazzy series of stories is aimed at the under 5s who are just learning to read and are perfect beginners' books.

In the first story Jazzy and Puppy, we meet the young girl Jazzy and her imaginatively named cat 'Puppy'. Puppy follows Jazzy everywhere until one day when she suddenly goes missing. Jazzy finally tracks her down and finds a litter of kittens.

The second book, Jazzy Gets a Dog, introduces us to many more of Jazzy's pets. After pestering her parents, she finally gets to go and choose her dream puppy and has one more pet to love.

In Jazzy's Lovely Christmas, Jazzy wishes to buy a special Christmas present for each of her pets and is disappointed to find that everything costs far more than the money she has. Her mother explains that there is one gift she can give her pets that costs nothing at all - love. Jazzy comes to realise that love is the real meaning of Christmas and that there are some things that money can't buy.

All the stories are very simply written and easy for a young child to follow and understand. The repetition of names and words allows for learning to read. The illustrations are bright and appealing to children.

All the books are available from Amazon and signed copies can be ordered from the Jazzy website.

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18. The Bookworm Reads: Interview with Lorna Foot, illustrator for 'Gone Indy'

The Bookworm Reads: Interview with Lorna Foot, illustrator for 'Gone Indy'

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19. Interview with Lynn Taylor, author of "The Adventures of Miss Mousey"

Left: Lynn Taylor at the book launch of her first children's book, "The Adventures of Miss Mousey

What kind of books did you first read when you were a child?

I'm not sure what I first read but I devoured most things by Enid Blyton, and then Richard Crompton. I enjoyed fairy stories by a myriad of authors.

What is required for a character to be believable? How do you create yours? What was the inspiration behind Miss Mousey?

The reader needs to be able to react to a character either positively or negatively (if they are a baddie) and to be able to live the experience with them. Each character needs to have their own personality and to be consistent and coherent. I create my characters through a process of osmosis. I get a feel for them; a voice; a personality and develop the main feature of that personality.

My inspiration from Miss Mousey came from a stuffed toy that we bought at our annual charity do. Somehow she developed into a bossy mouse with attitude who speaks regularly.

What do you think are the basic ingredients for a story?

A good plot; good development; coherence; action; fun; a full range of emotions as necessary to the plot; an outcome; the full involvement of characters.

Does reader feedback help you?

Reader feedback is essential but can also be scary. You have to be prepared for it to be negative and it can sometimes be upsetting.

What do you surround yourself with in your work area in order to concentrate?

I need peace and quiet to write; a table; pen; notepad; space and tidiness.

Do you frequent any sites online to share experiences or inspiration?

I don't frequent online sites as I am not very computer literate.

How did you go about find all those things necessary for pulling 'Miss Mousey' together, such as an illustrator, publisher and recording studio?

Through a group, I advertised for an illustrator. I visited several people but it came to nothing. I had just about decided to abandon the whole thing when a friend I had not seen for three years contacted me and put me in touch with an illustrator and a sound recording artist. I was also lucky to be offered help on the publishing side from Angela Cater who I met through my walking group.

What are you working on now?

At the moment I am working on "The Further Adventures of Miss Mousey" and a book for younger readers, "Gary Greylag the Goose".

Which well-known writers do you admire the most?

I admire Phillip Pullman, G P Taylor, James Paterson, Ian Rankin. There isn't really a 'must' as I love so many of today's

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20. Interview with K Michael Crawford, writer and illustrator extraordinaire

K Michael Crawford has illustrated many books for other writers during his career. More recently, he has published a couple of "Adventure Game" books for children. Here he talks about his creative process.

How did you first get into writing and illustrating your own books?

When I was a kid in Middle School, an author came to visit our school to talk about her book. After her talk, I stayed to talk to her more about writing children's books. I knew right then that I wanted to create magical stories for children. I also found out that she lived very close to me, so every chance I got, I went to visit her to talk about writing.

While in college, a friend of mine asked me if I would illustrate a story he had written. He wanted to produce it to give to his family and friends for Christmas. I said yes, and we had his father to print the book for us. It wasn't a bestseller or anything, but we sold it at the local bookstore and got an article about the book in the Baltimore Sun. I was hooked and knew I wanted to illustrate and write children's books for the rest of my life.

Have you completed formal art studies, or are you self-taught?

I graduated from the University of Maryland in Advertising Design. But after college is when I really started to take illustration seriously. I took drawing classes at Otis Parson School of Design, American Animation Institute, Art Centre College of Design and Associates in Art, where I learnt to draw really well from professional teachers. But it was up to me to develop the style of how I wanted things to look in my drawing. Deciding upon your style is one of the hardest things an artist has to do. My style seems to fit with the way I l ook at life and how I think. I still explore and develop my art, because this is a lifetime adventure and only I know how far I can take my art or want to take it.

I need to share something with you here, because even though it seems that my life is very magical, I was told by four different English teachers over the years that I would never learn grammar. They threw their arms up in the air at me. I was always told that I had a great imagination but I would never be a writer because I couldn't learn grammar. Well, I have proven that where there is a will, there is a way. I just started writing lots and then hired a great editor to edit my work. The moral of this story is that someone else might not be able to teach you how to do something, but you can always teach yourself. Or you can hire someone to cover your weaknesses.

How did you get your first full assignment? What did it involve?

After I believed that my art as ready, I started sending out postcards to publishers to try to get a book to illustrate. Every month for six months, I sent out a postcard and then I got my first book to il

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21. The Mystery of Journeys Crowne


As a child, I spent most of my time curled up in a corner with a cat on my knee and a book or drawing pad in my hand. I would have adored The Mystery of Journeys Crowne which gives creative children a full license to draw their own adventure story and follow cryptic clues to unravel the story. A story page at the start of the book sets the scene, but then you are left to your own devices to work your way through a variety of tasks and solve the mystery. In addition to deciphering cryptic clues (some quite difficult and requiring some reasearch) and searching for hidden items, a lot of left to the child's imagination and they are asked to draw their own characters.

In addition to being an absorbing game, the book features K Michael Crawford's breathtakingly colourful illustrations. These alone are worth buying the book for, and add further stimulus to a young and vivid imagination.
This book is available from Amazon and most online book stores.

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22. Interview with Marc Archambault, children's author

Partnered by illustrator, Lorna Foot, Marc Archambault is the author of a number of children's picture books produced under the publishing name of 'Indy Books'. His most recently published book, "Teevert" will be reviewed in my next blog.
What kind of books did you like to read as a child? What type of reading inspires you to write?
Roald Dahl was my favourite author. I sought out anything and everything written by him, but that was when I was a bit older that when reading picture books. I honestly don't have much memory of the picture books from when I was very young. I mostly got exposed to them more recently when my wife and I would take our daughters to the library and return with - quite literally - a cartful of books too heavy to carry.
What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
There's a spark. I try not to force my writing. I write when the inspiration hits and it usually just pours out all at once. Sometimes it will be a mater of mere hours between the spark and the finished story. Other times the spark may linger for months or years before it finally comes out int a story. Often the spark will come from my family. In the case of Teevert, it was a walk in Vancouver with the family one autumn and one of the kids said 'what if a leaf is afraid to fall?'
What do you think makes a good children's story?
It depends on the intent of the story. I've seen some very good ones that are quite serious. Mine, however, tend to all have a sense of playfulness. Like any story, there needs to be a beginning, middle and end. There needs to be a point or a punch-line. It needs to engage the reader. Personally, I also have a pet-peeve that I dislike stories that insult the intelligence of children by distorting reality - for example, putting together animals that are normally found on different continents, calling chimps 'monkeys' and other inaccurate things like that. Sure, the animals talk, but if you're representing African animals, do a bit of research first so that you're not sticking South American animals into the story.
How do you get reader feedback?
So far most of our sales have been direct at book signings, craft fairs, through people we know, etc. So often people will read the story there and tell us they love it. Or they will tell us later after they've read it to their children.
What discipline do you impose on yourself regarding schedules, goals, etc?Regarding writing, none. I write when the inspiration hits me. The promoting of the book requires a lot more work in contacting people, setting up events, etc. I'm still new and learning so I'm mostly taking it as it comes.
What do you surround yourself with in your work area in orde

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23. The Bookworm Reads: "Teevert" by Marc Archambault, illustrated by Lorna Foot

The Bookworm Reads: "Teevert" by Marc Archambault, illustrated by Lorna Foot

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24. "Teevert" by Marc Archambault, illustrated by Lorna Foot


Teevert follows the life of one individual little leaf, from his first budding to his final fall to the ground. Throughout the book, Teevert and his family are full of enthusiasm for life and love of the changing seasons. However, when, one by one, Teevert's friends start to turn brown and fall from the tree, he is not so fond of winter and is frightened of taking that fall. Eventually, he is left alone and is forced to face his fears and take that final jump.

The story is told in a very simple and straight forward way and is perfect for youngsters who are beginning to read for themselves. Lorna Foot's illustrations are bold and capture the atmosphere of the changing seasons as well as Teevert's emotions.

The book gives parents and teachers a perfect starting point for discussion of a number of subjects: the seasons, growing up and the circle of life and death, all presented in a manner that is non-threatening and esay to understand. Recommended.

Please return in a few days time for an interview with Lorna Foot, illustrator of 'Teevert'

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25. Interview with Lorna Foot, illustrator for 'Gone Indy'

Lorna Foot is the illustrator behind the 'Gone Indy' brand of children's books, written by Marc Archambault.

How did your working relationship with Marc Archambault first come about?
I met Marc at our Kung Fu school and every once in a while we would work together and talk. One day, he aske me to draw a mural for his youngest daughter's bedroom when he found out that I was an artist. It wasn't until recently that I found out he writes children's stories. He asked me if I wanted to illustrate them and I said sure.
What was the first book you ever illustrated? How did you go about it?
Our first book that I illustrated is called Hal the Unwashed Dragon. I chose to do this book first because my speciality is dragons and I figured it would be a good start. I drew the pictures onto paper. When I was satisfied, I would go over then with ink, scan them onto my computer and then colour them in Photoshop.
Is there a web address where we can view some of your work?
Sure, there are a few actually - http://cartoon-dragon.deviantart.com/gallery/ - this is my cartoon strip, and http://dragonartist101.deviantart.com - this is my miscellaneous works. I also have a new portfolio page at http://dragonartist.carbonmade.com
Have you completed formal art studies, or are you self-taught?
I'm practically self taught. I've been drawing ever since I could hold a pencil, but with some guidance from school I've been able to try new techniques that I would never have done by myself. So say 90% self-taught.
Which past or present day illustrators do you admire most?
Honestly, I don't have a particular illustrator that I admire. In fact, I admire all of them.
How similar are your current drawings to those you did as a child?
Not similar at all. I've kept all my old sketchbooks and my drawins have evolved so much. Since I draw dragons the most, I can draw wings better,

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