So, earlier I spoke about Ben. Now I would like to mention the beautiful illustrations by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini.
A great story is made even greater by wonderful illustrations and the combined effort of the Simon and Schuster design team and Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini have brought us an absolutely stunning hardback book that will earn precious space on your bookshelf. It really is a keeper. The cover is stunning, with gold foil that brings it to life and makes the book literally jump out at you when you see it. There is so much detail throughout the entire book and Daniela has created a gorgeous selection of illustrations that complement Ben’s writing brilliantly. She really is a great talent and I’m delighted to have had the opportunity to ask her the following questions.
How do you begin to create the wonderful art work that brings Ben’s story to life?
‘After having some initial ideas, inspired by the story, I always plunge myself into extensive visual research, mainly to find the kind of visual reference that will support me in drawing characters and things that feel real, that feel like they could exist in a parallel dimension of wonder. The drawing stage always feels quite technical in some ways for me; this is where I sweat to get the composition, anatomy ad perspective right. While the painting stage is really where all the magic happens for me… where I focus on getting the atmosphere and feel right for the picture. And where I feel like I’m in my element. Each stage is very important. But some are more “nerve-wracking” than others….’
If you could choose one other classic Christmas story to illustrate, what would it be?
‘A Christmas Carol of course :), although I would also quite like to make my own version of A Nightmare Before Christmas…’
Do you believe in Father Christmas?
‘Well, I wasn’t sure to begin with if I have to be honest… but reading ‘The Night I Met Father Christmas’ has definitely put the doubts to rest in my mind! I’m definitely going to be putting out mince pies and brandy for him this Christmas!’
I hope I’ve whetted your appetite for this wonderful book. Tomorrow I will be kicking off the first day of the official blog tour and I’ll be running a giveaway to win your very own copy The Night I Met Father Christmasso do keep your eyes peeled and don’t forget to follow. 🙂
Jackson knows all about flying reindeer, he knows about the elves and the secret North Pole workshop, he knows about the elves and the secret North Pole workshop, he knows about the magic that allows Father Christmas to deliver presents around the world in just one night, but there’s one thing he doesn’t know…how did Father Christmas become Father Christmas?
That all changes when, one Christmas Eve, Jackson meets Father Christmas Eve, Jackson meets Father Christmas and hears his incredible story.
So begins an enchanting fairy-tale into a magical snowy landscape, where Torvil, a mean-spirited and miserly elf, is about to discover the true meaning of Christmas. This might not have been the story Jackson was expecting but, as Father Christmas tells him, no good story ever is…
A Christmas classic in the making from actors and comedian Ben Miller that will prove once and for all that Father Christmas really does exist!
Ben Miller is pretty well known. Comedian, actor and now author, he crosses generations with his work. In our house we know him from his time playing DCI Richard Poole in Death in Paradise and more recently as Bough, the hilarious side-kick to Rowen Atkinson’s Johnny English. In my school Library we know him for his books The Aliens Are Coming!: The Exciting and Extraordinary Science Behind Our Search for Life in the Universe and It’s Not Rocket Science,both giving interesting, insightful and enjoyable access to their subject matter. And now he brings us this wonderful festive tale about a young boy named Jackson. Jackson who has had a tiny seed of doubt planted into his mind about Father Christmas. So he comes up with a plan to meet the man himself and ask him a very important question.
I love Christmas. I love the build up, the magic that seems to fill the air and ever since having my son (eleven years ago now), I’ve rediscovered the joy of being a #FatherChristmasBeliever. It’s easy as adults to lose that magic and we can quite often become cynical. So as the big day approaches Christmas stories come pretty close to the top of the list of things that make me happy. Especially Christmas stories that I can share with my son. When writing The Night I Met Father Christmas,Ben took inspiration from some great authors to create a wonderful tale that already feels like a classic. I already read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol every year – I love the language, moral and sheer joy that this tale brings – and I can see The Night I Met Father Christmas being enjoyed for many years to come. So I asked Ben what his favourite Christmas Story is.
‘That one! A Christmas Carol. I am a huge fan of Dickens generally and he has been a huge influence on everything I’ve done. Having English teachers as parents meant I was introduced to him at a very early age and I love his unique and infectious wit and psychedelic warmth. Dickens is the perfect grounding for a career in sketch comedy!’
But how does one go from writing books about science to writing a Christmas story? This is Ben’s first work of fiction and I asked him if any of the characters were based on himself or people he knows.
‘I based Jackson, the main character, on my own son. I did ask if he as OK with that! He said yes — I hope he feels the same when he’s older. Torvil, I think, is basically me.’
So there you have a little more insight into this wonderful story. I’ll be back soon to talk about Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini who has created the beautiful illustrations for Ben’s story and tomorrow I will be hosting the first day of the official blog tour in which I will be running a giveaway to win a copy of the book.
I’m delighted today to be taking part in the blog tour of Nic Stone’s brilliant debut novel Dear Martin.
A debut confronting modern racism in America finally hits the UK
Justyce McAllister, a black scholarship student at an elite private school in Atlanta, is top of his class, captain of the debate team and heading for Yale. But his presumptions are challenged when he is arrested by the police for helping his druck ex-girlfriend late at night. This won’t be his final run-in with the police. The next time someone gets hurt…
“Why try to do right if people will always look at me and assume wrong?”
Despite leaving his rough neighbourhood, he can’t seem to escape the scorn of his former peers or the attitude of his prep school classmates. The only exception: Sarah Jane, Justyce’s gorgeous (and white) debate partner and Justyce is starting to feel guilty about how he feels.
Struggling to cope with it all, Justyce starts a journal to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
How far has America come since 1968?
Reading is like a super power. It takes you to places you’ve never been, never seen and allows you to try an infinite amount of lives, explore different characters, worlds and experiences. Stories are the doorway to so many possibilities. Reading a great novel makes you feel, it creates emotion and touches your very soul. That I love.
We are all different and books, I believe, give us the chance to put ourselves in to another’s shoes. To feel their emotions, their hopes, their fears, their highs, their lows. Dear Martin is one such book. Superbly written, powerful, moving and an insight into racial hate and the effect it still has on the world today, this is an incredible book. Eye-opening and unflinching in it’s brutality, I was moved by Justyce and his story. Such an amazing character; he is brave, tough yet fragile and already so close to being broken. Justyce is at odds with the world around him. He is a good kid, smart and popular, yet for some these qualities are eradicated by the colour of his skin. In a world where people are still judged first by their colour, this novel shows that change does come, albeit slowly, but it comes.
The diversity is excellently portrayed. Nic Stone has the ability to look at situations from all angles and we are able to build a picture of how the situations arise and although heart-breaking in parts, it is only a reflection of what is still happening in our world today. Prejudice breeds prejudice. The refusal to accept difference is what keeps conflict alive. That constant lack of understanding and emphathy. We need stories like this to teach, show and inform.
“Jus, I think I hate everything,” she says. “Why can’t we all get along like butterflies?”
He tuckes her hair behind her ear. Tries to shift his focus to the TV, where layer upon layer of monarchs cover the trees in some Mexican forest. While he appreciates her sentiment, Jus wonders if she notices all those butterflies look exactly alike.
This book, like so many that are inspired by real life, has an important message. Having the courage to stay true to ourselves no matter what conflict or predjudice we might be facing is tough. We discover this alongside Justyce and at times he is pushed to his absolute limits, but ultimately it will be his own choices that will make the real difference.
I thoroughly recommend this courageous and thought provoking novel and think it would be an excellent choice for the classroom too. Dear Martin is Nic Stone’s debut novel and I look forward to reading more from her in the future. She is definitely an author to watch.
You can find out more about Nic by visiting her website here. Here is a snippet that I feel sums up our experience as readers perfectly…
It wasn’t until the summer I turned twenty-three and hopped on that plane to Israel that I began to get a real grasp on the role of Story in the human experience. I spent that summer stepping into other people’s shoes. There were the shoes of a Palestinian Christian girl living in the West Bank who wasn’t allowed into Israel Proper without a permit, but faced insane amounts of harassment in her neighborhood because of her family’s chosen faith. There were the shoes of the Israeli soldier who’d been trained to view all Arabs as potential threats, but was so sickened by it he couldn’t wait to get out of the army so he could leave the country. There were the small shoes of the children in the Palestinian refugee camps training to be Martyrs for Allah because they felt it was their call in life. There were the shoes of the orthodox Jewish man whose entire family had been murdered in his home by Palestinian militants while they slept.
As I listened to these stories and made an attempt at empathy—putting myself in their proverbial shoe—my perspectives shifted. Life became less about right and wrong, good and bad, black and white, and more about complexity and nuance, the power of the human being to bring either calm or chaos into the lives of others and the world around them. Storytelling revealed itself as a means of getting people to listen without interrupting. Done well, it engages listeners/readers to the point where they’re completely oblivious to the shifts in worldview taking place as a result of stepping into a different perspective.
The stories I heard over that summer, like my own, were the ones I hadn’t encountered in my Language Arts classes. And they shook me. They changed the way I approach people with beliefs that differ from my own. They changed the way I voice my opinions. In a way, they cleaned the lens through which I view the world.
I discovered that once I put on all those different pairs of shoes, I wanted to share those shoes and their impact with others. I wanted to tell the stories that weren’t being told, the ones featuring diverse characters in non-stereotypical roles, the ones that blurred the line between “right” and “wrong”, the ones that reveal the humanity in those who are underrepresented or misunderstood. Since that summer I turned 23, I’ve reread most of the books that I was unable to connect with as a teen, and I’m happy to report that I quite enjoy them now that I’ve found the shoes for myself. The answer to my identity crisis was simple: I am a storyteller.
Now get those shoes off so I can give you a different pair to try on.
Dear Martin is published in the UK by Simon & Schuster on the 3rd of May 2018.
Thank you to Eve at Simon and Schuster for sending me a copy of Dear Martin and inviting me to take part in the blog tour. This is a book that will stay with me for a long time.
Spring has finally kicked in here in the South East of England. The trees are springing to life with beautiful blossom and the landscape is brightened with bright and colourful daffodils, crocus and primroses. The smell of spring and new beginnings is in the air and so it seems perfectly fitting that my author spotlight should fall on YA author Gayle Forman, and her latest novel, I HAVE LOST MY WAY. I’m also delighted to be the stop on day three in the #IHaveLostMyWay blog tour.
…a tender, sad and yet uplifting tale that shows the power of friendship in times when we feel desperate and unable to find a solution. Three strangers come together and show that strength can be found with each and every one of us no matter what our individual troubles may be. That we too can find our way to a life we truly deserve when we are true to ourselves.
Beautiful, tender and very important, Gayle Forman has yet again captured a coming of age novel that will fill you with hope, love, acceptance and courage.
Gayle Forman makes an incredibly important contribution to today’s YA literature and if you haven’t read her before then I HAVE LOST MY WAY is a great place to start (there is also an amazing back catalogue of her books for you to discover). She captures those difficult years we all go through when finding our identity, leaning about who we are and accepting that we are all different. Of course this never really ends. Life is a journey and we are constantly changing and growing according to the roads we take along the way, but our young adulthood is, I believe, when our experiences feel at their most raw and Gayle captures that perfectly.
I grew up in the 80’s and went through my teens and early adulthood with the films of John Hughes; there was something in them that captured my attention and seemed to tap into inner emotions and feelings of self doubt. So I was fascinated that Gayle’s early influence was Molly Ringwald – someone I myself found a source of comfort as I struggled to fit in to the world around me.
With her YA novels Gayle too is able to tap into emotions that are difficult to voice and I think by reading and getting to know her characters and their own pain you can learn to understand a little more about what you too are going through. You are not alone. Our experiences, difficulties, dreams and fears are all unique to us but there is something comforting in knowing we are not alone in the message that we all have those feelings. I HAVE LOST MY WAY is a perfect example; showing that even three strangers who come together in unexpected circumstances can change their perspective and find hope where hope is lost.
Here’s a little more from Gayle herself…
Which novel do you wish you could have read when you were a teenager?
I would’ve liked to read SAVING FRANCESCA by Melina Marchetta in middle school. I was miserable, a weirdo outcast. Years later, in high school, I would find my people. I love that novel, how Francesca and her friends, find their family of friends where they least expect it. Melina is one of my favourite young adult authors.
You’re characterisation is incredibly intimate which helps us really connect with them. How well do you get to know your characters before you start writing? Or do they develop along with the story?
Both. The book sparked when Freya started whispering in my ear “I have lost my way.” I knew she was a singer who had lost her voice but I didn’t know why. Harun followed and then Nathaniel. Though Freya came to me first, she was actually the last one to crack. It was right at the very end that I understood what motivated her and how that tied into her loss. Ironically, Harun, the character I have the least in common with on the surface, was the one who I understood most immediately.
I feel so close to all three of these characters. More so than any others before them. Which is saying a lot because IF I STAY’s Mia and Adam are like my children!
Where did your inspiration for I Have Lost My Way come from?
My last YA novel was published in 2015 but I actually wrote it in 2011. In the intervening years, I tried, and failed, to find a new YA story to write. I managed to publish a novel for adults (LEAVE ME) but YA is my home and I couldn’t seem to find my way back. I began to wonder if I’d ever write another book. Everything I wrote (and I crashed and burned on 7 different novels) felt insufficient, inauthentic, hollow. It was like the thing I’d known how to do, had always done—explain my world through story—I couldn’t do anymore. I kept thinking: I have lost my way. And then one day Freya came along and said it to me and it started from there.
You were obsessed with Molly Ringwald as a teen. Which is your favourite character that she played?
Samantha in Sixteen Candles. It’s a movie that doesn’t really hold up over time—it’s racist; it’s rapey—but it was the first time I ever saw the weird girl get the boy. Which, in 1980s parlance, was a huge validation that the weird girl had value. I was a weird girl. So you can imagine how this appealed to me.
What are you currently reading?
I’m on vacation with my family and I’m reading Matt Haig’s HOW TO STOP TIME and listening to CONCUSSION by Jeanne Marie Laskas, narrated by Huilar Huber.
And here is my review for I HAVE LOST MY WAY
A heart-wrenching and powerful YA story exploring themes of loss, love and discovery, from award-winning, bestselling author, Gayle Forman
The story is told over the course of one day with flash backs to the past to help us engage with the characters and understand what has brought them to this place and this moment in time. Through Harun we learn to understand love through his own loss and fears. The love he feels is alien and not acceptable within the society he lives in. He is ashamed, obsessed and utterly lost. Freya is a star in the making but is following a difficult path and is torn between the need for adoration and the ‘friends’ and sense of belonging she fears she will lose if she can no longer sing. Her lack of self-love is evident as she fears losing her voice will mean losing her place in the world and the acceptance she craves. Nathaniel is a tortured soul and his sadness pours from the pages as we slowly discover the tragedy that has driven him to New York. Each character is suffering their own pain and yet when they are brought together they find the strength to try a different path. But is friendship enough to heal the pain of the past?
This is a tender, sad and yet uplifting tale that shows the power of friendship in times when we feel desperate and unable to find a solution. Three strangers come together and show that strength can be found with each and every one of us no matter what our individual troubles may be. That we too can find our way to a life we truly deserve when we are true to ourselves. Beautiful, tender and very important, Gayle Forman has yet again captured a coming of age novel that will fill you with hope, love, acceptance and courage.
I HAVE LOST MY WAY was published on the 5th of April 2018 in the UK by Simon&Schuster.
To discover more about Gayle Forman and her books visit her website here.
Each month my author spotlight shines a sparkly light upon authors I admire and whose books I heartedly recommend. Read on to discover more about these spellbinding story makers who weave their magic into our lives through the pages of a book.
October, 2017 and it’s Halloween so what better place for the sparkle of my spotlight to land than on the fantasmical children’s author and poet, Kaye Umansky.
Kaye is of full of wonderful wit and humour and has written over 130 books!! Including: novels, picture books, music books, plays and poems and the ‘Pongwiffy’ series that she is most well-known for – which, by the way, is currently being rather fantastically reissued by publisher Simon & Schuster and is full of brilliant illustrations by the talented Katie Riddell.
If you’d like to find out more about Kaye then do visit her website, it’s rather wonderful (and sparkly). She was kind enough to answer a few questions for me to share with you, so do take a moment to read on if you can. Right, back to the books….
There are so many of Kaye’s books that I admire. Published by Barrington Stoke, The Knights of the Drop-Leaf Table is particularly good for reluctant or dyslexic readers and Algy’s Amazing Adventures in the Jungle holds a special place in my heart as it was one of the first books my own son read and reviewed as part of the Lovereading4kids reader review panel (he was 6 at the time). But unfortunately time and space is limited, so for now here is a little more information about two of my personal favourites.
The Pongwiffy Stories by Kaye Umansky and Illustrated by Katy Riddell
Pongwiffy is hilarious and if you haven’t yet discovered her then I recommend buying the recently published bind-up edition of the first two books. The remaining two will be published in 2018.
Pongwiffy has just moved into a new cave, and it’s dirty, smelly and damp – in other words it’s perfect for a witch like Pongwiffy! At least it would be if her next door neighbours weren’t a group of extremely noisy Goblins… Before long Pongwiffy can bear it no more and enlists the help of her best friend, Witch Sharkadder, to find her somewhere else to live. And that’s when the problems really start!In the second story , the Goblins are back and up to their usual tricks! But this time Pongwiffy also has to deal with a badly behaved broom, a bonfire disaster and a strange genie…
Two laugh-out-loud stories of humour and warmth, enticingly mixed with sludge, slime and very bad habit.
The Pongwiffy Stories was published on the 24th of August 2017 by Simon & Schuster.
Witch for a Week by Kaye Umansky and Illustrated by Ashley King
Now Kaye has a new series to add to her wonderful collection of stories. Meet Elsie Pickles, a young girl whose time is mostly spent helping out in her family’s shop, in the dull town of Smallbridge where life ‘trickled on with calm monotony’ until that is a ‘wind came howling out of nowhere’ and suddenly life for Elsie begins to become rather unexpected and exciting. “this is a lovely read; full of fun and adventure, comedy and excitement, it will keep children smiling from beginning to end.” Andrea Reece, expert reviewer for Lovereading4kids. For Witch for a Week, Kaye has been blessed with yet another talented Illustrator. Ashley King’s illustrations are the perfect accompaniment and the beautifully, sparkly cover will appeal to any young wannabe witches (or wizards) out there.
When clever, unflappable Elsie offers to house-sit the mysterious home of local witch Magenta Sharp, she has no idea what she’s getting herself into. Left with a talking raven and a scruffy dog for company, and a book of instruction called Everything You Need to Know, what could possibly go wrong? With an assortment of weird and wonderful neighbours banging at the door and a box of volatile magical ingredients that must be used immediately, Elsie is forced to get experimental with magic!A brand new magical adventure from Kaye Umansky the bestselling author of Pongwiffy!
Witch for a Week was published on the 5th of October by Simon & Schuster.
Now some words from Kate herself…
Which is your favourite book to read aloud from?
My favourite book by somebody else is Just William, by Richmal Crompton – particularly the story where he meets Violet Elizabeth. As to books that I have written – I like reading out scenes featuring the Goblins in the Pongwiffy books. They are incredibly stupid and I love doing their voices.
You have two cats, Heathcliff and Jeremy. Who was Jeremy named after?
Well, I wanted to call him Mr Rochester, who is another dashing romantic type from Jane Eyre. I thought it would go with Heathcliff. But my family wouldn’t let me. My husband thought he looked like a butler, all black and white. For some reason, my husband thinks Jeremy is a butler-ish name. So there you go.
What one piece of writing advice would you give a) to children wanting to write stories and b) to adults wanting to write books for children?
A. Children wanting to write stories. Read, read, read! You will get hundreds of good ideas from books which will stimulate you to have a go at stories of your own.
B. Adults wanting to write books for children. Be clear on the age group you are writing for and use the appropriate vocabulary. Do a bit of research by visiting a library and seeing what is available and popular.
Of all the objects you have in the little office you write in at the top of your house, which is your favourite?
Hmm. Difficult. There are hundreds of bits and bobs. Possibly the tiny pair of brown leather boots I wore as a two year old, sixty eight years ago. I take them in to show the children when I visit schools. They look like they’ve been made by a fairy cobbler.
If you could live for one day as one character from any book, who would you be?
I would love to live for a day as Granny Weatherwax, the cleverest witch in the books by Terry Prachett. She has all sorts of wonderful skills, including being able to enter the minds of birds and animals. And I’d love to fly on a broomstick!
I do hope you’ve enjoyed my author spotlight. Kaye Umansky really is a treasure and she’s been an absolute delight to write about. Have a super Halloween and may all your stories be suitably spooky.