I am so excited to be a part of this blog tour as Granny Magic has been a highlight for me this year. It is full of brilliant characters, magical yarn and a fierce knitting circle! You wouldn’t want to mess with these Grannies.
Thank you to Elka Evalds for the piece below!
I can’t recommend this book highly enough!
Inspiration for GRANNY MAGIC
This story was initially inspired by a long bout of flu. The doctor could do nothing, and I found myself fantasizing about a cardigan that could cure coughs and colds. As it became a story in my mind, I couldn’t help but think of my Latvian grandmother. She was a prolific knitter of sometimes very strange objects, made from oddly coloured acrylic yarns. She was also a fount of unconditional love. She told us much about her extraordinary life as I grew up- she was a wonderful storyteller. But I discovered much more as an adult, and after her death. She had, for instance, gone from Riga to Madrid c. 1932 on the back of a motorbike. I have an idea for a sequel to Granny Magic, in which Will discovers that his Gran’s knitting network extended to Latvia, and the Latvian grans he meets introduce him to new kinds of magic as well as new kinds of villains.
Granny Magic is full of things I love about England:obsessive hobbies, regional cakes, archaic metaphors, and cheese-and-pickle sandwiches. It is set in the Cotswolds, where I’ve been inspired by the sheep, the market towns, and the long history of the woollen industry. Before I came to England in 2015, I was a lecturer in medieval art history, with a sideline in the history of costume and textiles, and now I work at the Corinium Museum, so I’ve found all of this especially interesting. The wool-making tradition in places like Nailsworth, Cirencester and Stroud is part of Granny Magic.
The Cotswolds isn’t the only setting for Granny Magic,though. I am married to a motorcyclist. In 2017 we took at trip to the Isle of Man during practice week of the TT. I found the craggy cliffs splendid, and loved the sweeping hills, with their multi-coloured brush. At the Cregnesh Open Air Museum, we stumbled upon local Manx sheep, which have brown wool and multiple horns. They’re striking, and sort of prehistoric-looking. When I first tried to picture sheep that might have magical wool, Manx sheep sprang to mind. Then it was like dominoes: if they were Manx sheep, they had to live on the Isle of Man, and if the characters were going to go the Isle of Man, there would have to be motorbikes, and if there were motorbikes, surely there should be a chase…
Finally, I’ve been inspired by characters like Edmund in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, and stories that involve redemption. Edmund is a basically good person who does a couple of despicable things. Aslan’s reaction is stern but compassionate, based upon the certainty that Edmund is better than his actions. This leads to Edmund’s rehabilitation, and his reintegration into the group. I’ve seen this unfold in real life. Expecting the best of someone, and showing compassion, can sometimes bring their best selves to the fore. I may have been especially lucky, but in my experience, Grandmas are particularly good at doing this: doggedly loving what might seem to others to be unloveable.
GRANNY MAGIC by Elk Evalds is out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)
I’m an illustrator, picture book author, educator and gardener. I’d been illustrating for around 12 years before I took the leap into the world of Children’s Book Illustration and enrolled on the MA course at Cambridge, a course that’s helped countless picture book authors to hone their craft. I’m also an arts educator too, ranging from a year long residency in a primary school teaching animation and art workshops, and currentlyI’m a lecturer at University of Suffolk on the Graphic Design course. I’m also a keen gardener, and where gardening is concerned I’m the student and the bees are the teachers, the more I learn, word gets around “He’s a good student this one, see what good work he’s doing”, and they come with a familiar buzz.
I Saw A BEE is my debut book published by the brilliant Scallywag Press. At the heart of the story the theme is friendship, and even if our first reaction is the opposite of being friendly, perhaps through our experiences we can see that we are much alike, that we can all feel the same things, and perhaps we can begin to see how we reflect each other.
There’s nothing like a smile to cause a smile, you’re not going to get a smile in return for every smile you give, but it’s worth a try. I think the opposite is also true, an act of aggression will get something similar in return.
When I was a child, I remember adults waving away bees, like they were bad, no doubt fearful of a sting, and to sit near to a bee felt like an act of bravery. Eventually I could see that they were fascinating creatures, and now that humming buzzing sound of their wings is simply relaxing, and a reminder that the day is probably a good one. Having bees around does something similar for me as having friends around.
The initial inspiration for I Saw A BEE came from an unexpected encounter my young son had with a bee. I was driving the car when my son, looking out of the window,suddenly said “A bee!” Which was flying alongside our car, which says something about how strong those tiny wings are. “I saw a bee” was said, “I wonder if the bee saw me?” was quickly added, by the end of the day nearly all the words as they appear in the book had been written down. I often describe a particular kind of writing as bouncing words around, playing with them, bobbling them about seeing what they do if you add words, exchange words, subtract and rearrange them in order to shape the next part of the story, or to seek the fun in how words fit together, I Saw A BEE is a good example of bobbling the words of a story into existence. The next thing that happened which helped me to understand a little more about the story behind this idea was the day-to-day bumpy nature of making friends my son seemed to go through in early years at school. The day’s events recounted by my son of the daily shifting friendships was a conversation which dominated journeys home from school. It was this that helped me to begin to see the bee as something more than an insect, the bee came to represent potential friendship.
Bees are an easy way of thinking about how our lives, and those lives which on the surface look much smaller than ours, are connected through nature, and helps people to think and talk about ecology and conservation. Bees being pollinators do an essential task in carrying pollen from flower to flower which is how most plants and trees produce the next fruits, which carry the seeds of future plants and trees, and many of these fruits are some of the produce we eat. If something happens to the bees, it will effect this balance of nature and food production. Bees are not the only pollinators, but they do seem to capture our imagination, and they are particularly good at it.
When I heard that bees were in decline, I immediately changed my gardening habits, and the garden has also changed, and it’s growing more and more into pollinators paradise! The unexpected effect of bee friendly gardening is that there are now many more creatures in the garden, other pollinators, butterflies, creepy crawlies of all kinds, lots of birds, and I even spotted a hedgehog – once spotted scurrying quite fast, and the rest of the time I know it’s there by spotting its droppings!
There are lots of schools creating pollinator friendly areas on their school grounds. On twitter there is a hashtag #PolliPromise which was set up to point people in the direction of the Pollinator Promise . The promise is to do your bit to help pollinators, and the website gives tips on what to do, it’s aimed at young children and schools.
Before I began gardening for bees I wasn’t aware of just how many different kinds of bees there are, this year I began photographing them, and I’ve collected more than 25 photos of different varieties of bee including the tree bumblebee, red-tailed and white-tailed bumble bees, mourning bees which are eerily black and white in colour, mason and mining bees and of course honey bees.
I Saw A BEE is my first published book, but it’s far from the first book I’ve written, I’ve been developing, writing and illustrating ideas for quite some time, and I have many ‘rejection’ letters to prove it, not that ‘rejection’ is something you’d want to prove, but it’s important to recognise these experiences as part of the journey. When I heard about the MA in Children’s Book Illustration at Cambridge I applied and enrolled, and that’s really where my craft begin to really take shape. BEE was developed over two years and sat on various desks of publishers for around another year or so. A friend and fellow picture book maker, Rose Robbins, had been working with a new publisher Scallywag Press, who at the time had no books published and they were looking for books for their first catalogue list, and Rose put me in touch with Sarah Pakenham (publisher) and Janice Thompson (Editor). I sent them a digital portfolio and a couple of manuscripts, and one of these was BEE. Less than a week went by and Janice rang me and asked if I wouldn’t mind if she could read BEE back to me with a couple of small changes, I said of course, and she read BEE. This, I’ve come to understand, is editing! The edits were sensitively done, and clearly made to shape the story in such a way that I knew my book was already in safe hands. A contract was signed, and it was another year before I Saw A BEE was published. What Scallywag Press could see in BEE that other publishers couldn’t is a question that for me helps me to understand the relationship between the author and the publisher, in that the right book has to find the right publisher, but here’s no easy answer of how that might happen. This year I Saw A BEE was followed by We Found A SEED, and next year a third book (in what has become known as Rob Ramsden’s In the Garden Series) will be published in Autumn called We Planted A PUMPKIN. I’m already looking forward to growing pumpkins next year in time for the book launch.
I owe Rob a huge thank you for getting on board with my idea of a guest post, for sending photos and for being so kind! Rob is available for school visits! Get in touch with Scallywag Press for more information! KS1 teachers, these books would be perfect for those Spring planting topics! Get booking now!
New Frontier Publishing has some beautiful books in its catalogue and I am so pleased to have the chance to share them on my blog. They are unique, wonderfully illustrated and perfect for all ages. I can highly recommend New Frontier, so go and check them out!
The Happily Ever After Series
Illustrated by Helene Magisson, Annie White, Owen Swan and Celeste Hulme.
The Happily Ever After Series is a lovely addition to my shelves of fairytales. I love traditional tales and different versions of old classics. This set of 5 titles cover some of the most popular tales in history. They are all wonderfully illustrated and carry the tag line of “A new twist on a classic fairytale”.
The stories are basically the same, but with small changes always maintaining a happily ever after ending. These are easy to read and beautifully illustrated ensuring younger readers can enjoy them.
My Magnificent Jelly Bean Tree
Written by Maura Finn, Illustrated by Aura Parker
A cover full of colour and sweets just begs to be read. Believing in the magic of his seed, a little boy takes care of his jelly bean tree until is grows and grows and showers him with jelly beans. It also provides him with space for an excellent tree house. He crowns himself Jelly Bean King and invites his family over for a jelly bean feast! Wondrous illustrations take the reader on a delicious tale of jelly bean magic!
Who’s Afraid of the Quite Nice Wolf?
Written by Kitty Black, Illustrated by Laura Wood
Wilfred is not your typical wolf, he is kind and friendly, not scary, although he belongs to a scary pack. Wilfred tries to fit in but being mean and scary does not come naturally. When a plot to attack the sheep is revealed, Wilfred knows what he must do. Instead of being attacked, the sheep go on the defensive and attack the wolves. A wonderful tale of being true to yourself and choosing right over wrong. Wilfred ends up happy and doing what he likes.
Let’s Go! On a Rocket, Let’s Go! On a Ferry
Written by Rosalyn Albert, Illustrated by Natalia Moore
A colourful and fun series of books about travelling, perfect for toddlers. With vivid illustrations bringing travel to life, these are wonderful for sharing. I love the rhyming text and way that easy facts are incorporated. New vocabulary is introduced and these will excite the littlest travellers to go farther and to use their imaginations. Rocket, Ferry and Train are the current titles available.
Bloomsbury Books and Cicada Books have some brilliant new non fiction titles, and I am very happy to have spent time reading them and sharing them with my kids.
With so many volumes being published about heroes, heroines, fantastic kids and amazing animals, a book needs to stand out from the crowd. This bright orange book does just that. The bold colours and illustrative style capture the imaginations of the reader as we delve into histories finest, heroes and villains! The common thread is their impact on history.
Covering history, both men and women who faced incredible situations, are introduced to the reader. From navigators and explorers to astronauts and pirates, there is a vast amount covered.
Many names will be familiar to children and adults but there were s few new epic adventurers to meet, such as Anne Bonny and Mary Read, both of whom were pirates. (See next photo). I enjoyed flipping between the pages, reading both familiar and unfamiliar tales. Both my children were asking questions about who, what, when, etc and so we spent more time searching for answers and placing people in a historic time line of events.
This book takes on subways around the world and shows us their uniqueness, fascinating facts and hoards of people travelling. The style of illustration is amazing and very bright and child friendly. This book spans the age ranges as there is truly something for all ages. From the facts and images of trains to the seek and find on the side, all ages will be entertained.
I spent so much time delving into the pages of this book, looking for small details and comparing facts between cities. The brickwork signs are awesome and really keep you in mind of the subways.
Subways are a quick and easy form of travel in most large cities and this will entice you to visit a few extras!
A large hardback edition, this would make a wonderful resource in schools and for those with an interest in nature and forests in particular. Looking at forests around the world, the reader can learn about deciduous, coniferous and tropical rainforests. Each has unique trees, animals and seeds to offer the world.
The illustrations are truly spectacular, with an incredible amount of detail added to the leaves, animals and forest floors. They are a joy to look at. Added to these are chunks of text explaining the images, and providing some fascinating facts about forests, Seasons and the life cycle of trees. I had no idea just how much I could learn about forests!
Three unique and interesting picture books are featuring today on my blog. From fun and laughter to sweetness and beauty, it is all within the covers of these books.
Perhaps one of the most stunningly illustrated books I have had the pleasure of reading. With the use of shiny foil, shadows at night and the use of soft muted colours, this book will entrance its readers. Within these wondrous pages is a story with all the elements of a myth, a tale as old as time. Moon King wants the perfect present for his new daughter and the enchanting Starbird is what he wants most. Capturing the bird who weaves magic into dreams, the King is happy. However as the Princess grows up, she senses sadness in Starbird. Releasing him into the wild, Starbird must find his home before being re-captured by the Moon King. This is an incredible book!
A hilarious rhyming story of Bunnies on the Bus! Brilliantly colourful illustrations create the perfect town for the Bunnies to cause havoc in. The bunnies are having a great time on the bus, flying past the towns people as they go about their day. Something else is happening as you read through the story…there are burglars on the loose escaped from jail. We had a lot of fun following their adventure. An excellent book, perfect for sharing and reading over and over again!
A very sweet story, beautifully illustrated with winter snowy scenes. Pip was living in the North when he was discovered by an explorer who believes him to be in the wrong hemisphere. Bringing him to the South Pole, Pip wanders off to search for home. He meets friendly Adelie penguins, macaroni penguins and Gentoo penguins but Pip still has different features. When Pip meets someone who looks like him, the problem is solved. He isn’t a Penguin at all! A lovely, sweet story about finding home and being different.
Kindness comes to mind when reading the books in today’s blog. Each book deals with kindness, acceptance and friendships in a variety of ways. The books are incredibly unique, beautifully illustrated and perfect for sharing and building empathy.
A winter scene, an older woman reminiscing about childhood. She be-friended a squirrel and named him Scruffle-Nut. He is different to the other squirrels in that he has a stumpy tale. Mirroring how she feels next to the other girls, Olivia understands the squirrel staying away from the others. Poetically written and gorgeously illustrated, this is a lovely book.
A new girl awakens empathy in a classmate. Bravely they become friends and devise a plan to bring kindness to their team. With 12 days until their first match , the girls keep their messages simple, Be Kind, Be Brave and solve problems. In leading by example, the girls bring cohesion to the team and acceptance for new girl Nabila. Wonderful illustrations and a simple message make this worthy of sharing widely.
When a caveman moves next to Penny, she sets out to teach him new things. Though he eats the library books, sits on top of the bus and drinks from a fountain. He is different and Penny needs to learn to accept that and showcase his strengths and abilities. Just as we need to celebrate differences, abilities and talents in a class or school, we can empathise this to teach children about the wider world. Fun illustrations will make children giggle too.
Bold illustrations and colours make this book visually spectacular. The story itself is wonderfully told about a wolf who feels bad and acts bad. In meeting some new animal friends and with their support. Wolf comes to realise that he can change his badness. Without judgement, Wolf dresses in sheep’s wool and he feels good. Brave and bold, this book will help children to understand their differences and find a way to feel good about themselves, all without judgement.
I had quite a few books to read on Netgalley, alongside some recent proof copies sent over and Since finishing the 12 Days of Christmas Reading series, I felt I needed a proper rest and time for reading.
With colder weather, it is easy to excuse myself from the bustle of life and cosy up with a book. I consider it a healing time and time for my own mental health to remain strong. Reading allows me to escape the lists, housework and homesickness that inevitably finds me at Christmas.
Here are the books and short reviews from my Blissful Weekend Reading!
Lizard is a boy living in the Chinese district of Singapore around the time of WWII. It is a dangerous time and there are tensions around the British, Japanese and Chinese people living in the city. Lizard is a petty thief until he steals something of incredible value. It plunges him deep within a network of spies, espionage and secret agents. He has to learn who he can trust and fight his way out of dangerous situations. He does this alongside Lili, a friend, who is also a secret agent working for the British. There are plenty of plot twists, links between characters and tense moments of capture. Lizard, Lili, and new acquaintance Georgina, are caught in the middle of a battle over a secret code book that could turn the tide of the war. Lizard had stolen it, realised its danger and tried to put it back. However, Lili wants to steal the book but it gets left behind during the kidnapping of Georgina. With so many plot twists and suspenseful moments, you won’t want to put this book down. I thoroughly lost myself in the splendour of the Raffles Hotel, could picture the tightly packed Chinese quarter and imagined hearing the multitude of languages being spoken in the streets, This is a book to awaken your senses and keep you gripped to the last page!
It is so great to be back with Cinders and Sparks again. I had been looking forward to this, the next book in the series for some time now. Cinders has found out that her mother was a fairy, making her part fairy and since discovering she has magical abilities, life has become new and interesting. On a quest , or rather exile, from King Picklebottom’s kingdom, she is looking for Fairyland. With her, are Sparks, her talking dog and Mouse, her horse. Her friend Hansel has come along as well. Cinders is much braver than Hansel and rides headlong into the Dark Forest. They meet new creatures, the three bears and Rapunzel on this adventure. I love the links between fairytales in this series. Her fairy godmother, Brian, is as helpful as always and now there is a huntsman on their trail. Ending on a cliffhanger, I am ready for the next in the series! Super illustrations from talented Pippa Curnick keep younger readers entertained and engaged. A brilliant plot full of twists and turns makes it an exciting read. I feel I want to go back and read them all again! There is so much in each one and they make excellent bed times stories!
I am a fan of Philippa Gregory’s adult fiction and was really pleased to see a younger fiction book from her. I requested it and am pleased that I was given the opportunity to read it. Princess Florizella, Florizella and the Wolves and Florizella and the Giant are all short chapter stories pulled together into one book. They are between 6 and 7 chapters each, making them accessible and engaging for the newest of chapter book readers. We are introduced to Princess Florizella and come to realise that she is allowed to do as she pleases. She has not learned the Princess Rules and therefore is not quiet, dainty or prepared to marry a Prince. She is happy, cheerful and bossy. When she is invited to a party, she spends the evening eating as much as possible, avoiding the dance floor and ignoring the other princesses. Princess Florizella is a breath of fresh air….fiesty, fiery and independent- isn’t that how we want our daughters to be? I think so. I loved this book and the three stories within. Perfect for girls and boys alike!
Aggie is a precocious 12 year old with a penchant for finding trouble. She becomes embroiled in a mystery involving the murder of her neighbour, the unkind Mrs Eversham. She is an unliked widow and no one in the village seems to like her but they are shocked at her murder. Aggie, being the one who first discovered the body, cannot stop thinking about how she looked, was positioned and the clues left behind. A chance encounter with a young Belgian refugee sparks a firm friendship. His name is Hector Perot. He and Aggie share important tidbits of information regarding their list of suspects. Daring night time escapades, surprising twists and turns, not to mention a kidnapping keep the reader guessing into the last chapters. I truly enjoyed Aggie and felt she made a very good detective and tried very hard to be a good girl but trouble just seems to follow her. Hector was perfectly placed to assist, and the family and friends rounded out a brilliant cast of characters. The mystery was well written and will surely inspire young readers to delve into the worlds of Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie. I would happily read another Aggie Morton mystery to see what trouble she can spot!
I finished this in two sittings and it was hard to tear myself away. Marina is bold, courageous and loyal, all the attributes needed on a voyage to the North as a crew member on her fathers ship, The Sea Witch. Running away from the prospect of boarding school, Marina meets Mrs Smith who claims to be from the Admiralty. Marina is enraptured by her and speaks freely. Starting her sea life as an ill stowaway, she must prove herself as a valued member of the crew. Her father will not treat her differently to the rest of the crew and she is to be paid to work. A thrilling adventure begins for Marina and it takes some intense twists and turns. Storms rage, creatures appear and Marina feels a pull towards the sea and without fear of it. There is a great mystery surrounding Marina and her mother who went “home” when Marina was a young girl. There are snippets of memories, all involving water, and I was on the edge of my seat waiting to discover the truth. Perfect winter reading!
Once upon a Christmas time, a new book blogger took on a mammoth task. It was decided to run a blog series based on the 12 days of Christmas, each day featuring several new books for the holiday season. Feeling spoiled for choice, it became a fun and enjoyable time. All good things though, must come to an end!
Today is the 12th day of my Christmas reading blog series. All of my Christmas books are now on display at the top of my stairs near to the bedrooms so my children and I can dip in and out as we want. Really starting to feel the Christmas spirit now.
Bear has announced a special Christmas countdown to his woodland friends and they are all very excited. Each day one new friend gets to go and find a prize. Everyone, except Mouse, seems to be getting their turn. Poor Mouse ends up ill in bed and worries about missing her turn and feels forgotten. Christmas Eve arrives with a surprise for Mouse. Bear hasn’t forgotten her and her present brings everyone together. With colourful, bright and fun illustrations, this book is perfect for counting down to Christmas. Told in rhyme, it rolls off the tongue and is a perfect class book. A special surprise awaits the reader of this book.
This book has it all….jokes, stories, songs, recipes and decorations to make. Each day brings a new surprise to the reader, something different and a lovely way to count the days in December. Kate Hickey has Illustrated this book in a style that has a vintage, timeless feel. The cover is gorgeous and has a special treat for little hands, lifting the advent flaps to see the sweet pictures underneath. I fully plan to use this book with my family and I can see if being eagerly brought out every Advent season.
When this published last Christmas, it was lauded and declared the book to have on your Christmas list. It has been published in paperback this Christmas and remains “the” book to own! We bought it and read it together night after night. The bonus is that each day also has an activity to accompany the chapter, ranging from writing your letter to Santa to making pomanders and doing random acts of kindness. Alex T Smith is a top author and illustrator, truly putting personality into his books and characters. We are massive Claude and Mr Penguin fans here so when my children saw his name on the cover, they knew it was going to be awesome! Now we just have to wait until Sunday to begin again.
Thank you to all the publishers who have sent copies of their Christmas books for this series. It has been a privilege to read and review these wonderful books.
It may still be November but…Merry Christmas to All!
Just two days left in this blog series. Thank you so much for all your positive comments and thoughts. It has been an intense two weeks of blogging and I have learned quite a lot! There are just a few books left in this series and they are all wonderful! Keep an eye out for the last in the series tomorrow!
I had the pleasure of reading this before my daughter came home from school. She quickly grabbed it and in true 8yo style, started singing it to the tune of 12 days of Christmas. It worked for a few verses! A bright colourful book perfect for those unicorn loving children in your life. Adorable unicorns feature throughout and the originality is superb. Fun and Christmassy!
This is a charming rhyming story looking in Santa’s workshop as he and the elves prepare for Christmas. Everything’s going well, the elves are busy, the reindeer are awake and the sleigh is shining, so why does Santa feel as though he is forgetting something. Is it his dinner, has he crossed off his to do list? We have to wait until the last page to see what it is but the wait is worth it. Such a fun and humorous Christmas story. The details in the illustrations are phenomenal and we spent ages looking at them.
Featuring some Christmas classics like the famous poem by Clement C Moore, The Nutcracker and Jingle Bells. “Exquisitely Illustrated In Natee Puttapipat’s intricate silhouette style.” I could not have explained it more clearly or beautifully than the book itself. This is s book you must have to explore these incredible illustrations. The use of silhouette and colour is extraordinary. The Night Before Christmas is a highlight of the season for me and it is wonderfully brought to life in this book.