Monday, 11 December 2017

Best of 2017 - King Coo – Adam Stower




King Coo, which is penned and illustrated by Adam Stower with great comedic flare, is one of the Best of 2017 for one simple reason, my son read this book, and then re-read, and re-read , and read it over and over, and over again. It tells the tale of Ben Pole or ‘Bean’ who spend his life slinking and skulking about trying to avoid the school’s meanest boy, Monty Grabbe and his motley crew of thugs, when he falls (literally down a tunnel) to a unknown forest and meets the formidable and feisty King Coo. 



Spear wielding and passing an uncanny resemblance to The Adam’s Family’s Cousin It, the crown wearing beard adorned royal, is in fact not a boy but a GIRL.





‘I’ve never seen a boy with a BEARD before!’
 ‘How DARE you!’ replied King Coo indignantly. ‘I am a GIRL with a beard!’



With only, Herb, a tunnel obsessed wombat for company King Coo rules the forest, building tree-houses and swinging through the canopy. Ben and King Coo, become instant friends but the harmony is soon disturbed by the presence of Monty and his followers. Together Ben and King Coo defeat the intruders with an array of tricks and 'Heath Robinson' style traps. But Monty is not one to take defeat lightly and hatches a plan to get revenge on Ben and King Coo, plus ensnare Herb the wombat with the assistance of shady Ded Leigh, followed by the most dastardly of all - bulldozing the forest. 



But the self-proclaimed ‘Bearded Girl Genius’ King Coo, isn’t about to let anything happen to her pet wombat, or secret forest, so together her and Ben hatch their most ingenious plan and build their craziest invention to give Monty a taste of his own medicine.

King Coo is an excellent read for young readers, or to be read as a family, and is a enhanced by it beautiful and vibrant illustrations, putting it in the leagues of Chris Riddles’ s ‘Goth Girl’ books, or his and Neil Gaiman’s ‘Fortunately the milk’, but with a tad more eccentricity which would appeal to the readers of the Sarah MacIntyre and Philip Reeve books or fans of the’ 13 Storey Treehouse’.



King Coo is a light-hearted and funny story told together with the pictures. Every image and page designed to work together, with cheeky and charming characters and barmy inventions, all visualised in a fun and entertaining way. In fact the illustrations are so integral to the story telling that at one point it switches from text to graphic novel format.


It is no coincidence that King Coo a book which dares to transition from text to comic book format and back again is published by David Fickling Books who brought us The Phoenix Magazine, as they really are pioneers of the pushing the boundaries of children literature and with Adam Stowers’s King Coo they’ve struck gold.


Thursday, 7 December 2017

Best of 2017 – Storytime Magazine

We at SOTB are keen supporters of all types of children’s literature, including quality children’s periodicals and so our round up of the most notable publications of the year reflects this, as we present Storytime magazine as one of The Best of 2017!



Storytime  is a monthly magazine which is full to bursting with fables, myths and fairy tales all adapted in an engaging, entertaining yet sympathetic manner. Every tale is accompanied by truly stunning, vibrant and perfectly matched illustrations, which are a veritable feast to the eye.  It is aimed are younger children but forgoes the plastic tat ‘free gift’ confident that the quality will draw a readership, which is a welcome change.



Storytime offers free printable activity sheets each month that ties in with one of the featured stories, and are great for promoting the love of stories at home, or use as a resources in a school environment. In addition there are well thought out games and activities within the magazine itself, and its monthly competition where the prise is their children’s book of the month.



2017 was a great year for readers of Storytime, as they began including their own new stories penned especially for them. These new tales have given each issue an added dimension juxtaposing beautifully with the more traditional tales, which really enhances the reading experience.   So far we’ve been delighted by the antics of the Alphabet Zoo, naughty nobody elves, witches, lonely leopards and many more.




In September Storytime marked its third Birthday, and they are getting and better, with a great mash of old and new stories all paired with eye-catching and alluring illustrations, it really is one of the best of 2017, and we at SOTB can’t wait to see what crazy yarns they deliver through our letterbox in 2018!


Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Best of 2017 – This Zoo Is Not For You – Ross Collins



Time for another picture book on our round up of the best books of 2017. I don’t think there’s been nearly enough animals so far in our selections and so I remedy this immediately with the charming retro feel ‘This Zoo is Not for You’, which is both penned and illustrated by Ross Collins.



This Zoo is Not for You, is instantly inviting with its hardback tactile cover depicting beautifully imagined zoo animals, with the tiger, panda and flamingo all giving the dull and dreary duck-billed platypus the cold shoulder. The premise is simple, Platypus applies for a job at the zoo, but being strange and new is shunned by all its inhabitants, for being too dull, too common, too dreary and not throwing poo! 



Having failed his interview platypus, leaves and the other animals contemplate their behaviour, and realise they’ve been unkind and ponder the predicament, ‘What shall we do?’ However it is platypus, that saves the day, and soon the tables are reversed, in a beautiful play on words and twist of fate, all animals are reunited with platypus, and all is forgiven.


This Zoo is Not for You, is a delightful story about acceptance and friendship, and also being self-aware – being able to identify when you’ve done wrong, and being brave enough to remedy your actions, even apologising. Along with its poignant message, it is lots of fun, with vibrant illustrations that really have a retro mid-century feel, but in a thoroughly engaging modern style.


Monday, 27 November 2017

Best of 2017 – Superdad’s Day Off by Phil Earle and Steve May





Another of Barrington Stokes Little Gems of 2017 is the strangely familiar tale by Phil Earle illustrated by Steve May, about a father who takes his son out for the day BUT is so tried that he can’t play or do any of the exciting things his child has planned.

You see- familiar! How often have you had a day of work but have been so tired that a DVD, trip to the cinema or indoor play area, where you can sit and sip coffee while your child is entertained – sounded appealing?

However as much as you can empathise with this story, it has one fundamental difference, and the clue is in the title – SUPERDAD’S day off. Yes, Stanley’s dad is you guessed it – a superhero – Dynamo Dan. The reason he’s sooo fatigued is that he is busy twenty four hours a day saving the world. So when father and son go for a say trip to the park and disasters ensue, Stanley steps leaving his Dad to recharge his batteries. Stanley endeavours don’t go unnoticed and soon both he and his Dad are both adorning capes and protecting the world - together.




Superdad’s Day Off is one of the best of 2017, as it takes an all-too-familiar situation and twists it into a fun and family centric story, with lovely messages of empathy and love as son supports parent. The illustration by Steve May are vibrant and funny working beautifully with the text. The book is further enhanced by the activities at the end of the book and lovely dedication with a photograph of Phil Earle’s own Marvellous Mini -Superhero!


Monday, 20 November 2017

Best of 2017 - Nellie Choc-Ice Penguin Explorer by Jeremy Strong and Jamie Smith




Black Friday is almost upon us, the nights are longer and the season colder. Everywhere you look there is Christmas decorations and fake snow, which is a good place to start the next Best of 2017 review of the fabulous, Nellie Choc-Ice by Jeremy Strong and Jamie Smith.

Nellie Choc-Ice Penguin Explorer is one of Barrington Stokes’s Little Gems, and it is just that, it’s a frosty, funny, fast adventure about a feisty penguin named (you’ve guesses it) Nellie Choc-Ice. Nellie is an adventurer, that inadvertently explores not only beyond the colony in the south pole but the north pole too!



As Nellie is going where no penguin has gone before exploring the south pole, she encounters a large object that thinks is a killer whale, which crashes into her iceberg and sends Nelly floating off on an ice-raft , all the way to the opposite pole!

On her adventure Nellie encounters a series of dubious characters and manages to outwit them before finally being reunited with the ‘whale’ that takes her home.



As you would expect from Jeremy Strong, the story is fun and engaging, and it is enhanced by Jamie Smith’s energetic illustrations. Nellie Choc-Ice Penguin Explorer is definitely one of The Best of 2017!


Tuesday, 14 November 2017

The Hippo at the End of the Hall – Helen Cooper – Best of 2017

Why has Ben had an invitation to visit a museum he’s never even heard of?
It doesn’t open often, doesn’t even seem to want visitors.
And why are two unpleasant people plotting to get their hands on it?
There is so much delight in with Helen Cooper’s debut novel for children about the intriguing Gee Museum, one of those overstuffed with display cases of long-dead animals reconstructed with taxidermy and trays of bugs skewered with pins.

But this one is also touched by a little magic. And Ben soon gets caught up in trying to save the museum when he realises he can hear some of the exhibits speaking.
Ben, along with the very old lady who runs the museum, and some of the stuffed creatures, form an unlikely band of friends. They take on the developers who have evil plans for the museum, unleashing a strange, uncontrollable magic.
Ben also discovers a connection to his father and unearths that there might be more to the museum’s story and some very personal reasons to want to fight to save it.
This is Helen Cooper’s debut novel for children. She is, of course, the brilliant author of such classic and award-winning picture books as ‘Pumpkin Soup’ and ‘Tatty Ratty’, which have been shared and loved by so many children (and adults reading them).
One of the biggest delights of this book is that it has been illustrated by Helen, which brings the strangeness and peculiarly fascinating museum atmospherically to life.
From Flummery the owl to the detailed observations of the scientific devices, it is a little like pouring over a museum display case itself.

As someone who confesses to a fascination for pouring over museum collections (and may have taken their children too many times in the perfect excuse that the visit is really for them), this is a book I think lots of parents are going to love to read with their children. 
From the little fables, to the bees and the chapter headings – ‘Spite and Malice in the Fish Room’ being my favourite (when did writers start to use chapter headings less? I love chapter headings), it is a pure delight.
And as I live near Oxford, where Helen is based, it is particularly pleasing to know that some of our local museums have inspired the story and that some of the drawings come from those collections I have visited possibly too often and know far too well.
But then who hasn’t visited the witch in the bottle at the Pitt Rivers museum a hundred times and made up stories about it? It is so pleasing to think that someone has finally written one. 
It is the perfect feelgood story, made for sharing.
Nicki Thornton - one of my Best of 2017

Friday, 10 November 2017

#BooksMadeBetter Interview with David Stevens founder of Knight Of



Diversity is a hot topic, whether it is white-washing on the silver screen or seats in the Houses of Parliament, it is a conversation that is being translated into action in many industries.

Publishing is no different. Steps are being seen to be taken to promote diversity, eg with many BAME competitions and scholarships being set up to seek out authors and illustrators that reflect a varied society.

Shiny new publishers Knights Of (as in of the round table where everyone is equal) launched just last week on a pledge to increase diversity behind the scenes. The news was met with a frenzy of anticipation of just how this new publisher was going to rise to the challenge of doing things differently.

AimeĆ© Felone and David Stevens have launched Knights Of with a stated aim to approach publishing in a new way and to ‘DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY - and in this way, to make books for every kid.

We at SOTB are delighted to share this interview with Knights Of founder David Stevens to share his vision of this new publishing company, how he plans to make a difference … and just what that difference will be.

The publishing industry is really focused on diversity at the moment, with lots of publishers trying to seek greater submissions from diverse authors/diverse intern applications etc. What are the main barriers currently to finding a job in publishing and what will ‘Knights Of’ do differently that might address them?

We’re inspired by what publishing and other children's media have been doing, every initiative and call for openness has strengthened our belief that now is the right time for an inclusive publisher. KNIGHTS OF is trying to address as many barriers as it can – making ourselves available via live chat to answer questions, if there’s a barrier we’ll work to address it.



We love the idea of a ‘fairer team’ – what sort of different opportunities are you going to offer?

We love the idea too! We’re offering paid, remote freelance positions on every aspect of publishing a title. We’re hoping to circumvent prohibitive costs of having to live in major cities, and where possible, we will aim to pair an experienced hand with an entry/mid-level candidate for added value.



You say that Knights Of is “creating a better pipeline: working with writers, illustrators, agents, retailers and other publishers to make books better” and it is really interesting that you are looking at so many aspects of how an author’s work gets to readers. Which of these changes of approach will make the biggest difference to the books you will publish?

It is the one small change that we’re hoping will have the most impact. If your editor, designer, marketer, production team, publicist and sales team are all from broadly different backgrounds the end result will be different.



We have noticed you are accepting direct submissions as well as through agents. What is the main reason for this? Is this a long-term plan or just a short-term ‘open window’?


We’ll keep Live Chat open as long as we can – it’s not going away any time soon. We’re working hard to make sure we’re as accessible as possible – being available as much as possible is part of that.



You mention the relationship with retailers. Do you have plans to reach readers differently other than through the usual channels of bookshops and school libraries or online?


One of the biggest pieces of work we want to undertake is working with retailers to bring non-traditional readers into bookstores. Partnering with as many communities, booksellers, librarians and readers as we can.



Talking of readers, has there been any research into whether there is lower interest in books by children with BAME backgrounds?

Not that we’ve seen. (Cheeky, but with so few books published that meet the criteria would any research be reliable?). Look at what Empathy Lab can do – proving that engagement with as many characters as possible has positive results.



Do you plan to publish in other languages to reach those children who have English as a second language? Will you take submissions in other languages?

We’re just getting started – our first focus is home-grown talent. We’ll look at submissions in translation but, for now, it’s unlikely we’ll be publishing into the UK and Irish markets in multiple languages.



It sounds like we are witnessing the start of a really exciting, forward-thinking publisher. How can we get involved?


Sign up to the #BooksMadeBetter newsletter [http://knightsof.media/#sign-up/] – come write for BooksMadeBetter.com – and tell everyone who might be interested about us. We’re a new start-up company so always willing to talk investment at varying levels.


So - they are being different and being very open, so what are you waiting for - sounds like a brilliant opportunity to get involved. SOTB will certainly be watching this space and wish Knights Of the very best for getting it dreams realised.

Lastly I must say a BIG SOTB THANK YOU to David for taking time out of the hectic start up week to be interviewed and to wish Knights Of the very best of luck. We look forward to reviewing some of their books in due course!

Find out more at Knights Of Website


You can also follow Knight on Twitter @_KnightsOf