Friday, 22 November 2019

Keeping your Eyes Peeled, Hoarding, and Patience - Creating Story Sacks

I’ve been creating story sacks for a few years now, and I love it. Compiling a story sack around a particular book is sometimes easy and other times challenging, and over the years through a process of trial and error I’ve found a few things that help. So this is a post full of antidotes tips to help anyone who is interested in putting together their own story sacks.

So before we start our post, here is a quick note on what a story sack is, and what it includes…

Story Sack Checklist 

  • A good quality fiction book. (picture book or novel)
  • A non-fiction book related to the story and themes in the chosen picture book.
  • Toys, (ideally a soft toy for younger children).
  • A game or activity also related to the theme of the chosen fiction book.
  • Optional worksheet based on the story and themes off the story sack.

TIP 1 - Pick a Common Theme
 - if you are compiling you first story sack or simply if you want to have an easy time sourcing items for a story sack, base it around a story with a common theme. If you construct a story stack around a book about dinosaurs, pirates, unicorns of space, you’ll find lots of options for games, soft toys and non-fiction books, and many of which will be inexpensive or sourced second hand , keeping the cost down.

Tip 2 –Keep your Eyes Pealed - there are certain things that are the cornerstone of any story sack, plush toys that are based on the main characters and games and nonfiction books that further explore the themes in the main book it’s based around. Sometimes these themes are so popular it easy to find the items you need other times it is difficult because the characters are so unique - in that case you need to get creative, making your own or you’ll need to enlist the help of a crafty friend. Others are a challenge to source even though they shouldn’t be, like BAME plush toys. Therefore if it is good to get in the habit of keeping your eyes peeled and picking up any when you see them. For instance I brought a few plush dolls in varying genders and colours from a museum gift shop, so that I’d have them ready when I need them. It’s also good to keep an eye out for bargains in sales and charity shops for future projects to keep costs down. 

Tip 3 Become a Hoarder – When you are creating Story Sacks it can make things easier if you have a stock of items ready. To that end, I hoard things. Anything that I find that may be useful; rag-dolls or plush dolls, (with safety labels), puzzles and games, non-fiction books for common themes – space, animals, castles, and even draw string bags. This way when you find a book you wish to use as the basis for a story sack you may already have some of the items to accompany it. Also if you are in a school environment, you also have spare items if any of the bits in a story sack get broken or misplaced. 

TIP 4 - Have Patience - When I create story sacks for newly published books or and book by a debut writer/illustrators, I like to post the piece to coincide with the publication in order to champion the books. However when I’m creating a story sack around a classic book I find I can take my time. This means I can wait for the right items to come along at the right price rather than source the items new. This of course takes patience, and means you have to keep your eyes peeled and be a hoarder storing things until you have all the items to complete the story sack. 

For instance a few years ago, I found a BNWT astronaut plush in a charity shop for 50p, when I brought it I discovered it was a MR BENN, so I decided to start collecting stuff for a story sack. Over the last few years, I found a second hand copy of the picture book story for £3, a new DVD of the animated series for £1, a still cellophane covered unopened box of the MR BENN GRAB GAME, for £2.50. Whilst looking around I found a non-fiction book about dressing up for 50p and a new box of cardboard origami dress up hats for 50p. All that was needed was a MR Benn toy in his usual suit, which eventually I found in a charity shop last week for £4.00. So eventually my patience paid off! 

So the moral of the story is simple, to make engaging story sacks at a purse friendly price, become a horder, keep your eyes peeled and have patience. Happy Story Sack making!

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Story Sack – The Dinosaur who lost her Voice by Julie Ballard and Francesca Gambatesa

Today’s story sack has been assembled specifically for one of my nephews who is coming up to his third Birthday and is still finding his voice. So for his Birthday, I’ve assembled a story sack based on the recently published picture book penned by Julie Ballard and illustrated by Francesca Gambatesa ‘The Dinosaur who lost her Voice.’

So before we start our post, here is a quick note on what a story sack is, and what it includes…

Story Sack Checklist

  •  A good quality fiction book. (picture book or novel)
  • A non-fiction book related to the story and themes in the chosen picture book.
  • Toys, (ideally a soft toy for younger children).
  • A game or activity also related to the theme of the chosen fiction book.
  • Optional worksheet based on the story and themes off the story sack.

Books - Fiction

The Dinosaur who lost her Voice is a charming positive tale about friendship and overcoming disappointment. The titular dinosaur has a song in her heart and a passion for singing, until one day tragedy strikes and she loses her voice. The dinosaur is sad, and her friends wanting to help her form a choir and sing, creating a cacophony of that is not pleasant to the ears. So the voiceless dinosaur teaches them to sing, until their ensemble is performing harmonious and beautiful songs. Everyone is happy including the dinosaur that lost her voice. 


The book is full of positive messages and themes including friendship, empathy and kindness but also accepting who you are and showing that when adversity derails your dreams you can find other ways to realise them. The Dinosaur who lost her voice is further enchanted by Francesca Gambatesa’s vibrant illustrations both compliment and enrich the heart-warming story. 

Book – Non-Fiction

To accompany the ‘The Dinosaur who lost her Voice’ I’ve chosen two non-fiction titles. One a dinosaur picture book, full of fun facts which are always popular with young children.

The second is a picture book which through its lovely illustration teaches how to use British Sign Language to sign the song ‘5 Little Ducks’ so my nephew can sing in sign.

Soft Toys

For the plush toys, I found a beautiful knitted doppelganger for the Dinosaur who Lost her voice, and a few other dino-teddies to be her friends.


For the toys and activities I’ve included a toy microphone for singing and free-play, and a set of dinosaur puzzles. If you wish to make a story sack based around The Dinosaur who lost her Voice, you can find many puzzles and games that are dinosaur themes for any ability and age range.

Thursday, 17 October 2019

Review; The Wonder Girls by J.M.Carr


The Wonder Girls is an exciting adventure yarn following a rag-tag group of girls in pre-war Briton, as they endeavour to outwit the evil Black Shirt’s plans to abduct ‘Aryan’ looking children and, sell them to the Nazi party in Germany.

The book starts running and gathers pace as it races from the 1936 march of the British Union of Fascists known as the ‘Black Shirts’ in London to fictional Hampshire town of Nettlefield, as streetwise foundling Baby and her sister Fingers race to save mysterious golden-haired Sophie, who they witness get kidnapped. At Nettlefield the two sisters meet Gin a teenage aspiring actress and Brian a tomboy with Downs Syndrome who live in a disused railway carriage. The four girls quickly become fast friends, together they follow the main suspects and concentrate their search for Sophie on the town Orphanage and the undertakers. Soon they cross paths with 14 year old want-to-be mechanic Ida whose mother has just passed away.

Baby tries to warn Ida that her ‘Uncle’ Mr Underwood the undertaker and the Matron of the orphanage Mrs Buller are planning on taking Ida’s, blue eyed blonde haired, sister Bonnie, but Ida resists their help. When Bonnie is forcibly removed from Ida care, she realises that she needs to embrace the eclectic band of girls and work with them to save her sister and stop her and other Aryan children being smuggled out of the country and sold to Hitler. 

As with every good adventure yarn, nothing is that easy and it takes every ounce of their combined ingenuity, skills and help from new friends to outwit the Black Shirts.

The Wonder Girls is a delightful adrenaline filled adventure that shines a light on a very dark aspect of British history whist bring a good dose of fun with it eccentric cast, yet not shying away from difficult themes. In The book J.M. Car expertly balances the emotional personal stories of the individual characters and peril whilst maintaining a historical setting that is so real it is almost tangible. 

However the true beauty if this book is while it is exploring historical events it is actually commenting on modern society. From the head on racism of the Black Shirts felt most by Baby whose from Indian decent, to accepting neurodiversity with Brian’s character, who also hints about gender choice. Feminism and equal rights for women is high on the gender too, with Ida wanting to defy society’s expectations and become a mechanic. It also unites people from the whole spectrum of society from Upper Class Vir’Gin’a to middle class Ida right through to the socially less acceptable street urchin’s Baby and Fingers and Brian with her disability.

The Wonder Girls under the guise if historical fiction is actually preaching acceptance, togetherness and solidarity, a strong message for today’s society – unity. For the Wonder Girls like society is stronger than the sum of its parts.

Friday, 26 April 2019

Story Sack – ‘The Day the Crayons Quit’ by Drew Dewalt & Oliver Jeffers and ‘The Crayon Man’ by Natascha Biebow & Steve Salerno

For a long time I’ve wanted to make a story based on Drew Dewalt ‘s and Oliver Jerrers’s ‘The Day the Crayons Quit,’ but as is often the way I could not find an age appropriate related non-fiction book to compliment the story. It was therefore joy to me, when I heard that SCWBI-BI Regional Director, (who I’ve had the pleasure of working with in my time volunteering for SCBWI) Natascha Biebow had written a picture book about the man who invented crayons, as it is the illusive missing piece of the story stack.

So before we start our post, here is a quick note on what a story sack is, and what it includes…

Story Sack Checklist

  • A good quality fiction book. (picture book or novel)
  • A non-fiction book related to the story and themes in the chosen picture book.
  • Toys, (ideally a soft toy for younger children).
  • A game or activity also related to the theme of the chosen fiction book.
  • Optional worksheet based on the story and themes off the story sack.

Fiction Book - ‘The Day the Crayons Quit’ by Drew Dewalt & Oliver Jeffers

The Day the Crayons Quit is a celebration of colour and creativity. It’s a humorous read, as the Crayons all write letters to their owner Duncan complaining about how he uses them; pointing out the notions of preconceptions of how things are; pink for girls, blue for water, and so on. It is done in charming way which is reminiscent of the Little Prince’s drawings in the classic Antonie de Saint-Exupery book. Duncan responds by unleashing his creativity to use his colours in a more liberated way, pleasing everyone, including his teacher. The Day the Crayons Quit is an original, unique and funny read with vibrant illustrations which work perfectly with the text.

Non-Fiction Book ‘The Crayon Man’ by Natascha Biebow & Steve Salerno

‘The Crayon Man’, is much akin to ‘The Day the Crayons Quit’ as it is also a celebration of creativity and colour, telling the remarkable true story, of Edwin Binney who invented the Crayola waxed crayons. The book is beautiful, as it explores Edwin’s journey with fun flowing narrative interjected with boxes of facts and beautiful illustrations by Steve Salerno. In addition it has a biography of Edwin Binney and a section explaining the way Crayola Crayons are made today, which makes it a perfect companion book for the story sack – Thanks Natascha and Steve! 


This is maybe the easiest story sack I’ve ever done as far as soft toys are concerned, as there is a wide range of ‘The Day the Crayons Quit’ merchandise available online, I opted for the Crayon box full of Crayon finger puppets, which was relatively inexpensive at £6.99 including postage. Plus I’ve included a man finger puppet which can be used as Edwin too. 


There are ready made games available online, like a fabric crayon matching set from Esty, or a Crayola branded card game (if you can find one cheap enough), but to keep cost down, I chose to make my own. So, I used four small draw string bags that I already had and filled them with four packs of chunky crayons (89p each) , which can be used in multiple ways…

Crayon Colour Snap

Up to four players

Equipment: Four bags full of identical set of crayons.


1. On the count of three, all players pull a random crayon from their bag.

2. If any colours match, the first person to shut Snap wins them all, and places them in front of them. Any un-matching coloured crayons go back in the bag they came from.

3. When the bags are empty, the player with the most crayons in front of them wins. In the event of a tie, those players play again, until there is an outright winner. 

Crayon Colour Quick Fire Draw

Up to four players


· Four bags full of identical set of crayons. Colour Dice. Paper. Doodle cards, (or story cube)


1. All players have a bag with identical crayons inside (that correspond to the colours on the dice).

2. Turn over a doodle card to see what you need to draw, or if using a story cube, throw the cube.

3. Throw colour dice - to get a colour.

4. Find the colour in your bag, and draw the picture with that colour. First player to shout done, and having drawn the picture correctly in the right colour wins. If using a doodle cards, the player gets the card, and the overall winner is the one with the most cards at the end, if using a story cube, keep tally.

Worksheet or Activity

For a activity, I’ve included a pack of Crayola crayons, for drawing and colouring, a pack of crayon stickers and a ‘the Day the Crayons Quit’ inspired activity Sheet. 

Thank you for visiting!

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Review & GIVEAWAY - To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo - BY Teen Reviewer

Lira is Royal, but unlike the any other Royal family, she is a siren. A killer, who will take a human heart for every birthday, and this year it will be her 18th. Her mother, the unforgiving Sea Queen, who cares little for her daughter as she does for anyone else, is sure Lira will not be worthy of Queen. So much, that when Lira disobeys the oldest rules, she curses Lira into becoming human, and without delivering the sirens most hated enemy; the siren killer’s, heart, she will stay human for eternity…

But Elian won’t give up, Prince of Midas, Captain of The Saad, and Leader of Siren killers. His mission is to defeat all sirens and in doing so kill the infamous Prince’s Bane, but when Elian rescues a defenceless woman floating in the water on his journey, he has to try and build trust if he wants her help…

This amazing book is full of twists and turns, as well as a brilliant plot. I love the way Christo has written this. The characters are so real, and intriguing that you find yourself rooting for even the most despicable characters. The incredible journey takes you on a whirlwind of adventures, I couldn’t put it down! I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves a bit of fantasy, or twisted fairy tale or even pirates! It was one of the best books I have read, and I didn’t want it to stop!

Review by Bea aged 14

We are giving away a signed copy of To Kill a Kingdom, just retweet our pinned tweet on Twitter @BookshelfSpace& follow before 1st December 2018. Winner announcer 2nd December. UK only. Good Luck!

Friday, 12 October 2018

October reading round up

Murder at Twilight by Fleur Hitchcock

Viv, grumpy teenaged daughter of the live-in childminder of posh-boy, Noah, hates her mum being at the beck and call of the Belcombe family.

A row that ends with her satisfyingly punching posh Noah on the nose has serious consequences when accusations and suspicions fly when he is kidnapped.

Viv is used to wandering the vast acres owned by the Belcombes, after all, they own practically everything around here. But when she accidentally finds herself embroiled in the kidnap plot, the realises she is in far more danger than the fragile, but valuable Noah.

It all leads to a series of thrilling chases as the pair have to flee and try to get to safety. But the landscape is flooded and almost unrecognisable, even to Viv. Is it going to be too easy for the baddies to be one step ahead of them? They are going to have to come up with a better plan, but resourceful Viv proves herself more than a match for any kidnappers.

There are really nail-biting descriptions of race-against-time daring escapes and chases (that don’t always go so well) to keep you frantically turning the pages. Another unputdownable thriller by Fleur Hitchcock.

Dragon Daughter by Liz Flanagan

When Milla witnesses a murder, the last thing she expects to discover is that the victim has hidden something extraordinary – four incredibly rare dragon eggs.

Milla feels instantly protective of the eggs. She has heard stories of course, that once there were dragons here on the island of Arcosi. But as she is only a servant and a lower-class citizen, she knows the risks if she keps the eggs. She has to be very careful as the consequences will be severe if she is discovered keeping things from the Duke.

Milla has no idea how her life will turn upside-down when she starts to learn what the return of the dragons truly means to her island home. At first it only seems to bring trouble. Chaos erupts, sending the divisions between the islanders even deeper.

But Milla knows she must protect the dragons at all costs. And she must learn their secrets if she is to find a way to heal all the warring parties and prevent a civil war.

Anyone who speaks up against unfairness is dealt with brutally and there are powerful descriptions of a whole country moving towards the brink of war.

This is a compelling tale of a society organised by caste and favouritism. But all that looks like it might be turned on its head by the return of the dragons and the forging of a whole new set of friendships and allies with more in common and more to lose than they realise.

This is an epic story with much to say of warring nations and how greed and corruption lead to bitterness and battles, but how finding common bonds reaches across the barriers of origin and caste. 

My favourite scenes were those beautifully evoked moments between the riders and their dragons, which is the glorious heart of the novel.

A beautiful and thought-provoking read in equal measure. And also with one of my favourite jackets of the year by Angelo Rinaldi.

Warrior Boy by Virginia Clay

Ben doesn’t feel he fits in at his London school, even though it’s the only life he has known. But he worries even more that he won’t fit in when he travels to Kenya with his mother. His father was Kenyan and Ben is worried to meet family he has never met before. 

He knows they will be very different and how can he possibly relate to people who wear strange clothes, have such unusual customs and live in huts made of cow dung?

Even more than that, one of Ben’s biggest fears is how he will cope when he has a phobia about blood and he learns his father was a brave warrior?

This is a thoroughly enjoyable fish out of water story where the sights and smells of the Maasai come really to life and plunges the reader, along with outsider Ben, into a culture that he gradually learns to love. The life and landscape seeps through the book in such a delightful way that I challenge any reader not to fall under its spell.

With an exciting plot about catching poachers, some great interplays with his new-found cousin and grandfather, Ben’s journey becomes one to see if he can dig deep and discover any warrior roots hidden in this nervous, urban boy.

This is such a great read about the things we have in common, no matter where we grow up. About finding bonds in family and learning that differences can be a cause for celebration. But it is also an enthralling and uplifting tale about how facing your fears can bring you closer to others.

Peril in Paris by Katherine Woodfine

Thirteen-year-old Arnovian princess, Anna, is full of envy of her younger brother, Alex, who will get to go to boarding school and be King one day. Being a princess is a lot less fun. All she seems to do all day is learn the history of her country and how to walk and talk nicely. But maybe life is about to get exciting . . . Anna is getting suspicious that her new governess might be a spy.

Meanwhile, in another part of Europe a young woman is investigating the death of a secret agent. Was it really just a burglary that went wrong? With the shadow of the First World War starting to fall across Europe, it is important to get to the truth and spying is a new and dangerous mission as secrets trade for high value.

The twin narratives of this intriguing story set in the early twentieth century is full of glamour and parties, but there are also exciting developments happening in science and aviation. Paris is the scene of the first air race and it forms a great backdrop to the climax of this exciting spy thriller. 

The Murderer’s Ape by Jakob Wegelius 

Ship’s engineer, Sally Jones, is an absolute genius at anything mechanical. She is also a gorilla, a fact that characters throughout the story react to in different ways! But her abilities and character help her make friends and win allies at every turn. 

Gentle Sally Jones is content to follow Captain Koskela anywhere. She works diligently and news of her talent is widespread. Then they go on a dangerous voyage together that goes terribly wrong. The captain is arrested for murder. Only Sally Jones believes in his innocence and there begins her epic tale to find the evidence that will free him.

This is a great historical adventure that will take Sally Jones to the other side of the world in a thrilling quest involving everything from planes to palaces, as she leaves no stone unturned, but patiently finds the evidence that will free her friend.

This is an unusual book for many reasons. It's a children’s book with no child characters. That the main character is an ape in itself makes this such an astonishing book. But the main character also never says a word throughout the story, yet it is all told from her point of view as she writes her memoirs. 

Sally Jones is both a believable engineering superstar, and someone who is only ever herself. She has a childlike quality of trust and goodness, almost the epitome of humanity, without her being human at all. 

It’s a legendary piece of writing, an enjoyable adventure as Sally Jones never sways from her unswervable belief that she can free her captain, no matter how long it takes. The amazing Sally Jones will remain in your heart.

The Light Jar by Lisa Thompson

Nate can’t quite understand why Mum has brought him to this freezing cold cottage  in the middle of nowhere in the snow. It’s all a bit musty, but he knows she has rowed with Gran and at least they have got away from the hateful Gary.

But when Mum goes out for food and then doesn’t return. Nate is really pleased that his old invisible friend, Sam, turns up again to help. And then there’s Kitty from the big house, obsessed with mazes and dolls houses, pestering him to help her solve a treasure hunt – as if he is worried about finding treasure when Mum might have gone back to Gary, and the only food around is what was left in the empty house.

The Light Jar is a gripping story about facing up to our fears, but it is also a tale of the sometimes strange things we find ourselves doing in order to get through and survive. A brilliant tale of friendship and standing on our own two feet.

Nicki Thornton

Friday, 5 October 2018

October Picture Book Round UP – 100 Dogs – Not Yet a Yeti – The King That Banned the Dark

100 Dogs by Michael Whaite

100 Dogs is fun rhyming book, with vibrant humorous pictures, which is an easy read-aloud book to share. With pages bursting full of dog of every shape, size bread and personality type, it groups them together by way of rhyme that slips of the tongue and poses the question, which dog is like yours? Funny and full of dog traits that all dog owners will find funny, it also poses as a great books for learning your phonics, with so many rhymes. But primarily it is just a funny book great to share at bed time.

Not Yet A Yeti by Lou Treleaven and Tony Neal

George is the youngest of a family of yeti’s and he anxious as to why he is not a yeti yet. So he asks his family members why he’s not yet a yeti,, and they ask him if he can do essential yeti tasks, like leaving big footprints in the snow to scare people, or being capable of luring hikes to their doom. None of these staple yeti activities really appeal to George, and it’s only when his Mum ask him if he really wants to be yeti, that George realises his vocation if very different. George soon realises he can be what he dreams, and with the acceptance of those he loves, he finds his own role within the family, and finally becomes the happies and truest form of himself. Not Yet A Yeti, is fun and colourful tale of self-acceptance and family love.

The King who Banned the Dark by Emily Haworth-Booth

What would happen if a king was scared of the dark? He’d ban it of course! And so begins Emily Haworth-Booth’s lovely yearn, accompanied by muted and exquisite illustrations. Of course the King’s advisors are aware that banning the dark could cause the kingdoms people to revolt, so they cunning spread rumours about the dark so’s to fuel the people desire to ban it. When the people are ready, a huge artificial sun is hung above the palace, and the whole kingdom rejoices, until they become weary and sleep deprived. And so, the people decide action is needed, and their treachery payback as they save the Kings celebrations, and in doing so teaches him a valuable lesson. The King Who Banned the Dark is modern fairy-tale, akin to The Emperor’s New Clothes, told with sophistication and paired with extraordinary beautiful illustrations in monotones, juxtaposed with vibrant yellow.