Friday, 31 October 2014

Halloween Review: Witchworld by Emma Fischel review by Bea aged 10

As it's Halloween we present a review of a suitably creepy book full of Witches and Ghouls that totally enthralled it's ten year old reviewer...

 This book is about a Witch child named Flo who has to make her family believe that ghouls do exist, and that there the only family to save the world. But she is not sure how to do it and that if she can’t, how will only her and grandma cope with thousands of ghouls.

I found this book amazing. It has lots of exiting ideas and fabulous descriptions. My favourite character would be grandma always getting cross with people and thinking that she’s right. Grandma is always being bossy and messy. My other favourite character is Hetty she’s also very bossy and likes fashion. The main character in this book is Flo she is stuck to believe whose right about ghouls existing in Witch World, is it her mum or her grandma.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Guardian Children’s Fiction Award 2014 - reviews: The Dark Wild, The Illuminated Adventures of Flora and Ulysses, Phoenix

Continuing on our shadowing of the this years Guardian Children‘s Fiction Award short list after Nicki's previous post and review of 'We Were Liars’ by E Lockhart [press here to read], here is our reviews of the other three exciting short listed books...

The Dark Wild by Piers Torday

Reviewed by Claire

Twelve year old Kester can't speak to most humans, but he can talk and listen to animals. Not that there were many animals left, after an evil corporation wiped most of them out with a virus, so that humans would have no choice but to buy their food-substitute. In the first book in this trilogy Kester saved many of these animals. In this second book, he discovers that there are other animals in an underground city, who are preparing to rise up against humans. It is only Kester who can stop them.

The Dark Wild has some of everything. A rollicking adventure. Set in a dystopian future. Important theme of humanity’s attitude to our environment. And perhaps most importantly to its readership, a large cast of loveable (and not so loveable) animals that come alive on the page.

This series is marketed as 9+, but it is a challenging read, both thematically and in tone, for that age-group. 11+ seems to me like its natural readership, especially those able readers who are starting to lose interest in other middle grade fiction. There aren’t enough books in that gulf before teen fiction so I was pleased to discover this.

The final book in the series will be published in 2015.

The Illuminated Adventures of Flora and Ulysses 

by Kate DiCamillo

Reviewed by Sally

Have you ever wondered what would happen if…a twelve year old natural born cynic and a squirrel with super powers and a talent for writing poetry got together? If so then, The Illuminated Adventures of Flora and Ulysses is for you. If no, then you should read this book to find out why you should have asked yourself the question.

The Illuminated Adventures of Flora and Ulysses is a quirky and intelligent read for middle grade, centring around the adventures of twelve year old comic fanatic Flora, who resurrects a squirrel who has been vacuumed up by the neighbours top-of-the-range Ulysses 2000. The squirrel, Ulysses after his near death experience develops super strength, the ability to fly and advance cognitive abilities (which he channels into typing poetry). The pair instantly bond, and begin on series of gentle, funny and profound adventures as they try to outwit Ulysses’s arch enemy, Flora’s Romanic novelist mother, who has plan for the bald squirrel that novel a shovel and a sack!

The real strength of The Illuminated Adventures of Flora and Ulysses, is the writing, Kate DiCamillo, delivers a gentle haft warming story with plenty of action and laughs, which deliver positive messages about trust, friendship and acceptance, in an uncondescending way. DiCamillo use of language is beautiful, weaving together words in beautiful way, and not compromising on her choice of words, creating a challenging read which will be particularly suitable to advance readers. I myself had to consult the dictionary on a few occasions. To add to the quirky humour sections of the book have the action told not in words but with sequential narrative, with delightful grey scale comic strip illustrated by K G Campell.

The messages and themes of the books, are all woven together in a subtle way, as the group of eclectic and lonely characters bond together with their shared mission to keep Ulysses safe. The Illuminated Adventures of Flora and Ulysses, is a book that will make you laugh and cry (or maybe that’s just me) and illuminate you on the profound nature of squirrel poetry.

Phoenix by SF Said

Reviewed by Claire 

Phoenix is a science-fiction story set in the far future amidst a highly populated galaxy. This description doesn’t make it sound like the type of book that is usually nominated for prizes, but Phoenix is beautiful on so many levels - even poetic, in parts - and I’m thrilled that it is getting the recognition it deserves.

This is a hugely accessible book for many reasons. It has intriguingly eerie illustrations by Dave McKean, which somehow don’t feel like an overthought - the words and pictures fit together perfectly. The story gets cracking quickly, moves fast and never sags. And then there’s the characters: A boy called Lucky, who dreams that the stars are singing. His mum, who for her time in the story proves to be about as cool a mother as any kid can hope for. And Bixa and the rest of her family, who are aliens with hoofed feet living aboard a spacecraft. It has a clear message of love towards our neighbours, however different their outward appearance may initially seem.

I originally bought this book without knowing much about it, purely based on its genre - my children, like so many others, love both speculative science and space travel, and there is far too little of it on offer. It shot to the top of my reading list when my ten year old son read all 487 pages in one evening, and couldn’t stop talking about it. His favourite part, he told me firmly, was what happened to Lucky in the ending. When I read it, I was surprised by this, for whilst hugely uplifting, it is not a conventionally happy ending for children’s fiction. But in a mind-blowing book like this, conventions fly out of the spacecraft hatches, and really it’s a far better read because of it.

This is a future classic and, having read all of the finalists, it remains the one I would very much like it to win.

So here we are a mixed bag of exciting books, role on November 13th, when the winner is announced!

Friday, 17 October 2014

Talking; Devopling Series Fiction with Amber Caravéo, Editorial Director for Orion Children’s Books

Amber Caravéo is the Editorial Director for Orion Children’s Books and Indigo. Her publishing career began many years ago when she worked for a children’s magazine, inventing mystery adventures for Special Agent Sophie Smart and interviewing celebrities such as Gordon the Gopher! From there she moved to Working Partners where she continued dreaming up crazy ideas for children’s stories and worked on a huge variety of series from The Lady Grace Mysteries and Vampire Beach to Rainbow Magic. Eventually she moved to become Senior Editor for Random House Children’s Books before joining Orion just over 4 years ago. In November 2014, Amber and her business partner, Joanna Moult, will be launching a new specialist Children’s and YA literary agency and creative consultancy called Skylark Literary ( and they will welcome submissions.

What was your favourite children’s book as a child?

I loved Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and also her ‘Adventure’ series. I used to read those books again and again, imagining that I was one of the children having the adventures. It was pure escapist stuff but because of those books I developed a reading habit that I’ve never lost!

What is your favourite children’s book as an adult?

It’s very hard to choose one book when there are so many fabulous titles for children around nowadays but I think it might be Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones. I have always been impressed and delighted by the sheer breadth of imagination and ingenuity in Diana’s writing. She was so inventive. I also love the fact that she wasn’t afraid to explore ideas that many children’s authors would shy away from. Somehow she had an innate sense of what was and was not appropriate for her readers and a wonderful feel for what would resonate with them. Fire and Hemlock is a clever mix of the real world and the world of fairytale and legend and, for me, it perfectly depicts that transition from childhood to adulthood while being an utterly gripping and fascinating story at the same time.

What do you think makes children’s books so inspirational?

For me it’s the freedom. Children’s books are not hidebound by genre or realism. So long as authors can write convincingly, they can venture into any genre and be just as inventive and fantastical as they like. Children’s fiction gives you a sense that anything is possible – even magic! That is hugely hopeful, exciting and inspiring for young readers – and for grown-up ones too! I love the sense of all those possibilities!

What made you want to work in children’s publishing?

See my answer above! The creative freedom definitely. The opportunity to venture anywhere, to explore anything and the magical worlds and possibilities that fiction opens up. That is very exciting to me and makes every day an adventure! J

You have created and developed series of books like the hugely popular Gargoylz and Magic Trix. Does this mean that you come up with the concept?

Yes, in those cases I came up with the concept. Generally, when I’m developing a series in that way it is because I’ve come up with the initial idea. However, the further development of individual plotlines for each book can be, and usually is, very collaborative with the writers involved – not to mention a lot of fun!

Have you created and developed any other series?

Yes, quite a few. I used to work for Working Partners who specialize in creating brilliant series fiction for children so I worked on lots of projects for them – including Rainbow Magic where I developed plotlines for almost 100 of those books! I love coming up with new ideas so I have continued to invent and develop series ever since – including Adventure Island, Magic Trix and Pets from Space for Orion Children’s Books.


Creating and developing a series like Gargoylz or Magic Trix, how much say do you have in the story line; do you guide the plots or do the authors have creative freedom or is it a team approach?

It’s very much a team approach and it varies from project to project. Usually I will have had the original idea. Then sometimes I will also go on to develop the plot for each book and other times I’ll let the author do that and will simply work with them to guide the story or help if they hit a plot problem or obstacle. I try to work with authors in whatever way best suits them and makes it easiest for them to be creative. I think that’s the way to get the best out of people – especially when you’re working together on a creative enterprise.

When creating a series how do you choose the author to write the books?

Often a particular author who I’ve worked with before will spring to mind as I’m dreaming up the concept. I just know that a certain person will have the perfect style or voice for the project I have in mind. It doesn’t always work that way though and sometimes we’ll ask several authors who might be interested in a project to write some sample chapters for it. Usually you can then see very quickly who has captured the flavour of the series or the voice of the main characters and is therefore the natural author for the project.

Why is it necessary to create series like Gargoylz and Magic Trix? Is it to fill gaps in the market?

Often it’s less about necessity and more about inspiration. The idea comes along and if enough people think it’s good then it gathers a momentum of its own and becomes a reality! Of course, working in the Children’s Publishing world as I do, I have a good idea of the market and I can see where I feel there are gaps. That will often inspire an idea and so a new series is born! Maybe I’ve been longing to find a particular type of story for a certain age group and if the right submission doesn’t cross my desk in the traditional way – i.e. from an agent – then I might just set out to create what I’m looking for.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Guardian Children’s Fiction Award 2014 - reviews

It’s a really good mix - exciting reads for older children and funny reads for younger ones, US authors and UK ones, and would be a great list to read if you want to sample some of the best writers who are writing for children today.

The shortlisted books are:

Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

The Dark Wild by Piers Torday

We Were Liars by E Lockhart

Phoenix by SF Said

We look forward to seeing which one triumphs on November 13, but congratulations to all the nominees.

We will be taking a Space on the Bookshelf close look at all the titles, but we are going to kick off today with ‘We Were Liars’ by E Lockhart.

This one is pitched at teen readers, the story of Cadence Sinclair, heir to the fortune of one of America’s wealthiest families. With her aunts and close cousins, she lives a life of privilege most of us can’t even begin to dream about.

The story gives us an insight into these families that all have a holiday home on an island – heck, they are so rich they own the whole island.

But the story isn’t about how she copes with the wealth and the privilege and tries to find a role for herself. Her mother and aunts have been brought up to have few skills beyond shopping and sibling rivalry. Although it is party about that.

The adults spend their summers inveigling themselves into their father’s affections. Tapping into his bottomless wallet is a full-time occupation. Squabbling over the future inheritance an important secondary pursuit.

It is also partly a love story as Cadence falls in love with Gat, who also spends his summers on the island. He is not actually one of the direct blood cousins, so not following the sniff of Grandpa’s inheritance. Cadence falls in love, but Gat has another girl.

It is Gat that encourages Cadence to face up to how privileged she is – he is the one who points out that although the same staff have been on the island loyally for years, she doesn’t even know their names.

The style of writing takes a little while to get into. It’s fractured and cold, but the conflicts and characters draw you in to squabbles about things you might think you’d find it difficult to care about. Particularly when the characters all live lives so difficult to relate to. 

E Lockhart does a brilliant job of engaging the reader against all the odds, which was what I most admired about the writing.

What draws you in is that we learn that Cadence is a damaged individual, so she immediately gets our sympathy for her haunted nights and memory loss, the headaches, the rounds of doctors and drugs. We are guided to suspect that perhaps she was attacked - again, playing on our sympathies.

And this grows to be the heart of the story – why is Cadence so ill? What has happened?

This is where the warnings of spoilers come in. Be warned, this is what is probably best described as a big concept novel – and it is actually tricky to review because giving it away would probably affect the enjoyment of someone reading it as there is a twist coming.

How you react to the big ending and whether you swallow the twist is probably going to affect whether you are ultimately going to find this a satisfying tale of a spoiled little rich girl with a loosened grip on reality.

What I most admired about this novel was how skilfully the author took a series of characters and a situation that you initially thought you weren’t going to find a lot of sympathy for – that she constructs it all so carefully it gives the story validity and she does make you care. 

So personally found it actually disappointing that the author went for an ending that was both overly nasty and outrageously over the top as it made me question the validity of the whole story. 

But there you go - I can see that I am in the minority considering this is nominated for such a big award as this has had terrific reviews.

Definitely worth reading - there is much skill to be admired. One to read and decide for yourself? Definitely. 

Friday, 10 October 2014

Interview with Author and Creative Writing Mentor, Tony Bradman. Talking; Project X, Barrington Stoke, Golden Egg and more...

What was your favourite children’s book as a child?

I have dim and distant memories of liking the Thomas the Tank Engine books when I was very young - I probably saw them in the library. The first book I remember properly is The Hobbit, which my final year primary school teacher read to the class. That led me to Lord of the Rings, historical fiction by Rosemary Sutcliff and Henry Treece, fantasy and SF…

What is your favourite children’s book as an adult?

That’s a tough one! There are so many recent books that are terrific. But if I was forced into a corner and made to choose I’d say… The Illustrated Mum by Jacqui Wilson.

What do you think makes children’s books so inspirational?

The best children’s books tackle enormous subjects and themes in the most amazingly creative ways, and we tend to encounter them at really formative periods of our lives - either as children, or as parents reading books to our children. And let’s not forget that while ‘literary’ books for grown-ups abandoned the art of storytelling for most of the 20th century, children’s writers kept on telling great stories.

Why did you start writing for children?

I was in my teens when I decided to become a writer - that had a lot to do with being a bookish boy with a dysfunctional family background, I think. But it was when I became a dad that I realised I wanted to write for children. For my own kids to begin with, but all children after that.

What is your favourite aspect of writing for children?

I usually say… the best part is finishing a story and knowing it’s good, or at the very least has some good bits in it! There are lots of pleasures, though, Having a great idea… finally working out a tricky plot… writing a good line that sees to work… seeing the illustrations to a story for the first time and thinking - ‘Wow! They’re good!’. And best of all - getting a letter from someone who has enjoyed one of my books!

Talking, Oxford University Press's Project X...

You are a lead writer OUP Award Winning Project X, can you tell us a bit about project X?

Project X is a major reading scheme developed by OUP to sit alongside their existing schemes such as Oxford Reading Tree. It was always intended to be very 21st century - great graphics, fantastic story lines attractive to kids who watch films and play computer games.

How did you become a lead writer for Project X?

OUP had the basic concept for the series but decided they wanted someone to help develop it and be a focus for the writing of the initial books. They asked people to pitch for the job, which involved with coming up with lots of ideas. I have to give a special mention to my old mate and great author himself, Chris Powling here - he told OUP they should speak to me.

How much say do you have in the stories and the development of Project X?

It wasn’t so much a question of having a ‘say’ - OUP have a great team and of course with a reading scheme there are always lots of themes, levels, curriculum links etc which have to be covered. I’ve spent a lot of time working with the team to flesh it all out - suggesting characters, plot lines, stories, scenarios. All great fun, but sometimes very tough - some very tight deadlines to hit!

Talking, Barrington Stoke's Young Merlin ...

You write the Young Merlin series for specialist ‘challenged reader’s’ publishers Barrington Stoke. How did get to work for Barrington stoke?

That goes back to the diim and distant dawn of time… I don’t actually remember how the contact first came about - probably through my agent. My first book for them (in 2002) was The Two Jacks, which is still going strong, I’m pleased to say.

What are the challenges and benefits of writing for Barrington Stoke?

The challenges are always the same when you write any story - you have to come up with a great idea and turn it into a brilliant story (never easy!). Barrington Stoke books are aimed at kids whose interests and understanding are probably much higher than their reading age, so you have to make sure your story is accessible as well as gripping. But that’s the way all good stories should work anyway. The Barrington Stoke team are brilliant at working with you on the editing process too - they know what their readers need.

Why did you choose to write about Merlin?

I’ve always liked Arthurian stories, and Merlin is one of those great characters that stay in the mind - in some ways he’s the source of all wizards in children’s books - there would be no Gandalf without him. But we always see Merlin as an old man, and I was intrigued by the idea of him as a boy. He’s very young in the early Welsh legends.

Question from Young Merlin Fan Beatriz (aged 10)

Who is Merlin’s Dad? You tell us who his mum is, but not his dad, why?

Ah, that would be telling. Nobody knows who his dad was… Maybe one day I’ll write a story revealing the secret!

Talking, Golden Egg... 

You have recently become a member of the Golden Egg Team, mentoring new writing talent, what is it like seeing writers at the beginning of their careers?

I started off as a features editor on a magazine, so I’ve always worked with writers. I’ve also done lots of editing (both of anthologies and other people’s novels!), and in recent years I’ve been doing some teaching. It all grows out of my interest in the craft of writing, and it’s very rewarding to hand on some of the things I’ve learned (and I’m still learning!). Helping people at the beginning of their careers is very rewarding - as far as I’m concerned, the more great writer and great books for children there are, the better!


You write for many different ages, abilities and genres, how does it feel knowing that your books are helping children to learn to read?

It feels wonderful… although to be honest it’s the idea of kids enjoying my books which gives me the most pleasure of all!

To win a selection of Tony's books tweet us at @BookshelfSpace with the hash tag #TonyBradmanSOTB or e-mail with 'Tony Bradman Giveaway' in the subject bar.
Good Luck!