Sunday, 30 June 2013

Spotlight on Writing - The Secret Hen House Theatre by Helen Peters

Helen Peters writing really manages to transport you into the setting of the book whether it is the muddy decrepit farm, or the reclaimed hen house theatre or an antique shop, her sense of setting is almost tangible. You get the sense that Helen hasn't imagined this story but lived it, and when you read her bio, you can understand that she did indeed grow up on a farm and had her own Theatre in a tumble down shed. It’s the little touches to the farm setting, that really make it come to life, like  when a little lamb who unable to be cared for my it’s mother is being kept warm in a cardboard box in the Aga.

The Secret Hen House Theatre, is special in so many ways, it appeal to children is perhaps the strongest, as it ticks so many boxes.


Children of this age love animals and nature, and being set on a farm SHHT had lashing of both, plus the added threat of the animals being sold, and the farm being bulldozed to become a housing estate.

A prerequisite of all kids’ books is that somewhere there should be humour, and Helen has woven some very amusing pieces into the story. From the lovely program design that Lottie makes for the show, with the ‘Secret hen’ in dark glasses and carrying binoculars, to the Beans, and then slapstick with particularly funny scene where the land-reared sheep knocks over the smarmy estate agent on demand, SHHT has lot of moment that will make you giggle.

‘ “Jasper, Attack!”
Jasper didn't move.
Jo whispered the command again, fierce determination in her voice.

And Jasper put his head down and charged.
He butted the agent squarely on the bottom. The man’s feet slid out from under him and he landed with a thud on the concrete, arms and legs flailing, and a steam of high-pitched swear words pouring from his mouth, The Children watched, open mouthed and spellbound.’

Then there is the lovely and very real relationship between Hannah and best friend Lottie, as girl of this age has a BFF (best friend forever). 

Acting, as a child me my cousin and my sister would squeeze between the curtains and the patio doors, and then we come out and do a show that would entertain our parents for hours. Now I’m a parent there is one word that can strike cold dread when it pops out of my children’s mouth, the word? Show. Yes, children love to put on a show, and to act, and SHHT, is about just that. Helen has made the book about putting on a show, and hopefully will encourage children everywhere to take an air of professionalism to their shows, saving the sanity of parents!

First crush and growing up, this is a tricky thing to add into a book, and not have it take over the story line but in SHHT, Helen has dealt with the subject capturing the awkwardness but making it humours and not cringly embarrassing.

Action, there is plenty of action in SHHT, but from a barn fire, to a heist of a valuable painting! Helen expertly written fast passed action, which seem gentle and in pace with the story and plot.

All in all I think that the real unique aspect to the Secret Hen House Theatre is Helen way of making it so appealing to its readership, and feel so real whilst being a heart-warming read.

We've got a copy of The Secret Hen House Theatre  to give away.  To be in with a chance of winning it, e-mail us at with your name and address and 'Hen House' in the header.
Good Luck

Review - The Secret Hen House Theatre by Helen Peters

Adult Review

The Secret Hen House Theatre is a delightful tale of eleven year old Hannah’s struggles to save her family farm, by setting up a theatre in the poultry shed.

It’s an unusual start to a review, but I must simply start with the cover, which is stunning. I’m not usually drawn to books with photographic covers, but with, The Secret Hen House Theatre, Nosy Crow have used the photograph perfectly. The cover photo encapsulates the story beautifully, and with the girl looking outward every reader can imagine that little girls face is actually theirs. 

From the first page I felt completely absorbed in the world of Clayhill Farm; Helen’s writing is so strong that the farm seems to emerge from the pages.

“’…around the yard. At the horse ploughs half buried in grass, the collapsed combine harvester rusting in the mud by the pigsties, the old doors, oil stoves and tangled barbed wire heaped up outside the house’

The Secret Hen House Treasure tells the tales of Hannah who at eleven is the oldest of the Roberts children, who live with their father on the tired outdated Clayhill Farm. Between cooking the family meals, scowering jumble-sales for new clothes for her brother, and helping around the farm Hannah has little time to do homework, but Hannah has one refuge her love of theatre.

‘If Dad ever got anything mended, Hannah Thought, he wouldn't have to use his children as fences’

When the new landlord doubles the rent, Hannah soon realises that her father’s plans for raising the money are flimsy at best, and when a fire destroys the barn it looks like they will lose the animal and the farm. But Hannah and her best friend Lottie have a plan, together they write a play, and convert the disused Hen House into a theatre, and entre into the prestigious Linford Arts Festival Youth Theatre Celebration with the admission of winning first prize and the £500 cheque. Hannah’s brothers and sisters soon become part of the troop and the secret theatre begins to flourish, as the fate of the farm worsens.

But when the curtain falls, and the farm is about to be lost its Hannah prescience that saves the day, even it’s not quite the way she planned!

With The Secret Hen House Theatre Helen has produced a book that reads like a classic; it’s timeless, and its subject of family and saving one’s home is relatable to all children. The story is a modern tale, but reads in an almost Enid Blyton way, with children living in a world which is very much outdoors, and with little adult intervention. Like Enid’s books which are still relatable to children today, I believe that The Secret Hen House Theatre will have stuck a cord with its reader whether it was published 40 years ago or not for another 25 years.

Child review by Rebecca Aged 9

The Secret Hen House Theatre is a brilliant book, I loved it. I really liked how problems occur at any time. Hannah and Lottie have really inspired me to write plays of my own. I think it is an amazing book for anyone who likes farms and theatre productions. It's a fantastic book which is really worth reading!

We've got a copy of The Secret Hen House Theatre to give away.  To be in with a chance of winning it, e-mail us at with your name and address and 'Hen House' in the header.
Good Luck

Saturday, 29 June 2013

The Secret Hen House Theatre - Author Interview - Helen Peters

We at Space on the Bookshelf celebrate all folks who celebrate children's literature and so as part of Independent Booksellers Week, we are reporting on the weeks events at Indy Bookshop Mostly Books.  Next Saturday The 6th July Mostly Books are being Taken Over by Nosy Crow Author; Paula Harrison, Fleur Hitchcock and Helen Peters. By way of build up to the event we present you with not one but two 3D Reviews, first up is Helen followed by Fleur Next week.

Helen Peters is the author of The Secret Hen House Theatre. She grew up on an old-fashioned farm in Sussex, surrounded by family, animals and mud. She spent most of her childhood reading stories and putting on plays in a tumbledown shed that she and her friends turned into a theatre. After university, she realised that she needed to find a job where someone would pay her to read stories and put on plays (though maybe not in a tumbledown shed) and so she became an English and Drama teacher. Several years later, finding herself as a stay-at-home mother of two, she decided to have a go at writing the sort of book she’d so enjoyed as a child. Helen lives with her husband and children in London, and she can still hardly believe that she now gets to call herself a writer.

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

If I had to choose only one (and that is so hard!) I would go for Curtain Up by Noel Streatfeild. It’s a sort-of sequel to Ballet Shoes, where three motherless children are sent to live with their eccentric and flamboyant London grandmother when their father goes missing in action during World War 2. They are horrified when their grandmother, a retired actress, sends them to the Children’s Academy of Dancing and Stage Training, which she believes provides the only education worth having. I loved it because the children are very real and there’s a wonderful cast of supporting characters who leap off the page. And I loved the setting of the bombed-out London square where the grandmother’s house is the only one left standing. Any book set in London, even a bombed-out London, seemed impossibly glamorous to me as a country child.

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

Again, it’s so hard to choose, but maybe The Dragonfly Pool by Eva Ibbotson. I love her writing, I love the adventure story and I love the generosity of spirit which permeates the book.

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

I think it’s partly that they always offer hope. Children are rarely cynical or jaded – at least, not for long – and the world is still fresh to them, so children’s books can have an optimism and energy that books with adult protagonists sometimes lack. Also, children’s books can’t be self-indulgent or pretentious. And they usually have better stories than adult books!

Why did you start writing for children?

My husband suggested that I write a children’s book based on the farm where I grew up and the theatre my friends and I created on the farm. I had never tried writing for children before – or so I thought until I went through a filing box recently and came across an old cheque book from about twenty years ago with some notes for a children’s story scribbled on the back. So I must have thought about writing for children before, but I never got any further than notes until this idea came along.

What made you want to write this book?

When my husband made that suggestion, I knew immediately that it was something I really wanted to do. I knew that I wanted to write an adventure story, but I also wanted to give non-farming readers some idea of the pleasures and pressures of farm life today. It ended up being part theatre story, part school story, part adventure story, part family story, part farm story, and it took a long time to combine the different elements to my satisfaction.

What is your favourite aspect of writing for children?

I enjoy everything about it and I now find it incredible and a bit frightening that had it not been for that casual suggestion, I might never have even started to write a children’s book. It makes me wonder how many people go through their whole lives without ever discovering the thing they really love to do.

To answer your question a bit more specifically, I love the later stages of editing, when the book has gone through several redrafts and the story is more or less there. All the hard work has been done and now it’s just polishing. I love polishing sentences!

I also love the post-publication things, like visiting schools and getting letters from children who’ve read the book. All of that is so much fun and makes me feel incredibly lucky.

How autobiographical is the book?

The short answer is that I stole a lot of settings, characters and events from real life and then wove them together into a (hopefully) coherent story with other settings, characters and events that I invented.

The first draft was very autobiographical, because I wasn’t confident enough to make things up! I worried that my imagination wasn’t good enough to invent things that would feel true to life. That hampered me a lot because my story was limited to things that had happened to me. When I joined SCBWI and met my critique group, I gradually gained the confidence to invent things, and also to make Hannah less like me (not very interesting) and more of a heroine. The decision to make her motherless helped hugely there, because instantly Hannah’s life was very different from mine as a child.

What does it feel like to have made the short-listed for the Waterstones Children’s book prize?


It was actually very hard to take in at first, because I heard nothing directly from Waterstones and it felt quite unreal. It became fabulously real when Dom Kingston, my wonderful publicist, suggested that I go into some London branches to introduce myself and sign stock. I was a bit nervous about this, but the booksellers were all lovely. And in each of the ten branches I visited, there was a beautiful display of all the shortlisted books, which I hadn’t expected at all. My final stop was Waterstones Piccadilly, and as I walked along the pavement towards the entrance, I actually squealed in the street, because there was my book, displayed in the window of Europe’s biggest bookshop! That was a fantastic moment.

Questions for Helen from Rebecca our child reviewer . . .

No, I made that part up. I got the idea from the Brighton Festival, because I grew up near Brighton and a girl from my school won a singing prize at the Brighton Festival, which I was very impressed with. But I don’t know if youth theatre is part of the Brighton Festival. I did look up some youth theatre festivals online, but I made up the Linford Arts Festival to fit my story.

Yes! My publishers asked me to write a sequel and it’s been great to go back to those characters. I’m in the middle of writing it at the moment. I’d better not say too much about it, but I think it’s safe to say that Hannah is facing plenty of challenges and Martha isn’t making life any easier for her…

We've got a copy of The Secret Hen House Theatre  to give away.  To be in with a chance of winning it, e-mail us at with your name and address and 'Hen House' in the header.
Good Luck

Friday, 28 June 2013

Authors take-over at Mostly Books

What would happen if you handed the keys of a bookshop over to three authors and told them they could run the shop for the day?

Or I should I say – what is going to happen as that’s exactly what we’re doing next Saturday – at Mostly Books in Abingdon.

Paula Harrison, Fleur Hitchcock and Helen Peters, all from publisher Nosy Crow, will be experiencing life as a bookseller just for a day, when they will do everything from inflating the Pip and Posy balloons, to taking money on the till.

We run plenty of author events at Mostly Books and I’m fairly sure the usual way of things is that by the time our guest author arrives, everything is fairly calm and well-organised. A good crowd is assembled, dutifully agog for words of authorly wisdom, while the bookseller fades into the background, fingers firmly crossed that the event goes well and book sales are high. Fairly confident that the author has no idea of the weeks of preparation that has gone into making the author feel welcome and ready to see their own titles soar off the shelves after a flying visit.

But we’re not doing that next Saturday. Oh no.

Paula, Fleur and Helen will be there for the whole day, seeing the whole nitty gritty of bookselling action from behind the counter. In fact I know that they realise things are going to be pretty different as their preparations this time are starting early; they have all been busy baking cakes to add to the welcoming atmosphere in Mostly Books on July 6.

They won’t be engaging an audience with the usual straightforward event format of an interesting talk to an eager crowd. Instead, they will be facing the audience the same way a bookseller does every day – facing 100 different questions from ‘My teenage daughter has read every paranormal romance going, and polished The Hunger Games off in a week – what should she read next’ to ‘I’d like to order this book I heard reviewed on the radio sometime in the last month and the author definitely began with an A’. Yes. We get plenty of that.

You never know who is going to walk in through the door next when you work in a bookshop. But it’s always interesting, and pretty much everyone who does come in has one thing in common – they love books. Which makes it a joy.

We hope that meeting and talking directly to so many keen readers, readers in all different guises, will be great fun and interesting for our visiting authors. 

We’ve also lined up some fans eager to talk to our roving booksellers, but instead of taking questions at a big event, they’ve gamely invited our customers to come and have an informal chat over a cup of tea and some cake while they take a break from bookselling and can get back to being authors for a few minutes.

I daresay there will be some impromptu Nosy Crow storytimes for the younger ones. And Nosy Crow have sent us fistfuls of badges and stickers to giveaway too, so no-one’s in any doubt who is running the show.

It’s a fun (mad?) idea as part of Independent Booksellers Week – a week long national celebration of everything that’s great about independent bookshops – a sector that continues to thrive, even though there is plenty of doom and gloom about its future.

IBW is a great chance to remind customers to switch off their browsers, get down to the High Street and handle some actual books and share some quality time talking about them. And a great week to remind anyone who loves books that indies are worth a visit.

But it’s also a time when publishers and authors kindly turn out to events up and down the country to support the sector and to say a big ‘thank you’ to indies for still being there and offering an alternative in a sector which gets squeezed pretty hard at both ends.

Plenty of the authors who are supporting indie events throughout the UK are doing it because they feel their publishing careers would never have taken off as well as they did without the support of independent bookshops – which still offer an unrivalled way to discover new books to read.

It’s the passion of independent booksellers that keep us on the High Street. It means customers will travel a pretty good distance to visit a favourite one. Some very interesting research earlier this year showed that, in those instances where a customer didn’t know what they wanted, physical bookshops were responsible for 45% of new book purchases. That’s a lot of new books and new authors being introduced to readers.

But even so – handing over the key to three authors?

If you want to find out how it goes – watch this space. Or pay a visit to Mostly Books, Abingdon on July 6 – I guarantee some excellent and enthusiastic service – and some extremely good cake.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Talking Zombies - Interview with Charlie Higson

So for my first face to face interview with a children’s author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Charlie Higson. Yes Charlie Higson, singer in The Higsons, Fast Show creator, writer and star and writer of the hugely successful Young Bond books. Like all budding journalist I researched, by reading one of Charlie books, The Fear, the third in his Zombie Horror series. My mistake may have been reading this before bed the night before the interview (when they say zombie horror they’re not kidding they do exactly what they say on the tin) so I looked aptly rather Zombie-esk! Charlie was lovely and we had a great interview, and minutes later he trotted off to do the first of three school event that day to a total of 1000 children.

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

I used to read a LOT, but I can’t remember what. Many of the books were good historical stories. But if ii were to choose one it would be ‘The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm’ which were written by Norman Hunter, in the 20’s about a mad inventor, the stories still work today and I read them to my children.

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

I’m a big fan of Phillip Reeve and I think that Mortal Engines are a brilliant series. I think that they should be more known than they are. The first Mortal Engines book is my favourite.

What is your favourite aspect of writing for children?

What is exciting about writing for children is that they haven’t read many books. The Young James Bond book being for the age where they are first reading for themselves. So that your book may be their first exciting book, which is a great reasonability.

Would you consider yourself as being a writer first - performer second or a performer first – writer –second?

A writer first. If anyone asks me what I do I say a writer. Everything I’ve ever done has started with writing. I would always choose writing over acting, I love writing.

The Sacrifice is book 4 of The Enemy series of Zombie Horror books. Zombies seem to be having a comeback (almost said coming-back from the dead!). Do you think Zombies have stripped vampires of their crown of being most popular un-dead creatures?

I think they probably are at the moment, and when ‘World War Z’ [Zombie pandemic movie starring Brad Pitt for release in UK cinema’s in June 2013] comes out later this year it may be the end of that.

The Vampires and Twilight got a back lash due to being so successful. Saying that Vampire books still outsell zombie books.

The good thing about zombies is they appeal to both boys and girls. But boys don’t do vampires due to Twilight.

Are your zombies more Folktale/ mythological or more Hollywood inspired?

Everything really. They are classic monsters in the sense of what scares very little children. If you look a fairy tales they have ogres and giants and children heroes. Children dealing with an adult world. Monsters are big and scary. They are adults dressed up. Lots of the fairytale stories are cannibalistic, as they are from a time of famine where it was possible could be eaten by people.

If you write anything where your characters act like zombies you can’t ignore the zombie films like George Romero’s ‘Night of the Living Dead’ which was the first cannibalistic zombies, before zombies were all voodoo zombies. But I gave it something of my own: Kids vs Zombies. My zombies are not resurrected corpses. They’re Sicko’s in my books.

What’s your favourite thing about zombies?

A -They’re Frightening for me. They've always been the most scary of the screen monsters, as they’re human, plus you’re against the mob.

B – Zombies leave themselves open for social satire – always a good way of looking at the herd mentality of human beings. My books are a satire of growing up, the idea that you have to kill the old king to bring youthfulness to the kingdom.

You also write the young bond series. Would you consider yourself as a writer of boy’s books?

YES. It was one of the reasons I wrote the Young Bond Books in the first place, as I had three boys of my own, and I know the difficulty of finding book to excite them and so on.

I have pretty strong female characters in the books and a lot of girls read them to. In The Enemy series girls read them as girls love horror too, and again it’s got strong female characters. There’s a lot of strong emotions to, of losing people. The girls like the emotional side and the boys the action.

I think the good thing about writing for boys is that if you do it properly girls will read them to. Boys however are reluctant to read girls book.

Have you ever done a George Peppard from Breakfast at Tiffany’s and sneakily signed one of you books in a library or bookshop?

Not without being asked. Of course when Breakfast at Tiffany’s came out in the 60’s there was no way of signing books or meeting your readers.

Waterstones have been very supportive as have independent booksellers, displaying and promoting my books well. I sign a lot of books. Once I signed 6000 books in one sitting, it took a team of six of us (some opening, some passing, some taking them after signing) five hours!

What I looked like the day after reading The Fear. . .

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Carnegie Fever - Cue Drum Roll .... and the Winner Is . . .

Here at Space on the Bookshelf, we've waited with baited breath for the winner of this year’s Carnegie award to be announced. So we are all very excited to hear that Sally Gardner's  Maggot Moon walked away with the prize.

So from all of us, we’d like to send a big congratulations to 

Sally Gardner!

This year’s shortlist was incredible, and we've really enjoyed reading them all so we’d also like to thank all the authors for their fantastic books, and for letting us interview them.

So that's Carnegie 2013 all sown up. Roll on Carnegie 2014!

We've picked the winners of our Big Fat Carnegie Giveaway, you will be contacted directly and the books will be heading your way very soon...

Also a big Congratulations to Levi Pinfold for winning the Kate Greenaway with Black Dog!

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Carnegie fever - who is going to win?!

If you love children’s books, then, like us, you will be eager to know who is going to win this year's Carnegie Medal.

Described as the most prestigious literary prize for children’s books, its librarian judges weigh heavily in favour of literary merit. It's all in the writing. And to win it is something of a pinnacle of achievement for children's authors.

Certainly it’s not the most prestigious because of the prize money. The prize is a donation of books to a library of the winner’s choice, as it was founded by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who was a great believer in libraries and contributed greatly to the spread of freely available books and knowledge to all.
But it is widely recognised in schools as being the prize that gets children reading, broadening their choice of books and authors and learning to review and share their thoughts through the fantastic shadowing scheme, which tens of thousands of schoolchildren take part in.

When you look at the list of past winners, surely it is the honour of seeing your name alongside previous winners that must make it such a glittering literary prize. Arthur Ransome was the inaugural winner in 1936. Names such as Noel Streatfeild,  Elizabeth Goudge for 'The Little White Horse',  Mary Norton for 'The Borrowers',  Eleanor Farjeon, 'The Little Bookroom',  C S Lewis, Rosemary Sutcliff, Alan Garner for  'The Owl Service', Richard Adams with 'Watership Down', Philip Pullman, Terry Pratchett, Frank Cottrell Boyce, Neil Gaiman and latterly Patrick Ness. 

It is a hallowed hall of fame indeed.

Penelope Lively was the only author who won The Booker and The Carnegie – a feat that would be repeated if Roddy Doyle wins with ‘A Greyhound of a Girl’.

'I think it's going to be Maggot Moon.' 'Yeah, so do I.'

So with no further ado, after all our reading, is there a clear favourite? We've read and cogitated. But can we agree on which is the most worthy winner?

I especially loved Sarah Crossan’s 'Weight of Water' due to it light and refreshing handling of difficult subjects, and the easy going meandering of Dave Shelton’s, 'A Boy and A Bear in a Boat'.

Jo: Actually, I do have a standout favourite, so that's not that hard a question to answer: 'Code Name Verity'. The Carnegie Medal was established to reward those books that delve into the murky realms of literary fiction, but in my mind, it should also reward books that reach out to readers in the intangible way that truly great books have the tendency of doing. 

For me, CNV does exactly that. It's hard to pin down exactly what the book is. Is it a war story? Is it a historical novel? A story of two best friends? Of heroism, of defeat, of darkness? It's all those things, of course, and so much more. 

It's very cleverly written and structured, and it's beautiful. It also makes you think, makes you work hard trying to figure out what's happening, and what it's trying to be. But by the end, you're just happy that you read it, and happy that you get to think about it, and quite delighted that you get to share it. 

So yes, I would love to see Elizabeth Wein win. As to the question of who will actually win? I'll leave that one to Mr Carnegie's team of lovely librarians.

Nicki: On literary merit alone, then I would speak up for Marcus Sedgwick. I was swept away by the easy confident way he writes when what he achieves should be stretching an author to his limits.

Knitting together a blend of believable characterisation and sublime plotting without a single stumble is enough of a challenge. Writing good books is hard work. He makes writing for children look flawless, but he takes it beyond that and you realise you are reading a writer who is at the top of his game.

He changes voices, tempo, messes around with time and words, throws together ideas and themes as easily as if he’s simply helping himself at a buffet. And actually makes it look like he had fun writing it rather than giving himself a headache. And he comes up with something engrossingly readable.

It made me long for more children's writers who are bolder and more experimental with their writing. I have difficulty even thinking of many authors who are writing at this level.

Sally: The trouble is, it is a bit like saying which is the best; a rocket, a submarine or bicycle? They are all totally different and it completely depends on where you want to go and what you want the journey to be like. I immensely enjoyed reading all the books.
Hmmm. Decisions.

Nicki: If the judging criteria were on the book that has most stayed with children and has had the biggest impact then the hands-down winner would be RJ Palacio for her rare gem, ‘Wonder’.

The fact that this has been that elusive ‘holy grail’ of a book – one that has gathered and grown, all on word-of-mouth praise. A colossal achievement for a debut author - to gather such fondness for a book on such a subject matter is surely nothing less than astonishing.

Take a look at her website at the sort of correspondence and feedback and just general thought that she has provoked, not just from professional reviewers, but in readers. To be able to write a book that enlightens through the medium of an accessible and popular story, a story that is basically a plea for tolerance of difference in schools, I think is a humbling experience. That anyone can achieve this in a book is surely beyond most author’s wildest dreams. It is a book with such heart.

In my opinion it is the most important book to have been written for years and should be the runaway winner.

Jo: I'm going to put a late punt in for Nick Lake's 'In Darkness', too. Nicki - you talked about the importance of 'Wonder', because of the way it speaks to people and perhaps enlightens. Well, In Darkness does that, too. It shines a spotlight on the brutal truth of a life lived in very difficult conditions - conditions that most children who read the book wouldn't ever be able to relate to. But Nick Lake does a fantastic job of giving the kids living in such terrible conditions a voice - and making it a gritty, honest, contemporary one, too. It works fantastically to knit together history and present day, all through the mind of a boy stuck under Haitian rubble. Truly amazing.

But will the judges concur? Or will the book that has already gathered the most awards this year triumph again? Sally – you read Maggot Moon – is anyone going to beat it?

Sally: Sally Gardner’s 'Maggot Moon', snarled me from the first sentence, and like a terrier it did not realise me until the bitter end – (it is indeed both bitter and sweet). But most of all 'Maggot Moon' has my backing for one simple reason – it was the only one that made me cry. Yes. I think it will win.


Send us your votes, share your thoughts. But whatever happens, soon we will know whose name gets carved on that prestigious trophy.

And it’s the last chance to win our goodie bag of titles – so if you haven’t read them all yet – let us know which one you want to win and you’ll be in with a chance of being a winner yourself .

I think we believe it's going to be 'Maggot Moon', but perhaps we need one of Auggie's precepts to remind us that it's not up to us and we may well be wrong.

A new precept for Auggie?

Monday, 17 June 2013

Carnegie shortlist review - Wonder by RJ Palacio

When ten-year-old August Pullman’s parents decide to send him off to school after a lifetime of home learning, it’s not just August who has a lot to deal with.

His school colleagues are also challenged by how to deal with this person with a facial disfigurement August himself describes thus: ‘Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse.’

One of the real strengths of this book is the way it looks at the story from so many different points of view. If any society is judged it on how it deals with its weakest members, then it's the thoughts and ideas of everyone who is affected by the challenges posed by the arrival of August at the school, that makes this story so special.

Whether it’s the boy who befriends him, and then has to choose when he starts to get shunned by everyone else, to the sister, who has to negotiate high school and boyfriends when the thing she is best known for is her disabled brother, to the family who start a campaign to exclude August from the school because he is ‘special needs’, it is a mesmerising dissection of modern society.

This is one of those books that makes it clear that children read books for many different reasons – it’s not all about escapism – reading books is a great way to develop empathy, find out about how people other than yourself are coping with life.

All kids have to learn to negotiate school in their own way and this is a real stop-and-think story – about how seriously tough it is for some kids to get through even the normal things most of us take for granted.

For all the people who loved this book – a perhaps surprising number of reluctant reader boys – it’s actually quite disappointing as a bookseller not to be able to offer to follow it up with much in the ‘If you loved Wonder you’ll like this’ vein. 

It has made me anticipate that this could well be the sort of genre-busting novel that sparks a whole series of imitators, rather like Mark Haddon’s ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night time’.

This has been our go-to recommend for over a year now for those children who come through the door not particularly interested in blockbusting action and are looking for a more thoughtful, characterful read.

So from a bookseller point of view it’s really great to have on the Carnegie list a book that has such popular, broad and commercial appeal – no mean feat for a book whose main theme is about a tough subject.

To me as a bookseller it really goes to show that kids love books about the big stuff – life, death and everything in between. There might be plenty around for teens, but most real life books that deal with the emotional side of life tend to focus on friendship and family and aimed primarily at girls.

So why has ‘Wonder’ worked so well?

Of course the other good things about this book are that it is well-written, intelligent and emotionally engaging, with great characters. It also has the sort of upbeat ending that can have kids cheering. It’s the sort of book that can give kids the courage to make a difference.

As an adult I couldn’t help but fear for all the real-life Auggies out there – but the ones who can’t get through school being super-bright, haven’t got such a well-developed sense of humour, such delightfully supportive parents and a school that has such caring teachers.

But for a sheer read that engages on a different level for most books in this age group, this has got to be not just one of the best books of the year, but one of the best books ever.

This may be our Last Carnegie Review, but our coverage is still going, come back tomorrow to find out who we think is going to win! 

And don't forget to enter our Big Fat Carnegie Giveaway just e-mail with your name and address, and 'Carnegie' in the header.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Carnegie Review - In Darkness, by Nick Lake

In Darkness is dark. That's worth saying up front. The story of Shorty, a fifteen year-old boy buried beneath rubble following the 2010 Haitian earthquake, this book doesn't pull any punches. The voice is contemporary, easy to relate to. It's also gritty and honest, and takes an often brutal look at what life in Haiti is like for a boy as he grows up.

Trapped under the rubble, Shorty starts to dream and hallucinate about the life of Toussaint l'Ouverture, a slave turned revolutionary living in Haiti 200 years ago. And before long, Toussaint starts to dream of a boy trapped beneath rubble in a future Haiti. Both men are determined to change their lives - Toussaint is driven by a need to free himself and others from slavery, and Shorty by a need to find his sister, kidnapped in a gang attack that killed his father.

There are scenes in this book that made me want to look away - when Shorty kills his first man aged just twelve, when his father is butchered in front of him - and that's an important aspect of it, because this isn't a culture that is often examined in literature, either for children of adults, and Nick Lake immerses the reader in it completely.

In Darkness is a story with a complex structure, interweaving past and present in a tale of revenge and fate. It's a tough read, a gutsy effort, and it's just superb.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Carnegie Shortlist Review - Midwinterblood Marcus Sedgwick

You’ve got a brooding island where no-one grows old, but also where there are no children, you’ve got a plant like a dragon, which possibly heals, or possibly kills. You’ve got a map that deliberately sets out to confuse. A possibly possessed bicycle. A vampire. The spilling of an awful lot of blood. But at its heart, there is a love story.

Welcome to the enjoyably sinister world of Marcus Sedgwick’s ‘Midwinterblood’.

In typically Sedgwick-style, as well as a brilliant, engrossing story, you get sophisticated structural complexity that feels like it is teasing and challenging all the the way through. It’s an enviable feat to start a story in 2073 and move relentlessly backwards, taking in the second world war, through a Viking settlement and ends in the tenth century.

But not only does each story intertwine magnificently, with echoes of the past, portents for the future to be picked up, as the reader can see what goes after it’s a much more emotional journey – this journey of tracing people who are more interconnected than they know - to see what comes before.

And each story is heartbreaking in its own way as they are all linked with sacrifice at the heart. Is sacrifice an outdated notion in a modern world, one character asks? Then we witness sacrifice of a brother for a sister, of a stranger in war, of a mother for a child. 

‘Midwinter Blood’ dives to the heart of this issue, making for gripping reading as we closer and closer to the heart of the mystery we have travelled over a thousand years to unravel. 

It is a masterly feat of writing - and from looking at the Carnegie shadowing site, plus talking to many of the children involved in reading and reviewing all of this year's books - this one is turning out to be a favourite.

Marcus Sedgwick is one of our best-known literary writers, who manages to win awards, while also writing original dramas with pace, plot and often sinister undertones. What he also manages here is a perfectly thrilling YA novel that spills as much blood as it does tears.

We asked Marcus what his favourite thing was about his shortlisted book.

. So...: Well that's a difficult question for a basically modest person to answer, but if I could admit to liking something about it, I'd be stuck to choose between a few things. The book was a chance to PLAY: by writing 7 interlinked stories it meant I could have a lot of fun with styles/genres and placing all the interconnections. The most personal part of the book is The Painter section, but I'm also very pleased with the Viking part which borrows from the verse styles of Scandinavia.

Definitely the sort of book that has had many readers searching out all of Marcus's backlist to discover what a truly amazing author he is.

For a chance to win some of the shortlisted books, enter our Carnegie Giveaway! Just e-mail 
with your name and address, and 'Carnegie' in the header.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Faerie Tribes the Crystal Mirror - Review

Adult Review

Paula Harrison writes strong female protagonists, she knows how to make her characters so they’re tough and to be reckoned with yet skill keep their femininity. In her series for younger writers the Rescue Princesses the young royal girls learn to be ninjas to save animals from dangers, but they still like the pretty girly things girls like. Faerie Tribes brings yet another feisty female heroin to Paula’s bow. Laney, who on her twelfth birthday gets a bigger present than she ever wished for, as her faerie powers awakens, and she discovers she part of a magical hidden world.

Laney soon discovers than the magic faerie world, visible only to faeries can be dangerous place, with quarrelling tribes, whose superstitions lead them to fear her; the girl who awoke on the night of the Wolf Moon.  When a much feared Shadow Faerie appears in Laney dreams and in reality, it’s up to Laney and her friends to stop him finding the Crystal Mirror the source of the mist tribe’s power.

The Crystal Mirror, is a hidden fantasy world masterpiece set in the modest setting of rural English village, In the same way that Harry Potter and Percy Jackson have worlds that populate the same world as our own but are hidden from human view. Paula’s village of Skellmore is much more than hairdressers, a pet shop and a mini-mart.  When Laney awakens she sees the true Skellmore, where buildings are alive, and dangerous faerie rings threaten to pull those that get to close through to another dimension.  All these elements are expertly crafted, and evoke a real sense of the surreal.

 “She darted a look at the pet shop and nearly fell over. She was expecting a red brick building with rainbow letters over the door that spelled “Lionheart Pet Shop” but instead there was a furry-looking dark brown wall. The shop name was the same, but set in the wall just above it was a gigantic pair of cat’s eyes staring out at everyone.”

Lionheart petshop - by me couldn't help but try and sketch it!
Paula’s introduces many mature themes in Crystal Mirror, like prejudice and intolerance with the quarrelling tribes which are so suspicious of one another, that they cannot see imminent danger. Paula brings these topics down to a level that children can understand, with Laney who belongs to the Mist tribe, becoming friends with Claudia a Graytail  (whose magic is over animals), and Fetcher a Thron (whose magic is sourced from plants) causing much controversy amongst the villagers.  

The Crystal Mirror has dark elements, and mature themes, but is carefully woven with the beauty and wonder, the scene where Laney first gets her wings, is my daughter’s favourite. It is action packed with a satisfying end, but with enough hook that make you want to read book two, The Wildwood Arrow as soon as it hits the shelves. Despite its content, I strongly believe that any open-minded boys that give it a try will enjoy this too.

Child's Review by Beatriz (age 9)

Laney by Beatriz

Laney’s fearie powers awaken on the night of the red moon. But being a new faerie they aren't showing for the test. Laney needs use her powers to find the crystal mirror and stop the sinister shadow fearie before it’s too late.

Faerie Tribes, The Crystal Mirror is a GREAT story with loads of exciting bits. My favourite part is where the shadow faeries plans are working and Laney finds a way to spoil them.

You should read this book because it is such a GREAT book, that you will probably read it in a week, it’s so good.

We've got a copy of Fearie Tribes The Crystal Mirror, signed by Paula Harrison to give away.  To be in with a chance of winning it, e-mail us at your name and address and 'Faerie Tribes' in the header.
Good Luck

Faerie Tribes The Crystal Mirror - Paula Harrison – Spotlight on Writing

Paula’s writing always brings me an element of awe, as she manages to evoke both strong atmosphere and almost tangible settings with very few words. Faerie Tribes is packed full of examples of Paula’s beautiful and powerful writing, as I have highlighted in the review, however in this feature I’m turning the spotlight on to her bold and unique look at Faeries.

From Artemis Fowl and Spiderwick to Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely world; fairies, fae, and faeries have been depicted in countless ways, and various guises, but they are almost always OTHER beings. Most literature turn to the older fairy-lore by depicting fairies as dangerous creatures or at the very least mischievous, that share our world or part of it, who may hide or live in full view with the protection of magic, but they also hold to the ancient beliefs that fairies are others beings. In most books, for a human to become a fairy, they have to change by trickery or magic, (there are a few exceptions like Wings by Aprilynne Pyke) and of course Faerie Tribes.

What Paula does in Faerie Tribes is more akin to Harry Potter or Percy Jackson, giving the reader the opportunity to believe that they could be like the protagonist, that although they don’t know it yet they really are special, supernatural, and in Faerie Tribes case a Faerie. In Paula’s Faerie world, all faeries are born human, and their powers awaken during childhood, revealing a layered world, the Faerie world that lies beneath the human world.  This allows the reader to have the fantasy that they are yet to be awoken.

Paula also creates a unique view of Faeries, living a life which is more human, adopting human ways, living alongside humans, holding human jobs, and attending human schools. This makes again a different approach to most Fairy books, where the faeries have their own ways of life yet still being set apart being others, but in Paula Skellmore the faeries do human jobs, living essentially more human lives than magical ones. Paula’s Faeries work in industries that are very normal but utilising their faerie powers to assist them, if there power is a spiritual connection to animals they run the pet shop or if there power is over water then they are plumbers.  Their lives unseen by human lives and to the extent that un-awoken faeries who live in the bosom of the village are blissfully unaware, take the protagonist Laney, who aptly puts it …

“I thought this [Skellsmore] was the most boring place on the planet” 

Finally, one of the other great strengths of Faerie tribes, is it Britishness. In recent years there have been many fairy books, but most are set in the America, Wicked Lovey – New York, Wings –California, Spiderwick- Maine. Fearie Tribes-Skellmore, which could be any village throughout the UK.

“…Skellmore High Street with its three shops and two park benches.”

From the park, the village pub, to the church Skellsmore is quintessentially British, looking like the rural backdrop where nothing exciting would ever happen. It’s so refreshing to have a fairy fantasy set in Britain, and its setting is a perfect contrast to the magical world.

In short Paula’s Faerie tribes is truly special as it's engrossing and allows the reader to do what all fantasy adventures should, fantasize and dream that they are part of the story. Paula's Faerie Tribes does just this by allowing the reader to believe that they are too a faerie yet to awaken.

We've got a copy of Faerie Tribes The Crystal Mirror, signed by Paula Harrison to give away.  To be in with a chance of winning it, e-mail us at with your name and address and 'Faerie Tribes' in the header
Good Luck!

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Faerie Tribes The Crystal Mirror - Editor Interview - Kirsty Stansfield

Continuing our celebration of  Paula Harrison new middle-grade fantasy series, Faerie Tribes The Crystal Mirror, we have an  interview with her editor from Nosy Crow Kirsty Stansfield.

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

I loved all the books by Antonia Forest about the Marlow twins and their family – they’re such good stories and so well written. And there are many great touches – Nicola Marlow is obsessed with Horatio Nelson and has a picture of him on her bedside table at boarding school, alongside another of her brother’s war ship. You wouldn't get that in a book for girls today, I suspect!

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

I still like the above series, but I’m hugely fond of anything by Hilary McKay and am very much looking forward to my children being old enough for her Casson family stories. They love her Charlie books, though, and it’s certainly no great hardship to have to read those over and over again. And Philip Reeve’s MORTAL ENGINES sequence is brilliant – PREDATOR’S GOLD being the one I like best, I think, though it changes each time I read them. But I suppose my current favourite, simply for all the pleasure it’s brought my children and the peaceful car journeys it’s brought me, is YOU CHOOSE by Pippa Goodhart and Nick Sharratt. Total genius!

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

The fact that they can turn small blobs of jelly into the readers of the future. And conversely, stop them ever picking up a book again. It’s a big responsibility, and no one should publish a book for children lightly. Or think that it’s in any way easy. (Mentioning no names, Martin Amis…) 

Is it easier to edit a debut author’s book or an established author?

I think it entirely depends on the book and the author. Some debut writers manage to produce extremely polished books that only need a tweak or two; some don’t. And the same goes for established authors. Either way, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable process, and I’m very grateful that I’m allowed to meddle in the way I am!

What do you love about, ‘Faerie Tribes – The Crystal Mirror,’ and what makes it stand out?

It’s got great atmosphere and pace, and I really like the relationship between the characters. They’re very well drawn. But what I like best about it is that it raises the possibility of transformation – one day, you’re on the school bus, thinking about what to have for tea; the next, you’ve got wings and you’re about to fly out the window! I like that.

How many people have worked on ‘Faerie Tribes – The Crystal Mirror,’ and for how long?

Well, there’s Paula, obviously, and me, then there’s the excellent designer, the two cover artists and a number of freelance copy-editors and proofreaders. And the typesetter. So loads! I made Paula a six-book offer in April 2012 (from a service station on the M5) and we’ve just sent off the final files to the printer for publication in May. Then there’s all the people who’ve been busily selling the series in to retailers, presenting it at book fairs, ordering paper and negotiating with printers, arranging shipping and delivery details, producing sales material and just talking to all and sundry about what a great book it is. Quite an operation!

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

Well, I didn’t, really. I sort of fell into it, after doing an English degree and working for a literary agent for a while. But I’m very glad I did! 

What are the things that changed most from first draft to final draft and is there anything you wish you had done differently?

Paula has been writing some excellent books for younger readers, (THE RESCUE PRINCESSES – check them out!) and I think the thing we had to work on most with THE CRYSTAL MIRROR was keeping it consistently appropriate for an older age group. I think it must be very hard for writers to work on books for different age groups at the same time, and in order to keep publishing momentum going, Paula had to go back and forth between the series, so sometimes THE CRYSTAL MIRROR tone felt younger, or one of the Rescue Princesses said something that made her sound older than she was.

We've got a copy of Faerie Tribes The Crystal Mirror, signed by Paula Harrison to give away.  To be in with a chance of winning it, e-mail us at with your name and address and 'Faerie Tribes' in the header
Good Luck!

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Faerie Tribes The Crystal Mirror - Author Interview - Paula Harrison

This month our celebrated book is Faerie Tribes, The Crystal Mirror, by Paula Harrison author of the fabulous Rescue Princesses Series. Faerie Tribes is the first of her new series of books for middle-grade readers. Over the next few days we will be posting, reviews by adults and a child alike, an editor interview plus a Spotlight on Writing article. If that wasn't enough we're also giving away a copy of the book signed by Paula!

Paula Harrison is the author of Faerie Tribes (for older readers) and The Rescue Princesses (a younger series). She wanted to be a writer from a young age but spent many happy years being a primary school teacher first. She finds inspiration in lots of things from cloud shapes to snippets of conversation. She loves sandy beaches and eating popcorn. She lives with her husband and children in Buckinghamshire, which is nowhere near the sea. Whenever possible, she packs her family into the car and journeys far and wide to find a sandy beach where she can paddle in the waves.

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

That’s a really tricky question. There were just so many! Most of my favourites were from the fantasy genre, so I’ll pick The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper.

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

Well, it’s still The Dark is Rising and other book from that genre that I enjoyed. Except now I’d have to add some more recently written books such as The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

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

They touch your mind while it’s still growing and changing. They help you find out who you are and who you want to be.

Why did you start writing for children?

I never really outgrew books for children. I did an English degree but then returned to the books I loved as a child and young adult.

What made you want to write this book?

The idea of a reality hidden beneath our normal everyday world fascinates me. I think it plugs into that feeling children have that adults aren’t telling them everything. Imagine if there was a secret so huge that it changed your perspective on the world and everyone you knew. That’s what happens to Laney Rivers.

What is your favourite aspect of writing for children?

Putting myself in their shoes.

Do you think of your books as books for girls, or books with girl protagonists?

Both and neither! I think there’s a certain point where you let the story fly and let the readers get what they want from it. Lots of boys would love Faerie Tribes in the way they love other series with fantasy and a character searching for identity. Conventional publishing wisdom says boys won’t read about girl protagonists though, and there’s nothing I can do about that.

This book and your series for younger readers, ‘The Rescue Princesses’ feature feisty heroines, is this a matter close to you heart?

It isn't something that I deliberately chose to write about. These girls just bound on to my page. I’m very interested in characters like Laney, who have to dig deep to find their courage but do manage to find it all the same.

To win a signed copy of Faerie Tribes The Crystal Mirror, Just email us at with your name and address and 'Faerie Tribes' in the header. 

Good luck!