Desert Island Children’s Books: Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers

CHILDREN'S

Next up in my nostalgic romp through my favourite childhood books is one of three books that I used to take out repeatedly from Askern Library in my formative years. I had this book out on loan so often that I doubt any other child in the vicinity had chance to read it. The book is the marvellous Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers.

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When the Banks family advertise for a nanny, Mary Poppins and her talking umbrella appear out of the sky, ready to take the children on extraordinary adventures.

Mary Poppins is strict but fair, and soon Michael and Jane are whisked off to a funfair inside a pavement picture and on many more outings with their wonderful new nanny!

Needless to say, when at last ‘the wind changes’ and she flies away, the children are devastated. But the magic of Mary Poppins will stay with the Banks family forever.

I’m guessing many of you will only know Mary Poppins from the Disney movie and will not have read the original book by P. L. Travers. Whilst I do love the Disney version, Walt’s version of Mary Poppins is a lot more saccharine than the character originally written by Travers. Travers’ literary Mary Poppins is much sterner, much more acerbic and much more vain than the character portrayed by Julie Andrews on screen. One look from the paper version of Poppins and any child, or adult, would be quaking in their boots, and she was extremely quick to take offence. For some reason, this stronger, prickly, complicated character was much more appealing to me as a child, and now still as an adult, than the watered down version we see in the movie.

In addition, Disney appears to have picked out the less exciting escapades the children have than the other ones featured in the book, and taken poetic licence with them too. In the movie – and the blurb above – the children take a trip into a chalk picture and ride the carousel. In the movie, the horses then jump off the carousel and enter a horse race. In the book, only Mary Poppins and Bert jump into the picture, the horses stay firmly attached to the carousel and there are no penguins to be seen in this scene! When the children go to ‘Feed The Birds,’ they don’t bring down their father’s bank, and there is no dancing with sweeps across the London rooftops. I can understand why Disney picked the scenes he did to include, the story in the book is much less linear and does not really form a complete story arc for a movie, but for me, the encounter with Mrs Corry and her giant daughters, and the finale escapade in the nighttime zoo are much more interesting to read. I think my point is, if you think you know Mary Poppins from the movie, you don’t. The literary Mary Poppins is a horse of a different, and much more interesting, colour altogether.

What people also may not be aware of is that Mary Poppins is only the first book in a series. After her initial visit, Mary Poppins returns to the Banks household several times, always arriving by a different method, always taking the children on exciting adventures, before disappearing unexpectedly. I devoured all of the books in the series, and was fascinated by the way the author’s mind worked in coming up with the different stories. Want to take a romp through the constellations? Chat to statues? Find out what Noah’s descendants are up to now? All of these things are described by Travers in the subsequent Mary Poppins books and they are stories that have stayed with me through the years. Although I have not had time yet, I fully intend to revisit the remaining books in the series this year. If you want to know the real Mary Poppins and not the Disney version, you might like to pick them up too.

Mary Poppins is available in a number of different editions but you can buy this one here.

About the Author

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Pamela Lyndon Travers OBE (born Helen Lyndon Goff; 9 August 1899 – 23 April 1996) was an Australian-British writer who spent most of her career in England.[1] She is best known for the Mary Poppins series of children’s books, which feature the magical nanny Mary Poppins.

Goff was born in Maryborough, Queensland, and grew up in the Australian bush before being sent to boarding school in Sydney. Her writing was first published when she was a teenager, and she also worked briefly as a professional Shakespearean actress. Upon immigrating to England at the age of 25, she took the name “Pamela Lyndon Travers” and adopted the pen name “P. L. Travers” in 1933 while writing the first of eight Mary Poppins books.

Travers travelled to New York City during World War II while working for the British Ministry of Information. At that time, Walt Disney contacted her about selling to Walt Disney Productions the rights for a film adaptation of Mary Poppins. After years of contact, which included visits to Travers at her home in London, Walt Disney did obtain the rights and the Mary Poppins film premiered in 1964.

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Guest Post: A piece by author Elizabeth Jade to mark Autism Awareness Month

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Today I am delighted to welcome to the blog, author Elizabeth Jade, who has written a piece to share with us to mark April as Autism Awareness Month.

I was born in North Yorkshire in 1998 and moved to Somerset when I was very young. I started school in 2002 and by the time I was 7, the kids were already bullying me; the teachers said I needed to pay more attention; and I would go home and relate what everyone had been doing in detail but hadn’t a clue what the lessons were about. I waited a term and a half for the teaching assistant I was told I needed, but never received it. By this stage, the stress from being at school was making me physically unwell and my parents decided to teach me at home.

I started writing when I was 14, around the time I started struggling with depression and anxiety. The ideas began flowing faster than I could get them onto paper, and I have boxes of ideas and bits of stories to prove it. I found myself so absorbed in writing that I had to be reminded to eat and sleep.

The inspiration for my stories could come from anywhere – a conversation, a photograph or even a YouTube clip. As a visual thinker, I like to work with a photograph of my character in front of me. It’s as if I can see their personality shining through. On one occasion, I was searching for an image of a dalmatian with a husky for a dalmatian story I was working on. But when I found an image I liked, it felt like the husky was telling me her story, so I wrote that instead, and my first husky/wolf story was born.

For a while, writing kept my mental health in check, but by my late teens I was struggling again and was referred to the children’s mental health team. While I found this an unpleasant experience, it was here the possibility of Aspergers was suggested, leading to my diagnosis when I was 18, around the time my first book was published. As anxiety and depression are often found alongside Aspergers, it’s difficult to say if they are related to my autism or the result of my struggles in school.

Initially, I think I was relieved to know there was a reason for the struggles I had experienced in my life. I had spent a long time trying to fit in and measure up to what behaviour was expected by society. I had spent years wondering what was the matter with me, why everything I did always seemed to be wrong, and if I would ever achieve anything with my life. While I was relieved that I wasn’t alone in experiencing these struggles, I resented the fact that the school’s Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator hadn’t spotted my Aspergers. My school life could have been much easier, and I may not have struggled so much with my mental health if I had received an earlier diagnosis and the support that goes with it. But I guess people weren’t really aware of the signs of this type of autism in girls when I was at school, compared to the level of awareness around the time I was diagnosed.

When I published the first book in my Akea series, I decided to take a gamble and include my autism and mental health diagnosis in both the author’s bio section and any newspaper articles about me. The reaction was better than I could have hoped for. Some people were encouraged because I had spoken about the struggle with my mental health, and one man stopped to thank me for mentioning it in a recent article in the local paper. Others were keen to accept that I had Aspergers and wanted to actively support me. I ended up supplying A5 display stands entitled ‘The Aspie Author’, to be placed next to my books in local bookshops. This turned out to be an effective way to be noticed as people often go into a book shop with a specific purchase in mind, and as a new author it’s easy to be overlooked. But people were drawn to the displays, read the information on them, and then picked up the book to read the blurb. People do seem to be a lot more understanding and supportive than they were while I was growing up.

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An example of a new level of acceptance in schools can be seen in Oldfield Park Junior School in Bath. Last September, they named their classes after literary figures. Some famous names like AA Milne and Dr Seuss were chosen. While other authors, such as Benjamin Zephaniah, were chosen because they had overcome challenges like dyslexia and would be positive examples for the children. As it happens, they also named a class after me. This came as a bit of a shock, and I still don’t know how they even heard about me.

Elizabeth Jade class

According to the teacher of ‘Elizabeth Jade’ class, she would have two autistic children in her class, two who were currently in the diagnosis phase, and one child with severe hearing loss. And I was chosen to be an inspiration to those in the class with additional challenges. They will also be reading my books and using them as a basis for classroom discussion on acceptance. I never imagined my books could be used as a basis for classroom discussions like that, but then I hadn’t realised my stories contained such important lessons until some of my readers pointed this out to me.

In ‘Akea – The Power of Destiny,’ Akea always felt different, even though she didn’t know why, and when she sees a lone wolf by the name of Kazakh, she understands that her true destiny lies beyond the relative safety of her sled dog family. Kazakh’s role is to help her discover her place in the world but doing so goes against the rules and norms of wolf society. Each obstacle that Akea overcomes makes her stronger and brings her closer to her goal, until she finally ends up fitting in where she physically stands out the most and is accepted by both the wolves and the family she left behind.

The themes of belonging, acceptance and overcoming obstacles were not something I had consciously included, it seems my own desire to be accepted and understood had indeed been woven into the story. Discovering this made me look more closely at the second Akea story I had written, and I discovered I had woven similar themes into this one too.

In ‘Akea – His Mother’s Son,’ Akea’s wolf-dog son, Salvador, is captured by humans and taken to a wildlife park where he is shunned as a ‘mongrel’ by the first wolf he meets there. On learning of a threat to his family (I won’t tell you how – that would spoil it) he must convince her and the other wolves to accept his leadership, escape with him, and return in time to save his pack. So, you have the same issues of acceptance and overcoming obstacles. But, of course, it’s not just Salvador that has to adjust to being separated from his family. Akea and the rest of the wolf pack must come to terms with the loss of Salvador. So, this second book has the addition of a dual narrative which allows the reader to see both sides of this experience of loss and change too.

While I liked the idea that learning about me and my books could be a source of encouragement to the children in EJ Class, I wanted to go a little further than that. So, I wrote to the class to personally encourage them to look for what makes each of them different, to celebrate that as a good thing, and to look for ways in which they could encourage and support one another. I was delighted to receive nearly thirty letters and pictures in reply. Sadly, the children have spent more time away from school than in it since September, and as things move forward, they may well need support with their own mental health. Hopefully, those previous words of wisdom will encourage them to look out for each other and speak up when they need support themselves.

April may be autism awareness month, but autism isn’t the only challenge, and awareness is not enough. There is a need for people not only to be aware of the unique individuals that make up this world, and not just to accept the things that make each of us different. We need to move beyond that and celebrate those differences. This applies to all forms of autism, disability, special needs, and so on – Everybody matters!

What an inspiring and heartfelt piece of writing, I am so grateful to have been able to share that with you all. My huge thanks to Elizabeth Jade for writing that for me.

Elizabeth is the author of two books in the Akea Wolf Stories series.

(Book 1) Akea – The Power of Destiny

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Akea is born into a family of sled dogs and a life that follows a predictable path, but from the day she first sees the lone wolf, Kazakh, Akea knows her future lies beyond the safety of her home. Kazakh is well aware of Akea’s destiny and the pack laws he will break to help her reach it. Regardless of the challenges ahead, he must make sure this young husky will be ready, even if it means his life.

You can buy a copy of Akea: The Power of Destiny here.

(Book 2) Akea – His Mother’s Son

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Akea is no ordinary husky, and taking her place as Wolf Queen was just the first step in the journey set out for her by the Great Wolf. Akea’s world turns upside down when humans raid their home, scattering the pack and capturing her hybrid son. Salvador struggles to adjust to a life in captivity, quickly realising not everyone approves of his husky mother’s rise to Wolf Queen. And when the Great Wolf sends him warning dreams, Salvador discovers his true purpose for being there.

You can buy a copy of Akea: His Mother’s Son here.

About the Author

Elizabeth Jade

Elizabeth Jade was born in 1998 in Northallerton, North Yorkshire, England, but moved with her family to Wellington in Somerset when she was very young. Her early schooling did not go smoothly, and as a result, she was home-schooled from the age of seven. Her parents soon learned she had a unique slant on life and quickly abandoned attempts to follow the national curriculum in favour of child-led learning.

Elizabeth stumbled into writing at the age of fourteen when she began to suffer from anxiety and depression and quickly found her story ideas pouring out faster than she could get them onto paper. It wasn’t until the age of eighteen that she realised her struggles in school had been due to Aspergers Syndrome (an autistic spectrum disorder).

As an enthusiastic animal lover, Elizabeth volunteered first at the Conquest Riding Centre for the Disabled and then at St Giles Animal Rescue before moving on to the Cats Protection Homing and Information Centre. Her gifted way with the cats quickly earned her the title of ‘Cat Whisperer’ from the staff. Since she had always possessed such a way with animals, it was only natural for her story ideas to revolve around them.

Elizabeth’s personal experience as a young author with the challenges of autism, depression and anxiety, along with her writing theme of acceptance and overcoming obstacles, have led to her having a junior school class named after her.

Connect with Elizabeth:

Website: https://elizabethjade.org/

Facebook: Akea Wolf Stories

Twitter: @AkeaWolfStories

Instagram: @akeawolfstories.author

Pinterest: Akea Wolf Stories

YouTube: Elizabeth Jade

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Desert Island Children’s Books: Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

CHILDREN'S

It’s time for March’s Desert Island Children’s Book and I can see a theme forming in my last three choices. I was obviously obsessed with reading about the lives of other young girls living in other times during my own formative years. This time we have come forward in time and closer to home to read about the three Fossil sisters living in London in the first half of the twentieth century. I am talking about Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild.

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Pauline, Petrova and Posy Fossil are sisters – with a difference. All three were adopted as babies by Great Uncle Matthew, an eccentric and rich explorer who then disappeared, leaving them in the care of his niece Sylvia.

The girls grow up in comfort until their money begins to run out and nobody can find Great Uncle Matthew. Things look bleak until they hit on an inspired idea: Pauline, Petrova and Posy will take to the stage.

But it’s not long before the Fossils learn that being a star isn’t as easy as they first thought…

I was never a particularly girly girl growing up. I did have ballet lessons for a while, but it was never a passion for me, so a book about three girls who attend a stage school wouldn’t be the first book you would have picked out for me to fall in love with. I was much more of a tomboy like Jo March or Kate Carr, so I could relate to them much better. But Ballet Shoes is no ordinary book about girls who love to dance, and the Fossils are no ordinary sisters and I absolutely adored this story.

The three Fossil sisters, Pauline, Petrova and Posy are not really sisters at all, they were all rescued by an eccentric explorer on his travels, brought home to London at different times and put in the care of his great-niece in a rambling house on the Cromwell Road (at the very furthest end from the museums of South Ken!) to form their own little, ragtag family. Great Uncle Matthew (or GUM as they refer to him) then disappears for a decade, leaving the family is worsening financial straits, until they are forced to take in lodgers to help make ends meet, and the girls are taken in as charity cases at the local stage school until they are old enough to start making money on the stage (which can happen from the age of 12!), whether they like it (Pauline) or not (Petrova, my personal heroine).

This is what makes this book so marvellous. The eclectic group of people who come to live in their home and help them out (the retired teachers who help educate them, the dance teacher who gets them into the school, Mr Simpson who takes tomboy Petrova under his wing, Nana who is always there with words of wisdom or scoldings to keep their feet on the ground.) It is such an interesting sounding life, full of fun and challenge, that I defy any child not to wish they could be one of the sisters, even for a short while.

Every single aspect of the book charmed me. The descriptions of the plays they auditioned for, their simple holidays, the ‘beavers’ prepared by the two teachers (you’ll have to read it to find out what these are), Pauline’s diva-like behaviour when playing Alice, Posy’s impressions, the vows, the costumes, the descriptions of auditions for the movies, applying for licenses to work. It was all exotic and fascinating and such a world away from what being a child was like for me – it has the truly transportive qualities of all appealing literature, as well as being relatable enough for a child. The fact that this book has remained so popular throughout the years means I was not alone in feeling this way about it.

Having just re-read my extremely battered copy of Ballet Shoes for the purposes of writing this post, I can say that I enjoyed it now as much as I did back then. It has lost none of its appeal for me over the years, and I am still as much in love with the Fossils as I love back then. At the very end of the book, the author wonders which of the girls the reader wishes they could be. My answer remains the same now as it was back then. Petrova every day of the week, but especially on Sunday.

Ballet Shoes is available now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Noel Streatfeild was born in Sussex in 1895. Her father, a clergyman, was vicar of St Leonard’s-on-Sea and then of Eastbourne during her childhood. She was one of five children and found vicarage life very restricting. At a young age she began to show a talent for acting and was sent to the Academy of Dramatic Art in London, after which she acted professionally for a number of years before turning to writing. The author of over 80 books, she won the Carnegie Medal for her book Ballet Shoes and was awarded an OBE in 1983. Noel Streatfeild died in 1986.

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Desert Island Children’s Books: What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge

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It’s time for my second pick of books I loved as a child and would want to take with me to a desert island for repeated readings. This month my chosen book is What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge.

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Katy has grand plans to be beautiful, graceful and ladylike … one day! But for now she has hair that is always tangled, bootlaces undone, a torn dress and she doesn’t care about being ‘good’.

With a wild imagination and high spirits, she is always up to mischief, but there never has been a heroine as lovable as Katy. Then a terrible accident happens and it takes all her courage – and hard-learned patience – to keep her dreams alive.

Next to Jo March from Little Women, Katy Carr was my favourite heroine growing up. A messy tomboy, she had a vivid imagination which she used to create stories and games for her gaggle of younger siblings, who all run riot over the Carr home and garden, much to the exasperation of prim Aunt Izzie.

I absolutely loved Katy and the Carr children, and was fascinated by their life and games. I wished we had a spiked pole to climb to a hidden den in the loft (although I didn’t think their special drink of ‘weak vinegar and water’ sounded like much of a treat!), and amazing swing that soared to the rafters of the woodshed, and a beautiful, woodland ‘Paradise’ to explore. It all sounded so idyllic.

Of course, Katy then has a terrible accident and is confined to bed which, for an active teenager, is torture and she has to learn hard lessons of patience and forbearance. But, with the guidance of saintly Cousin Helen, she soon becomes good and wise and a confidante and role model for all her siblings. This is the part of the book where it gets a bit preachy, in the same way that Little Women does, with lots of morals about being good and allowing God to guide you and virtue will be rewarded. This is no surprise, as Susan Coolidge wrote What Katy Did only a few years after the success of Little Women and at the request of her publisher, who was hoping to emulate that success. These were themes that were popular in Victorian children’s literature, which would grate with youngsters today, but did not remotely put me off as a child.

Going back to read this now, I can still see why I loved it so much when I was younger. I still enjoyed all the parts that were my favourites as a young girl – the picnics, the games, the Christmas presents (I still covet Elsie’s writing desk), the Valentines cards, the food and drink. All of these things would delight any child. My Macmillan Collector’s Library edition contains an introduction by Jacqueline Wilson, who was also a fan of the book and has written a modern retelling of the story called simply, KatyI agree with most of what she says about What Katy Did in her opening chapter, except that she lost interest in Katy when she started to grow up. I didn’t. I loved the sequels, What Katy Did At School and What Katy Did Next just as much as the first book.

I haven’t managed to persuade either of my daughters to embrace Katy as I did, even in the modern retelling by Jacqueline Wilson, and even though my eldest daughter is name Katie, a moniker I have loved since first reading these books. I think I can understand why, the world has moved on too far since then, but I love her still and plan on reading the sequels as well some time this year.

You can buy a copy of What Katy Did here.

About the Author

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Sarah Chauncey Woolsey (January 29, 1835 – April 9, 1905) was an American children’s author who wrote under the pen name Susan Coolidge.

Woolsey was born on January 29, 1835 into the wealthy, influential New England Dwight family, in Cleveland, Ohio. Her father was John Mumford Woolsey (1796–1870) and her mother Jane Andrews, and author and poet Gamel Woolsey was her niece. She spent much of her childhood in New Haven Connecticut after her family moved there in 1852.[1]

Woolsey worked as a nurse during the American Civil War (1861–1865), after which she started to write. She never married, and resided at her family home in Newport, Rhode Island, until her death. She edited The Autobiography and Correspondence of Mrs. Delaney (1879) and The Diary and Letters of Frances Burney (1880).

She is best known for her classic children’s novel What Katy Did (1872). The fictional Carr family was modelled after her own, with Katy Carr inspired by Woolsey herself. The brothers and sisters were modelled on her four younger siblings

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Desert Island Children’s Books

CHILDREN'S

Last year I had such fun listing and re-reading the twelve books that I would take with me to a desert island that it spawned a whole new guest blog feature and, I have decided to do it all over again this year, but with children’s books. Yes, this is nothing more than a thinly disguised excuse to read my childhood favourites over the course of the year, and I am totally unapologetic for that. In these turbulent times, what could be more natural and comforting than to retreat to the warmth of the books that saw you safely through childhood?

The premise is the same as last year. I will be revealing and reviewing the twelve children’s books that I would take with me, should I be stranded alone forever on a desert island. One per month throughout the coming year. I’ll tell you what it is I particularly love about them; why they are the books that I read over and over again as a child, and why they still speak to me as an adult, and what I continue to love about them.

I will be reading one of my twelve picks per month and reviewing it on the last day of the month but, like last year, I am trailing the twelve by listing the thirteen books that almost, but didn’t quite, make the final cut. Some of my all-time favourites, that I would be loathe to leave behind but had to sacrifice to make room for the top dozen.

Let’s kick off shall we.

Pony Club Camp by Josephine Pullein-Thompson

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The last glorious swansong of the West Barsetshire Pony Club sees the Major run a camp for the Pony Club members.

Noel and Henry have now left school and have returned as instructors to deal with the loose and the runaway, and that’s just the ponies. The Pony Club members are even worse. 

As a pony-mad girl in the early eighties, the books written by the Pullein-Thompson sisters were a staple of my childhood library, and Pony Club Camp was my absolute favourite. This story of camping with ponies, doing horseback treasure hunts and gymkhanas, was aspirational and the day I finally went to Pony Club Camp myself was a dream come true, even though it wasn’t quite as chaotic as the one in the book!

The Borrowers by Mary Norton

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The Borrowers live in the secret places of quiet old houses; behind the mantelpiece, inside the harpsichord, under the kitchen clock. They own nothing, borrow everything, and think that human beings were invented just to do the dirty work. Arrietty’s father, Pod, was an expert Borrower. He could scale curtains using a hatpin, and bring back a doll’s teacup without breaking it. Girls weren’t supposed to go borrowing but as Arrietty was an only child her father broke the rule, and then something happened which changed their lives. She made friends with the human boy living in the house…

Normally the idea of unseen creatures living in the corners of your house would be a plot line to scare a child rigid, but the story of Pod, Homily and little Arriety who live under the floorboards and exist by ‘borrowing’ human items to adapt for for their own use is just charming. I was fascinating by the clever way they adapt our huge items for their tiny lives. I loved all five books in the series, but the first time you meet them is always the most memorable.

Milly-Molly-Mandy by Joyce Lankester Brisley

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Milly-Molly-Mandy lives in a tiny village in the heart of the countryside, where life is full of everyday adventures! Join the little girl in the candy-striped dress as she goes blackberry picking, gets ready to throw a party for her friends and goes to her village fete – whatever Milly-Molly-Mandy and her friends are up to, you’re sure to have fun when they’re around.

I’m not really sure what the appeal of the Milly-Molly-Mandy stories was to me as a child because, looking back, she didn’t do anything hugely exciting. Her life was fairly ordinary and simple, you wouldn’t think that they held as much appeal as stories that whisked a child away somewhere magical, but I loved them nonetheless. Maybe their appeal was their simplicity and innocence, it was like having a friend sleeping over in your bedroom every night. Plus, it was like a collection of short stories, perfect for early readers to master their reading independence.

Treasures of the Snow by Patricia St. John

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Lucien’s teasing of Dani leads to an accident with far-reaching consequences. Annette is intent on revenge and does all she can to make life a misery for Lucien. His only friend is the old man up the mountain who recognises his skill in carving wood and gives him new hope. Set in Switzerland this story of Annett, Lucien and Dani has caught the imagination of countless children.

My sister borrowed this book from our school library and somehow it never got returned; I still have the school copy to this day (sorry, St. Mary’s School!) This was my first experience of a book taking me away to a different country with its strange customs (I know it’s only Switzerland, not Swaziland, but we never travelled abroad when I was a child, Switzerland seemed exotic!) I was particularly obsessed with the children getting gingerbread bears from the church Christmas Tree as a gift and coveted the one with the twisted nose.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

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The Wild Wood seems a terrifying place to Mole, until one day he pokes his nose out of his burrow and finds it’s full of friends. He meets brave Ratty, kind old Badger and the rascally Mr Toad, and together they go adventuring . . .

But the Wild Wood doesn’t just contain friends, there are also the sinister weasels and stoats, and they capture Toad Hall when Mr Toad is in jail. How will he escape? And can the friends fight together to save Toad Hall?

I don’t think I need to explain why I loved this charming story of animals acting like people; nervous Mole, adventurous Rat, sensible Badger and the bumptious Mr. Toad. I think I strongly related to Mole as a child, which is why I particularly relished his growing bravery and friendships.

The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar And Six More by Roald Dahl

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WHAT if you stumbled upon a boy who could talk to animals?

WHY is a hitchhiker both a saviour and a threat?

HOW can a man see without using his eyes?

SEVEN EXTRAORDINARY TALES OF MAGIC, MYSTERY AND SUSPENSE.

I remember us studying The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar in English at junior school, and I fell in love with Dahl’s more adult, dark storytelling and was eager to read the rest of the short stories in this volume. My first exploration of stories that were slightly less wholesome and cartoonish than what I read at home, a stepping stone to the world of grown up literature.

The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit

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‘If we were in a book it would be an enchanted castle – certain to be’

When Jerry, Jimmy and Kathleen are forced to spend their entire summer at school they don’t imagine they will have a particularly interesting time. But that’s before they stumble upon a mysterious castle set in beautiful, abandoned gardens. Could this really be an enchanted castle? Don’t be a duffer, there’s no such thing. But with the air thick with magic, the sun blazing down, and a maze hiding a sleeping girl at its centre, the holidays might just be looking up…

This is probably the least well-known of this author’s books but it was my absolute favourite. Absolute pure magic for a child to read, a proper childhood fairytale that you really wish you could be in yourself as a reader.

Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster

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A trustee of the John Grier orphanage has offered to send Judy Abbott to college. The only requirements are that she must write to him every month and that she can never know who he is.

Judy’s life at college is a whirlwind of friends, classes, parties and a growing friendship with the handsome Jervis Pendleton. With so much happening in her life, Judy can scarcely stop writing to ‘Daddy-Long-Legs’, or wondering who her mysterious benefactor is…

I was given this book by my mum, for whom it was a childhood favourite, and I think this is why I have such fond memories of it, it was something I shared with her and we could discuss together, rather than books I read which she never had. One of my first experiences of the joy of books being enhanced by sharing your love of them with other people. I’ve experienced that the other way since with my own children, and it is a joy that can’t be over-stated.

The Tree That Sat Down/The Stream That Stood Still/The Mountain of Magic by Beverley Nicholls

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Deep in the enchanted forest Judy helps her granny run The Shop Under the Willow Tree. They sell all sorts of wonderful things, such as boxes of beautiful dreams carefully tied up with green ribbon.

But then Sam and the charming Miss Smith, a witch in disguise, open a rival business. The newcomers are not only cheating their customers, but also plotting to destroy Granny’s shop.

Can Judy save the wood from their wickedness?

I was actually introduced to this series via the third book, which I received as a Sunday School prize when I was nine, but as soon as I finished it I pestered my parents to get me books one and two. This series still has the most terrifyingly evil pair of villains ever written in children’s literature. When I was a pre-teen, they scared me silly.

Trebizon by Anne Digby

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New girl Rebecca Mason arrives at Trebizon, the famous boarding school, after everyone else has already made friends. Lonely and anxious to prove herself, Rebecca writes something for the school magazine that unexpectedly triggers a row and half the school turns against her. Luckily, she discovers she has friends after all, the best friends any new girl could hope for.

I was introduced to the Trebizon books by my friend, Lisa, and soon fell in love with this school series. I was a huge fan of Enid Blyton’s boarding school stories, and Anne Digby’s Trebizon series were a more mature version. Set in a Cornish boarding school, they dealt with slightly more adult topics across the fourteen books and they were a firm favourite.

Magic Kingdom For Sale/Sold by Terry Brooks

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Landover was a genuine magic kingdom, complete with fairy folk and wizardry, just as the advertisement had promised. But after he purchased it for a million dollars, Ben Holiday discovered that there were a few details the ad had failed to mention…

Such as the fact that the kingdom is falling into ruin. The barons refuse to recognize a king and taxes haven’t been collected for years. The dragon, Strabo, is laying waste to the countryside, while the evil witch, Nightshade, is plotting to destroy no less than everything. And if that weren’t enough for a prospective king to deal with, Ben soon learns that the Iron Mark, terrible lord of the demons, has challenged all pretenders to the throne of Landover to a duel to the death – a duel no mere mortal can hope to win.

But Ben Holiday has one human trait that even magic can’t overcome. Ben Holiday is stubborn.

Terry Brooks is much better known for his Shannara series of fantasy books, but I fell completely in love with the Landover series, of which Magic Kingdom For Sale/Sold is the first book, when I first read them. The story of a man disillusioned with the modern world who buys a magic kingdom, believing it to be an elaborate hoax, only to find it is real but very far from a magical fantasy realm, is just bewitching. I’ve just discovered there is a sixth book in the series which I’ve never read, so I guess I’ll be revisiting these from the beginning at some point this year.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

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For Milo, everything’s a bore. When a tollbooth mysteriously appears in his room, he drives through only because he’s got nothing better to do. But on the other side, things seem different.

Milo visits the Island of Conclusions (you get there by jumping), learns about time from a ticking watchdog named Tock, and even embarks on a quest to rescue Rhyme and Reason.

Somewhere along the way, Milo realizes something astonishing. Life is far from dull. In fact, it’s exciting beyond his wildest dreams!

The only reason this book is on the runner-up list and not top of the master list, is that this was one of the books on my main Desert Island Books list last year. One of my favourite books of all time, you can read my review of this book from last year here.

The Ship of Adventure by Enid Blyton

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An amazing voyage around the beautiful Greek islands becomes an exciting quest to find the lost treasure of the Andra!

Philip, Dinah, Lucy-Ann, Jack and Kiki the parrot are plunged into a search for hidden riches – with some ruthless villains hot on their trail! Will they find the treasure before it’s too late?

Really, this is just representative of all of Enid Blyton’s books. I grew up with her, and her books guided me through all of my early reading experiences. Starting off with her collections of fairy stories and Mr Pinkwhistle (how was this ever allowed?), through the Faraway Tree books and the Magic Wishing Chair to The Secret Seven and the Mystery series, I loved them all and devoured every one. The Famous Five were my absolute favourites, and they will be making an appearance in the final twelve, but a special mention has to go to the Adventure series, and this book in particular, which I think was the best. I know she is problematic and very unfashionable, but she is the cornerstone of my love of reading and I still have all of my Enid Blyton books, because they hold huge sentimental value for me.

So, those are the thirteen childhood favourites that are close to my heart but didn’t quite make the final twelve. Join me on 31st January to see the first one that forms part of the twelve childhood favourites that I would take to my desert island.

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Guest Post: The Awesome Adventures of Poppy and Amelia by Maddy Harrisis and Misha Herwin

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Poppy and Amelia didn’t set out to be witches. That happened quite by accident, and it’s a secret they must keep from their family and friends.

Then there is Mia, the new girl in class. Pale, strange and deadly serious, she’s in need of a couple of equally weird friends. Poppy and Amelia are happy to oblige.

Together, the three of them must thwart the plans of the sinister Miss Mortimer and her evil companions.

Today, I am delighted to be featuring a guest post by Misha Herwin, who has written a piece telling me about the experience of writing The Awesome Adventures of Poppy and Amelia with her nine-year-old granddaughter, Maddy, during Lockdown.

Let me hand over to Misha to tell us more:

Writing The Awesome Adventures of Poppy and Amelia by Misha Herwin

Thanks Julie for having me on your blog and letting me talk about the The Awesome Adventures of Poppy and Amelia.

I wrote this book together with Maddy, my nine year old granddaughter, during lockdown and in spite of the circumstances it was a truly joyful experience.

In March, like many other writers, I was finding working on my current book very slow going.  A day’s work felt like ploughing through porridge. Very little got done and what I did write had somehow lost its flow.

The impetus to write had also faded and most days I found it almost impossible to get started. Nothing much seemed to matter. While other people re-decorated, caught up with DIY or re-modelled their gardens I let the time slip past.

Except for my four times a week Skype lessons with Maddy.

Maddy’s parents were both having to work from home and she has a four year old brother, so at the start of lockdown all the grandparents and any stray relatives had been roped in to help with her home schooling. My brief was to deliver English lessons. Having been a teacher in a middle school as well as in secondary education, this wasn’t going to be too hard.

How wrong could I be?

Working through what the school had sent was far from simple. I don’t blame the teachers, who had to put together a term’s worth of work almost overnight. Some of the material was great, some less than inspiring and some beyond awful. There was also the unrealistic expectation that given a stimulus pupils would then find a quiet space and write for twenty minutes. This would be hard to achieve in a classroom let alone a house, flat or even a bedsit with parents and siblings vying for space.

In the event, we managed and the reward at the end of each lesson was story time. Together Maddy and I wove the tale of two girls who became witches by accident and how they learned to use their growing skills. Added to the mix was Mia who like Poppy and Amelia has a secret of her own.

The characters evolved with the telling. Maddy knew exactly what each girl looked like and sent me a picture to make sure we got their descriptions right.

To keep up with their adventures I had to make notes and towards the end of lockdown I had the outline of a story which ran to about 5,000 words. Seeing how much we had I suggested to Maddy that we could publish an e-book for her to read on her tablet, to which she replied, “No Granny, I want a proper book; one I can take to school and with my picture on the back.”

And so began our joint editorial sessions. We cut down on the stories and we honed what had been written. Maddy put me right on things I had either forgotten, or got wrong and then when the book was well on its way, I took it to Renegade Writers.

My fellow Rens loved it. At our weekly on line meetings Michelle said it was like being back at primary school and having story time on the mat. Much as they enjoyed it, they didn’t spare me the feedback. Because the book had evolved from storytelling there were gaps in the narrative that needed to be filled, so after every meeting I had to do some re-writing then check with Maddy to see if she agreed with what I had done.

Only then was it ready for Jan Edward, my editor, and her comments led to more re-writing, until finally the book was finished. 

Maddy had specified what she wanted on the cover, which was designed by Peter Coleborn of Penkull Press and by a stroke of luck, not to mention hard work, we managed to set publication day for 12th November, two days before Maddy’s birthday.

To share the joy we decided that all profits from the book would go to Blood Cancer UK in memory of my daughter and Maddy’s aunt who died of leukaemia on Christmas Eve 2002, aged 31. Posy, who was always up for an adventure, would have loved Poppy and Amelia and they are among my favourite characters in all the books I’ve written.

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Maddy is very proud of her achievement and has already had signing sessions for her friends. We’ve also sold a load of books through her local bookshop in Bristol, Storysmith.

All in all, we’ve had a great time doing The Awesome Adventures of Poppy and Amelia and, judging from the feedback we’re getting, our readers are enjoying the book too.

The Awesome Adventures of Poppy and Amelia is available on Amazon and all other digital outlets. You can also order it from any bookshop and from Hive.co.uk.

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Thank you for sharing that with us, Misha. What a lovely experience, and for a great cause too. A perfect story for Christmas time.

If you have been tempted to buy a copy of The Awesome Adventures of Poppy and Amelia, you can buy it here, and all the other places mentioned by Misha above.

About Misha Herwin

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Misha Herwin was born in England to Polish parents. English was not her first language but once she learned, she never stopped talking or writing. Her first efforts were stories and plays for her younger sister. Since then she has moved on to women’s fiction, kids books and has had a number of short stories published in anthologies in the US and UK.

Her latest book ‘Belvedere Crescent’ is a time slip novel.

Her books for children include’City of Secrets’ and ‘Bridge of Lies’ the first two books in the series of ‘The Adventures of Letty Parker’.

Her short stories can be found in ‘The Alchemy Book of Ancient Wonders’, ‘Magical’, ‘Bitch Lit’ ‘Voices of Angel’ ‘Dear Robot’ among others.

“The Awesome Adventures of Poppy and Amelia” is her first co-written book.

Connect with Misha:

Website: https://mishaherwin.wordpress.com/

Facebook: Misha Herwin

Twitter: @MishaHerwin

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Guest Post: From Cuddly Slugs to Neighbours From Hell by Margaret Macklin

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Today I am delighted to be hosting a guest post by author Margaret Macklin where she talks about her varied writing career, combining writing for children and penning romantic suspense novels. Over to you, Margaret!

From Cuddly Slugs to Neighbours From Hell by Margaret Macklin

I hope my title says it all…
I started writing five years ago, after a serious illness. Writing a book seemed a wonderful idea – a new challenge.
The first two are centred around a ten-year-old boy whose life is changed by the ‘magic of the ancients’. Danny steps through the lightning tree and into another time, another place – it’s medieval England, 1334. Humorous tales of medieval monarchs, magic and historical events…
Each day, we feed the wild birds, the squirrels, the hedgehogs and a beautiful red fox. One day, after scattering a few slug pellets, I felt guilty and a story concerning a delightful family of slugs, took off! The book encourages children to care for wild animals and also tell the truth. It is a story where the children are smarter than the adults. One kind lady said it should be available in every school.
My bio explains how my next book, The Fortune Teller’s Handbook evolved. It was my first romantic crime thriller. As I’d received many 5 star reviews, I began another in the same genre – Revenge, Secrets and Lies – published in June this year.
I’ve been asked (by friends and family)  to write a sequel to the former, which is quite a challenge, however, now I’ve got going, it’s a lot of fun. I write everyday, for a couple of hours, nevertheless, a book usually takes around twenty months to complete.
All my books are available from Amazon.
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Thank you so much for sharing that with us, Margaret, it’s good to know the possibility exists for anyone who wants to write in more than one genre.
Margaret’s latest book, Revenge, Secrets and Lies is out now and you can buy a copy here.
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About the Author

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I started writing five years ago after a serious illness. I found writing to be a wonderful form of distraction and very therapeutic…

After publishing three children’s books I wanted to branch out and try something new, perhaps I should add a few murders to my stories! The Fortune Teller’s Handbook is my first romantic crime thriller. The little book in question really does exist – it’s from the Victorian era – yellowing pages, falling apart and its advice, at times, rather alarming. The book was discovered in a box of possessions once owned by my husband’s long deceased great-aunts – I’m sure they would be delighted that I found it so useful!

Revenge, Secrets and Lies demonstrates what can happen to ordinary people when their lives are taken over by ‘the neighbour from hell’. A gripping tale of romance, intrigue and enduring friendship. Fascinating characters and more than a touch of dark humour…

My home is surrounded by a very large garden with a small deciduous wood at the top – in the spring it come alive with wild cherry trees, primroses, bluebells and cyclamen. As you can imagine, the garden keeps me very busy as does my new rescue cat – Evie…

Connect with Margaret:

Facebook: Margaret Macklin

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Desert Island Books: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster; Illustrated by Jules Feiffer

Desert Island Books

My penultimate Desert Island book is one of my absolute favourite childhood novels. I used to take The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster out of Askern Library every single week, so my apologies to all the other children of this particular area of South Yorkshire who never got to read this marvellous book because it was perpetually out on loan to me! One wonders why my parents never bought me my very own copy as a present, given how often I read it, but they didn’t and I never owned it until I bought my own copy aged 24!

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For Milo, everything’s a bore. When a tollbooth mysteriously appears in his room, he drives through only because he’s got nothing better to do. But on the other side, things seem different.

Milo visits the Island of Conclusions (you get there by jumping), learns about time from a ticking watchdog named Tock, and even embarks on a quest to rescue Rhyme and Reason.

Somewhere along the way, Milo realizes something astonishing. Life is far from dull. In fact, it’s exciting beyond his wildest dreams!

This is the story of Milo, a young boy who finds life very boring and can’t see the point in anything, until one day he comes home from school and finds someone has left him a mysterious package containing a toy tollbooth. With nothing better to do with his afternoon, Milo decides to play with it, and finds himself transported to another land, where he goes on a fantastical odyssey, meeting many strange creatures and carrying out feats of derring do along the way. When he finally comes home, his life is changed, as is the conclusion of all good children’s adventure stories. So far, so obvious.

What made this book so attractive to me as a child was the same thing that made me love C.S Lewis’s Narnia stories and Lewis Carroll’s Alice books. The story is transportive, whisking the reader away from every day life and into the magical world of the Lands Beyond, which is inhabited by characters never to be met in the real world. Juster has built a believable, 3D world within the pages of this book, full of sights, sounds, smells, tastes and experiences that a child can live and breathe through the power of his words. There are characters here to fall in love with and whom they will not want to leave behind. It was many years before I could read the part where Milo has to return to the real world, leaving behind Tock, the Humbug and all his new friends, without shedding a tear, and I think this was why I took the book from the library week after week, so I could reunite the gang again and again in my pre-bedtime hours. This is what great children’s books do, they create a world that becomes very real to a child, and one they want to return to repeatedly.

But, there is so much more to this book than a great story and beloved characters, and it is this extra quality that makes me want to have the book with me on my desert island. This book is very, very clever. While transporting the reader on the journey through the kingdom of Wisdom with Milo, it is teaching and exploring ideas about our world, the importance of knowledge, the excitement of learning and why we should try to look at everything around us a little differently. As you get older, the book can be appreciated on a whole different level, and the ideas that Juster explores in the book become clearer and gain more meaning as you mature and have more understanding of the world. Coming back to the book as an adult, the book makes my heart sing with the joy at the word play throughout the book. The author twists and twirls common words like a majorette twirls a baton, throwing them in the air and making them perform delightful and entertaining contortions in mid-air. Anyone who loves language and the exploration of ideas will chuckle in glee at the author’s allegorical story-telling, and marvel at the imagination which produced this masterpiece. I think I enjoy and appreciate the book now perhaps even more than I did as a child. It appeals to the word nerd inside me, and I never fail to come away from the story without a huge smile on my face and a gladdened heart.

So, the joy of this book for me, and the reason I would want it on my desert island is two-fold. Firstly, it reminds me of the immense pleasure I took in reading as a child, how I lost myself in faraway worlds and fantastical characters, all the while anchored to my own, normal life. The pleasure instilled in you as a child in reading is something that never leaves you and will see you through tough times throughout your life, as recent events have proven. I have never lost the joy I felt as a youngster in discovering a new world through words, and I hope I never will. Alongside this, the pleasure in revelling in what is just a very intelligent and brilliantly constructed novel that offers me something new each time I read it is something to be treasured. There are many ideas within this book to take away and apply to your life, including my favourite line:

So many things are possible, just as long as you don’t know they’re impossible.

I just want to say a word about the illustrations that accompany this book. I had never come across anything quite like Jules Feiffer’s scratchy, black-and-white interpretations of Juster’s world before, and I found them really intriguing. An interesting mix of showing the story, but also leaving something open to interpretation by the reader. I must have spent hours pouring over the double-page illustration in Chapter 19 showing all of the various demons chasing Milo and his friends and trying to make out the individual characters. These drawings appeal equally to adults and children, and fans of Quentin Blake’s illustrations will find them particularly attractive I think.

Over the years I have tried to interest my children in the books I loved passionately as a child, but very few of them have had the same appeal for them as they did to me. Often they now seem so dated that modern children can’t relate, and I am sure all bookworm parents will recognise the disappointment when your child rejects one of your beloved classics out of hand. The Phantom Tollbooth is one of only a few titles that are equally beloved by me and both of my daughters, who each now have their own copy. The book needs no further testament to its timeless appeal than that.

The Phantom Tollbooth is a wonderful book for any child, or any adult who wants to remember what it was like to be a child, and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Norton Juster was born on June 2, 1929 in Brooklyn, New York, just prior to the Great Depression. There are still a number of people who attribute that catastrophic event directly to his birth.

He grew up in Brooklyn, studied architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, and spent a year in Liverpool, England, on a Fulbright Scholarship, doing graduate work in urban planning and learning to ride a motorcycle.

After spending three years in the U.S. Navy (1954-1957), he began working as an architect in New York. He opened his own firm and within a few years moved to Western Massachusetts and expanded his practice as Juster-Pope-Frazier. Their projects included the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, educational and cultural projects throughout New England, and a number of buildings for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in Virginia. He taught architecture and planning at Pratt Institute in New York and was Professor of Design at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, from 1970-1992.

He began writing seriously while in the Navy. His first book, The Phantom Tollbooth, was published in 1961. Winner of the George C. Stone Centre for Children’s Books Award, it is recognised as a classic and continues to be treasured by children and adults throughout the world. It was made into a feature film by MGM in 1969 and, more recently, into a musical. In 2007, it was produced at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.. The nationwide tour will start in 2008

Other books he has written include The Dot and the Line, which was adapted into an Academy Award-winning film by MGM and famed animator Chuck Jones; Alberic the WiseOtter NonsenseAs: A Surfeit of Similes; and the Caldecott Medal winner The Hello Goodbye Window. His latest book, Sourpuss and Sweetie Pie, is the sequel to The Hello Goodbye Window.

Mr. Juster is retired from the practice of architecture and from teaching but continues to write. He is currently adapting a short story he wrote into ballet and is working on several new books.

Norton Juster is lives in Western Massachusetts. He has a daughter and a granddaughter.

Connect with Norton:

Twitter: @NortonJuster1

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Guest Post: Pandemonium by Gail Aldwin; Illustrated by Fiona Zechmeister

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Peta doesn’t look like other pandas in the toy department because of her purple coat. This provides camouflage and enables her to get up to mischief. When an assistant spots Peta this puts an end to her tricks. Peta must learn more about herself … but does this stop Peta’s fun? Of course not!

I don’t usually feature children’s books on the blog, but Gail showed me this cute book about a panda and I was sold! Today Gail has kindly written a guest post for me to share with you on writing this lovely children’s book.

It’s Pandemonium: the high points of writing a children’s picture book

When I set out in 2009 to become a novelist, I never imagined I would also have a children’s picture book published. Writing for children was the last thing on my mind! But as my journey to become a published author progressed, I found that writing in different genres such as poetry and short fiction was good creative writing exercise and helped build stamina for longer projects including the completion of my coming-of-age debut novel The String Games. I first thought about writing Pandemonium in 2015 when I was working as a lecturer delivering input on children’s books to students at the University of South Wales. Over the years the idea for a cheeky panda causing havoc in a department store developed. The proposal for a full colour children’s picture book aimed at 2–7 year olds was accepted by Victorina Press and Fiona Zechmeister appointed as the illustrator. It was then the intensive work began and a publication date of 1 December 2020 agreed.

Working in collaboration

I’ve always enjoyed collaborative writing and have co-written comedy sketches for performance with 3-She over several years. Working with an illustrator is a different sort of partnership so I was pleased to have experience of Fiona’s work. She created the cover image for The String Games using some of my ideas. Through this process we built rapport and trust that enabled us to take on a new venture. Fiona had previously illustrated two children’s picture books for Victorina Press so she came to the project with ideas and knowledge.

Creating an open dialogue

Fiona and I worked hard to develop an open dialogue throughout the drafting and redrafting process. In a children’s picture book, the words tell one story while the illustrations tell a parallel but more nuanced version. In order to get the balance right, sometimes the words needed to be changed and at other times the illustrations required tweaking. We developed a good partnership where honest feedback could be shared and acted upon.

Celebrating the end product

It’s been really gratifying to the read early reviews for Pandemonium from parents, carers and their children. The illustrations are rightly admired and the comedy in the book noted. The story also works hard to convey an important message, that it’s okay to be yourself.

Thank you, Julie, for giving me the opportunity to share the practice Fiona and I have developed in collaborating Pandemonium.

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Thank you for sharing that experience with is, Gail. If you have been sold on Pandemonium, you can buy a copy via the Victorina Press shop.

Victorina Press Seasonal Promotion 

Order Pandemonium or any other Victorina Press titles including The String Games directly from the publisher, and you’ll receive 30% discount by entering the coupon code XMAS2020 (one use per customer). Please support this small independent press in their mission to discover unheard voices and promote diversity. 

Praise for Pandemonium

Pandemonium is absolutely delightful! Peta the panda is stuffed full of fun and young ones will adore her.

Wendy White, Tir na n-Og Award Winner

The beautiful illustrations are full of movement and excitement, and the joyous story will appeal to young children and their parents.

Liz Poulain, children’s author and illustrator

About the Author

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Novelist, poet and scriptwriter, Gail Aldwin’s coming-of-age novel The String Games was a finalist in The People’s Book Prize and shortlisted in the Dorchester Literary Festival Writing Prize 2020. Gail lives with her family in a house that overlooks water meadows in Dorset.

Connect with Gail:

Website: https://gailaldwin.com/

Facebook: Gail Aldwin

Twitter: @gailaldwin

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About the Illustrator

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Fiona holds a degree in Visual Communication and a Masters in Publishing from the University of Derby. She works as an illustrator creating book covers and children’s books. Pandemonium is the third children’s picture book Fiona has illustrated. The others are I am Adila from Gaza and Songo.

Connect with Fiona:

Website: https://www.fionazeich.net/

Twitter: @fionazeichnet

Instagram: @fionazeichnet

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