February 26, 2018 - Comments Off on Wondrous Words from Wales

Wondrous Words from Wales

With St David’s Day on the horizon (and this year it also falls on World Book Day), we’re dedicating today’s post to a host of Welsh children’s writers whose work is as enchanting and varied as Wales itself. I might be a little biased*, but Wales has a rich record of creating writers and poets, so settle down with a delicious cake (preferably of the Welsh variety) while you tuck into these recommended reads whose authors hail from the incomparable Land of Song.

Hubble Bubble fiction series by Tracey Corderoy, illustrated by Joe Berger
Each book in this series of classy two-colour fiction features three stories that provide perfect bite-sized bedtime reading for newly independent readers. Each tale follows the magical mayhem made by Pandora’s granny who is (whisper it!) a witch. From creating pandemonium in a pirate-themed school play to making monkey business at the zoo, Granny is always getting up to something and it falls to Pandora to put things right. Younger siblings will love the Hubble Bubble rhyming picture books.

Roald Dahl, incomparable master of wit and invention, was born in Llandaff, Cardiff, to Norwegian parents. Read everything he wrote, then read again. And repeat.

Dottie Blanket and the Hilltop by Wendy Meddour, illustrated by Mina May
Dottie of dreams of living ‘on a bright green hilltop’ away from the smell and bustle of the city. Then, when her dad loses his job, her wish comes true when they move to The Hilltop in The Middle of Nowhere. As Dottie makes friends with the locals, among them Winnie Crisp, Blod Evans and the Fidgets, it turns out that her new hilltop home is actually in the Middle of Somewhere. This is a delightfully eccentric tale for 8+ year-olds, with illustrations that perfectly capture the characters’ charming quirks.

Sweet Pizza by G. R. Gemin
Joe is a Welsh boy who lives in Bryn Mawr, South Wales, and he’s passionately proud of his Italian heritage. He adores the music of the language, the music of the opera, and he LOVES the delicious food. So, when his mam’s run-down cafe – founded by his granddad way back in 1929 – is in need of a serious boost, he’s just the person to take on the task. Both heart-warming and heartily funny, this tale of a community coming together and a boy who’s determined to realise his dream is a fabulous feast of feel-good fiction. We also recommend the author’s debut, Cowgirl.

Gaslight by Eloise Williams
This winner of the Wales Arts Review Young People’s Book of the Year 2017 is a rollicking romp through the shadows of Victorian Cardiff. Nansi remembers the night she and her mother were running away, but she doesn’t remember why she was fished from the river, and she doesn’t know where her mother went. All alone, she starts working in Pernicious Sid’s theatre, but who can she really trust? This action-packed thriller fizzes with fascinating historical detail and an electrifying sense of urgency and adventure.

*being a Welsh writer!

February 9, 2018 - Comments Off on Sisterhood of Scientists

Sisterhood of Scientists

With the International Day of Women and Girls in Science being celebrated on 11 February, we thought we’d highlight a stellar selection of books to inspire all budding young scientists.

Ada Twist, Scientist written by Andrea Beatty, illustrated by David Roberts
Why do hairs grow up noses? Why is there a strange stink in my house? The endlessly inquisitive heroine of this brilliant picture book seeks to discover the answers to these questions and more! The rollicking rhyming text is as energetic as Ada herself, and the illustrations are packed with ingeniously entertaining detail courtesy of none other than long-time friend of Scoop, David Roberts. With her infinite imagination and dogged determination to discover the whys and wherefores of everything, Ada is, quite simply, awesome. Look out for the related experiment-packed Ada Twist's Big Project Book for Stellar Scientists publishing in April 2018, and also see the excellent Rosie Revere Engineer books by the same talented team.

Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky 
This stylishly illustrated anthology celebrates the achievements of fifty intrepid women who’ve blazed the trail for thousands of female physicists, engineers, doctors and mathematicians through the ages. Featuring fascinating profiles of pioneers through the whole of history, including ancient Alexandrian astronomer and philosopher Hypatia, and Katherine Johnson, the African-American mathematician who calculated the course of the Apollo 11 moon mission, this is a truly inspirational book that sings loud and proud about these oft-overlooked pioneers. This companion ‘I Love Science’ journal provides an additional source of inspiration and information.

A Galaxy of Her Own: Amazing Stories of Women in Space by Libby Jackson
Perhaps contrary to popular perception, women have long been central to space exploration, and this enlightening book certainly sets the record straight with invigorating verve. The handy timeline, running from 1543 to the present day, sets landmarks of space exploration in context, while the main body of the book reveals the awe-inspiring stories of dozen of unsung heroines. A brilliant book for space-lovers aged eight upwards.

Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World by Reshma Saujani
The ground-breaking Girls Who Code organisation was founded by the author of this cool motivational book back in 2012, and within these vibrant, graphic pages she shares stories of women who are making code-related waves in the fields of film, animation, apps and gaming, alongside clear how-to explanations of the principles behind coding. This will surely further encourage girls and young women who are already interested in this revolutionary field, and – significantly – it will also inspire those who think that coding’s not for them.

 

 Featured image is by David Roberts, from Ada Twist, Scientist.

January 29, 2018 - Comments Off on Boys from space and troublesome time travel

Boys from space and troublesome time travel

Tying-in with the next issue of Scoop (published 1st February 2018), today’s post features some of our favourite science fiction stories.

Kids who love comics, graphic novels and space will simply adore Star Wars: Jedi Academy. Bursting with all-out action, this is an ingeniously entertaining series for 8+ year-olds. The same is true of Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth, which brilliantly blends the humour of Diary of a Wimpy Kid with the trials and tribulations of being a boy who fell to earth.

Perhaps best described as science fantasy, Madeleine L'Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time is a truly special time-travel tale. When Charles goes in search of his lost father through a ‘wrinkle in time’, he finds himself on a petrifying planet ruled over by a gigantic pulsating brain. With much humour provided by guardian angels Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who and Mrs Which, this timeless classic defies categorisation and continually grips new generations of readers.

Perhaps best known for The Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham’s Chocky (adapted into a children’s TV show in the eighties) is chock-full (sorry/not sorry) of chilling mystery. Alarms bells ring when eleven-year-old Matthew starts communicating with an imaginary friend and develops incredible mathematical skills. Might Chocky be more than a figment of Matthew’s mind?

Finally, one of our all-time sci-fi faves is Nicholas Fisk’s Grinny. First published in 1973, this thrilling fusion of suspense and sci-fi features The Most Terrifying Aunt in Literature, ‘Grinny’, so-named for her eerie ever-present smile. A recent edition of the book also includes its sinister sequel, along with an introduction by Scoop favourite, Malorie Blackman. Talking of whom, Malorie has herself written a whole host of superb sci-fi stories – scroll down this blog to discover more.

 

January 22, 2018 - Comments Off on Top of the Tree

Top of the Tree

With the annual RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch taking place 27–29 January, what better time to turn our eagle-eyed attention to a clutch of bird-themed books? From fascinating non-fiction, to flight-of-fancy adventures that will that ruffle your feathers, these inspirational books are sure to make your soul soar! Nestle down in your favourite armchair and enjoy ...

Magnificent Birds, illustrated by Narisa Togo
Created in association with the RSPB, this stunning picture book makes a gorgeous gift for nature lovers of all ages. The lino-cut prints capture the essence of some of the world’s most exquisite birds, from flamboyant birds-of-paradise and radiant ruby-throated hummingbirds, to imperial emperor penguins. Elegant, and luminous with energy, the illustrations are as captivating as the accompanying text is enlightening.

National Trust: Complete Bird Spotters Kit
Brilliant for budding young birdwatchers, this natty kit comprises a pair of binoculars, a spotter’s guide book, plus a notebook and pencil packaged in a handy backpack – perfect for introducing eight year olds and up to the art of birdwatching.

Press Out and Colour Birds, illustrated by Zoe Ingram
Truly a treat for artistic avian-adorers, this classy craft book features ten birds to colour in and decorate before pressing-out and slotting together to create stunning hanging ornaments.

My Dad's a Birdman by David Almond, illustrated by Polly Dunbar
Lizzie has lost her mum and lives with her adorably ‘daft’ dad in the rainy north of England, where Auntie Doreen pops round with hearty homemade meals. But why on earth is Dad making a pair of wings, and eating beetles? It turns out that he’s planning to enter the Great Human Bird Competition, which might be exactly the kind of uplifting event the family needs. This vibrant, touching tale will tickle the funny bone, enchant the soul and warm the heart.

The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White
While less known than the author’s Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little, this is no less charming a book – sweet to read aloud, and laced with lovely lessons about love and celebrating difference. Like everyone in his family, Louis is a trumpeter swan but – sadly – Louis can't trumpet like his siblings. In fact, he can’t make any sound at all, which means beautiful swan Serena pays no attention to him, until his dad gives him a real trumpet ...

 

 

 

January 12, 2018 - Comments Off on Raise Your Game

Raise Your Game

Seeing as it’s the time of the year when many of us resolve to get more active, we thought we’d go for gold and kick off 2018 with a selection of matchless sport-themed fiction, from inspirational energisers about team work and friendship, to top-flight tales that pack real punch and tackle hard-hitting topics. One thing’s for sure, each of the following recommended reads is Premier League quality, so what are you waiting for, Scoopsters? On your marks, get set, GO ... !

Roller Girl written and illustrated by Victoria Jamieson
Oozing originality, and driven by drama and gallons of girl power, this cool comic-strip caper sees lovable misfit Astrid (AKA Asteroid) learn to stand on her own two skates, harnessing self-belief to overcome the odds and become a super-strong roller girl.

Girls FC by Helena Pielichaty, illustrated by Sonia Leong
Always fast-paced and often funny, this pioneering series is packed with action, energy and engaging dialogue, alongside the exploration of emotional themes, from family strains and self-esteem, to trying to fit in. The author knows her football, and also knows how to relate to her readers.

Flying Fergus written by Chris Hoy with Joanna Nadin, illustrated by Clare Elsom
This super series of cycling-based stories featuring nine-year-old Fergus Hamilton and his band of biking chums strikes a brilliant balance between all-out action, wacky adventure and quirky characters. This series comes especially recommended for reluctant readers – Fergus’s funny, fast-paced escapades are as gripping his tyres!

The Fastest Boy in the World by Elizabeth Laird
Eleven-year-old Solomon dreams of becoming a gold-medal-winning athlete like his heroes in the Ethiopian national team and, ahead of a trip to the capital city with his grandfather, he hopes he might see his heroes during a victory parade. But when they arrive family secrets are revealed, and Solomon must step up and put his running skills to a serious test. Uplifting, gripping and great in its evocation of Ethiopia (especially the contrasts between Solomon’s rural village and the massive metropolis), this is an inspiring treasure.

Kick by Mitch Johnson
Football-mad Budi lives in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, and works long hours sewing football boots in a factory owned by a wealthy tyrant. While the working conditions are harsh and exploitative, Budi takes joy from the fact that his Real Madrid idol wears the kind of boots he makes, and he dreams of making it to the big time himself. While this exceptional novel doesn’t shirk from the harsh realities of Budi’s life, themes of being proud of who you are, holding onto hope, and the importance of friendship shine through with compassion.

 

 

December 18, 2017 - Comments Off on Have Yourself a Creative Christmas

Have Yourself a Creative Christmas

With holidays on the horizon, we thought it would be a good time to share ideas to give kids something creative to do between all the festive feasting and gift gorging! Check out these seasonal ‘make and do’ suggestions, and also see our current Christmassy issue, which includes a heavenly host of mouth-watering recipes, along with our trademark feast of thought-provoking words and pictures.

 Deck the Halls (and Walls!)
To make gorgeous decorations with minimal mess, look no further than Christmas Decorations to Cut, Fold & Stick. This brilliant book includes 100 tear-out sheets to make everything from paper chains and angels, to snowflakes and stars. The artwork is splendidly bold, and the instructions couldn’t be clearer.

Create your Own Christmas Cards
Nosy Crow’s Colouring Book of Cards and Envelopes: Christmas, published in association with the National Trust, is a veritable cornucopia of card-making creativity! This stylish book includes cards and envelopes to tear out and colour, and twenty-four designs to work with. Lovers of animals and nature should also take at look at the other books in this innovative series.

Usborne’s Magic Painting Christmas Cards book is an excellent one-stop shop for young artists to make their own wonderful watercolour cards. It includes envelopes and a paintbrush, so all you need to make the magic happen is a creative spark and pot of water! There are ten cards, and two different designs.

Cook up a Feast
Making Sweets is a great go-to book for budding confectioners. The recipes are clear and simple, with no boiling needed, whether young cooks decide to make traditional treats like peppermint creams, or yummy peanut butter and chocolate cups. This also includes terrific templates to make boxes and wrappers, so it couldn’t be simpler to turn these homemade treats into unique gifts for grandparents.

Of course, cooking isn’t just for Christmas, and a person cannot live on mince pies and sweets alone! For nutritious recipes with an innovative edge, we recommend Jenny Chandler’s ultra-stylish Cool Kids Cook, which serves up inspirational recipes for kids who want to create real food, from classic cakes and muffins to more adventurous dishes like vegetable slaws, scrumptious stir-fries and satisfying meatballs.

 

 

 

 

December 11, 2017 - Comments Off on Goodwill Gifts to Give this Christmas

Goodwill Gifts to Give this Christmas

If you’re looking to spread some seasonal goodness with your gift-giving this Christmas, then take your pick from this selection box of brilliant books for young readers. From a rollicking re-working of a Christmas classic, to tales that ooze empathy, these storytelling treats are guaranteed to enthral and entertain while sharing heart-warming messages of compassion and hope.

Bah! Humbug!: Every Christmas Needs a Little Scrooge by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Tony Ross
This inspired pairing of Michael Rosen and Tony Ross makes for an entertaining read-aloud experience, and sees eleven-year-old Harry Gruber playing Scrooge in his school production of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. But the real Scrooge of the piece is Harry’s work-obsessed dad, who’ll most likely dash to work before the performance is over. Then, as the play unfolds, and the on-stage Scrooge receives his visitations, so Harry’s dad is struck by a succession of parallel revelations, and maybe – just maybe – the Gruber family might get to experience their very own Christmas miracle.

Father Christmas and Me by Matt Haig, illustrated by Chris Mould
This third book in the author’s sequence of festive heart-warmers (see also A Boy Called Christmas and The Girl Who Saved Christmas) positively shimmers with seasonal charm. After a difficult life in London, brave Amelia Wishart now lives in Elfhelm with her adoptive parents – none other than Father and Mary Christmas! But life is Elfhelm is pretty tough for a human, not least when a wayward elf seems set on ruining Christmas. Matters worsen when the jealous Easter Bunny rocks up with his army of evil rabbits, and it falls to Amelia and her new family to hold things together. This is perfect for sharing with young readers still rapt by the magic of Christmas.

Coming to England by Floella Benjamin, illustrated by Michael Frith
This twentieth anniversary edition of Floella Benjamin’s honest, inspirational child’s-eye view of racism and prejudice is an absolute joy – a glorious ode to standing tall and feeling proud of who you are. As a young girl, Floella came to England from Trinidad with hope in her heart, anticipating that the Motherland would welcome her with open arms, but the reality was very different. Everything was different. No more garden filled with ‘exotic, sweet-smelling flowers’. No more ‘exquisite butterflies and hummingbirds’. No more thrilling trips to the spectacular market, and no more feeling sure about her place in the world. ‘It’s not easy having to live and exist in two cultures at the same time, but that is what I had to get used to’, and that’s exactly what young Floella does in the face of prejudice. She stands taller, works harder and, through courage and determination, feels the ‘barrier crumble’.

The Snow Angel by Lauren St John, illustrated by Catherine Hyde
Makena dreams of climbing Mount Kenya like her beloved mountain-guide dad, but when tragedy strikes she’s forced to try to survive, alone, in the slums of Nairobi, where it’s impossible to know whom to trust. Fresh hope comes when she’s relocated to Scotland and there encounters a fox that links Makena to her homeland, as do the majestic Scottish mountains. While – importantly – this book never shirks from conveying harsh truths, Makena’s story teems with hope and humanity, and this memorable tale comes extra recommended for readers who love adventure and animal stories. The author’s evocation of nature is second to none.

Girl with a White Dog by Anne Booth
Compassion abounds in this timely novel in which a girl draws parallels between the horrors of Nazi Germany and intolerance her own community. Jessie is beyond excited when her gran gets a white Alsatian puppy, and when Gran falls ill Jessie looks after the dog herself. While worrying about her gran, Jessie learns about Nazi Germany in school, and discovers another girl with a white dog. Jessie sets an inspirational example to young readers, and this is a powerfully moving tale about the importance of empathy.

November 27, 2017 - Comments Off on Travelling and Writing: It’s All About Story – a guest post by author E. R. Murray

Travelling and Writing: It’s All About Story – a guest post by author E. R. Murray

Today we’re delighted to present this fascinating piece on finding creative inspiration through travel by E. R. Murray, author of the Nine Lives trilogy. Read on for a riveting writerly treat …

 

Alongside reading and writing books, travel is one of the most important things in my life. Each activity is an inspiration and a compulsion that works seamlessly side by side. I see them as inextricably linked, for they’re all about the stories we seek, the stories we gather and the stories we tell.

As a child, I read voraciously: poetry, myths and legends, novels, real-life tales, encyclopedias, fairy tales, dictionaries, and even the back of cornflake boxes. I used to devour National Geographic magazines from cover to cover, dreaming of where I could go and what I could experience. And then I used to jumble them up with the everyday to make my own adventures. Stories were my world.

Even now, I find it impossible to live without stories. The books I read, the tales I write, the journeys I take, the thoughts that tangle up in my brain: they entwine into a narrative that is, essentially, my life. Without any of these elements, I would feel unable to breathe. Suffocating in the minutiae of the everyday. Don’t get me wrong; I have chosen to live in a beautiful part of the world (West Cork, Ireland) and I adore it. But there’s a part of my personality that always feels restless.

This restlessness is what compels me to travel. Some people love routine; it helps them find their stride and provides them with comfort. For me, routine feels like being stuck in a bog, desperate to move but unable. It’s uncomfortable and frustrating so I try to avoid routine at all costs. Isn’t it wonderful that we’re all so different? That’s what makes our lives, our stories, so vivid.

What I desire above all else is change, surprise and challenge. I love meeting new people, learning about different cultures, seeing fresh sights and exploding my senses with different tastes, smells, sounds. It makes me feel alive and gives me energy. It settles my over-active imagination and provides a sense of calm. And, as a result, I’ve crossed off some of those childhood daydreams …

I’ve eaten deep-fried beetles and tarantula legs in Cambodia, snails and frogs in France. I ran with bulls in Andalucia and skydived above its scorched countryside. I swam with sharks in Australia and stingrays in the Bahamas. I’ve hiked to incredible sky caves in Thailand and along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge in Iceland. I’ve helped with rescued elephants and I’ve visited incredible museums and galleries around the world, seeking out the bizarre, magnificent and beautiful. And everywhere, every time, I breathe deeply, making records and notes: hunting and gathering words, details, and ideas.

But even at home, I travel every day – and I don’t even drive! In the wilds of West Cork, I pull on my walking boots and hike the local countryside, looking for new boreens and pathways to explore. I find the physical act of movement as important as the exploration of new things. Motion stirs the body and brain and blows away cobwebs, allowing for solutions and creative sparks. So if, like me, you hate routine, walking is a good way to make every day fresh.I often take chunks of time away from home to travel and concentrate intensely on my writing. This year, I spent month-long writing residencies in Iceland and Australia. On both occasions, rather than travel around the country, I immersed myself in the local area and explored the landscape on foot, just like I would at home. In Australia, I watched bowerbirds try to impress a mate with intricate decorations and in Iceland, I saw the Northern Lights dancing across the sky. Half of my day was spent hiking and observing, and the rest involved reading, writing, thinking up fresh ideas and unravelling problems while creating new ones.

At home or abroad, I’m foraging. Redefining the way I work, the way I write, the things I read and the things I write about. The stories I collect may not end up in a book, especially not in a true to life way, but elements can be splintered and moulded and included; and often, I have no idea this is going to happen. For instance …

  • The pocket watch owned by my character Uncle Cornelius (Nine Lives Trilogy) is an actual pocket watch I bought in Krakow, Poland – it’s brass, engraved and broken. I also based the description of his face on a random man who fell asleep in front of me on a train.
  • A seventeenth-century handwritten recipe book that I was shown in the National Library of Ireland sparked the cookbook idea in Caramel Hearts. The bullying scene is something I witnessed when I was a teenager.
  • The basking shark, Cedric, (Nine Lives Trilogy) is based on a shark that visited us every day for a fortnight when we were fishing in our little punt off the coast of West Cork (the shark was bigger than the boat). The submarine bit came from a visit to the Maritime Museum in Sydney.
  • An award-winning short story I wrote, The Books, They Cry, was based on a chat with a friend about her experience of the Bosnian War, followed by watching lots of documentaries and reading letters written by soldiers.

Not once did I know that any of these things would be relevant to a story. I didn’t set out to find any answers – I simply set out to explore and enjoy, and this, in turn, infused my work. So by living the life that makes sense to me, I grew. And so did my stories.

So if are interested by the fresh and unexplored, new cultures and experiences, then immerse yourself in that life. Read widely and ferociously, seek out art and myths, try new things, even if they make you feel a bit uncomfortable; soak up all there is around you and beyond and then let your imagination wander on the page, building your own worlds and tales through the stories only you can tell.

 

About E. R. Murray

E.R. Murray lives in West Cork, Ireland, where she fishes, grows her own vegetables and lives for adventures and words. Elizabeth is an award-winning writer of novels for children and young adults. She also has short fiction and poetry published in literary journals across Ireland, the UK and Australia, as well as numerous shortlists in fiction competitions including Aesthetica Creative Works, Francis McManus and Penguin/Irish Times. Her debut novel, The Book of Learning – Nine Lives Trilogy 1 was the 2016 Dublin UNESCO Citywide Read for Children, while The Book of Shadows – Nine Lives Trilogy 2 was shortlisted for the 2016 Irish Book awards. She has also performed in the live writing installation Train: Ciudades Parallelas at Cork Midsummer festival and co-created/performed Things That Go Bump in the Night, an interactive storytelling event. Her residencies include Varuna (Australia), Gullkistan (Iceland) and la Muse (France).

 

Twitter: @ERMurray 

Facebook: ERMurrayAuthor

Blog: www.ermurray.com