August 21, 2017 - Comments Off on Brilliant books to banish boredom

Brilliant books to banish boredom

We at Scoop are dedicated to encouraging all kinds of creativity in our readers, so we’ve pulled together a list of some awesome activity books that are a hundred per cent guaranteed to banish boredom for the last leg of the summer holidays. There’s something for everyone here, from craft lovers to outdoor adventurers, to science buffs, to sports fanatics – so there can be no excuse for having nothing to do!

First up, Nosy Crow’s series of smartly designed activity books are a feast for the eyes, and an inspiration for the mind. National Trust: Go Wild in the Woods is a perfect, pocket-sized compendium packed with survival tips for young adventurers, and teaches all manner of outdoor skills, from how to build a shelter and cook over a campfire, to fun games to play in the great outdoors. It also includes essential information about first aid, and what NOT to do when out in the wild. We also love this gorgeous range of colouring books complete with cards and envelopes. The series provides hours of arty activity on rainy days, with themes covering the likes of nature, summertime, unicorns and rainbows, and flowers and butterflies.

Backyard Explorer is a brilliant fill-in journal brought to young explorers by Lonely Planet. Packed with plenty of ideas for fun things to do and make (including cloud spotting, scavenger hunting and creating a time capsule), readers will be enjoying adventures right outside their own back doors in no time.

Budding scientists and engineers will find much to inform and entertain in b small publishing’s inventively educational series of STEM starters, which are packed with facts and engaging activities themed around science, technology, engineering and maths.

From experiencing a 3D penalty shoot-out, to playing a fun, flicking football game, Football Things to Make and Do is packed with immersive projects and games to keep footy fans entertained during the summer off-season. Young cricketers will love this recently released Cricket Sticker Book, which includes 450 stickers, plus insights into the rules of the game.


August 14, 2017 - Comments Off on Adventures Close to Home

Adventures Close to Home

Whether you’re off on holiday this summer, or enjoying a break at home, we can all experience incredible adventures through the pages of a book. Here are a few of our favourite reads to transport young adventure-seekers to thrilling far-flung places – no packing, passport or plane tickets necessary!

Set in 1910, and published in 2001, in Eva Ibbotson’s Journey to the River Sea is an absolute classic. When word comes that brave, bright orphan Maia has relatives living near Manaus, she’s transported from her English school to the heart of the Amazon, accompanied by her governess, Minty. Maia’s dream of an exciting new life with her cousins is tainted when she discovers that they’re horribly spoiled, and only interested in her parents’ money, but she’s entranced by the majesty of the forest, and befriends a half-English, half-Xanti boy, Finn. The plot twists and snakes like the Amazon itself – there are duplicitous dealings, secret identities, and an overarching respect for the wonders of the natural world. In Minty’s words, ‘children must lead big lives ... if it is in them to do so’, which is exactly what Maia does. She’s the pluckiest of heroines, with huge heart and integrity, and readers will come away dazzled by both the gripping adventure, and the author’s unforgettable evocation of the Amazon. It’s one of those special stories that readers will return to and re-read over and over again.

Katherine Rundlell’s recently published The Explorer was partly inspired by the author’s love of Journey to the River Sea. Intricately illustrated by Hannah Horn, this tells the gloriously gripping tale of four children struggling to survive when their plane crashes in the wilds of the Amazon forest. Fred has always dreamed of being an explorer, and desperately longs to do something to make his father notice him. He now has chance to do just that. While dangers are ever-present in the form of caimans, tarantulas, snakes and piranhas, they manage to find food, and Fred even fashions a raft that transports them along the river, with their adopted sloth aboard. Then, deep in the mysterious jungle, they encounter a real-life explorer who holds mysteries of his own. At its heart, this is a book about the magical richness of the natural world, and what it is to truly experience life. As the eponymous explorer explains, “You don’t have to be in the jungle to be an explorer … every human on this earth is an explorer”. This is a thoughtful and vibrantly thrilling feast.

From South America to South Africa: Lauren St John’s award-winning series of White Giraffe books were inspired by her experiences growing up on a Zimbabwean farm and game reserve, and they’re a thoroughly warm-hearted, wonder-filled treat. When eleven-year-old Martine is orphaned, she’s sent to live with her grandmother on a game reserve in South Africa, but her grandmother is distant and unwelcoming, and Martine also feels like an outsider at school. Then, after befriending Tendai, a keeper on the reserve, and sighting the fabled white giraffe, Martine discovers that she has a secret gift, and a world of adventure unfolds.

Set against a stunning Himalayan landscape, Jess Butterworth‘s recently released debut, Running on the Roof of the World, follows the epic adventures of twelve-year old Tash and best friend Sam as they journey from Tibet to India, where they hope to secure the support of the Dalai Lama in order to save her parents. But time is against them, as is the terrain. With winter setting in, the perilous paths of the Himalayas will soon be blocked by snow, and many dangers must be kept at bay. This thrilling fable about hope and holding onto what really matters abounds in derring-do appeal.

Melding magic and mystery with a wild spirit of adventure, Abi Elphinstone’s Dreamsnatcher trilogy is set in an imagined world, but inspired by the author’s real-life experiences among Scottish glens, Norwegian fjords, Italian Dolomites, Brazilian caves, and Kazakh eagle hunters in Mongolia. Moll’s quest to fight the Dreamsnatcher’s dark magic is furiously fast-paced, and these books are ablaze with action, adventure and enchantment.

July 28, 2017 - Comments Off on Kate Wakeling’s Top Writing Tips

Kate Wakeling’s Top Writing Tips

Today we’re over the moon to share some superb tips for freeing the imagination and putting pen to paper from a very special poet – Kate Wakeling, recent winner of the 2017 CLiPPA .

Previously won by a roster of remarkable poets (including Sarah Crossan, Michael Rosen, Roger McGough, George Szirtes, Carol Ann Duffy and John Agard), the prestigious CLiPPA – the only award for published poetry for children – was launched in 2003, and seeks to give this vital branch of children’s literature the recognition it deserves.

Kate’s winning book, Moon Juice, is a gloriously inventive collection of twenty-five poems, and also includes interviews with Kate and illustrator, Elīna Brasliņa, and ideas for writing your own poems. The book is a kaleidoscope of colourful characters, from warrior Skig (who’s actually more worrier than warrior), to Hamster Man, and Rita the Pirate. There’s a joyous musicality to Kate’s writing, and we at Scoop can’t recommend Moon Juice enough. Now over to Kate …


If you’re feeling low on ideas or want to inject something of the strange into your poems, try Automatic Writing. The technique is simple: find a pen and paper then set an alarm for three minutes. You must write continuously – the pen never leaving the page – until the alarm sounds. Feel free. Write absolutely whatever pops into your head. When you’re finished, circle any words or phrases that strike you as interesting, colourful or unexpected. BANG: here is the seed of your next poem.

Try and let the sounds of words guide how you choose and use them. The sense of words is very important, of course, but if you relax your grip on meaning just a little and sometimes let sound alone direct how you put together lines and phrases, you’ll find all sorts of excellent and unexpected things will happen in your writing.

Read. Everyone says this, and often everyone is wrong, but on this occasion, everyone is RIGHT. Read often. Read widely. Read with your eyeballs screwed in as tightly as possible. Read like a detective and thief rolled into one. I find it helps to be reading even when in the middle of writing: other books can be good company while you draft something. I often pick a book that feels particularly interesting and inspiring to me that day and I sit it on my desk next to my notebook and computer. If I’m feeling bored or aimless or discouraged with my work, I pick up the book, open a page at random and enjoy a few moments in its warm company, before returning to my own writing. I think of it as like phoning a friend when in a fix: sometimes you need a burst of another person’s energy to set you on your way.

Don’t be afraid to work slowly. In any piece of writing, but perhaps most particularly poetry, every word is crucial and sometimes it can take a long time to find just the right one. Of course, sometimes a poem happens quickly and this is a very fine feeling, but there are also times when a poem takes twenty attempts to get it just how you want it to be. Think hard about every little detail and embrace the slow care of poetry.

Lastly, if you find yourself struggling to make sense of an idea or to finish a line: GO FOR A SHORT WALK. You’ll find the effect can be magical. There is something about fresh air, the rhythm of your feet, and the sights and sounds of the outside world that help loosen up the imagination and tighten up your problem-solving. Imagination and problem-solving are the two crucial muscles of writing: keep them exercised.



July 14, 2017 - Comments Off on French-flavoured favourites

French-flavoured favourites

As today is Bastille Day (14 July), we’ve been thinking about our favourite French-related children’s books, either books created by great Gallic authors, or fiction with a distinctively French flavour.

Ludwig Bemelmans’s classic series of Madeline picture books evokes 1930s Paris with extraordinary charm (in fact, this site has pulled together a Madeline city tour young readers will love to take), and Madeline herself is adorable. She might be the smallest, but she’s also the bravest, and she’s infectiously adventurous, with a marvellous spirit of mischievousness.

Of course, we must mention the one and only Asterix, whose escapades continue to excite and amuse almost sixty years since co-creators René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo serialised their first Asterix adventure in a French magazine. There’s epic history (of course), plus puns aplenty and, in more recent books, there’s even an alien invasion.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince was voted the best book of the twentieth century in France, and it’s also one of the world’s most translated books. It’s a moving, magical, allegorical novella about what really matters in life that readers of 7+ (adults included) will fall in love with, and want to read over and over (and over) again.

Talking of allegories, French author Daniel Pennac is an absolute master of allegorical storytelling. The Eye of the Wolf (ideal for thoughtful 8+ year-olds) tells the captivating tale of a wolf from Alaska and a boy from Africa who share their hauntingly moving life stories when they face each other in a zoo. It’s a story to savour, and no wonder that the author’s long-time translator, Sarah Ardizzone, won the Marsh Award for Children's Literature in Translation for translating this book. Daniel also wrote the truly inspirational The Rights of the Reader, illustrated by Quentin Blake, which has sold over a million copies in France.

Toby Alone by French novelist and playwright Timothée de Fombelle is an enchanting adventure with a wonderful ecological message. Brave Toby Lolness might only stand a mere one and half millimetres off the ground, but he’s the most wanted person in the world of the Great Oak Tree ... Themes of friendship, survival and doing the right thing are interwoven into the enthralling adventure, and the English-language version is a delight to read (also translated by Sarah Ardizzone).

Jennifer Donnelly’s Revolution comes highly recommended for young adult readers. Part contemporary coming-of-age story, part historical mystery that takes in the events of the French Revolution, this emotionally-charged novel sees the turbulent lives of two teenagers connect across the centuries.

Bonne lecture!

July 7, 2017 - Comments Off on Reads to Relish on World Chocolate Day

Reads to Relish on World Chocolate Day

Seeing as today (7 July) is World Chocolate Day (yes, it seems there’s a day for pretty much everything!) we thought we’d share our top choc-related fiction recommendations.

Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory goes without saying, but, seeing as it’s such a phizzwhizzing feast of fun we’re going to say it anyway. This timeless treat has a glorious soft-centred heart and is ideal for newly independent readers to chomp through, or for reading aloud to younger children.

Readers of a similar age will surely also adore Kate Saunders’s The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop in which Lily and Oz Spoffard inherit a magical house that has a mysterious boarded-up chocolate shop on the ground floor. All manner of adventure and villainy ensue when a gang comes looking for the secret recipe to their great-great-uncles’ secret MAGIC chocolate recipe. Its sequel, The Curse of the Chocolate Phoenix, comes highly recommended too, with its additional time-travelling shenanigans.

Chris Callaghan’s The Great Chocoplot will have readers chuckling and chortling from the opening pages. It sees Jelly and her adorable gran step into action following an alarming announcement – ‘In six days there will be no more chocolate in the world … ever!’ Just who is Garibaldi Chocolati, and is the chocopocalypse really coming? The outlandish antics are brilliantly brought to life by illustrator Lalalimola.

Fans of the fantastical will fall under the spell of Stephanie Burgis’s delightful The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, in which a dragon is transformed into a feeble human girl after drinking enchanted hot chocolate. The question is, can she still prove how brave she is from inside her frail human form? This magical tale about the meaning of friendship is served with a generous helping of chocolate-y goodness.

May you enjoy tucking into these tasty fictional treats!

June 16, 2017 - Comments Off on Super Scoopster Edie interviews awesome author, Peter Bunzl

Super Scoopster Edie interviews awesome author, Peter Bunzl

On my! We have a HUGE treat for you today. One of our super Scoopster readers recently interviewed author Peter Bunzl at the fantastic Pickled Pepper Books. Over to you, Edie …

Peter Bunzl is the well-known author of Cogheart and Moonlocket. At the moment he is writing his third book. He told us two possible names for it, but they are TOP SECRET for now. He came to Pickled Pepper Books in Crouch End for their book group and I asked him some questions.

What is your favourite book that you have written and who is your favourite character?
My favourite book will have to be Moonlocket because I finished and published it a few months ago, and I had to cut a lot out of Cogheart so I put a lot of the story into Moonlocket. My favourite character is Malkin. He is funny, helpful and always there when you need him. When I was writing Cogheart he was going to be a cat but it did not feel right so I thought about what other animals get chased and a fox seemed obvious. So I worked on adding foxy features to him.

What other time period would you like to set a book in?
I would like to set a book now. With kids who have magical powers, but not like Harry Potter.

When did you start to write?
I started to write when I was ten or eleven. I wrote my mum, dad and my sister a fourteen-page story and I was very pleased with myself. It was about a boy who travelled to an island and met magical, mythical creatures.

When you made your first book did you know it was going to be a sequel?
No, I didn't really know because when I first thought of the idea Cogheart it was going to be a comic strip. But lots of ideas had to be edited and it did not really work so then I tried writing it and it worked!

It was an amazing experience meeting an author of a bestselling book and I'm really looking forward to the new one being published.

For more information about Peter and his brilliant books, head over here.

June 12, 2017 - Comments Off on Presenting Ben Dix, the inspirational founder of Why Comics?, and our global comic competition

Presenting Ben Dix, the inspirational founder of Why Comics?, and our global comic competition

In our current issue, we’re delighted to have joined forces with Why Comics? and Common Everybody to offer an amazing global competition. We’re asking Scoop readers to write a 500-word story about a special journey. There are two categories – one for Years 5 and 6, and one for Years 7 and 8 – and the winning story from each will be transformed into a comic by Why Comics? and featured in our birthday issue in September. A pretty amazing opportunity, don’t you think?

Head here to find out the full details, and read on to discover more about Ben Dix, the mastermind behind Why Comics? and PositiveNegatives.

 Please can you tell us about your background?
I was a photojournalist in India when the 2004 South Asian tsunami occurred. My friend from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) was working in the Tamil Tiger-held area of North Sri Lanka, called Vanni, and he called me on the night of the tsunami and invited me to help him. I left for what I assumed would be a ten-day trip to Sri Lanka, but ended up staying four years.

The first time I used animation and illustrations was when a Norwegian NGO (Norwegian People’s Aid) employed me to develop and run a tsunami education programme in Vanni to educate survivors about the science behind a tsunami and help dispel rumours and superstitions. I worked with the Royal Geographical Society in London and we developed a 3D, semi-animated PowerPoint presentation. We would string up bed sheets between the palm trees on the pristine beaches and present to hundreds of people in the evenings. We did the same in the schools and delivered it to 55,000 people. I realised then that animation and illustrations were wonderful tools for explaining complex issues.

As the conflict between the Tamil Tigers and the Government of Sri Lanka began to escalate in the north, I joined the UN in Vanni as a Communications and Liaison Manager. We spent many hours in our bunkers under air and artillery attack and one day I read a copy of Art Spiegleman’s Maus. I hadn’t really read comics before, apart from the odd copy of Calvin and Hobbes and Asterix as a child, but I found it wonderful how the complexities of identity, memory and trauma were presented so simply in Maus. I remember thinking how the rebels, civilians, government forces and the UN all sitting in this jungle would make a fascinatingly powerful graphic novel.

Later, my surviving Tamil friends and old colleagues from Sri Lanka began to contact me, mostly through Facebook, to say that they had come to London, Zurich, Oslo and Chennai as asylum seekers and refugees. I went to visit them and began to record their stories. I then remembered Maus and decided that this would be the graphic novel I wanted to produce – that dealt with conflict, migration, asylum, memory, identity and many other complex issues.

I met a fantastic artist, Lindsay Pollock, and we began to conceptualise the story. The responsibility of story I was aiming to tell, and the ethics involved of turning that story into a visual narrative, then really dawned on me, so I enrolled in a PhD in Anthropology. Fifty per cent of my PhD is the Sri Lanka comic, called The Vanni.

Why do you think comics are such a powerful means of communication?
One of the best things about comics is that incredibly sensitive issues can be told anonymously. Comics also humanise and present complex issues in a way that a general, non-academic international audience can engage with.

Comics can easily transcend time and space, and we can easily go into people’s memories, dreams and spaces, like torture cells, where other media like film makers and photographers cannot go. The media is full of 'othering'. It's easy to see a photo of a refugee and think ‘that's sad but it's not me – they don't look like me’. But with a comic there is a simplicity to the illustrations so we can see ourselves in the illustrations. The simple illustrations of a face and especially as we keep our comics black and white transcend race and ethnicity, and are presented as human. Again, other media can struggle with this.

Also, for the younger generations who constantly interact with the mix of visual and textual information on social media and the world around, the comic sits perfectly as a form of short blocks of text intermingled with the visual without undermining the gravitas of the complex issues they discuss.


Can you explain how you research, write and work with artists to illustrate the stories?
The main format is that I approach, or am approached by, an organisation that will fund a project. I then work with them to conceptualise the story we want to tell we've covered issues of sex trafficking, drug addiction, smuggling, refugees, conflict, torture, identity, modern-day slavery, mental health, security and radicalisation.

I then begin to interview people about their lives and stories concerning the issues we're aiming to tell. Usually, I spend many days immersed with the individual and/or community. I record life histories and try to gain a sense of them as an individual. Next, I write an outline of the story as a comic book script. I base all the issues covered in the script on exact descriptions from the interviews, but I have to fictionalise the story to allow it to flow as a story, and to anonymise the individual.

The important step in the process is where I sit back down with the respondents and read them the story. I give them editorial control to make sure they are happy. This is very important as it is their story I'm just telling it. I've found that all the people I've interviewed love having their story told as a comic book. There's an excitement that I've witnessed that I haven't experienced when making documentaries or photo shoots. As I don't have to film, I can simply sit in someone's home, or under a tree, and chat and listen to them I never have to do a retake or worry about fading light etc. It's a very comfy and organic medium to work in especially with such sensitive topics.

Then, I try to find an artist who is appropriate for the particular project. I work closely with the illustrator and animator with the testimonies and the photos to sketch out a storyboard. We then take the storyboards back to the respondents and again ask them to comment on the illustrations. Does the comic look like their story? Once everyone is happy, we ink and finish the comic.

What's your long-term vision?
I would like to develop a community where we are bridging school students in the global north and south through comics. Since comics can be hi/low tech and in multiple languages, I think there is the potential and ability to engage students together from varying backgrounds and global locations.

I'd like PositiveNegatives to be a space where artists from all over the world can upload their stories of their world realities, and audiences can read them through our platforms.

And what’s next on the horizon?
I'm beginning to work on another very difficult story on the rehabilitation of female child soldiers in the DRCongo. I worked in South Sudan for a while and interacted with child soldiers and found it a deeply disturbing experience. I think the comic format will really come into its own to highlight the trauma, memories and experience of what children have gone through in armed groups in DRC. The comics will also have a way of showing their dreams and aspirations for the future.


June 5, 2017 - Comments Off on Gift of the GAB – the inspirational Give a Book charity

Gift of the GAB – the inspirational Give a Book charity

Because reading matters: this central philosophy behind the incredible Give a Book charity is very close to Scoop’s own heart, and so we’re delighted to host the following piece, which explains what they do, and why. Huge thanks to our friends at Give a Book for taking the time to write this for us.

Give a Book is a UK-based charity set up in 2011 with the simple aim of giving books where they will be of particular benefit.

Our core belief is that to pass on a good read – to give a book – is a transaction of worth. By working with schools and local communities, and partnering with other organisations, we facilitate the provision of books for a variety of projects. We have seen that there are many different situations where the gift of a book at the right time can really have a positive impact. And as Walt Disney said, ‘There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island.’

A lot of our work is focussed on getting books into schools that need them – where they can help to promote literacy and encourage an enjoyment of reading. We often work directly with schools and specialised organisations such as Hop, Skip & Jump, getting them the books they need; not only to help foster a love of reading but also to have a great impact on mood and outlook – good things happen when you read. We are in contact with some wonderful school librarians, who know what their libraries really need in order to engage pupils.

We partner with a range of organisations to enable further children’s projects. In 2013 we started working with Magic Breakfast, a charity that provides nutritious breakfast food for children in primary schools. We established Magic Breakfast Book Clubs so that children could have a book along with their breakfast, and have so far set up clubs in twenty-three schools.

We also work with Doorstep Library, a charity committed to improving literacy in economically disadvantaged families. We provide books for Doorstep volunteers to take to families around London, engaging both children and parents in the value of reading for pleasure and education. We also provide books for their Read in the Park events across London.

The wonderful feedback we receive from all those involved in our projects encourages us to continue reaching out to new schools and partners. We believe that all children should have the opportunity to discover the pleasure of reading, and continue to support projects that enable this.

You can find out more about the variety of projects we are involved with on our website: