Witchy Delights

Fairy lights twinkled in the windows, sparkly drinks bubbled, macaroons and yummy cakes beckoned, it was Bloomsbury Publishing’s launch party for Witch Wars, and Louise Ellis-Barrett, your intrepid editor went along to find out more ...  

There was a sea of black hats and black dresses as friends, family and children’s book lovers gathered to help Sibéal Pounder celebrate the publication of her debut book for young readers.  With the hugely talented Laura Ellen Andersen Sibéal has produced a book to love and one that will have young readers desperate for more adventures!

Tia Whichabim is a witch and she doesn’t know it.  She knows no spells, has no warts, no black pointy hat, in fact nothing witchy at all so when she has to travel by pipe into a witchy world where she must compete in the Witch Wars she is bemused to say the least!

Ritzy City is in need of a new leader, a witch who will be fair, a witch who will rule compassionately and kindly but can Tia and her new friends solve the riddles posed, survive the dastardly tricks of fellow competitors and restore order to Ritzy City?

With a delightful cast of characters, some very witchy indeed, Sibéal has created a new world ripe for adventure with beautiful black and white illustration by the supremely talented Laura Ellen Andersen, this is a book that is not only much loved by the editorial team at Bloomsbury but is sure to be much loved by many readers.  I for one will be highly recommending it!

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Molecular Studies!

When in Europe (Paris to be precise) London is obviously such a short jaunt away that it is worth popping over and so when author Susin Nielsen told her editors at Andersen Press that she was popping over to Europe from her native Canada and that she would just pop over to London whilst she was here they jumped at the chance to show her off to a small group of guests.

So it was that one Friday evening in early March in a delightful pub-cum-restaurant on Wandsworth Road in London we met and talked books with one another and with Susin.

The enthusiasm for this new title was palpable, those lucky enough to have had a rare proof copy were clutching them hard and the rest of us were busy admiring the beautifully designed cover jacket of the forthcoming hardback, marvelling at the precise placement of the holes and the way in which the cover truly does mirror the content of this book.

It was a true pleasure to meet Susin, to see the honest enthusiasm and pleasure that her writing has bought to her editorial team and I (Louise Ellis-Barrett) cannot wait for the book to be published so that you can all find out just how excellent it is.

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Parrot Girls!

I (Andrea Rayner writes this) was drafted in to go to the book launch of The Girl with the Parrot on Her Head at the last minute, and arrived not really knowing what to expect. It was being held at Daunt Books in South End Green, Hampstead, which I knew from previous experience is a lovely venue for book launches.

I arrived knowing very little about the book, but was made to feel very welcome by Hannah Cooper, the Press Officer for Walker. She introduced me to Daisy Hirst, the author-illustrator, of The Girl with the Parrot on Her Head. Daisy was very down-to-earth and friendly. She chatted happily about the book and the various people who were there. It was definitely both a professional and family affair. I met her aunt, her brother and various friends as well as her agent, her publisher and other people involved with the children’s book world.

There were also several representatives from other children’s book review magazines there, including Joy Court, Ferelith Horton and Andrea Reece – all women who play an prominent role in promoting children’s books

The whole atmosphere was very much like a jolly party – the best way for a launch to be. As always with book launches, the wine was flowing generously and there was lots of chatting. One of Daisy’s friends had even baked biscuits in the shape of several characters from her book.

Daisy is obviously very talented, and the illustrations of The Girl with the Parrot on Her Head are extremely innovative and unusual. They beautifully complement the gentle text about friendship. Daisy is a fairly recent graduate from Cambridge School of Art, Anglia Ruskin, which seems to be becoming a power-house for unusual new picture book illustrator-authors.

All in all, it was a lovely evening, spent with lovely people, promoting an excellent book. I hope that The Girl with the Parrot on Her Head gets all the success it deserves.

Just to whet your reading appetite ... The Girl with a Parrot on Her Head, is the story of a young girl called Isabel. She has a pet parrot. She also has a friend called Simon. Then one day, Simon moves away, leaving Isabel feeling lost and lonely. That is until Chester arrives, and she gains a new friend. This is a beautifully designed picture book with bold and quirky illustrations. Its simple text cleverly captures the emotions experienced by a lonely child. This sensitive and engaging picture book is extremely enjoyable. 


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Now for some very special editions

That Pesky Rat by Lauren Child (Orchard Books), a special new edition with a foiled cover in support of St Mungo’s Broadway.

Oxford Children’s Classics continue to publish just this, children’s stories with lasting appeal.  Coming this Spring are Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and the Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Whilst Alice in Wonderland, a children’s classic celebrates 150 years with a plethora of special titles we must not forget that this year another children’s classic has a birthday ...

Thomas the Tank Engine is 70 and yet he looks as shiny and new as he did on day one and he is still providing hours of entertainment to children and train lovers too! To celebrate this very special birthday Egmont, the publisher of Thomas’ stories, has created the first ever Thomas the Tank Engine picture book.  A gorgeous story all about Thomas, the little blue tank engine, who worked really very hard on the railway run by the Fat Controller (yes he is still there). Daily, Thomas puffs and shunts and pulls freight when all the time he is also dreaming of having his very own branch line.  Will Thomas’ dreams come true?  Enjoy this picture book story to find out and then look out for a second picture book Three Cheers for Thomas the Tank Engine coming in May preceded by a very special 70th anniversary slipcase edition in April (just in time for my birthday – ed.)

Apparently it has been 15 years since Anthony Horowitz first hit our shelves with his explosive Alex Rider books and to mark the occasion the whole series, all 10 books, have been re-jacketed with a great new cover. The cover may have changed but the stories remain the same, action, adventure and adrenalin packed, they are a great read for spy thriller fans. Thanks to Walker Books they are continuing to inspire young readers and the new cover design will ensure their popularity continues to go from strength to strength.

First published in 1936 the Little Tim books by Edward Ardizzone have enthralled generations of children with their gentle and charming stories.  New covers for four of the books; Tim All Alone, Tim to the Rescue, Tim’s Friend Towser, Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain, each featuring an imitation cloth cover and an illustrated debossed panel and launched in time for the 2016 60th anniversary of the Carnegie winning Tim All Alone. With QR codes to take readers to an audio version of the story read by Stephen Fry, these books have really come back to life for children today. Rightly so.

A wonderful deluxe edition The Enchanted Wood by Enid Blyton (Egmont) is a real treat, full colour hardback complete with ten full colour plates this book would make a delightful gift and is a volume to treasure. 

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A Ladybird Anniversary

Are you nostalgic for children’s books of the past?  Do you love the classic and very British look of a certain range of books?

If so, then you will love The Vintage Collection from Ladybird Books. This collection follows in the footsteps of Penguin Books range of merchandise.

With an iconically nostalgic and undeniably British look, the Vintage Collection has been launched to celebrate the centenary year of the publisher. There will be homeware including wall art, stationery and even mugs. Of course there are books planned too, and the most instantly recognizable images and illustrations from Ladybird’s golden age will be featured. 

With a striking design, these goodies would make lovely gifts at any time of the year, they could be used to celebrate the very British St George’s Day or any other suitable occasion, and I can see myself using them in my library to decorate displays! 

Want to know more about why this is an important celebration? Ladybird have been a children’s book publisher since 1915, and is now one of the most well known brands. The stories have become favourites, and are known by parents around the world.  Moving with the times, Ladybird has retained its popularity by issuing printed books alongside digital aps and stories via a variety of digital platforms to ensure that children are guaranteed quality stories in a manner that they consume them happily. Ladybird continues to be there for children and their parents from birth through to becoming a confident young reader. Many readers, myself included, owe much to the Ladybird books, and so the merchandise associated with this anniversary will bring a smile to many adult faces, and will perhaps encourage you consider the use of Ladybird books in the reading education of your own children.

There is a lovely book accompanying this merchandise too, as there should be! Ladybird By Design looks at the design history of the Ladybird books and is accompanied by a book of postcards of book covers and Ladybird a Cover Story, investigating, as the title suggests, the story behind the iconic covers of these books. Ladybird has a place in the hearts of us all for its iconic books helping children learn to read, as well as its cutting edge design, and for real fans there will be facsimile versions of a selection of some of the most popular stories so adults can relive their childhood and share favourites with their children!

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A Hervé Tullet Selection!

Hervé Tullet and Phaidon have a wonderful new series of books for the youngest reader and also for toddlers and young people too.  This is a series of books that can be enjoyed for their simplicity and colour as well as for their concepts.  These books encourage their readers to think imaginatively, creatively and independently.  Every book is a game and a learning experience.

The Good Morning Game finds little finger waking up and encouraging the reader to follow it through a day, from breakfast to school and more besides, you need the book, your finger and maybe permission to take a pen and draw on your own fingers!

The Game of Lines encourages readers to mix and match the lines on the pages, horizontal, vertical and straight, all the lines are waiting to be played with an the vibrant colours are amazing too!

The Trail Game is a fun and active book, one which encourages its reader to play.  Use the tip of your finger and follow the lines of the trail, match the shapes to continue and hours of fun ensue!

The Game of Top and Tails tests what is possible – can a man hold up a truck? Can an elephant stand on a house? Can a camel carry a mountain? Not certain? Try the opposite! A wonderful set of challenges.

The Giant Game of Sculpture turns into one.  Just pop out the card put it in the various slots and holes and see what you can create.  Different every time! An ingenious idea.

The Eyes Game allows children to use the book as a mask, use a mirror when using this book and then you will see yourself change, or if you play with a friend you will see them take on a new image, robot, alien, cute kitten, what  will you choose?

The Game of Mirrors needs mirrors, or does it?  Here are images that change as you turn the images, optical illusion at some of its simplest and best.

The Ball Game requires a book and a ball of paper and then you are off with permission to throw the paper around until it goes through the holes in the pages of the book.  Try to keep the grown ups away from this one!

The Game of Shadows does need a grown up, a torch and a wall. All will add up to a magical night-time adventure.

The Countryside Game is a sunny day in the countryside where you can sit under an apple tree, run through fields of daisies, and even climb a mountain. Change the adventure every time and share it out loud.

The Finger Circus Game requires two fingers a pen and off you go. Draw faces on your fingers and you have two worms at the circus having fun. Draw different faces each time to change the story.

The Game of Finger Worms is just that but do you know where they hide? Draw your finger worms and investigate!

The Game in the Dark can only be read in the dark, a clever and special book in this series.

The Game of Light on the other hand needs a torch and a grown up hand, but is perfect for bedtime.

The Game of Let’s Go! Is a book to be read, to start with at least, with your eyes closed!  Here is a magical line and a magical adventure.

The Game of Mix-Up Art is full of paintings for you to mix up using the flaps, sports, squiggles and more to help you become a master artist!

The Game of Patterns is one to play with a friend, and compete to see how many differences you can spot!

The Game of Mix and Match makes some unusual crosses and results in some fun results.  Over 50 pictures to play with and of course endless outcomes.

The Game of Red, Yellow and Blue teaches children what happens when these primary colours are mixed.

Finally, come three stand-alone titles each of which still challenge the imagination but in different ways.

I Am Blop  is all about ... well ... Blops!  What? I hear you ask.  Well you will have to read to find out, but I can reveal that this is again a book packed with shape, colour and cut-outs!

The Big Book of Art is full of scribbles, splodges, shapes, letters, lines and signs, all waiting for you to mix and match them to create your own work of art.

Doodle Cook is a book for you to add colour to, shapes, lines and more are here waiting for you to create your ‘Scribble Delight’ and ‘Magic Marmalade’.

So now this editor is off to my kitchen to create butternut squash cake and discover some more exciting recipes before trying my hand at some art.  How have you been inspired?

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Lucy Coats on Mixing Myth and History 

The Greek myths and history were my first reading loves - the ones which really spoke to my heart. That childhood fascination with myths in particular has never really gone away, and in 2010 I found a question battering away at my writer's brain: 'What if someone who's been acknowledged as a mythical hero for the last 4000 years wasn't actually a hero at all?'

When I put bold, brave Heracles under the creative microscope, what I saw was not very pretty. In particular I investigated his Twelve Tasks. All but two (or three, if you accept the Atlas story and not the one where Heracles kills the dragon, Ladon) involve animals. And right there was the story I wanted to tell. What if I gave those animals a voice to tell their side of things? What if there was a place on Olympus where their abused and injured immortal bodies went to be healed. Who would be the healer? Who would champion them? That was when Pandemonius (aka Demon) walked into my life. He is the polar opposite of Horrible Heracles - a kind, thoughtful, skinny eleven year-old boy whose only real skill is that he can talk to animals, courtesy of his father, Pan. In the high-handed way of gods, Pan whisks him away to Olympus without so much as a by your leave, and installs him as Zeus's stable boy, and chief carer to the immortal beasts.

It did feel strange to me at first, fictionalising the deities and beasts who already had their own set of stories and destinies. But I soon got used to it, and the more I threw off those constraints and wrote about them as three-dimensional characters, the more I felt I knew them. It was as if, by hearing their voices in my head and writing their words down, I was bringing them a new life outside the boundaries of myt

Although the Beasts of Olympus series is focused firmly on Demon's adventures with his immortal charges, I also had fun bringing in sly references to things like Dionysus's discovery of 'a new kind of grape drink which made everybody very giggly and silly' and to Zeus's amorous adventures with the nymphs, as well as creating bit parts for mythical characters such as Arachne the spider, the terrifying Lethe and a very in love (but ghostly) Orpheus and Eurydice.

All this made me once again delve deeply into the myths I love - discovering a myriad things I didn't know and rediscovering things I'd forgotten.  I also rootled about in a lot of dusty bestiaries to find out as much as I could about the beasts who are the mainstay of Demon's job. There are so many conflicting stories about them - in Apollodorus and Hyginus among others - that I had the luxury of picking and choosing what I wanted to use - thus creating my own version of their mythologies too.

It was possibly this questioning of how old stories are told and taught which unlocked the path to my first Young Adult novel - Cleo. I'd always been fascinated by Cleopatra, and then I read a snippet somewhere which said that she considered herself to be the living incarnation of the goddess Isis on earth. That set me thinking. How did the most famous woman in history get to the throne so young? What if she had a patron goddess? What if that goddess played an active part in her early life?

When I did some research, I found that before Cleopatra becomes pharaoh, there is a great big hole in history. There are disputes on almost everything, from who her mother is to whether she might have been with her father during his exile in Rome. Holes in history are fertile ground for a writer, and so I dived in, headfirst.  Not only was it a chance to explore and work with a pantheon of gods I had only dipped into previously, but it was also the chance to create an Ancient Egypt and a Cleopatra of my own imagination. It was a big risk. Everyone has their own idea of Cleopatra - and mine is younger and very different to most of the sultry siren Elizabeth Taylor images many people carry in their heads. I wanted my Cleo to appeal to teenagers, first and foremost, so I decided to make her voice very accessible, hopefully without being anachronistic. After all - who knows how she talked? I wanted her to have the usual teenage insecurities - but I also wanted her to fight through them, to make mistakes, and above all to grow. By exploring her relationships with her sisters, Tryphena and Berenice, her handmaiden, Charmion, and with Khai, the mysterious scribe from the Great Library, I also wanted to say things about the nature of friendship and loyalty, about the intensity of first love, and about the things that evil does to people's souls. In addition, I needed the settings and costumes to be right, so I researched my socks off there too, going back to original sources like Lucan, Cassius Dio and Strabo where I could, and also making sure that weather, flora and fauna were as right as I could get them. I'm sure someone will be all too quick to tell me if I didn't succeed!

If you go far enough back in history, it eventually becomes myth - a place where lines are blurred and where anything at all could happen. I'm pretty sure that's the sort of territory I'm going to be exploring for the rest of my writing life.

Lucy Coats's Beasts of Olympus series is published throughout 2015 by Piccadilly Press. Her teenage novel, Cleo, is coming from Orchard Books in May.