Sylvia Bishop guest blog: character games and ‘44’

Sylvia Bishop guest blog: character games and ‘44’

Welcome Sylvia Bishop- a guest post

Today is publication day for 44 Tiny Acrobats, the second book in the 44 Tiny… series, written by Sylvia Bishop and illustrated byAshley King. This time, Betsy and her 44 pigmy mice are off to the circus, to meet marvellous magicians and tempestuous ringmasters.

In this guest post, Sylvia Bishop talks about one of her favourite writing tools – ‘character games’ – and introduces the cast of 44.

Her online workshop on character games this Saturday (6th February) has sold out, but tickets have just been released for 27th February:

Sylvia Bishop

Sylvia Bishop

What is a character game?

This is a concept I learned from improvised comedy (which is going-on-stage-and-making-things-up, and was made famous in the UK by Whose Line Is It Anyway?). A character game is simply any rule for how your character behaves. It could be very general, like “Tries to be better than everyone else”, or very specific, like “Keeps trying to open the tin of beans no matter what happens”.

Games are warm and fuzzy and gently funny

Our brains want people to be predictable, and children are constantly working on their theory of how-people-will-behave. We love and laugh at wonderfully predictable characters. Look at every single character in Winnie the Pooh – reducible to one or two games each, and hilarity ensues.


If you’re writing a series, ‘gamey characters’ are a gift. When they re-enter in book two, they are instantly themselves. In 44 Tiny Secrets we are introduced to Grandad:

“He always flapped his elbows up and down as he talked – Betsy used to think it was how he breathed. He flapped them accusingly at her now.”

Bringing a sad Grandad back in the opening of book two was easy:

“Normally his elbows wafted around merrily whenever he talked, or moved, or breathed. Today they drooped at his side like two sad worms in a cardigan.”

What of Betsy’s father?

Betsy’s father, Bertram, was another one who came easily back to life. Here he is in 44 Tiny Secrets:

“The news of Betsy’s talent turned him a pleased sort of pink. Then he opened the box of cream cakes and found that they had all been eaten, and he looked just a tad less pink. He pushed his glasses up his nose forlornly.”

Enter Betsy’s mother

When he and Betsy’s mother enter the fray in 44 Tiny Acrobats, they have come to cheer up Grandad:

“Her mother, Bella, had brought a book of piano duets – she and Grandad were both excellent pianists, and loved to play together. Her father, Bertram, was clutching a bulging bag of cream cakes (he had given up playing the piano these days, but was an excellent cream-cake eater, and he loved to eat them, with or without anybody else). And they had both brought enormous smiles and chirpy voices and ENTHUSIASM.

“I thought we could play a few duets together, Dad!” exclaimed Bella.

“An’ I foughmff ee coulff haf afnoon tea,” exclaimed Bertram, with his mouth full of an eclair that he was sampling, just to make sure it was all right.”

Inappropriate games are even funnier

Human behaviour really is rule-bound. We all have patterns. Ask linguists, psychologists, movement theorists, or anyone who has known a human for more than five minutes.

But normally, these patterns are “situational”, which means we all follow different rules in different situations. I am a notorious chatter-box, and I slouch; but even I would stand up straight and shut up if you introduced me to the Queen or tried me in court. When people don’t switch rules, the result is funny. You’ll find this brand of funny everywhere in children’s books.

Enter Enoch the Splendid

In 44 Tiny Acrobats, we meet a magician called Enoch the Splendid. His habit of taking people’s figures of speech literally is appropriate enough when he meets Betsy…

“It’s just that, you see, my mice are in your table.” Now she said it out loud, this didn’t sound as reasonable as she had hoped.

“I don’t see that at all,” said the Splendid, “But it sounds tremendously interesting. Tell me again. Your what are in which?”

… but becomes comically inappropriate when he is in serious trouble with the ringmaster, Chester Fry:

“Can you pull a new act out of a hat for me, Enoch? Something London has never seen?”

“My dear Chester, I don’t believe any of my hats are large enough.”

Games are truthful

When we meet people, we see patterns of behaviour. We don’t SEE, say, shyness. Perhaps we see short, incomplete sentences; or long pauses before speaking; or physical contortions aimed at trying not to take up space. But usually, we file away the overall impression, and don’t remember the details.

Visual artists must learn to un-see the expected colours and shapes which they think they know, and break these back down into the shades and shadows that are really there. For a writer, there’s a similar discipline: breaking down your impressions of people into their particular behaviours. Watching their real-life games.

And then, if you like, you can exaggerate what you see for comic effect. Which I can never resist.

Need to know more?

A selection of Sylvia’s novels for younger readers is available from the Bookwagon online independent children’s bookstore, including:

44 Tiny Acrobats

44 Tiny Secrets

Trouble in New York  

A Sea of Stories

The Secret of the Night Traint

The Bookshop Girl

Happy reading! 

P is for picture book

P is for picture book

P is for Picture book

Something to mull over

P is for picture book- for everyone! Picture books are not just for young children. Nor are picture books appreciated only by children on the cusp of school, or a bridge to reading ‘real books’. They are real books. 

Bookwagon So You Want to Be an Owl

          So You Want to Be an Owl by Jane Porter and Maddie Frost

Picture books are not the domain of a few very well known illustrators either. We are proud of the variety of picture books aboard the wagon. P is for Picture book… Jane Porter, Rikin Parekh and Emma Perry. 

  Our commitment

Bookwagon is committed to supporting the hard work of families and schools in building readers for life. That’s why we seek out such a wide variety of books. Therefore, we believe we’ve a need to share such treasures as these books by outstanding writers and illustrators, when we discover them. After all, don’t readers deserve the widest repertoire, the best experience?

Rikin Parekh

Like the majority of children’s writers and illustrators, Rikin Parekh works another job. It seems that writing and drawing is not valued as highly as it should be in our society. However the joy and wonder in Rikin’s illustrations and stories are exhilarating. Furthermore, they need to be shared and celebrated. I was fortunate enough to ask Rik some questions recently. They begin in response to Fly Tiger Fly which cannot help make you smile and cheer!

Bookwagon Fly Tiger Fly

   Fly Tiger Fly by Rikin Parekh

Some questions

1. What was your childhood desire to be SPECIAL?
I always dreamt of becoming a scientist or an archaeologist, finding dinosaurs. Then I wanted to become a comic book artist.

2. Who would be some of your real- life people to be included in a hall of fame?
Tricky! I think I would like to have The Dalai Lama, Richard Wilson and Jane Goodall.

The Dalai Lama

   The Dalai Lama

What about inspiration?

3. Whose pictures, illustrations, art inspire you? Do you collect art? If so, what?
I am inspired by so many wonderful Illustrators and artists! Wassily Kandinsky, Colin West, the late great Judith Kerr, Dr Seuss and to Richard Scarry. I do collect art, I try to collect original comic book artwork, mainly Spider-Man and (if I can afford them!) original children’s book illustrations.

Rikin Parekh illustration

      A beloved illustration by Rikin Parekh

Then there are alpacas, alongside tigers!
4. Did you have to get close and personal to any alpacas and tigers in the making of your books? Where? What did you learn?

YES! My old drawing tutor at Camberwell College of Arts (Now part of the University of Arts), Mike Priddle made it clear that if we were ever to be commissioned to draw a tiger, we MUST go to the zoo and study and draw a tiger to understand it fully. For Fly, Tiger, Fly! I went to London Zoo and spent lots of time drawing tigers and observing them I learnt they like to hide and sleep. Often!


For This Book Has Alpacas and Bears, I  went to London Zoo and drew alpacas, but they didn’t have many, only one I remember. I also tried to draw some bears there. I learnt that alpacas are extremely loveable and fun and bears are HUGE!


5. Who is your Jim in your life? Who inspires you?

My Jim in my life is my mum, she inspires me:) She has been through a lot but keeps on fighting and going on.

A little something about Rik’s drawing style…

6. I LOVE your characters’ expressive faces, particularly their eyes…. please can you explain them?

Thank you! I really don’t know where it comes from, but think, am I hope many other Illustrators can agree with me too, that when you draw a character, you have to put yourself into their shoes, just like how an animator acts out actions in front of a mirror. The eyes, they just come!


Emma Perry

Emma Perry’s collaboration with Sharon Davey is I Don’t Like Books. Never. Ever. The End. It makes me laugh and reminds me of my time teaching Infant readers. Furthermore, Mabel reminds me of my enormous excitement at expecting to read ‘real’ books, immediately, upon making it to school at last.

The humour in Emma Perry’s work tickles readers, yet there is such empathy too. It seems as though Emma Perry understands how it feels to be slightly on the outside, anticipating, hoping, rather like Alfonso, her wonderful creation with Rikin Parekh in This Book Has Alpacas and Bears

This Book Has Alpacas and Bears

This Book Has Alpacas (and Bears) by Emma Perry and Rikin Parekh

Some questions for Emma Perry…

1. Why do you think bears feature so regularly in books?

Now, according to Colin, bears are cute, charming and clever. EVERYone loves them. To be fair, I think he’s right. Bears are pretty fab. I can see the appeal!


With crossed fingers for a sequel…

2. Can you think of other underrepresented or misrepresented creatures who might plead their cause to Colin? Would he be up for a sequel?

Alfonso has pushed open the door nice and wide for all sorts of creatures to pop in, and do what they do best. How about some super unusual creatures like the Glowing sea turtle or even the Leaf-horned frog?!
Colin and Alfonso are definitely up for a sequel – they’ve been plotting and planning. Next time, I think it might be Colin who needs help, and a confidence boost, from Alfonso!

Sea Turtle

The magic of picture book writers…

3. I LOVE the expressiveness in your writing; I can ‘hear’ Alfonso. What is the inspiration? Did you visit any alpacas? If so, what did you learn?

I did visit some alpacas! Quite accidentally too, in that I wasn’t looking for alpacas. But. I was looking for inspiration… and I found it when I spied an amazing group of alpacas during a half term trip with my children. At that moment, I just knew I had to try writing a book featuring an alpaca. I mean, they are amazing animals.


Creating the character’s voice is one of my favourite parts of the writing process. It can also be one of the most frustrating when I’m still trying to nail it! Once the voice is in my head, and Alfonso’s voice was very loud (!)… the story unfolds quite nicely.

A future for Alfonso?

4. What would feature in an Alfonso (TM) range? 

There are NO limits, hahaha!! Rikin Parekh has quite a few great ideas for this and has snuck them into that glorious final spread. I mean, we’re talking mugs, lunchboxes, drink bottles, CDs, cuddly toys, sunglasses, pyjamas… Rik, I reckon you need to design them ALL!

The view…

5. Did you ‘see’ Alfonso as Rik created him? Do you draw your characters as you build your stories, independently of the illustrators? 

I had super vague sense of Alfonso in my mind, it was super blurry and very tricky to ‘see’! I’ve never attempt to draw my characters – I always knew, that if I were lucky enough for this script to be picked up by a publisher, then the most exciting part EVER was going to be when I first saw an illustrator’s creation of Alfonso. Rik has brought so much energy and genius to this book – I mean, there’s a FULL page spread of Alfonso doing the four-legged splits in mid-air. Genius! During the illustration process, Rik would send me super-secret snippets (and I’m talking little teasing snippets!).

I Don't Like Books. Never. Ever. The End.

I Don’t Like Books. Never. Ever. The End. by Emma Perry & Sharon Davey

Onto Mabel…

6. If you were caught in a hullabaloo of books like Mabel is (I Don’t Like Books. Never. Ever. The End.), where would you want to fall first? Which genre? Thereafter, in which genre would you be most likely to feature? 

Ah, that double page spread of Sharon Davey’s where Mabel falls into books is my absolute favourite one! You can almost FEEL it happening, can’t you! There are plenty of books I’d love to fall into – hmmm let’s think. There’s Wiskling Wood from Victoria Stitch Bad and Glittering by Harriet Muncaster – a great place to start. The beautiful swamp from Catherine Emmett and Ben Mantle’s King of the Swamp would be a lovely place to relax. Then when I’m ready for a bit of adventure I’d love to pop into The Strangeworlds Travel Agency by L D Lapinski.

Emma Perry chooses

A few selections from Emma Perry

Onto reading…

7. Which is your favourite reading genre?

I’m not very loyal to just one genre, I like to mix it up a bit. Having said that, verse novels have been a top favourite of mine for a long time. Years in fact. I’m really enjoying the surge in these at the moment – thank you, super talented poets Dean Atta, Joseph Coelho, Louisa Reid, Manjeet Mann, Sarah Crossan, Elizabeth Acevedo & Kwame Alexander I’m looking at you!

Emma Perry samples

Further Emma Perry selections

I read a LOT of children’s literature – middle grade and picture books mainly. Lockdown saw me diving into Maya Angelou’s poetry and her autobiographies, and I’ve just picked up Ali Smith’s Autumn.

The inspiration behind every writer and illustrator…

8. Are you an avid reader? Why? Why not?

I am ALWAYS reading. ALWAYS. Why? I love the escape, I love learning, I love being whisked off into new adventures with a cup of tea by my side.


Bookwagon is proud of our growing repertoire of picture books aboard the wagon which meet the reading needs and interests of every reader, whatever their age. Therefore, we invite you to take a wander, jump aboard, peruse, enquire and read…

Happy reading


The Power in Poetry

The Power in Poetry

Poetry Power

During lockdown I was invited to be a judge on the Word of Wandsworth (WoW) poetry competition panel. This initiative champions the power in poetry. There were four settings, including KS1, KS2, Haiflu and Adult. Happiness was the theme.

Usually this annual competition is a spoken word event. In fact eighteen months ago, I attended this event at Wandsworth Town Hall. I was awed and delighted by the wit and brilliance of the individual and group speakers; the day is a Bookwagon highlight.

However, this year, its organiser, Primary English Consultant, Ingrid Seifert, arranged an event to suit schools in their lockdown learning settings.

Happy Poems (C) Bookwagon

Roger McGough’s Happy Poems

How it worked

Criteria included numbers of line and attention to theme. Judges were given a remit to consider the response to these, alongside listening to the poem and realising how each creation felt and sounded to us. Over days I pored through hundreds of poems, speaking them late into the night. It seemed as though I could see the pictures the words created alongside hearing the writer’s voice.

What is poetry

It made me think about the way that poetry continues to be considered a difficult literary form. Certainly, Mr Bookwagon is diffident when it comes to reading poetry books and finds the form threatening. He asks, ‘What is the difference between poetry and prose without full stops?’

I think that the definition is often the biggest obstacle. Let’s tackle it and recognise the power in poetry.

Announcement poetry (C) Bookwagon

 A poetry recital

What poetry does

Poems make me feel and see and think. That’s what poets aim to do. Kate Tempest writes in ‘These Things I Know’:-

‘Language lives when you speak it. Let it be heard.
The worst thing that can happen to words is that they go unsaid.

Let them sing in your ears and dance in your mouth and ache in your
guts. Let them make everything tighten and shine.

Poetry trembles alone, only picked up to be taken apart.’


Joseph Coelho’s Poems Aloud, demonstrates how to say poetry and explains the way words we are saying are organised. Poetry is accessible, meaningful, relevant and powerful.

Bookwagon Joseph Coelho (C)

 Joseph Coelho

 What poetry does again

Poetry is the purest form. It creates the laughter bubble when you share Chocolate Cake with Michael Rosen:- Michael Rosen performs Chocolate Cake.  Then, it can break your heart when you watch E.R. during lockdown, and during season 14  Abby and Kovac marry :- Memorable TV wedding vows

Abby and Kovac

 ER wedding vows

It’s also the most direct. That’s why parents are urged to share rhymes and nursery rhymes-  Mother Goose’s Nursery Rhymes- with babies and toddlers, so that they may hear the shape of the words, remember, recite and enjoy. Thereafter, it’s why we sing and feel part of a community wherever we might be as we sing Auld Lang Syne by Robbie Burns at the dawning of a new year.

Axel Scheffler Mother Goose's Nursery Rhymes (C) Bookwagon

Mother Goose’s Nursery Rhymes

What poetry offers

The power in poetry is not just in infancy but in our lives for at every moment it offers the opportunity to explain how we feel and what we see. Joe Biden, Democratic presidential nominee 2020, paraphrased poet Seamus Heaney in his acceptance speech, ‘This is our moment to make hope and history rhyme.

Bookwagon Joe Biden DNC 2020

Joe Biden, Democratic Presidential nominee 2020

Newly published poet, Mandy Coe, offers considerations of new places and the isolation of lockdown in her superb Belonging Street

Belonging Street (C) Bookwagon

Belonging Street by Mandy Coe

When poetry is taught

As I read through the poems, from KS1 to adult, on occasion it seemed the words, the power in poetry, were lost in the need to employ a device. It felt as though concern about including the devices, concern about full stops and other punctuation, overwhelmed the voice. That’s not poetry. Furthermore, there seemed such a tonne weight of contrived images. Tell it as you know, as you feel- don’t include images about which you’ve neither knowledge nor interest!

What you see and how you feel

What you see and how you feel


When it’s there, when a writer remembers how he felt attending the fun fair in Slovakia where he puts on his ‘bow tie because it makes him feel smart’. Thereafter, he ‘eats fried cheese and his tummy is happy‘. We feel like we’re there and can see that happy boy. Or what about ‘breakfast is brilliant because it fills my tummy with jam’. Doesn’t jam spell happiness?

Homemade jam

Crab-apple jelly


The power in poetry comes from reading, listening to and sharing poetry. It’s neither an obsolete nor obscure literary form. Neither is it ‘hard’. It’s the most accessible, in my opinion.

The words that Dave Eggers employs in the outstanding Tomorrow Most Likely read as poetry. For example:-

Tomorrow most likely/ you might write a song/ and sing it too loud.// There are mountains of time/ and oceans of faces,/ canyons of colour and skies full of places.

Doesn’t this make you feel inspired, hopeful, possible, happy?

Bookwagon Tomorrow Most Likely

Tomorrow Most Likely

Teacher and poet Kate Clanchy uses the framework of poems as an outline on which her young poets might form the poetry that explains their experiences and feelings.


Kate Clanchy won this year’s George Orwell Prize with her title Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me. She considers various places where she has taught in Britain alongside sharing the stories from a small group she created at the school where she currently teaches. That group of girls has been nurtured as a small poetry group in her large, underprivileged  secondary comprehensive. They have won national attention, acclaim and publication:- England Poems from a School.

Kate Clanchy's England: Poems from a School (C) Bookwagon

England: Poems from a School

Through poetry this multicultural group of refugees and migrants have found their voice. Creative writing has enabled them to express their feelings and experiences. At the peak of the exams’ fiasco this year, Kate Clancy released this, from one of her students:-


I want to be the Moon
and not in Year 11. I want
to be admired for who I am
and not for the box you fit me in.
I want to be the moon so I can
fade away when you’re speaking.
I want to be endless and infinite.
Everywhere- not stationery for hours
on end. I would like to be invisible,
forgotten with the seasons.

You with your a squared plus
b squared equals c squared,
your aller, etre, your infinitives,
and ongoing dictatorships.
Don’t try to speak to me ,because
I’m slipping out of here.
Don’t gaze at me in awe
when you looked through me before.
I am going to be the moon,
and you won’t recognise me

Lesha (15)

Some Kids and What They Taught Me (C) Bookwagon

Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me


This year, the government has announced its intention that poetry will be optional in its English GCSE curriculum. Like many, I am dismayed by this change. Poetry offers everyone a voice, even when do not know it. Furthermore, studying it, realising its foundation, framework and application is a power and opportunity.

As I read The Girl Who Became a Tree by Joseph Coelho, griefs, Daphne’s and mine, are felt and remembered. I recognise the devices this most gifted poet employs, the story that provides the framework of his story, and revel in his language and imagery.

The Girl Who Became a Tree

The Girl Who Became a Tree

Poetry is not difficult. From the moment we’re born until our ending, it gives us a human voice. Let’s realise, discover and employ that voice!

Happy (poetry) reading!





Let’s look to a world of inclusivity

The world has changed dramatically in the past three months. Are we more aware of the precipice upon which we stand? There are so many matters requiring our attention that it can feel overwhelming. Where do we begin? What do we do? 

Black Lives Matter has propelled a long overdue discussion. Mr Bookwagon and I have talked constantly as we’ve sought to evaluate history. and the way forward. 

Bookwagon (C) Moving forward

Moving forward Bookwagon

Our history

Even within families, histories are considered differently by different family members. It can seem as though the loudest voices create definitive memories- even when they’re wrong!  It means that history is a fluent force.

In recent years, for example, Hilary Mantel has reformed opinion of Thomas Cromwell through her Wolf Hall trilogy. Meanwhile there’s consensus that it is high time that we confront Britain’s racist and colonial history honestly.  

Bookwagon (C) Candy Gourlay and Patrice Lawrence

Candy Gourlay & Patrice Lawrence 2019

What we do

You’ll be aware the Bookwagon home page holds a tag cloud. You’ll have scrolled down that page to a flurry of pink gift tagged words. Maybe you’ve made a selection of titles by using that tag cloud when you’ve readers with particular interests, e.g., dinosaurs, graphic novels, or inclusivity. 

After much consideration, Mr Bookwagon and I have elected to include a BAME tag section. I have been resistant to this because it seems separatist and reactive. However, Bookwagon has fielded a flurry of enquiries from families and schools about specifically Black Asian and Minority Ethnic titles. Furthermore, it has coincided with something I realised from watching television.

Tag cloud (c) Bookwagon

Bookwagon tag cloud

The story

Professor David Olusoga is Professor of Public History at the University of Manchester. We have enjoyed watching his programmes called A House Through Time as he’s researched houses in Newcastle, Liverpool and, most recently, Bristol. That programme revealed the associations of two slave owners to 10 Guinea Street. Alongside this programme Professor Olugosa presents BBC Black and British: A Forgotten History. Throughout the first episode, I exclaimed, ‘But we need to know this! Why didn’t I know this!’ Thereafter, I searched for children’s history books about featured people, including Francis Barber and John Blank. However, there is little available.

I had considered that the ideal tag is inclusivity. This is an umbrella for different ages, gender groups, colours, interests, economic-socio backgrounds, abilities and creeds. However, after watching Professor Olusoga’s programme I realised that this action is idealistic and unhelpful. We need to draw people to what they are searching specifically.

Professor David Olusoga

Professor David Olusoga

The concerns

I seek titles that are representative, informative and worth recommending.  Our concern has been one that Professor Olusoga expressed, in that in creating a BAME tag, we were jumping onto an inevitable marketing bandwagon. Bookwagon has seen this happen in its history, from #MeToo, Mental Health, gender issues to unicorns. I am aware of publishing houses’ marketing departments leaping toward a new trend of titles. The majority of society’s concerns require a more responsible approach than this! They do not deserve tokenism. Furthermore, Bookwagon is in the interests of recommending ‘forever’ books rather than participate in a disposable book culture also. 

While we are a business, Bookwagon is in the market of seeking out books that matter and are representative. That’s why we read every book we sell. 

Finally, I’m concerned that reactive movements mean our focus from important concerns wanders and they are lost and forgotten. Climate change is not something for a moment, a year, but urgent.

Summer field (C) Bookwagon

 Summer field

The action

However, as days have passed I have become increasingly aware that there are too few BAME books. In addition, of those books available too many of them are created by a small number of authors and illustrators. It seems like we need a fuller representation of writers and illustrators within this industry. Furthermore, where are the BAME stories, histories, those that we need to read and learn about and share? Isn’t it time for real inclusivity?

Representation at school (C) Bookwagon

    Our real world in action

What we can do

Therefore, within our BAME tag, Bookwagon is proud to recommend books we’ve read that recognise and reflect our world. It may be twins with a surgeon mother such as The Cure for a Crime. It may be a girl working to find out about her convict father in The Faraway Truth. Or it could be the little known history of a WWII Indian regiment in Now or Never: A Dunkirk Story.

The Cure for a Crime and The No-1 Car Spotter (C) Bookwagon

The Cure for a Crime & The No.1 Car Spotter

Furthermore, we will seek out books that are representative of our collective history. Currently, many children’s BAME titles tell stories from American black history, such as Clean Getaway While it is important to know this history, it is essential that British children know the black history of Britain, including that of colonialism and the countries that formed and associated with Empire.

BAME & Inclusivity selection (C) Bookwagon

A Bookwagon selection

The result

Meanwhile, many of our books share the representation of inclusivity that I know and love, such as Bloom, Lunch at 10 Pomegranate Street or Sam Wu is NOT afraid of Zombies It’s not ideal, but it is representative and building. Books like these suggest our humanity, shared experiences, hopes and stories.

Sam Wu is NOT afraid of… (c) Bookwagon

    Sam Wu is NOT afraid of Spiders

Happy reading! 


Spring books and spring bundles

Spring books and spring bundles

While Bookwagon is hunkered down, we have been catching up with reading. We have also been adding spring books to the website long overdue that appreciation. Additionally, we’ve been working to fulfil orders placed by customers keen to take advantage of our special discount. (Don’t forget to add the code springbooks to the Add Coupon instruction when you checkout). Furthermore we have been helping schools fulfil specific reading requirements during this time. It’s important to stay busy and try to do what we can to help.

Therefore, I’ve selected a few children’s books that fit the season and our mood.

Early spring school popup Bookwagon (C)

 Early spring school popup


Thankfully the early spring weather invites us enjoy the promise of the garden. While the cherry blossom and primroses are in bloom, the tête-à-tete seems to be dismayed. Maybe this is not the spring for a catch up! The signs of life are reminiscent of Poems from a Green & Blue Planet, This poetry selection is laden with seasonal and thematic verse about the progress and natural history of our planet.

Poems from a Green & Blue Planet

Poems from a Green & Blue Planet


It is important to me to find positive signs within the reality of the global disaster. News of the improvement in the atmosphere is heartening. Furthermore, we’ve learned that fish have been seen in Venetian canals and sika deer are wandering through Japanese cities :-  Emboldened animals venture into cities during the global lockdown  Within our spring books, is  Wild in the Streets by Marilyn Singer. This American based writer includes a rich variety of poems, one for each urban animal, alongside fascinating information. Did you know that river crabs  live beneath the Roman ruins of Emperor Trajan’s forum?

Wild in the Streets (C) Bookwagon blog

Wild in the Streets 


Hertfordshire born picture book maker Melissa Castrillōn’s The Balcony is unique. It is a near wordless story of the possibilities presented by one seed. She tells the story in pictures rather reminiscent of designs from the Arts and Crafts’ movement, with symbolic colours and intricate patterning. This book is so beautiful that even the end papers captivate!

The Balcony Bookwagon blog (C)

The Balcony by Melissa Castrillōn


There was deserved acclaim for Sara Pennypacker’s Pax. Her latest title, Here in the Real World is one of my favourite books thus far this year. Any of us who live a deep, over thought, inner life, recognise Ware. We understand his conflict in fitting in, keeping up, being forced to be part of a crowd. Yet, what if the person you are is the way that you’re meant to be? Thereafter, what if the way you view the world, almost through a lens, offers something different? Then there’s the backstory of the girl at the Rec, his hiding place, who doesn’t judge him. She seems to have her own hidden mission that may involve papaya, but could be something more…

Here in the Real World (C) Bookwagon blog

Here in the Real World


Ware dreams of knights and heroic times of the past, yet there are curious considerations of generosity, teamwork and wonder included in A Hat for Mr Mountain by Soojin Kwak. Nara is invited to knit a hat just right for Mr Mountain who is afraid of the winter snow. What is the right style or fabric for her customer? Additionally, how might she create anything that is not eaten, destroyed by nature or played with? The suggestions and possibilities are wild (and beyond woolly).

A Hat for Mr Mountain (C) Bookwagon blog

A Hat for Mr Mountain by Soojin Kwak


We look forward to presenting other titles to you in the weeks ahead, while we’re working from home. We have our gift subscription titles to organise, suggest and post in the near future.

Gift book list (C) Bookwagon blog

Preparing for gift book subscribers

Thereafter, we look forward to being back on the road, sharing our selections in schools and at events. All the time, we seek books that enrich, delight and inspire. Please take a stretch through our website. We read and love every book we sell.

We hope you’ll take advantage of our special discount offer of 20% on titles with the code springbooks. Additionally, there is a 20% discount on a Book Bundle when you use the code springbundle. Both offers end at midnight on Thursday March 26th.

We wish you all safe, healthy, happy reading weeks ahead. You are in our best thoughts and wishes.

A time to read

A time to read

A time to read

Bookwagon was formed to celebrate, share and sell children’s books we’ve read and love. We aim to support a wide range of writers and illustrators. Increasingly, we do this at popup events at schools and special events. In fact, we were in the fortunate position of being booked until and including World Book Day 2021. We began to breathe out a little. Then the Covid- 19 crisis knocked the wheels off our trolley, as it bulldozed its way into society.

Sharing books (C) Bookwagon

Sharing books

So, Bookwagon is working from base. We have time to read our To Be Read piles and add books we’ve read to the site. Finally, it’s meant I’ve time to write a blog! While we’re somewhat confined to base with wonderful books to share and new titles ahead, we aim to support families and schools

Family reading (C) Bookwagon

Family reading sharing

What you know

Bookwagon curates, shares and shows children’s books during our popup visits.

Always, our goal is to build upon the fine work of families and teachers with whom we engage. These  are readers who love and share children’s books. They want children to realise that little is as precious as taking the time to read. Nobody who wants to build or be a reader needs anything other than a model and enthusiast.

Sharing books (C) Bookwagon

Sharing books

What you need to know

During the current crisis Bookwagon will share titles we want you to know about on social media. Please excuse the nerves – it’s always much better with children, live! There will be an individual title featured each day.

Personal recommendations (C) Bookwagon

 A personal recommendation

Furthermore Bookwagon will offer a code:- springbooks with 20% discount on the price of any book, other than subscriptions or offer titles. This discount is available until March 26th.

There is a separate discount code of 20%:- springbundle – offered for our Book Bundle. Here, customers are invited to subscribe to up to 12 titles. Take a look at the details. This discount will be available until midnight on March 26th, also.

New picture books (C) Bookwagon

Picture book selection

Spring blossoming

Covid-19 virus is impacting on all our lives, society and the economy. As I write schools face enormous pressures, particularly.  I’m concerned that writers and illustrators, who depend on the income from school visits to take a living wage, will be particularly adversely affected. Certainly, Bookwagon is worried about our future.

Kate Scott and reader (C) Bookwagon

Kate Scott and reader

There are so many writers and illustrators with new books arriving around this time about which we want you to know. Additionally, there are books that you may have missed, that we are keen to share with you. So watch our social media pages, to see what’s available, what we’ve read and what’s popping up on our latest titles. Don’t forget to scroll through our yellow tag cloud to discover books to suit your reader also. We’re updating constantly.

March releases (C) Bookwagon

Recently released fiction paperbacks

Meanwhile, our best thoughts are with you and your readers of all ages.

Happy reading. 

Welcome to a reading school

Welcome to a reading school

This is a reading school

 ‘This is a reading school’ are words that cheer our hearts. While we realise such a declaration is mandatory,  it suggests determination. Yet what is a reading school?

I am reluctant to comment or advise about the reading schemes and methods employed by schools publicly after three years away from teaching full-time. I share my experience and training when asked. However I know what makes a reading school.

Bookwagon popup book fair (c.) Bookwagon reading school

Curated and waiting popup book stand

Preparing to meet the reading school

Bookwagon creates our popup book fairs meticulously. We are still making a final selection, considering the best matches for the school we are visiting, right up until the evening ahead of the visit. I peruse all the information I have amassed. No two popup book fairs are identical.

Recently we had a run of five across a week in four different counties. We curated our lists specifically for each setting. We have a good idea of the likely outcome of a visit from the interactions with the school before we arrive. Having a contact who is proactive, enquiring and excited about our visit guarantees a Bookwagon popup book fair will be a hit! We will be visiting a reading school.

Bookwagon popup book fair preparation (c.) Bookwagon

Setting up a school popup book fair

Schemes and expectations

We do not create a popup book fair to support a school’s reading program because reading for pleasure doesn’t work that way for any one. A packaged measuring scheme or reading journey record, neither creates nor maintains a reading habit. Bookwagon supports the good work families and schools do to build readers for life. Reading schools build readers for life.

Bedtime reading (C) Bookwagon reading school

              Bedtime reading 


How do families build readers for life?

Parents build readers for life through demonstrating their own need to read. They have a reading habit, and show that reading satisfies and informs their lives. They model reading every day. There is a family bedtime reading routine that everyone enjoys. Library visits are commonplace. Books are gifted, discussed, compared, enjoyed, and treasured.

Bookwagon family reading blog (c) Bookwagon

              Bedtime shared reading 

How do schools build readers for life?

Schools build readers for life with teachers who demonstrate their need to read. Staff model reading every day. Book shelves are kept in good order, with titles updated, displayed, discussed, reviewed while old titles are replaced or discarded. The school values its library. Staff seek to know what children like reading. They seek to extend experience and understanding. Reading is celebrated. Books are discussed, compared, enjoyed and treasured. Personal, recreational, unevaluated reading time is part of the daily timetable.

Talking about books with Emily Hughes

Emily Hughes, school visit

The library in the reading school

Reading schools ask our advice about their library stock. Bookwagon reads every book it sells, which means we can offer confident recommendations about titles, genres, collections. Furthermore, our experience means we know what works, i.e., which books and writers can go with others, to encourage a reading for life habit.

Bookwagon popup book fair with teachers (C.) Bookwagon blog reading schools

Teachers visiting a recent popup

Recently, we have been asked for guidance by four schools seeking to establish and extend their school library. While one school sought a particular genre, another sought titles for a particular key stage. The other two requested suggestions as to long term development. Two of the schools have enrolled with our School Orders subscription service, developed to support schools’ specific reading needs.

Our experience

Bookwagon is about to hit the road anew with popup book fairs across London and the Home Counties until the end of the year. We pick up the pace in the spring anew. We hope to meet reading schools such as the last setting we had the pleasure to experience.

This  primary school included ‘Drop Everything and Read‘ in its daily timetable for everyone on site. Books were thoughtfully displayed at child friendly heights and accessible front covers. Thereafter, titles, authors and genres were labelled clearly. We did not see battered, abandoned books. It seemed like the school library was the active heart of the school.

Sharing books in a reading school (c.) Bookwagon

Sharing books at a recent school popup 

The staff

Staff visited our popup and asked us about our book selections. Furthermore, they made suggestions and shared their experiences. They encouraged visitors, directing them toward choices they thought they would enjoy. Staff demonstrated their interest through browsing, asking our opinions, and being seen to buy our books. The Headteacher and senior staff engaged with us throughout our visit. This reading school showed that reading for pleasure, with the opportunity to extend reading range and experience, is essential.

Bookwagon (c.) reading teacher reading school

Reading teacher, ‘I Am a Tiger

The students

The students at this school enquired about our books. We read everything we sell, which meant that we could talk about our books and make informed decisions. Even KS1 children listened, asked questions and made choices based around what they heard and saw. Many children shared their opinions and experiences, and their reading selections proved wide and varied. We sold out of picture books. At no point did any visitor to our popup book fair suggest that they were ‘too old for picture books’. This reading school respects the value of every genre.

Picture books for all ages, Chris Naylor- Ballesteros (c.) Bookwagon

         Picture books, Chris Naylor-Ballesteros

Our conclusion

The school did not raise its reading program with Mr Bookwagon and me for this was irrelevant. However we know that this school is a reading school from our experience of the school’s practice in building readers for life. Bookwagon feels privileged to have been part of that initiative.

A reader for life (c.) Bookwagon

The reader for life

We hope your school is a reading school!

Happy reading!

Time to Read

Time to Read

My blog posts are erratic despite best intentions to write fortnightly. Like many, I am time, sleep and leisure poor. It seems life is about working through the rush. It could be television binge watching, a seven-minute workout, or 30-minute no fuss dinners. Recently, Bake Off winner, Nadiya Hussain created ‘Time to Eat‘. She offered ‘recipes designed to help us all save time and calm our hectic lives’.

What is the rush? Who is counting down? Furthermore, are we permitted time to read?

Bookwagon countdown stopwatch

         The countdown…


Bookwagon is on an autumn tour, from Somerset to Surrey, North London to the Midlands. The journeys allow us time to read and a lot of time to catch up and make discoveries. We are captives in the car. We talk about the books we’ve read and enjoyed. I’ve realised anew how much Mr Bookwagon loves the series initiated by Rory Branagan, Detective He feels Lucy Strange is amongst his favourite middle grade writers- The Secret of Nightingale Wood and Our Castle By The Sea.

On the road

                 Reading on the move

I’m reminded of how important it is to have time to talk about the books we’ve read. There are book groups, obviously, and schemes built around books, but what about the reading? Isn’t that most valuable?

Bookwagon The Somerset Tsunami (C) Bookwagon

 The Somerset Tsunami by Emma Carroll


It was an honour to popup within the esteemed gathering of the annual Somerset Literacy Network meeting. Speakers included Charlotte Hacking and Farrah Serroukh (CLPE- Centre for Literacy in Primary Education). Both emphasised the need for educators to take time to read and  consider what they are reading with their classes. The pair spoke about the role of pictures in reading, emphasising the value of taking time to develop visual literacy. They encouraged the company to absorb the view and pitch perfect text in picture books like those from guest Joseph Coelho.

Bookwagon popup Somerset Literacy Network

Somerset Literacy Network Bookwagon popup


Guest Nicola Davies spoke of time anew. She asked us to consider the three hundred years it takes for an oak tree to grow to full maturity.

Later, guest Laura Carlin shared her sketchbook. She asked us to contemplate the time it has taken her to grow into the illustrator and designer she is now. We were reminded of how important it is to be allowed to be wrong, erase, review and view.

Bookwagon acorn

 From acorn to oak…

Laura Carlin sketchbook (C) Bookwagon Somerset Literacy Network

  Laura Carlin’s sketchbook


Bookwagon supports and arranges visits by writers and illustrators. We know the value of these to schools. School funding issues and the rigidity of school timetables can make these difficult. Indirect, deep learning potential of school visits may not be realised because of dense school schedules. Do these schools allow time to chat and discover, and time to read?

Bookwagon (C) Christopher Edge and Jane Elson

The ticking clock

We are all working to deadlines. Nadiya Hussain repeated, ‘In our time short world….‘ We watch Noel and Sandi shouting about how much time the GBBO contestants have to perfect their jaw-dropping crafts. Thereafter, we block our ears to Gregg Wallace’s or Joe Lycett’s  warnings, or Michelle Ogundehin’s footsteps approaching as would-be designers fluff their cushions ahead of deadline. It is little wonder that so many viewers enjoy ‘The Repair Shop’. Craftsmanship is valued over a time limit, here.

Bookwagon Migrations

Migrations, 2019 nominee for BAMB Beautiful Book Award

A consideration of targets

Who sets these targets? What do they determine? What are we seeking? Does everyone step to the same beat?

Could it be, as Nicola Davies and I considered, that animals, such as dolphins and whales, are superior to us in that they follow a natural rhythm? Artificial goals, affirmation through targets, the need for ‘things’ do not determine worth or happiness.

Bookwagon (C) Dolphin, Cedar Key, Florida

Dolphin, Cedar Key, Florida

Deadlines for writers

In Spring 2020, we are promised ‘The Mirror and the Light’, the third, long awaited,final book of Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell trilogy. The writer said, ‘“When I began work on my Thomas Cromwell books back in 2005, I had high hopes, but it took time to feel out the full scope of the material. I didn’t know at first I would write a trilogy, but gradually I realised the richness and fascination of this extraordinary life. I hope they will stay with me as we walk the last miles of Cromwell’s life, ascending to unprecedented riches and honour and abruptly descending to the scaffold at Tower Hill. This book has been the greatest challenge of my writing life, and the most rewarding; I hope and trust my readers will find it has been worth the wait.”

Worth the wait…. We’ve been aware this year, of writers at the end of their tether, desperate to meet deadlines. These are writers whose income and self-belief depends on meeting deadlines. Bills, edits and thereafter, sales concern them. We can at least offer them the courtesy of taking time to read their works.

Bookwagon (C) The Adventures of Harry Stevenson

The Adventures of Harry Stevenson

Taking time

Recent Desert Island Discs’ guest Lin-Manuel Miranda of ‘Hamilton‘ says he gets his best ideas from ‘listening to people’s stories‘, and ‘playing around in my imagination.’

When Nicola Davies discussed her poignant picture book,Perfect she reminded us about swifts. She explained their design enables them to fly continually for two years, so that their lives are on the wing. They ‘live meaningful lives’.

Bookwagon (C) Time

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first chosen disc, ‘Cabaret’,  reminds us that ‘it isn’t that long a stay.’ So, let’s take time to read. Reading offers possibilities, avenues, explanations, questions, affirmation that ‘We’re all right.’ Aren’t we all better for taking this time?

Happy reading

The value of being small

The value of being small

Bookwagon hopes you have made a happy return to the new academic year. This annual marker affects everyone in the community, from hairdresser to long-distance lorry driver. However, the biggest, most lasting effect of the start of a school year is upon the school goer. These first days are daunting especially for the very young. There is such pressure in being small within a big new world.

Assuming new people, routines and settings in new places is stressful. Furthermore it is demanding for families. There is a comfort in returning to the familiar at the end of a working day, with food, chat, bed, bath and books. Bookwagon seeks to be part of your daily routine with books we’ve read and love and recommend to you. Happy new school year.

Bookwagon (C) End of school day

At the end of a school day

In the meantime…

Bookwagon has refined its appearance and products, while the world enjoyed its summer holiday. We are proud of our new look and opportunities. There is a variety of subscription packages, including our  Book Bundle.

The first enables a customer to buy a bunch of books for a reader, maybe a series, or a selection created from the information you provide. It’s an especially great choice for the reading devotee, as a gift, or for a specific period of time.

The second, the Birthday list service, was inspired by a regular customer requesting gift books for her daughters’ friends’ parties. What if you could preorder a number of gift books, advising us of recipients’ essential details ahead of their celebration? Bookwagon chooses the book, gift wraps and writes your birthday message before posting the selection. What is better than the gift of a book?

Birthday gift list (C) Bookwagon

A message from Bookwagon

Bookwagon offers a bespoke service. Being small means we can assist our customers personally, using our knowledge of our children’s books to suit specific individual needs.

Joanna Grochowicz

It means we can get to know our writers too. Recently we met with acclaimed non-fiction narrative writer, Joanna Grochowicz. After failing to find biographies about the polar explorers to fulfil her sons’ interest, this writer created her own. Extensive research and commitment culminated in Into the White: Scott’s Antarctic Odyssey and Amundsen’s Way: The Race to the South Pole. Ernest Shackleton’s polar adventure will feature in a third title.

Bookwagon (C) Joanna Grochowicz

Joanna Grochowicz, London, September 2019


Bookwagon (C) Into the White and Amundsen's Way

Into the White and Amundsen’s Way

We are proud to be Joanna’s on site bookseller during her schools’ tour in November, and then again in December. Moreover, her first visits coincide with National Non-Fiction November. Imagine stepping inside an historic figure’s (snow) shoes, ‘feeling’ their determination, fears, hopes and experience. Joanna’s books are stirring, informative and important.

More small

I have learned to drown out the clamour of  bigger booksellers despite feeling intimidated by their reach. Reading every book we sell means we are  less inclined to rush to a new release likely to be splashed across the chain stores. Being small means Bookwagon may champion titles and writers lesser known but meriting a wide readership. We recommend books through our experience of them, with authority.

During the summer I enjoyed reading Gabrielle Kent’s Penfurzy set adventure series- Knights and Bikes and Knights and Bikes Rebel Bicycle Club. The first was an introductory selection for small startup Brixton publisher ‘Knights Of…

Bookwagon (C) Knights and Bikes series

Knights and Bikes’ series

I could hear the Cornish accented Demelza, and smell the oil of the bike chains. What a great adventure series, with crafty Arthurian links!

Small, bubbly, smelly and communicative

On Thursday, the third title in Jennifer Killick’s ‘Alex Sparrow’ series is released. I read these titles backwards, i.e., I read and loved Mo, Lottie and the Junkers ahead of Jennifer’s Alex series. As our gift book subscribers can attest, I love that first title SO much and recommend it hugely. The beauty of being an independent children’s bookseller is that I am able to read our books in the order I choose; I’m not being driven by the market or a publicist.

‘Mo, Lottie and the Junkers’ inspired me to read both ‘Alex Sparrow’ titles on the trot. What a treat! If your reader enjoys books with dialogue, humour, rather annoying main characters, flaws, the unexpected, quirky humour, coincidence and pratfalls, please don’t overlook Jennifer Killick’s titles. Roll on in ‘Alex Sparrow and the Zombie Apocalypse’!


Bookwagon (C) Jennifer Killick titles

   Titles by Jennifer Killick

Small publishing houses

Many of of Bookwagon’s favourite titles have emerged from smaller, bespoke publishing houses. These appear to have a vested interest in discovering and nurturing quality writers and picture book makers.

However smaller publishing houses have cautious print runs, through necessity. Furthermore, they do not have the big marketing budgets of large international publishing houses, nor the network for global sales. This means writers and picture book makers are at the mercy of booksellers and a reading public. What a responsibility!

New books (C) Bookwagon

       A Bookwagon gift book

It can be frustrating to be a reading bookseller, championing wonderful writers. So often publicity is attached to known writers or picture book makers, reprised titles, or the quick thrill of a debut. It’s why we read every book we sell, so that we can urge readers toward books and writers and picture books we know you’ll enjoy.

What it means

Being small and independent offers this bookseller opportunities to read and sell international titles like Felicita Sala’s Lunch at 10 Pomegranate Street, created in France, or Australian Aaron Blabey’s riotous The Bad Guys. We  cheer the arrival of Uncle Shawn and Bill and the Not One Tiny Bit Lovey-Dovey Moon Adventure the third title in A.L.Kennedy (yes, that one) and Gemma Correll’s bizarre, hilarious series, celebrating kindness and individuality.

10 Pomegranate Street and Children Who Changed the World (C) Bookwagon

Bookwagon new titles

Being small can be powerful, as Clementine shows, in picture book maker Chris Wormell’s astounding graphic story, The Magic Place

Small is powerful in real life. Mr Bookwagon and I were both brought to tears reading the true stories selected for Children Who Changed the World. As I write another small, strong girl protests outside the White House; Greta’s Story

New chapter book titles from Bookwagon

    A new Bookwagon chapter book selection

On the road

Being small means that when Bookwagon is called to popup in schools throughout London and the Home Counties, we curate each event specifically. We work to create book fair selections that captivate, win and challenge readers. It’s a demanding order, but one we love!


There is value in being small, starting small, but reading large and widely. We look forward to sharing a depth and breadth of wonderful reading opportunities throughout the new season and beyond. We can’t wait!

Happy reading!






Reading is not a competition

Reading is not a competition

The summer holidays stretch ahead like an ocean with a feeling of emptiness and wonder. Lauren Child, current children’s laureate, would offer it’s an ideal time for children to ‘daydream and stare out the window.’

Shanklin discovering the waves (C) Bookwagon

Summer is a time for making discoveries

What a great time to read!

What to read? How to read? Bookwagon is bombarded by these questions on a daily basis. Currently, we’re having parents turn to us, asking for direction following school reports and concerns about their children’s reading direction and expectation. They’re brandishing recommendations from schools, booklists bearing cobbled together titles like First Term at Malory Towers and The Skylarks’ War in the same reading bracket! It’s despair at dawn! Reading is not a competition. There is no finishing line!

1. Time

Make time to read every day. More importantly, make sure you take the time so your children realise reading is important to you, too. While attention to social media is a popular bow to break us, other considerations cut into our time.

Osborne House sharing a book (c) Bookwagon

Sharing a book on a day out

We are more scheduled than we have ever been.

We are connected to our cars more than ever. My mother, a very wise and environmentally aware woman well ahead of her time, suggested  every family should have no car days every week. We are linked to the shuttle- from car, to school, football practice, ballet, play dates, … We need time! Reading is not a competition, something to be snuck in as an ‘oh heckfire, we’re meant to read!’ What sort of message does this give? Do you take time to read? Do your children know how much you value this time? Value time off the wheel?

Guinea pig grooming time (c) Bookwagon

 Time for guinea pig grooming

2. Support your children’s selections

Support your children’s reading selections, whatever they might be. Your children might be influenced by friends’ recommendations.  Books chosen may be well ahead of their chronological or reading age, or seemingly well below. However, in showing your children that you trust their decision making, it allows them to own any mistake and move on.

Bedtime reading (C) Bookwagon

 Reading (the same book) together

3. Buzzy noises

Do not hear the buzzy noises of ‘what they SHOULD be reading’- please!! Most of the buzzy noises are nonsense from media campaigns pushing a blockbuster. Many popular books are pulp fiction, destined to be discarded to increase landfill. Support your children’s selections so that they find ‘forever’ books.

Dismiss the playground buzz of ignorance suggesting your child is reading below ‘their level’. What does that even mean? We don’t read for levels! We read for satisfaction, information, meaning and joy. See the light! Reading is not a competition. It is a lifelong link to wonder!

A selection of international titles (c) Bookwagon

 A selection of international titles

4. Don’t deny your children their preferences- comic books

Mr Bookwagon grew up loving  Marvel comics- Thor, Captain America and Spiderman.Mr Bookwagon’s comic devotion did not delay or affect his reading adversely. Quite the contrary. He has a wider reading range than anyone I know. In a day he reads entomology research, sporting facts, cryptic puzzles, economic titles, thrillers and children’s books. His range makes my head spin! However, reading is not a competition.

After to a recent school talk to parents, I was approached by a staff member. She thanked me for reminding parents that comics are a valuable reading matter. Her son had been dismissed throughout his primary school years for his comic book devotion. He is currently in his final year of medical school, a keen and curious, devoted reader. Reading is not a competition.

Sharing books in school (c) Bookwagon

 Bookwagon shares great books with schools

4 (B). Don’t deny your children their preferences- picture books

Do not deny your children picture books, please. There is no cut off time when they become too old for picture books. There is more to be found in the nuances of picture books than in most other forms of literature. They are a rich resource for building inference, knowledge and deep understanding. Seek out picture books. Reading is not a competition.

Fact and activity picture books (C) Bookwagon

     Activity and non-fiction picture books


A selection of new picture books (c) Bookwagon

       A trio of great new picture books

3. Seek people who know

In your routine,  include your public library, know your children’s school library change day, and link with independent booksellers. Librarians and independent booksellers are charged by a love of literature. They can make inspired and informed recommendations. Make friends with them.

Librarians and independent booksellers have their fingers on the pulse of what is really out there. They pass by the pulp fiction plastering chainstore windows, discounted to dust supermarkets, recommendations by billions-following vloggers, or past-it bookclubs. Leading librarian, Dawn Finch says, ‘You don’t feed your child junk food, so why feed them junk books!’ We are in a golden age of children’s books. Ask, seek, search, read!

A sample of great new chapter books (c) Bookwagon

A snapshot of Bookwagon’s new chapter books


Bookwagon’s gift book subscription is built for your reader uniquely. I have a notebook into which I match titles to our readers throughout the month. It takes a day to email my suggestions to our subscribers. We do not choose the same book for any reader.  It takes Mr Bookwagon and me a day to write the personal notes and wrap the books to each reader.

Bookwagon gift book preparation (C) Bookwagon

   Gift book preparations

Bookwagon will be extending its book subscription packages to include book bundles and schools and teachers’ subscriptions. Book bundles offer families opportunities to purchase a specified number of books for a holiday, special event, season, or follow up a theme, favourite writer or topic, e.g. nature, Lisa Thompson, or moon landings.

Bookwagon gift book mailing (C) Bookwagon

Gift books preparing for postage

Encourage rereading

Please avoid a Marie Kondo approach to books in your home. Your home is not a hotel. It’s a place of safety, nurture and memory. Keeping books supports a feeling of home. Opportunity to reread offers any of us time to reflect and feel reinforced. Every rereading experience brings something new. Seek ‘forever’ books that are meaningful time and time again.

Talk about your favourite books. Don’t expect your child’s to be the same. Read at the same time. Work toward a regular bedtime reading habit. Furthermore, choose from the wealth of brilliant children’s writers who are skilful, wonder winning and glorious.

Titles by Candy Gourlay

 Candy Gourlay titles

Series, themes and a good laugh

Seek themes, moreover in a variety of genres. Currently we are beset by space books. Obviously, don’t look to the most obvious, but seek those that have been curated, considered and are ‘forever books’ of quality.

Seek series. We all love the feeling of reading through a character, a writer, a theme, a setting. Furthermore, reading a series builds stamina, confidence, inference and pleasure. Reading is not a competition- ever.

A selection of series' titles (C) Bookwagon

A Bookwagon selection of series

If your child is a more reluctant reader, look for funny books, but don’t head to the most obvious, ‘world’s worst’, selection. Books that make us laugh promote the joy of reading, stay with us, and make us want even more.

Funny books (C) Bookwagon

 A ticklish trio of funny books

Show the joy

Reading is a pleasure. Laura Venning, Impact and Evaluation Research Manager of The Reading Agency reports on results from a recent survey.  Reading decreases the symptom of depression and dementia, improves wellbeing and relationships and increases empathy. Don’t you want that for your children? Reading is not a competition.

Happy reading! 

Shanklin seashore (C) Bookwagon

    Feeling the joy

We read every book we sell

We read every book we sell

Do you know we read every book we sell? Every word written about every book we sell is from our own reading experience? This means that families and schools seeking recommendations can depend on Bookwagon. We are able to offer a selection of books confidently because we know every book we stock.

Bookwagon reading family

School grandparents’ day

What we do

We read every book we sell. If we like a book, we write about it. We have an enormous TBR (to be read) pile. Some very popular titles are on our TBR pile. There is greater attention paid to writers/ picture book makers of very popular books, so we are not unduly concerned.  What about the new writer or picture book maker? The creator who’s taken a punt on something different? A writer or picture book maker from another country, or a title from a smaller publishing house, that is less visible.

Bookwagon Jump!

        Jump (Gecko Press)

 How we find our books

I search for books constantly. Currently I am compiling unique book lists for two schools where we are contracted as reading consultants. I think about our gift book readers. Each has a list where I note possible titles constantly, seeking to fit each reader’s preference and need.

Bookwagon work station

     Bookwagon HQ + assistant

A discovery

I read lists from international press. That’s how I discovered Martin Brown, best known as the artist for ‘Horrible Histories’. Martin Brown’s Lesser Spotted Animals  received two starred American national book of the year reviews at the conclusion of 2017.  After reading and describing the title for Bookwagon, I  recommended and sold it there, through gift book subscription and at popup school book fairs. It was a privilege to be the bookseller that supported Martin Brown’s visit to a Hampshire primary school ahead of the Spring school holidays as he launched Martin Brown’s Lesser Spotted Animals 2.

Bookwagon Martin Brown

Martin Brown, signing, school visit

Bookwagon Lesser Spotted Animals 2

Martin Brown’s Lesser Spotted Animals 2


Bookwagon readers are a huge source of information. This week, I received a letter from one of our gift book subscribers. This month her gift book subscription choice was The Midnight Hour. She was exultant. For two pages she described the story and contemplated the advantages of each Pooka. (I choose Hare, incidentally.)

Bookwagon The Midnight Hour

The Midnight Hour- Benjamin Read & Laura Trinder

This child is a reader. Books entertain, extend and enthral her. She loves the opportunity to explore new worlds. This reader seeks ‘forever’ books to sustain and delight.

Bookwagon reader's letter

   A letter from a reader

From afar

I learned of adventure writer Dan Smith through my godson who received Boy X for his ninth birthday. This reader told me that Bookwagon must track down Dan Smith’s books. We have loved reading Dan Smith consequently, with Mr Bookwagon recently describing She Wolf. 

Bookwagon She Wolf cover image

     She Wolf- Dan Smith

This is that godson reading ‘She Wolf‘ on Easter Sunday:-

Bookwagon Easter reader

Bookwagon Easter Sunday reader

Press far and wide

I seek information about new releases, or titles of interest, through the global press, book fairs, publishing houses, certain social media sources and international book awards. We read every book we sell. It is imperative to be able to offer the broadest range of quality children’s titles.

Bookwagon Blackbird Fly

Blackbird Fly- Erin Entrada Kelly

I discovered Erin Entrada Kelly and Dan Santat through the American Library Association Awards. Titles such as Blackbird Fly and After the Fall are a privilege to know and recommend.

Bookwagon After the Fall

      After the Fall- Dan Santat

Writers and picture book makers

Discovering a great writer and picture book maker encourages us to seek other titles they have created. Have You Seen My Blankie? is an original, rhyming reading journey. I sought to read other works by Lucy Rowland, thereafter.  The Knight Who Said, “NO!” and Little Red Reading Hood have been ideal additions to our Bookwagon.

Bookwagon Have You Seen My Blankie?

 Have You Seen Blankie?- Lucy Rowland

Cath Howe’s stirring Ella on the Outside has been a favourite Bookwagon reading selection. I read her follow-up Not My Fault in one sitting. Then I described it for our readers, for we read every book we sell.

Bookwagon Not My Fault

 Not My Fault- Cath Howe

Why do we read every book we sell?

I was frequently asked for reading recommendations by children, colleagues and parents when I taught. This counsel increased over the years. I was aware parents and colleagues were time poor, although we were information saturated. We started at a time in which numbers of public libraries, school libraries and independent bookshops are in decline. Public media seldom gives a platform to children’s literature despite its importance to our society.

Bookwagon school event, Sam Usher

Sam Usher, Bookwagon school event

We needed to hit the ground running in creating Bookwagon. To that end, we have not formed a physical shop- yet. We did not want to have to offer coffee, cake, gifts and stationery to enable survival. Bookwagon is focused on children’s books alone. We offer recommendations based on the fact we read every book we sell. I have a long experience and specialism in reading and children’s literature. Bookwagon recommendations are available immediately whether online, through personal contact or popup event.

Bookwagon stall

  Bookwagon makes a stand

A Golden Age of Children’s Literature

I listened to a recent broadcast focused upon children’s literature-  BBC Radio 4 Front Row Golden Age of Children’s Books? A speaker suggested ‘There are better books being published than at any other time.’ I agree. There is a greater choice and higher quality of titles. However, ‘We are drowning out fine children’s books’.  A proliferation of overly familiar titles, authors and themes, a ready availability of cheap, disposable books result in better books not reaching their deserved reading audience.

Bookwagon gift reader

      A Bookwagon reader

Bookwagon is tiny and new. However we are determined to do our best to bring good books to readers. We read every book we sell, proudly.

Happy reading



The Tools for Building Readers for Life

The Tools for Building Readers for Life

In the beginning

My teaching career began in a seaside, rural school miles from my home. Children between 5 and 13 years of age attended; it was a local, community school. I drove a speedy Honda Civic to and from home morning and night, along gravel, winding roads, that even today, defy belief.

Bookwagon yellow car

The children were diverse, naïve, tender, troubled, inspired and wonderful. We’d begin our day with full school P.E, had daily swimming in the big school pool and knew to avoid the field should it be soggy and whiffy. (That meant the septic tank needed attention.)

Bookwagon children playing field

We ran a tight ship. The learning was thorough, ambitiously planned and monitored, within a creative curriculum. Reading was at the heart of the learning. Building readers for life was our priority.

In operation

During my training, I created a booklist of children’s titles I wanted to share with my pupils. I brought my own copies into the classroom. The children would  record their names in a notebook when they borrowed these titles. They became battered, especially if they were passed on to the next reader, but building readers for life was at the forefront of my actions. I loved it when the children suggested additions. I brought more titles in based on recommendations from the public library, press, and the South Auckland Children’s Literature Association, which I joined keenly.

Bookwagon book pile

        Selecting the right books

Once a term, I travelled into the city to collect a crate of books from the central school library service. These books were like gold dust. More than once, a title would disappear…. However, repayment was a small price to pay for the growing reading habit.

The school library

The school library housed school journals. Their poetry, non-fiction articles and stories fed our reading programme. Whole class books, including big books, offered opportunities to build understanding and teach literacy skills. Guided reading was a core component. An individualised reading programme was resourced by real books. Progress was monitored through home-school diary communication, anecdotal teacher assessment, discussion, and reading, one-to-one, with every child at least twice a week.

Bookwagon sharing a reading habit

Sharing a book


We taught grammar and dictionary skills, that the children could write and research confidently. We created differentiated vocabulary lists to extend the children’s word skills and interest. Children employed comprehension cards, at the beginning of a school day, individually or peer assessed.

The school sought to extend its reading resourcefulness and range through building a library. We were charged with building readers for life.

Bookwagon school library

Proud Muschamp Primary School library

The beating heart of building readers for life

Every day, there was silent reading. We called it ERAB- Everybody Reads A Book. Teachers would read a book at this time too. Each person was captive within our reading world. We recovered through taking time during the week to talk about the books we were reading.

Every day, teachers read aloud to our classes. It was a set time, most often after lunch, when the playground needed offsetting, and children’s energy levels had naturally dipped. These remain amongst my most cherished times of teaching. We were building readers for life.

Bookwagon Oh No George!

 Reading aloud

A blackberry pie sized silence

On one occasion, I had to leave school promptly during the mid-afternoon for an appointment in the central city. I returned home late in the evening. It was only as I prepared for bed that I realised I’d a huge blackberry pie splodge across the right buttock of my white and polka dot trousers. I’d been wearing this stain for some six or seven hours. The following day, I enquired with my class. ‘Oh yes, we saw,’ I was told. ‘We worried that if we told you, you’d rush off to get rid of the mark without finishing the chapter…’

Bookwagon Pie

The culprit pie?

This week

World Book Day Week 2019 has been a whippy cream frenzy of delight. Bookwagon travelled from Brighton to North London to Oxfordshire. Writers and illustrators with whom we worked have travelled to Lancashire, Cambridgeshire, Somerset, Wiltshire, Leicestershire and Hertfordshire. Busy itineraries continue throughout the month.

Bookwagon Brighton book fair

Brighton popup

We relish opportunities to meet teachers, librarians and parents. We’ve seen Great Book Off competitions and extreme reading. One school had a Caryl Hart Focus Day to celebrate World Book Day. We heard of art installations to encourage a love of picture books. Everywhere we’ve seen dressing up, extreme reading, guest readers, author/ illustrators’ visits and a wholehearted celebration of books and reading.

Bookwagon The Train to Impossible Places

The Great Book Off Bake Challenge

Yet…. why a day? Isn’t building readers for life something to reckon upon every day? Any day?

From one extreme

Bookwagon has been deluged by enquiries from schools seeking writers and illustrators for World Book Day. Some of these were requests for visits with only days to spare before the nominated day. I’ve taken enquiries about writers who are no longer breathing, let alone writing. Too many have come with the double- edge of seeking a free visit, or a Crufts’ style assault course schedule for the guest- sometimes both. One enquiry was for a writer/ illustrator who would stay overnight at a teacher’s home, before running eight sessions across a day with children between Years 3- 11. There would be a packed lunch.


To the other

Many schools call at the beginning of an autumn term, well ahead of a nominated World Book Day. ( Some book a year ahead!) These schools have preferences as to their visitor; their school will know their books. More specifically, the teacher/ librarian calling will love their chosen guest’s books.

These teachers and librarians realise writers and illustrators deserve payment for their work, including travel costs.They understand the need for a reasonable number of sessions/ workshops within a day. They appreciate their guest needs to prepare. This is a day absent from the story board or light box of a writer’s/ illustrator’s profession. These callers appreciate this opportunity for a writer/ illustrator to meet their readers, so sales and book signing are built into the schedule.

Bookwagon Emily Hughes and reader

Emily Hughes, school visitor, and reader

These teachers/ librarians demonstrate a commitment to children’s books. They are building readers for life.

The librarian and the teachers

Bookwagon selects its books to sell at popup book fairs specific to each venue. We aim to support the school’s efforts in building readers for life. To ‘hook a child’ onto the right book is akin to Paul Hollywood finding the perfect pie crust.

Bookwagon 'The Twits' Bird Pie

Bird pie, ‘The Twits’

In recent popups, we have been aided by staff demonstrating a huge commitment to reading. They know and love children’s books. These adults talk about books, know what their pupils are reading, and what they like and do not like. They offer opinions and demonstrate their enthusiasm for children’s books. Students visiting our popup fairs in such establishments almost palpate with an attachment to reading books. They are curious and engaged, keen to make informed, confident decisions. These interactions are my most cherished moments of being an independent children’s bookseller.

Bookwagon school popup

World Book Day popup

World Book Day

From my start, to where I am now, a change of country and career, building readers for life has required a devotion to children’s books. Adults who love children’s books and reading, parent, teacher, librarian and independent bookseller, are fundamental to real reading development. Parents must be enabled to  read and love reading. Schools and communities have the right to fully resourced and staffed libraries. Teachers must have the opportunity to read and love and share children’s books. Building readers for life remains the priority.

Bookwagon school popup

   School popup

Happy reading







What lies beneath the covers

What lies beneath the covers

Our resolution

Bookwagon is determined to find the right books for our readers. It is why we read so much, make our own descriptions rather than purchasing publishing words annually. (Compare other booksellers’ descriptions and you’ll understand what I mean.) Whether we popup at a school or festival, make gift book selections or personal recommendations, we seek the right book. The right book will be one we have read and liked. This means that we get feedback from our customers such as:-

Bookwagon is the only UK independent online book seller owned by extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic professionals giving you personal recommendations for your child – diamond compared to Amazon.’

‘My son has been receiving books from Bookwagon since Christmas. He loves every time they arrive, wrapped up with a little note for him. Such a wonderful idea’

Bookwagon is a fantastic independent book seller that will actually be responsive and select appropriate books for you. Always packed beautifully and offering unusual books at competitive prices.’

A special Bookwagon selection

   A unique book selection

Matching the reader to the book

I enjoy the guidance offered by customers as to their readers’ preferences and needs. Recently, Bookwagon took a gift book subscription for a child whose preferred reading genre is horror. This prompted some thought! We will fulfil this preference while looking to integrate other reading themes into the selection. That is not difficult!

Bookwagon goes to any depth for the right book'!

    To any length for the right book

Bookwagon A Pinch of MagicLast week I offered that fantasy was not my favourite reading genre. Yet I have come to enjoy previewing children’s books of this genre for Bookwagon. This week I read A Pinch of Magic, the latest book by Michelle Harrison and the first I have read by this author. We will support a visit by her to a nearby school during World Book Day week. Her books fit the fantasy reading genre, with a sprinkling of the supernatural. However, in this instance, I was delighted to discover themes of kindness and loyalty that superseded the threat and horror.

To Himalayas and beyond

Asha and the Spirit Bird cover imageMr Bookwagon was bowled away by the strength, message and story contained in Jasbinder Bilal’s Asha & the Spirit Bird. This is a stirring story including themes of tyranny, uprising, family loyalty and tradition and superstition. It is multilayered; a story to which confident adventure loving readers are likely to return.

The Lost Book

Margarita Surnaite’s début picture book,The Lost Book  evolved from her observations of a technology obsessed society. Yet the reading themes within this title could also include the joy of reading, sharing stories, isolation and difference. Why is the protagonist a rabbit, and the recipient of ‘The Lost Book‘ a human child? There are rich pickings for discussion and consideration.

Bookwagon The Lost Book

     The Lost Book

Bookwagon They Say BlueSimilarly Jillian Tamaki’s They Say Blue is more than a book of colours. Through an unnamed period of time, we participate in a young girl’s investigations of the sensory world around her. Is a blue whale really blue? We know blood is red, but why do we say the sky is blue? What happens during our seasons? Do our understandings match our experiences? This book holds so many rich considerations and reading themes within a seemingly subtle sensory exploration.

Bookwagon a blue sky

        A blue sky?

The people stopped. They smiled and together…

Idris has given up hope. In his small, small world only fences, dirt and shadows flower. When  Wisp appears, it offers him a glimpse of memory and possibility. The wisp transfers to an old man who remembers a time before. It travels through the camp, lighting up lives. What happens when another wisp appears to Idris? Through shadow, light and lyrical prose, this ‘story of hope’ offers so many reading themes alongside so many human emotions.

Bookwagon Wisp

  Wisp A Story of Hope

The cat and the king

Bookwagon Nice Work for the Cat and the KingNick Sharratt came to prominence as illustrator for Dame Jacqueline Wilson’s children’s books. Recently, he  turned his hand to picture books for younger readers. Last year, he offered The Cat and the King a richly satisfying selection for newly independent readers. A parent observed, ‘There’s more to this story than meets the eye, isn’t there?’ Yes, dear reader, there is! The subtle reading themes continue in its superb sequel, Nice Work for the Cat and the King. Cat’s loyalty to the King is exceptional. The King cannot expand beyond his role and tradition. With only small piles of coins left for the King to live on, what is to be done? It’s Cat, as ever to the rescue.

Bookwagon Cat on the red carpet

       Cat on a red carpet

Through, over, beyond..

February 7th was release date for a host of new children’s books. I fretted that we had not read them all as publicity blared across social media. However, in reading every book we sell we are at an advantage. This practice means that our reading descriptions, in our own words, carry authenticity and reliability.

When I offer that The Wall in the Middle of the Book is an outstanding book for all ages, you know I have read it and loved it honestly. Watch the pictures, expressions and movement in this stunning début title for Scallywag Press. Look at the conflict to the text! The reading themes in this story are vast, considered and so intelligent!

Bookwagon The Wall in the Middle of the Book

The Wall in the Middle of the Book

Now for something completely different

The dark, overlaid tones and paper construction employed in The Visitor  suggest something spooky. Elise, our main character is scared. She is shut into her own world. She ‘never went out. Night or day.’ She is terrified when a paper dart flies through a window. When it is followed by a knock at the door, Elise is almost too frightened to answer it. Who is breaking down Elise’s wall?

Bookwagon The Visitor

 The Visitor

It is fascinating to see the colours, shadows and tones change, alongside the shapes and sizes of the picture components.  The reading themes in this masterclass of storytelling are rich, complex and stimulating.

Bookwagon Little Rabbit's Big SurpriseI expected something traditional in  Little Rabbit’s Big Surprise. However, when Little Rabbit tags along with Big Rabbit, he makes many discoveries about his setting. So do we. We are also left in a dilemma as to how to improve the situation of many of the characters introduced. What can be done? What is the message within the story? This is a truly satisfying book. I suggest it is one that many children will want to keep, too, a ‘forever story’.

Rather, as Little Rabbit discovers on her day with Big Rabbit, beneath the covers of every book we read are new themes, new considerations, new readers to meet. Being an independent children’s bookseller, charged with matching books to readers is demanding, a challenge and a privilege.

Bookwagon Big Rabbit

A little something extra

Happy reading!



All aboard for a child’s reading journey

All aboard for a child’s reading journey

A child’s reading journey

A ‘Masterchef’ applicant or work placement trainee might be inclined to compare their experience to a journey. New entrants to education have their progress monitored through a ‘learning journey’ either digitally or through scrapbook. My  journey, or OE (overseas experience) in New Zealand parlance, was one many have taken; I emigrated to Britain.

Bookwagon Masterchef journey

A Masterchef journey?

Why are school camps called school journeys in Britain? They’re journeys with destinations. The ‘journey’ is not the point. It’s all about the destination!

Each of these is quite unlike a child’s reading journey. It is as though the child is tucked in and enabled with book food parcels and essential items throughout the journey.

On the platform

We know the benefits of starting reading right at the very beginning (thank you ‘Sound of Music’). Building a library habit, having a personal collection of books from which to choose, is the backstop (thank you DUP) of a child’s reading journey. Evidence cites conclusively, that children who own books hold an advantage over those who do not.

Bookwagon child seeking out books

Baby book browser

The Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, conducted by the Australian National University revealed:-  ‘Teenagers with only lower levels of secondary education, who came from a home filled with books, “become as literate, numerate and technologically apt in adulthood as university graduates who grew up with only a few books”. 

Bookwagon adolescent reading

Reading for pleasure

Along for the ride

Living with readers is an advantage to children. Bestselling writer, James Paterson states, ‘The best role models are in the home: brothers, fathers, grandfathers; mothers, sisters, grandmothers. Mums and dads, it’s important that your kids see you reading. Not just books — reading the newspaper is good too.’ It’s like eating vegetables; what you do, they do. You’re along on this child’s reading journey, too!

Bookwagon Dad and baby reading

 Family reading

For the long haul

All readers go through stagnant patches, when it feels as though there’s not a single book that hits the spot. However, some readers would do anything (even deflea a cross cat) than read. They are ‘reluctant readers’. A New Zealand adviser, Donalyn Martin, calls them ‘dormant readers.’ I like that term. She suggests that they need to find a book to hook them. Humorous books, she advises, make a great choice. One of my great pleasures is luring a dormant reader out of her or his impasse.

Bookwagon getting stuck

Getting stuck!

My thesaurus qualifies a journey as a quest, a sojourn, a pilgrimage, and an odyssey. Each of these suggests periods of quiet, a lull, a need for reflection. It’s the journey rather than the destination.

From a long haul

Bookwagon seeks books from wide and far to enrich a child’s reading journey. Currently, I’m sitting at a desk with books from Australia, India and America. I have sought these out from research and feedback from reputable sources. We aim to impart the same sort of trustworthiness in our recommendations.

This week, we provided a London school with a year’s supply of assembly books, based on our knowledge and experience. The prospect of a child’s reading journey starting each day with a wonderful book is meat and drink to us.

Bookwagon crates of school books

Books for schools

What do we take from our reading journey?

My reading journey piqued my curiosity so that I emigrated to experience the things of which I read.

When a child’s reading journey is independent and necessary, you know she or he is a reader.

Reading is evident through rereading, in the enquiry, self-motivation, and engagement with a writer, book and/or series. Such personal attachment extends intelligence, interpersonal and self awareness, empathy and the need to read and know and understand more.

Bookwagon building a reader

  Being a reader

This reader’s journey

I prefer books rich in character, and have been less inclined to read fantasy titles. This preference has developed from my long reading journey. We have readers who prefer fantasy titles. My professional experience compels me to seek the best of these out for Bookwagon.

This week I read The House with Chicken Legs  a fantasy tale with rich layers of meaning, developed by début novelist Sophie Anderson from a Russian fable.

I recommend any winter weary worker  Between Tick and Tock by the inspired Scottish and Irish picture book makers Louise Grieg and Ashling Lindsay.

The tick and tock of a working life ebbing away is the theme of Cicada. Australian Shaun Tan creates sophisticated picture books for older readers that disturb and haunt. This is no exception.

Bookwagon The House With Chicken Legs  Bookwagon Between Tick and Tock Bookwagon Cicada

The book’s journey from history

Holocaust Memorial weekend offers a time to reflect on our society.  Peter in Peril is the true life experience of a Jewish boy in Budapest. The graphic novel format declares the stark innocence of Peter poignantly.

Bookwagon Peter in Peril

Peter in Peril

We journey further into history in the magnificent Mega Meltdown. Jack Tite describes creatures that roamed our planet before the Ice Age. From habitat, to dimensions, comparable relatives and behaviours, this is a truly fascinating non-fiction book.

Bookwagon Mega Meltdown

    Mega Meltdown

Acclaimed picture book maker, Jane Ray, led me to Saviour Pirotta. They created the beautiful The Unicorn Prince.  His recent solo publication The Golden Horsemen of Baghdad, is inspired by the pilgrimage made from Baghdad to the court of Charlemagne in the ninth century. Harun al-Rashid’s gifts included an elephant, spices, jewels, fabric, chessboard and an intricate 12-hour water clock.

Bookwagon The Golden Horsemen of Baghdad

The Golden Horsemen of Baghdad

To a closer history

I think Karen McCombie has written the book she was meant to write. Little Bird Flies, set on a remote Scottish island in the nineteenth century, is an inspiring story of a young girl, yearning to escape the confines of her life and supposed frailty.

Bookwagon Little Bird Flies

Little Bird Flies

I urge readers to experience the wonder of Bronze and Sunflower. Cao Wenxuan’s international award-winning story of two children caught up by events of the Chinese cultural revolution is moving and convincing. A child’s reading journey is richer for including this memorable title.

With truths
Bookwagon Budding Champion

Budding champion

This weekend Naomi Osaka claimed the Australian women’s tennis open championship. A new age is dawning in  the women’s game. Mike is the story of Floyd, who has the potential to become Britain’s best tennis player. Yet Mike has other ideas. Writer Andrew Norriss based Floyd’s story from ‘next big thing’ to underwater explorer, on a radio interview he heard. We recommend this empathetic, wise, gentle story to older readers and their parents.

Bookwagon Mike


With welcome

A child’s reading journey should include books by Emma Carroll. She is Britain’s ‘Queen of History’. We await next week’s release of When We Were Warriors. A child’s reading journey of this glorious book, will lead him or her along the South Coast of England. Three separate stories reacquaint us with familiar settings and characters from Frost Hollow Hall and  Letters from the Lighthouse. Each is linked by the theme of WWII, uncertainty, dogs, courageous children and an American soldier.

Bookwagon When We Were Warriors

When We Were Warriors

A child’s reading journey with Bookwagon

Bookwagon holds rich reading pickings. Every book included has been read, loved, selected and described by us. Each includes a photograph or an extract for further information.

Each week we take new families on board with gift book subscriptions. I love deciding which titles will best suit these new readers!

We are proud to help families and schools along a child’s reading journey.

The Bookwagon website focuses upon books alone. There are no unnecessary additions like coffee and cake, toys or cards. We offer knowledgeable recommendations to families and schools seeking to build readers for life. Our popup fairs are bespoke, with book selections according to venue and clientele. Bookwagon is all about bringing a good book to you!

Bookwagon Baby reading

Beginning the reading journey

Happy reading! 





The comfort offered in reading

The comfort offered in reading

‘Piglet wasn’t afraid if he had Christopher Robin with him, so off they went…’ 

Bookwagon Together

Characters, like creatures, offer us comfort. Social media was alight with fond reminisces of Winnie-the-Pooh on January 18th. Winnie-the-Pooh day commemorates the birth of his creator, A.A. Milne.

Alan Alexander Milne’s creation of Winnie-the-Pooh emerged from tales created for his young Regents’ Park Zoo visiting son. Winnie-the- Pooh has become one the best-loved, most published and quoted characters in reading history. Winnie-the-Pooh offers acceptance and certainty, like many story book characters. Readers of ‘Winnie-the-Pooh‘ and ‘The House at Pooh Corner’  know the comfort offered in reading.

Bookwagon The World of Pooh

The World of Pooh

‘Oh Bear!,’ said Christopher Robin, ‘How I do love you!’
‘So do I,’ said Pooh. 

At the end of WWII, Larry and his older siblings are sent to Barnfield Hall. Their parents are looking for somewhere for the family to live. Larry found Grey Bear deserted in bombing rubble. Grey Bear remains grey, despite vigorous cleaning. As Larry’s sidekick he has experienced insult and injury. Now they’re stepping into the library of  The Lost Magician on the forbidden top floor. Larry feels safe with Grey Bear.

There is comfort offered in reading Larry’s experiences. We empathise with his fear. His siblings undermine him, while he is mocked at school- ‘Pansy‘. Daddy just shakes his head.

Bookwagon The Lost Magician

 The Lost Magician by Piers Torday

‘You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think- Christopher Robin’

Researcher, Dr Sarah Shea suggests A.A. Milne suffered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from his WWI experience. At the Battle of the Somme he witnessed the deaths of his best friend, and his best friend’s brother . As a Cambridge mathematics’ graduate, A.A. Milne was responsible for leading his platoon across the Somme front line. They were to lay a communications’ cable between battalion and brigade headquarters. This exercise resulted in sixty fatalities and more than a hundred injuries. The mission commander abandoned the task.

AA Milne was rehabilitated to England when he contracted trench fever. In the War office, recovered, he created propaganda to convince the public of the merits of the war efforts.

Milne said, ‘It makes me physically sick of that nightmare of mental and moral degradation.’

The comfort of reading and telling stories to his young son, led to ‘Winnie-the-Pooh‘ and ‘The House at Pooh Corner’.

Bookwagon Typewriter

‘Some people care too much. I think it’s called love’
  1. Bear could sleep for days, maybe months, but Duck wants to play.
  2. Bear seeks time alone with his thoughts. He’s after a week in the silent woods. Duck considers that Bear needs shelter, food and Duck’s company.
  3. Duck seeks ‘quality time’ with Bear, needing his approbation. He wants Bear to know how much he cares for him, and hear the same feelings from Bear. Bear wants peace and quiet.

Three wise, warm and wonderful picture books are Goodnight Already!Come Home Already! and  I Love You Already! by the incomparable Jory John and Benji Davies. What knowledge and understanding for the characters’ needs, differences and relationship. Readers fortunate enough to share these stories know more than the comfort offered in reading. They know the comfort offered by real characters, their relatable relationships, needs and responses.

Bookwagon Goodnight Already! Bookwagon Come Home Already! Bookwagon I Love You Already!

‘I don’t feel very much like Pooh today,’ said Pooh. ‘There, there,’ said Piglet, ‘I’ll bring tea and honey until you do.’ 

Recently I visited the Charles Schulz exhibition at Somerset House. Reading ‘Peanuts‘ was a staple of my childhood. I collected the characters and bought the books of comic strips.

Charles Schulz used his lifetime experiences in his cartooning. His childhood dog Spike became Snoopy. Spike was a bitzer, although Schulz’s Norwegian and German parents liked the word ‘beagle’ and called him thus. When Charles Schulz visited his dying mother, she offered that she’d call any future dog, Snoopy. The name stuck and a cartoon beagle was born.

Charles Schulz shared Charlie’s failures, sense of inadequacy, hopes and aspirations, and love of red-haired girls.

Bookwagon Charles Schulz exhibition Somerset House

Charles Schulz exhibition- Somerset House

His cartooning was borne from a weekend habit of reading the ‘funnies’ with his father. There was a comfort offered in reading these together.

Nobody can be uncheered by a balloon

Charles Schulz, like A.A. Milne, had a difficult war experience. He said it was the loneliest time of his life. Like A.A. Milne, he used this experience to create characters. Linus was a member of his platoon. There was another called… Charlie Brown. Storytelling expanded his experience and feelings.

 Bookwagon Charles Schulz character boards

Picture book makers Jo Weaver and Britta Teckentrup offer something reassuring in their creations, also. In  We Are Together  we are reminded, in verse, of our community, that we are stronger together. Jo Weaver confirms the bonds of love and union in the beautiful  Little Whale.

Bookwagon We Are Together

We Are Together by Britta Teckentrup

Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though- that’s the problem 

Bookwagon has followed the stories of Ella and Dani since My Happy Life. This series, although ideal for newer readers from six or seven or eight years of age, pulsates with a respectful, mature sensibility.

Many years ago I had a ‘best’ friend. She was my first best friend. I loved her. When her family moved away I was distraught. We wrote a little, but were six and seven years of age. My family promised we would visit, but time passed. We lost contact. It hurt. I felt the comfort offered in reading anew when I previewed Where Dani goes, happy follows recently. This series reminds me of the ache I felt for Caroline.

Bookwagon Where Dani Goes, Happy Follows

Where Dani goes, happy follows

If there comes a day when we can’t be together, keep me in your heart. I’ll stay there forever

Mr Bookwagon and I have read some outstanding books recently. He is still talking about the warmth, wisdom and comfort offered in reading The Wild Robot. This multi-award winning début novel offers a parable for our global community.

Bookwagon The Wild Robot

  The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

Finally, I read The Missing Barbegazi .Tessa struggles to reconcile herself to the loss of her beloved Opa. She watches her Oma’s heart break with grief. She finds some comfort offered in reading the letters written by Opa of his experiences of the barbegazi, mythical mountain creatures. Tessa is mocked for her preoccupation with them. Yet, somehow, Tessa feels that if she can connect with a barbegazi, as Opa did, she can build bridges and save Oma.

Bookwagon The Missing Barbegazi

The Missing Barbegazi by H.S. Norup

‘Just because an animal is large, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t want kindness’

The real Winnie-the-Pooh was Winnie (Winnipeg), a black orphan bear cub. Harry Colebourn, a young Canadian equine veterinarian, bought her at White River train station for $20.00. He was en route to Valcartier, to train with the Canadian Expeditionary Force destined for Europe, and WWI.

Bookwagon Winnie's Great War

Winnie became mascot to the Canadian Army Veterinary Corps. She travelled to Britain, but was left in Regents Park Zoo, when Harry was deployed to France. Winnie’s Great War is the story of the bear that became Winnie-the-Pooh, as told by Harry’s granddaughter. It is a compassionate and fascinating history.

Reading offers inspiration and meaning. Bookwagon wishes your family the comfort offered in reading through these January days.

Happy reading



New shoots, new leaves, new children’s books

New shoots, new leaves, new children’s books

It’s an Avocado Baby….

It’s a new year rich with potential. More popup school book fairs, writers and picture book makers await. Gift book subscriptions increase. Bookwagon is excited by new children’s books just waiting to be discovered.

Bookwagon gift book subscription

Bookwagon gift book subscription selection


During the break, we’ve read devotedly. This includes Jolabokaflud, naturally, with only one slip into adult books- like so many others, Michelle Obama’s ‘Becoming‘-  (“Now I think it is one of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child- What do you want to be when you grow up? As if growing up is finite. As if at some point you become something and that’s the end.” – Michelle Obama, ‘Becoming’)

Reading children’s books fulfils me. Titles such as the Costa winner The Skylarks’ War, amongst so many others confirm my place in the world. There is nuance, experience, and inspiration in so many children’s books we read, love and share with you. What about some new children’s books?

Bookwagon The Skylarks' War copy

    The Skylarks’ War by Hilary McKay

Come Away from the Water Shirley

Bookwagon Lightning Chase Me HomeIt’s exciting to discover new children’s books by new writers that we want to share. I begin with Amber Lee Dodd. This former bookseller, created Lightning Chase Me Home. Darkmuir, a remote Scottish island is the setting. Local legend has it that wishes made at Serpent’s Tooth Rock on an eleventh birthday have the power to come true. What if that wish might be the ‘wrong’ wish?

Bookwagon Split Apple Rock

Serpent’s Tooth Rock? (Split Apple Rock, NZ)

I  look forward to the second book by Ewa Jozefkowicz. I love the assurance and richness of The Mystery of the Colour Thief. While Izzy’s mother fights to recover from an accident, Izzy’s recovery from this trauma plays on her sensibilities. Izzy aligns a cygnet’s survival to her own.

Bookwagon The Mystery of the Colour Thief

          The Mystery of the Colour Thief

Oi! Get Off Our Train

We offer new children’s books by familiar writers. Andersen Press has reissued Berlie Doherty’s superb Treason. King Henry selects William Montague as page to his infant heir, Prince Edward. It’s an esteemed and envied position, but it comes at a cost, especially for a boy from a Catholic family.

Edward VI of England

I counted down the days until the release of the third book by Bookwagon favourite Lisa Thompson. The Day I Was Erased is a clever, empathetic story. Maxwell is up to his neck in trouble. When he goes one step too far, his wish to disappear sparks a dilemma…

Bookwagon The Day I Was Erased

The Day I Was Erased by Lisa Thompson


Our Castle By The Sea cover imageMr Bookwagon reached Lucy Strange’s  Our Castle By The Sea, sequel to her bestselling début, The Secret of Nightingale Wood ahead of me. With the arrival of war, Petra’s lighthouse home is a target for saboteurs and spies. Petra fights to unearth treachery and save her family.


The Way to the Zoo

One of our most popular titles is  Bigfoot, Tobin & Me.  The Truth About Martians, Melissa Savage’s follow up, is entirely different. In Roswell, after WWII, strange noises and discoveries set about a sinister investigation.

Bookwagon The Truth About Martians

  The Truth About Martians by Melissa Savage

South Shields is the setting for Ross Welford’s stories. They feature loving family relationships. Yet, that is where the similarities end. Georgie and best friend Ramzy are up to their necks in poop chutes and peaches. A mysterious visitor selects them for her futuristic research, at the same time as an incurable canine plague devastates in The Dog Who Saved the World.

Bookwagon The Dog Who Saved the World

            The Dog Who Saved the World 


Mr Gumpy’s Outing

We are building a rich range of non-fiction.

Bookwagon A Cat's Guide to the Night Sky

         A Cat’s Guide to the Night Sky

News from the New Horizons expedition that past into the Kuiper Belt awes. We are fascinated by images from China’s exploration of the far side of the moon.  A Cat’s Guide to the Night Sky is a relevant, thorough and brilliantly set work ideal for children and their adults.

I spent ages reading and rereading  How Does A Lighthouse Work? How little I knew! Did you know that every lighthouse along the same coastline has different patterns and signals that each is identifiable from sea?

Bookwagon How Does a Lighthouse Work?

           How Does a Lighthouse Work?

The Colours of History is a captivating information book investigating the development, application and use of colour. It is engrossing!

Families and schools are recommended the outstanding Stories for Kids Who Dare to Be Different. I have shared so many wonderful histories included in this splendid book!

Bookwagon Stories for Kids who Dare To Be Different

  Stories for Kids Who Dare to be Different

Borka: The Adventures of a Goose with No Feathers

So many of the books that we sell are rich with empathy. Books offer comfort, contemplation, recognition and time for reflection.

New children’s books that sound a trumpet of empathy, include The Hug. Even the most awkward, the seemingly  most ‘unloveable’, need a hug!   I’ll Love You is a glorious bedtime story, bonding, loving story to which I’m deeply attached.

Bookwagon I'll Love You

             I’ll Love You

Last year’s breakthrough picture book, Julian is a Mermaid ruffled (boa) feathers and captivated in equal measure. Yet its subject and delivery is extended in the heartbreaking and wonderful Jerome By Heart. This book makes me ache!

Bookwagon Jerome by Heart

          Jerome By Heart

Where’s Julius?

The late, incomparable picture book maker, John Burningham said, ‘I don’t worry about ideas running out. I worry about time running out.’ 

Bookwagon Would You Rather

            Would You Rather?

Forming Bookwagon, was a risk. Yet, I burn with children’s books and children’s reading.

Queues and recommendations of overly familiar titles by overly familiar and often long-dead children’s writers defeat creativity and opportunity. Bargain and bulk packaged books, and Marie Kondo recommendations to ‘bin’ books are disheartening. Yet, there is a groundswell of understanding that it’s ‘Time to Get Out of the Bath, Shirley’ and act more responsibly.

Seeking and supporting new children’s books by the wealth of great writers is vital. Choosing ‘forever’ books, titles that are meaningful and build us as readers and citizens, is imperative.

Bookwagon new year new books

      New year, new children’s books


Feedback from our customers is very welcome. We invite you to share your responses to Bookwagon titles books you and your family have read.

Several customers suggested we include a snapshot from new titles. Subsequently, each of our new titles now offers a taster page to help your selection.

Further, we have included a tag of ‘empathy’ within our tag cloud. It is a consideration for many in their reading choices.

Bookwagon The Hug

The Hug by Eoin McLaughlin and Polly Dunbar

We are extending and updating our offers more frequently. Current offers include discounts on Ross Welford’s first three wonderful titles. They will be updated next week to include new offers.

The Shopping Basket
John Burningham

   John Burningham (Guardian Newspapers)

John Burningham has been a constant picture book maker throughout my life. I have much loved copies of ‘Mr Gumpy’s Motor Car’, ‘John Patrick Norman McHennessy: The Boy Who Was Always Late‘. I taught money through ‘The Shopping Basket’, colour mixing through ‘Cloudland’. ‘Whadayamean’ supported environmental science. I bought my mother ‘England‘ and ‘France’ (adult titles) and have them now.

Once John Burningham was a new writer of new children’s books. He was admitted to Central School of Art’s graphic design and illustration course despite failing A-level art. People read his works, shared them and loved them. They have become family and school staples beloved by so many. John Burningham will be missed. He said:- ‘No-one will ever know what absorption is going on with a small child. So we need to give them wonderful things.’ New children’s books, opportunity, choice and quality….

Happy reading!












Jolabokaflod- A Winter Reading Experience

Jolabokaflod- A Winter Reading Experience


Bookwagon has been building up to Jolabokaflod. As I write, I’m aware of the TBR pile to my left hand side. The pile of books upon the wagon (actual wagon) is balanced precariously. However, a busy run of book orders via online ordering and personal enquiries, has interrupted our reading routine. Then there are book gift subscriptions. My order book is full of Post-it notes and ideas as I seek to fulfil the individual reading preferences of our young readers. This task fills a lot of my thinking day – what a responsibility!

Bookwagon wagon pile

A glimpse of Bookwagon’s TBR pile

What is Jolabokaflod?

Traditionally, Iceland, one of the most literate nations, celebrates Christmas Eve through a Jolabokaflod, i.e., ‘a book flood’.

Bookwagon Icelandic village


During the advent season leading up to Jolabokaflod, Icelandic householders make their reading choices from an annual catalogue distributed throughout the nation. On Christmas Eve, gifts of books are exchanged, and the population settles down to read throughout the night.

I wish in far away childhood New Zealand that I’d known such a tradition existed. Christmas Eve was an unbearably long night, punctuated by constant checks to spot Father Christmas, or reindeer tracks.

   A summer Christmas

Winter Solstice

 Christmas cricket

Yet somehow, the idea of Jolabokaflod in New Zealand doesn’t seem quite so appropriate. My family and friends in that hemisphere are settling into their summer holidays, the cricket season and camping at the beach. Jolabokaflod demands early starlit nights, the snapping of chill at the toes, candlelight and snuggling tight.

Bookwagon cosy place

Looking ahead to recommendations

What would Bookwagon include in its Jolabokaflod reading list? When a librarian friend asked, I replied with the backlog of adult books that has amassed over the year. Yet, as the eve approaches, I know that I will be reading children’s books. That TBR pile lures me in.

Bookwagon The Secret of Nightingale WoodEmma Carroll’s spring short story release, ‘When We Were Warriors’, a WWII short story collection is near the top. We love her books. It is joined by ‘The Day I Was Erased‘ by the wonderful Lisa Thompson. Menace Maxwell learns what life would be like if he’d never been born. I’ve hidden Lucy Strange’s ‘Our Castle by the Sea‘. Mr Bookwagon read her début The Secret of Nightingale Wood and loved it so much, I felt hard done by! This is my chance to experience this writer!  (All titles will be available to buy at this indie bookseller in the early spring.) There are many more to come!

One I tried earlier

Bookwagon The Truth About MartiansAlso released in the early spring is The Truth About Martians by Melissa Savage. It arrived at Bookwagon HQ yesterday. I unwrapped it and brought it upstairs with a cup of tea. Some hours later, after Mr Bookwagon’s team had defeated this week’s rivals, I closed my book. It is one of the most original and captivating children’s novels I have read. To build a story of grief, guilt and friendship within a backdrop of the Roswell alien sightings of 1947 demonstrates such creative vision and purpose!


To some recommendations

Jolabokaflod conjures up images of snuggling and warmth, protecting yourself from the winter chill, while being completely immersed within a reading wonderland. That’s what books offer.

Bookwagon snuggly

In ‘The History Boys‘, Alan Bennett wrote:- ‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something- a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things- which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.’ 

In the warm isolation of winter, I recommend titles which touch and navigate. Swedish writer Jakob Wegelius created a voice of reason and initiative in Sally Jones. Bookwagon urges your family to discover her through the internationally award-winning The Murderer’s Ape. We suggest you will need to know more of her story, so will have to turn to The Legend of Sally Jones.

Bookwagon The Murderer's Ape             Bookwagon The Legend of Sally Jones

Snuggly socks winter titles

From the safety of your Christmas Eve sofa, you will hurtle into icy adventures with:- Kiran Millwood-Hargrave’s superb The Way Past Winter, and the gothic, lamp tinged thriller, The Clockwork Crow. We suggest  the Shakespearian scented Snowglobe and the ice tinkly splendid Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy. 

Bookwagon gift book recipient

The Way Past Winter

These are mesmerising stories, crafted by exceptionally skilled writers. C.S. Lewis said, ‘A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.’ In our commitment to recommending and selling books that we have read and loved only, we have near abandoned reading adult books. Therefore, we can state that the children’s writers whose works we have read and love write books as good, if not better, than their adult writing counterparts.

Bookwagon snuggled cats


Touching the heart and the head with words and pictures

Orlando Weeks was a guitarist and vocalist with The Maccabees. HIs sophisticated picture book The Gritterman is a journey around a life. The Gritterman has received notice. As he prepares for his final run on the icy B2116, he reminisces about his life, the seasons, and plans ahead.

Bear and Wolf encounter each other in a silent winter forest. Each is exalting in the quiet, still, cold. Cautiously, the step together, walking around the frozen lake, that come summer will offer them new opportunities. Daniel Salimeri’s picture book is wise, pitch perfect and respectful.

Around the world Moon works its magic upon the lives of creatures small and large. Jellyfish, puffins, turtles, penguins and tree frogs are a few to which Britta Teckentrup draws our attention in her rapturous, rhyming picture book.

Richard Johnson tells a story of courage and friendship in his glorious wordless picture book, Once Upon a Snowstorm.

Bookwagon The Gritterman  Bookwagon Bear and Wolf  Bookwagon Moon Bookwagon Once Upon a Snowstorm

From the past to future possibilities

Older readers, and their adults will love Mud. This 1970’s Thames houseboat set story, depicts a family’s sinking and survival. I could feel the Christmas chill, and became completely determined for the family’s futures.

Similarly, I needed Izzy to rally and find her footing in Ewa Jozefkowicz’s superb début novel, The Mystery of the Colour Thief. Izzy aligns her future to the survival of a struggling cygnet, as family and friends fracture about her.

Bookwagon Mud       Bookwagon The Mystery of the Colour Thief

In a future of possibilities or a past undiscovered sit two different works. One is by a newer novelist, the other by ‘Germany’s J.K. Rowling.’

Storm Witch is the first in a trilogy by Ellen Renner. Storm struggles to find her place within the traditions of her island. Her naming and her elements do not fit any particular calling. When it is time for her choosing, she is the focus of a tremendous struggle. Why do her arrows travel further than other marksmen? Why does Dolphin call to her despite her fears? What does Fire have against her?

Cornelia Funke, of Inkheart fame, offers a Dystopian story for older readers in The Glass of Lead and Gold. This ‘Themse’ set novella is oddly reminiscent of ‘Bleak House’ with elements of Sally Gardner’s magnificent Maggot Moon. Can Tabetha keep her secret mudlark glass treasure hidden? Who can she trust in the mean London streets?

Bookwagon Storm Witch          Bookwagon The Glass of Lead and Gold

To Mike Teevee

At the beginning of the month, the National Literacy Trust revealed that 1 in 11 children do not have books in their home. That number extends to 1 in 8 within those children who receive free school meals. Every child deserves access to a fully functioning, professionally led public library. Yet research shows that ‘the more books a child owns, the more likely they are to do well in school and be happy with their lives.’

Reading at home, seeing their adults read, living in an environment where books are valued and enjoyed, sets a child up for life.

As Roald Dahl said, in the guise of Willy Wonka, ‘So please, so please, we beg, we pray, go throw your TV set* away, and in its place you can install, a lovely bookshelf on the wall.’

Bookwagon Christmas tree

                                                  Happy reading, happy Christmas, happy Jobokaflod. 







The Live Experience

The Live Experience

The 2018 round up

As we draw to the end of 2018, ‘best of’ lists are hitting the press and internet. I enjoy browsing these.  Yet, I cannot create a Bookwagon Best Of Books 2018. Bookwagon sells books that have been read, loved and recommended by us, only.

The Bookwagon ‘best of 2018’ has been the live experience. I suspect it’s the same for you. Perhaps you will share some that have impacted most upon you in your Christmas cards.

Bookwagon Christmas books

Bookwagon Christmas

Making it work

Organising visits and book fairs as Bookwagon is markedly different from a school’s responsibility.

School preparation includes practical organisation of schedule, venue, lunch and parking space. There is the need for the school community, from children and parents to administrative staff, to be fully conversant and involved. The school counts down to the live experience.

Bookwagon ensures that a guest writer/ illustrator is accompanied, happy with the schedule and has any individual needs recognised. We secure certain travel arrangements, agreed payment, and organise books to have signed during the visit. We seek publicity to support the school’s promotion of this special event.  Bookwagon has a responsibility to ensure that the guest enjoys the live experience too.

Bookwagon Festival of Literature

      Festival of Literature

The Live Experience as a Popup

Access, venue, tables, payment methods (including Wifi) are important to us when we popup to sell books. Yet our priority is knowing the readership. To have school librarians or confident reading teachers on site is a bonus every time. To be allowed time to match the right book to the right reader is so welcome.  It enhances the live experience of bookselling.

Bookwagon popup

Bookwagon popup book sale

In the beginning

We’ve been fortunate to sit in on some school visits we’ve arranged. Mr Bookwagon was like a parent-to-be when we secured a school visit with Michaela Morgan on National Poetry Day. He needed to participate in this to understand how the live experience plays out.

Into the light

Since that time we have enjoyed opportunities to support and sometimes share in the live experience.  We are proud to have worked with inspiring creators, including:-  James Campbell, Emma Carroll, Joseph Coelho and Christopher Edge, Stewart Foster, Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler, Sue Hendra and Paul Linnett, Emily Hughes, Tom Palmer, Sibéal Pounder, Jane Ray, Katherine Rundell, S.F. Said, Kate Scott, Dave Shelton, Lisa Thompson and Jason Wallace. What a privilege!

Bookwagon Emily Hughes

                    Emily Hughes

The community of children’s writers and picture book makers is stellar! There is such vision, generosity, wisdom, effort and creativity. Children realise this in their interaction with such inspiring creators.

Then more

Bookwagon Sam Usher titlesIn the infancy of 2019, we have secured writing events with Caryl Hart and Sam Usher.  Once more we will have the joy of working with James Campbell, Emma Carroll, Christopher Edge, Emily Hughes, Jane Ray and Lisa Thompson. Such opportunities fill us with pride and delight.

The Bookwagon speaker

Bookwagon Professional Learning DayAs Bookwagon has grown, my knowledge and experience of children’s literature have been sought  I spoke to teachers in SW London about how to engage children with picture books. In the New Year, two engagements arranged through the superb Reading Rocks, focus upon storytelling and picture book reading.

Bookwagon sharing books

Sharing books with readers

The Bookwagon judge

I participated in the live experience in a different way, recently, as a judge in Word of Mouth. Ingrid Seifert, Wandsworth Primary English Consultant, created Word of Mouth to coincide with the introduction of the revised English curriculum. She recognised the opportunity for children and teachers to experience poetry recital and performance. During a special day held at Wandsworth Town Hall, schools across the borough are invited to perform poetry of their choice.

As a guest judge, I appreciate the literacy, enquiry, and opportunity of this outstanding innovation.

Bookwagon Word of Mouth

Word of Mouth Wandsworth Town Hall

The audience

Bookwagon Mac Barnett and Jon KlassenWe relish opportunities to be part of an audience with writers. Listening to Benjamin Zephaniah share how his early life shaped his writing moved us . I was almost breathless with joy when part of the live experience of the UK launch of Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen’s Square

We were fascinated by a panel discussion between leading YA writers Susin Nielsen, Sara Barnard, Mel Darbon and Lisa Williamson. The opportunity to be part of the live experience of listening and watching these talented writers made me think and learn.

(Watch out for the inclusion of Mel Darbon’s acclaimed ‘Rosie and Jack‘ aboard Bookwagon shortly.)

Bookwagon YA panel Susin Nielsen  Bookwagon YA panel Sara Barnard  Bookwagon YA panel Mel Darbon  Bookwagon YA panel Lisa Williamson

The guest

Bookwagon joined award-winning writer Lisa Thompson at the Surrey school at which she was guest recently. Children queueing to have books signed, and staff who had participated in the live experience, were ecstatic. One girl told me, ‘I love her writing but now I know her. I will never forget this.’

Interacting with a book creator enables readers to realise fully the craft and the journey of a book.

Award-winning guest writer, Lisa Thompson

The bookseller

Word of our platform of selling books that we know and love only has grown. It means that we have more popup book sales, and people seek our recommendations with growing confidence. We match readers to books confidently. Knowing a child will LOVE a recommended book is the greatest joy of my bookselling experience.

A major reason I created Bookwagon was because of the number of parents who sought my reading recommendations for their children. I wanted to focus on the live experience of reading.

Bookwagon sharing books

   Sharing Bookwagon titles

Gift book subscriptions

Bookwagon posted its first gift books from our new subscription at the start of this month. I felt a flutter wrapping our selection. Reading through information about the readers sent by parents and grandparents, is a responsibility. Yet already, I feel as though I KNOW these readers.

One subscriber has a title earmarked for her already. I can contemplate the live experience she might have as she opens the parcel and surveys the blurb. I’ll be crossing my fingers, hoping I’ve got it right…

First feedback to our first posting offered, ‘She was enraptured.’ What a word! What a feeling!

Bookwagon gift book recipient

            Gift of reading

To Christmas

I have reserved a pile of books for Jolablokaflod (Icelandic Christmas Eve book sharing and reading). I’ve broken my vow to read adult titles across the evening.  There is a desperate stockpile of new release titles to read and share, including new titles by Lisa Thompson, Lucy Strange, Karen McCombie and Fleur Thompson.

Bookwagon Jolablokaflod

Jolablokaflod, Christmas Eve

Bookwagon will be looking back on a ground-breaking year and toward to a new year of opportunity, reading and the live experience!

Meanwhile, happy reading!

The Gift of A Story

The Gift of A Story

The Gift of a Story

Mr Bookwagon and I were walking across a nighttime bridge in Stratford-upon-Avon, when he recalled an evening from his adolescence. During a sixth form geography field trip in Devon he’d felt the call of nature late one night. He stumbled outside through the rain toward the facilities. Geese had been moved into the grounds. They took umbrage at his disturbance and chased this barefoot teenager through the dark, wet, goose- splattered surroundings. Sodden, filthy and terrified, he retreated to his lodgings.

Bookwagon goslingsWhen Mr Bookwagon told me this tale I laughed fit to burst. Writing it now has made me grin. He shared the gift of a story with me that bonded us and offered a little something from him. (It is a lot more appealing than what the geese left!)

How stories bond

Last week I bid farewell to a dearly loved aunt, a natural storyteller. When I saw her last in September, she offered the gift of a story. She told us of her wedding day, when she and her bridegroom, my Uncle Stan, left the celebrations, her family and friends after four hours, to begin a life in New Zealand. Aunty Barbara’s stories mattered. Many we knew by heart; we could predict which she’d share in various situations. They were a link, a knowledge, and something that offers a lasting memory of her.

Bookwagon The Gift of a Story

Why do we need stories?

Aside from making a connection with the storyteller, the gift of a story is an opportunity to realise your place and your origins. Every birthday, my father would retell the story of the day of my birth. I know that story by heart.

Story telling helps us to learn lessons, it sets a moral compass. Mr Bookwagon’s story of a misguided attempt to dodge cross country by hiding under a bridge while his school mates thundered overhead resulted in disaster. He and his fellow non-runner mistimed the course and returned to the finishing line ahead of the bunch.  They represented their school in this pursuit. It was a lesson and a humiliation. Young family and friends roll their eyes in disbelief at his foolishness.

The best school assemblies I experienced were from storytellers. Their stories were personal, relevant and meaningful. A listening, learning audience benefited from their stories.

James Campbell storytelling

A variety of stories

Stories told, linger for longer. When read to, children assume concepts and language at least two years beyond their chronological age. Listening to stories offers an opportunity to extend perceptions, parameters, vocabulary and understanding.

Bookwagon - reception reading

Bookwagon story sharing popup book fair

I was moved to another place and understanding by surgeon David Nott’s Desert Island Discs’ storytelling. I felt inspired, distressed and emotionally connected. Hearing of another’s life experience allows the listener the opportunity assimilate and empathise to a more mature degree, whatever the age.

The value of retelling

Bookwagon All Saints' Church, HowickI remember family members who are no longer with me by retelling their stories. When they shared these stories, I could anticipate their words and drama and join in. The same thing happens when children share and hear bedtime stories again and again. They absorb the language, make predictions, and feel secure in the structure of the story. The gift of a story offers a personal connection.

Maori people, like many indigenous cultures, share stories aurally. This is their korero tuku iho– stories and traditions of the past. It is a foundation. The Royal Academy of Arts’ ‘Oceania’ exhibition displays a proud history of storytelling and art throughout South Pacific cultures.

Bookwagon At the Oceania exhibition  Bookwagon Oceania Lisa Reihana  Bookwagon Oceania exhibition oldest tiki

Hearing the tales

Bookwagon Dara Palmer's Major DramaIn Dara Palmer’s Major Drama, our main character is challenged to recall her infancy in a Cambodian orphanage. Her parents and brother’s memories of her adoption form her history. What will Vanna discovers when she returns to Cambodia? She was adopted at the same time as Dara and is determined to learn their origins.

Erin Entrada Kelly’s Newbery Medal award winning title, Hello, Universe offers the story of Virgil, trapped by his insecurities, yet inspired by his grandmother’s stories of her native Philippines.

Mila is inspired by the stories of her father to fight against leaders, suspicion and fear to track down her brother in the wonderful The Way Past Winter.  

Bookwagon Hello, Universe       Bookwagon The Way Past Winter       Bookwagon Snowglobe

Clementine uses her knowledge of her mother’s magic to solve the mystery of Snowglobe.

Bookwagon IslandbornLola cannot remember the place she was born. She asks her community for their memories and stories in the stunning picture book Islandborn. 


We nudge the tales we know by heart

I was slightly resistant to a new version of Peter Pan despite my respect for Caryl Hart. I read her version in preparing to support a school visit by this writer. It is captivating! In perfect pentameter, J.M. Barrie’s classic story is retold. This is a respectful, thorough and glorious, ‘forever’ book. Caryl has resurrected so many pieces of the tale lost over time.  Sarah Warburton’s illustrations enhance the magic.

Bookwagon Peter Pan       Bookwagon Winnie's Great War

Winnie’s Great War is the true story of Winnie-the-Pooh. Winnie was named for Winnipeg. The equine veterinarian who bought her from a trapper on a Canadian railway platform, was a Winnipeg native. He took the orphaned baby aboard his WW1 troopship bound for Wiltshire, and thereafter France. Resident in Regents’ Park Zoo during wartime, she was visited by…. Christopher Robin Milne.

From Black Friday to Jolablokaflod

Bookwagon has bypassed Black Friday. We focus upon ‘forever’ books to cherish. Yet we are heading toward a new chapter (sorry) with the advent (sorry) of Jolabokaflod.

This Christmas Eve Icelandic tradition is truly the gift of a story. On Christmas Eve we plan to exchange books and spend the evening reading. We invite you to join us!

There are many bespoke Christmas titles within Bookwagon from which to choose. There is an opportunity to join other customers, and take out a Bookwagon gift subscription for 3, 6, or 12 months, for the young readers in your life.

Whatever you choose, we trust that you will share stories you know and love.

Happy reading! 




A Bookwagon Experience

A Bookwagon Experience

A Bookwagon Experience

It has been a busy few weeks for Bookwagon. We exhibited with Reading Rocks South, thanks to the support of our ‘third wheel’. Our calendar is filling up with book fairs. Schools have booked more writers and illustrators for visits, supported by us. We took our first visit to my ‘home’ in more than six years. I bade farewell to a beloved aunt, who gifted me a book that stood me through the rocky road of adolescence. Mr Bookwagon experienced his first ever sleepover! It was a mighty Bookwagon experience.


Bookwagon experience is incomplete without books. Off site, we seek out bookshops. My family warned me that a longstanding favourite, Howick’s Readaway bookshop, had closed after nearly forty years. They rushed to its closing sale to pick up last-minute bargains.

I was delighted to discover that it has been replaced by another bookshop staffed by committed, informed staff. Its titles were varied and interesting. Poppies’ Bookshop states that its purpose is  ‘to nurture the pleasures of book ownership and to engage with customers who have a passion for reading and for sharing that passion’. These words ring true for Bookwagon.


I took time to explore the mighty ‘Aotearoa‘ by Gavin Bishop, which won the New Zealand’s Margaret Mahy Book Award.  It is unlikely to interest the British market. Its pride and substance reminded me of several other titles that Bookwagon stocks, like The Lost Words and The Dam.  Bookwagon titles are intended to be ‘forever’ titles.

Bookwagon The Dam                     The Lost Words

Super Thursday

As I write, the literary world is full of the launch of Christmas titles. Bookwagon was invited to participate in the Christmas books’ supplement that will populate many shops and chains. However it was a prerequisite that we would stock every title selected. This contradicted our maxim to recommend and sell books we have read and loved only. I would feel a hypocrite if I was to include ‘disposable’ Christmas book titles amongst our Bookwagon books. To that end, we are working to create a unique list of selected Christmas/ celebration titles, books that offer a Bookwagon experience and stamp of love.


Part of our roll out ahead of that season will be a subscription service. We are working to develop something specific to our readers’ needs and suggestions. We welcome any ideas you may have for this development.

Book Fairs

Bookwagon has been booking up fairs at a rate! As I commit to schools, the image of wagon trains bounding across the Oregon trail come to mind.

Schools are keen to compare their previous experiences of book fairs with a Bookwagon experience. There are many differences.

When teaching, my dismay in the quality and range offered by traditional school book fairs was a motivation in creating Bookwagon. I felt a responsibility to put my training, experience and understanding into action through creating fulfilling book fairs. A Bookwagon experience supports a reading for pleasure habit with families and in schools.



A Bookwagon book fair is staffed by the Bookwagon team. We are each DBS certificated. Every one of us is able to direct children, staff and parents to the best books for them.

Bookwagon is an independent children’s bookseller. Every title we recommend and sell has been read by us. The words describing our books on our site are our own. As such, it means that when we provide a school book fair, we make informed recommendations.


Bookwagon curates our book fairs to match individual school’s requirements. From the cohort to the theme, a Bookwagon experience suits the venue.

The titles on offer are unique to the venue, many unknown to readers. We have titles from a huge range of publishers and countries.

Costs and commission

Bookwagon discounts the prices to the school/ venue, without jeopardising income to the writer/ picture book maker.

The school receives a percentage of the books sold at the fair. We are as generous as possible. All our titles are ‘forever’ titles, i.e., books that children and staff want to read and keep. There are never any commercial tie-ins, stationery, stickers or merchandise.

As an independent bookseller Bookwagon cannot afford the sort of discounts offered by book fair wholesalers from a single publisher. However, these boxed up book fairs cannot offer our range or quality of titles. They do not offer informed staffing. The titles are not read and loved.

Throughout years of teaching, I found we often struggled to find enough books of quality we wanted from commercial book fairs, to fulfil their excessively generous concession.

Bookwagon does not charge the school at any point. Every school and venue at which we have exhibited, has invited us to return.


The experience

In our book fairs and popups, we aim to give visitors the sort of experience we seek when browsing bookshops and stalls. A Bookwagon experience aims to be similar to the tables of books beneath Waterloo Bridge, Munro’s Books in Victoria, Vancouver Island, Poppies Bookshop in Howick, and Shakespeare and Company in Paris. Bookwagon wants readers to be able to lose themselves a little in reading possibilities.

Happy reading. 





The pictures tell the story

The pictures tell the story

Bookwagon holds fast to a mantra to recommend and sell books we have read and loved only. We describe each title on our site. Customers need to know they can trust our knowledge and experience of children’s books

I have worked my way through a host of outstanding books, recently. These include picture books I cherish and want to share. Somehow an emphasis made in pictures builds a more resonant connection. The pictures tell the story, confirming or suggesting feelings and intention.

Bookwagon The Dam

The Dam

Award winning book makers David Almond and Levi Penfold collaborated to create The Dam. Kielder Water, Britain’s largest artificial lake, in North Northumberland took two years to fill! The area is long settled and enjoyed by walkers, fishermen, artists and astronomers, David Almond was inspired by its history. Before its transformation, the Kielder Valley was farmland with schools, homes and a section of the Border Counties’ Railway. This is an area rich in memory, folktales and music. Together David Almond and Levi Pinfold have created something so special that it brings tears to my eyes. The sepia tones, the movement that suggests music and memory and loss, the snapshot, ‘long ago’ images…. In ‘The Dam’ the pictures tell the story, too.

The trouble with picture books

Bookwagon picture book selectionPicture books, as I have sought to stress in other writing, are not the preserve of young children. Consider how many homes include pictorial magazines or high quality coffee table books! Mr Bookwagon and I have recently purchased car maps after near disasters where we put our faith in our Sat Nav! We need to see and plot and realise our route! Sat Nav blunders

Picture books confirm and offer opportunity. Pictures tell the story. The trouble with picture books remains that the unread do not read them, or fully appreciate their wonder. Frequently, I meet enquiries for a chapter book for a young reader, ‘because she/he is too old for picture books now…’

In school

Most schools realise picture books’ relevance to students throughout their school career. Many schools include David Wiesner’s ‘Flotsam’ in their upper KS2 curricula. Another favourite is ‘The Arrival’ by Shaun Tan’. Both titles are wordless. We have recommended lesser known titles when schools have sought recommendations, like The Flight of Mr Finch or Professional Crocodile. Sophisticated picture books like these demand diligent investigation, contemplation, enquiry and doubt. These are superb learning and life behaviours. Frequently, when I revisit  Bookwagon titles, I learn more than my previous experiences.

Bookwagon Mini Rabbit Not Lost The Picture Tells the Story

Last week, I shared John Bond’s highly acclaimed début picture book, Mini Rabbit NOT LOST. My school audience asked, ‘Why is Mini Rabbit moving between seasons?’ I had not realised this fully. Several times subsequently, I have looked over the book but I’m no clearer.

Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

Bookwagon Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

Bookwagon met award- winning picture book makers Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen at the UK launch of Square, sequel to Triangle. I discussed the two shapes’ characters with Mac Barnett. We agreed that Square seems a  victim in his depiction. There is little to go on, seemingly, in the pictures. However shape, movement, the way they react to their surroundings and the set of the characters’ eyes are suggestive. We infer their character from these.

Triangle thinks of a sneaky trick to play on Square. The background is spacious and there is foliage suggesting a lack of threat, ‘I will play my sneaky trick.’ It is a sneaky trick, that frightens Square.

In wounded reply to Triangle’s trick, Square follows him to the doorway of his house, where he becomes stuck. The journey appears dramatic for Square. He calls ‘I know you are afraid of the dark’ . Triangle taunts that he does not believe him. The reader wonders when Square declares, ‘This was my plan all along.‘ Is this the truth?

The Big Pictures with Stories

Bloomsbury Publishing release a superb reimagining  of ‘The Twelve Dancing Princesses’ this week. The Restless Girls develops the sisters’ characters and story into something both imaginative and feasible. Jessie Burton, writer of ‘The Miniaturist’ and glorious picture book maker Angela Barrett’ have triumphed. This is a ‘forever’ book to cherish.

The story of Cook’s Cook is harsh and rigorous. Gavin Bishop’s account of John Thompson’s journey aboard Captain James Cook’s ‘The Endeavour‘ is a crew’s eye view of emptiness and fear. The pictures tell the story throughout this chronological journal. We live as insiders throughout, almost ‘tasting’ the constant, horrid variations of pease porridge!

Cook's Cook Gavin Bishop Bookwagon

Klaus Flugge Prize

Bookwagon Klaus Flugge Prize 2018The annual Klaus Flugge Prize was awarded this month to Kate Milner for My name is not Refugee. Kate Milner created the book during her MA study in children’s book illustration at Anglia Ruskin university. Judging panel chair, Julia Eccleshare said, ‘The Klaus Flugge Prize champions picture books for children that challenge them to think about the world and how it works.‘ The pictures tell the story.

From Italy a tale based on experience

Bookwagon The Distance Between Me and the Cherry TreeMafalda wonders how she will see once Stargardt Mist disease claims her sight entirely. For now she measures the decline through calculating The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree. How Mafalda ‘sees’ through textures, scents, memories, an inner dialogue and her journal is a privilege. We have access to Mafalda’s experieince where the pictures tell the story of her life, hopes and fears. Paola Peretti has crafted these inner pictures for tenderly and knowingly.

Innermost pictures

Multi-award winning picture book maker Francesca Sanna offers Me and My Fear. A new arrival’s fear builds to become a central character dominating her waking and sleeping. She is paralysed by terror to the point that she is unable to make friends, take up opportunities or see mistakes as part of life. Through creating Fear as a character Francesca Sanna has the pictures tell the story. Fear is concrete and in need of breaking down. This is clever picture book making that deserves a wide, mature readership.

Bookwagon Me and My Fear The Picture Tells the Story

From inner life to the life around us

National Poetry Day is celebrated on October 4th. Bookwagon has been reading a number of poetry books in preparation, including new titles. Two magnificent additions have been recent additions to the site.

I Am the Seed that Grew the TreePublishing house Nosy Crow presents I Am the Seed that Grew the Tree. Fiona Waters has selected poems that celebrate the individual, natural wonder of every day of the year succinctly. Frann Preston-Gannon’s beautiful pictures extend the celebration. They are whimsical, empathic and assured.

Poems to Live Your Life By Bookwagon Former children’s laureate and picture book maker Chris Riddell offers Poems to Live Your Life By. His considered illustrations endorse each selection in his book. He has chosen classic, contemporary, international and lesser known titles that fit his topics of life, death, musings, war and youth, amongst others. This is such a beautiful book. It is one that stands on Bookwagon’s shelves proudly, another ‘forever’ title where the words and the pictures tell the story.





Picture book clues

Picture book clues

Welcome back!

The new academic year has begun. Our days are shorter with a distinct chill in the early morning air. Bookwagon has been busy taking bookings for school events and popup sales. We are working to include a wonderful new selection of books aboard the wagon. Amongst these are some superb picture books. They are laden with picture book clues.

Introducing picture books

I have spent a lot of time encouraging children, teachers and parents to take more time to appreciate the wonder in picture books. There remains an impulse to see this genre as a stepping stone toward ‘reading properly’. Working through some favourites, I hope to show the magic at the picture book creator’s finger tips.

Welcome to Morag Hood

Bookwagon Colin and Lee Carrot and PeaA friend introduced me to Morag Hood’s work, through her hilarious Colin and Lee Carrot and Pea. This début title won the UKLA’s 3-6 early reading catalogue.   I urge you to check this innovative, hilarious title out.


I Am Bat

Bookwagon I Am BatRecently, Bookwagon included Morag Hood’s I Am Bat on our site. It is a deceptively simple picture book that could be read in minutes. However, preparing this blog, I discovered further picture book clues!

Morag Hood uses a variation of bright yellow, bright green, bright blue and white backgrounds. Each colour supports meaning within every page of the story. Bat’s eyes are closed when we begin reading. He declares, ‘I AM BAT. I like CHERRIES.’ This is a statement of intent. The bright colours emphasise the meaning of the simple text. So does the bold, capitalised text.

Bookwagon I Am Bat

When Bat is describing the cherries, as ‘juicy’ and ‘red’ Morag Hood suggests his love of cherries by placing each adjective within a cherry image. The cherries are large and within a white background. The red and white are impactful. In pictures, including cinema, white offers an open ended, ‘forever’ impression.

Bookwagon I am Bat

Bat’s words and colours

Quickly Bat recalls that he intends to be fierce and protective. He offers, ‘THEY ARE MINE. Do NOT take my cherries’. A bright yellow background supports his words.

Bat is portrayed, face on, open-mouthed with teeth bared, when he continues to warn us that he will be ANGRY and FEROCIOUS should his cherries be taken. The words are within bright red and green backgrounds for emphasis.

Bookwagon I am Bat

Further picture book clues

When Bat suggests, ‘I WILL KNOW IF YOU TAKE ONE’ careful picture book detectives might spy a sneak thief. A single yellow paw bearing cherries within boldly coloured backgrounds without text, creates drama.

The loss of the cherries diminishes Bat. His eyebrows point skyward, thus / \ Bat’s ears point forward. Suddenly the font is smaller, ‘Where did they go?’

Readers spot clues! Beyond the big yellow paw, there is a tiny frog leg reaching out, a goose bill peering down, ants marching off. Bat looks at us. He is accusing and unaware of what is happening behind him. Somehow, we are complicit, ‘Was it YOU?‘ We have a full face portrait of Bat, his eyebrows curved, angrily, ‘I will NEVER be happy again’.

Bookwagon I am Bat

A pear-y happy conclusion?

The culprits peer down at Bat from above him, offering a pear, ‘Ooh!’ How ears perk up. ‘A PEAR’ perfect, centrally focused within a white background.

Further meaning

There is less text, not because it is a picture book for younger readers. Each word carries greater meaning in a picture book. Font and style bear a responsibility of understanding. Frequently vocabulary beyond the child’s understanding is included. The context enables children to understand these words and often, employ them in their own communication.

Picture book text leads to opportunities for the child to ‘read’ through rereading, recalling and reciting.

Bob Graham

Bookwagon Want to Play Trucks?Bob Graham is one of my favourite picture book makers. This week we included Want to Play Trucks?, his collaboration with picture book designer, Ann Stott.

To the playground of negotiation

‘Jack and Alex meet almost every morning in the sandpit at the playground.‘ The scene is set, with autumn leaves, squirrels on the path, and a private conversation between the mothers/carers.

Bookwagon Want to Play Trucks?

‘Jack likes trucks. Alex likes dolls’. These are the big statements. We know this because the pair are shown in two sequenced pictures, the sole, close up focus within big white space. The two do not make eye contact. We ‘read’ the picture book clues, that there may be tension.

‘Let’s play dolls that drive trucks,’ suggests Alex. He watches Jack, who has his hands on his hips, his eyebrows raised. Then, Jack watches Alex balance his doll in the trucks, his hand on his hip, another on his forehead, holding back his frustration.

The crisis

Bookwagon Want to Play Trucks?

When they face off, the reader is granted a bird’s eye view of the sandpit scene, alongside the squirrels. Life continues around the area. Jack and Alex’s mothers/carers are engaged in an intense conversation. Passers by stroll on. Leaves flutter. The picture is a double-spread of interest. We are like voyeurs.

Jack uses more words, ‘I like trucks that have cranes that can reach way up to the very top of a burning building.’

As we read on, Alex is standing on tip-toes, giving himself a height advantage. ‘I like dolls that can do dips and twirls, sings Alex.My doll can spin way up high in the cloud.’ This is no offering of a bigger explanation, but a feeling.

Reasons to resolution

Jack’s aversion to playing dolls that drive trucks is stated, ‘You can’t wear a tutu and drive a crane’. By this time, Jack is on the ground. He’s making direct eye contact with Alex. He’s almost entreating him.

Bookwagon Want to Play Trucks?

We watch their argument, ‘No’- insists/ ‘YES’- says/ ‘NO!’- shouts/ ‘YES YOU CAN!’- shouts’. Look at the text!  The declaration, the intensity, the certainty in the brevity! Look at the children’s raise eyebrow lines (like Bat’s!)

Reflected in the background is a similarly intense conversation. The parents/carers are completely absorbed in their communion, like the children. .

Readers see Jack, his hands open, suggesting a grand gesture, ‘It wouldn’t fit in the driver’s seat.’

‘Oh.’ Then Alex responds. ‘Dungarees, Purple dungarees.’

To conclude

Like previous pages where the children declared their preferences, these two are in sequence of statement and response. The picture book clues make us focus entirely on the children.

We turn the page toward the dénouement. Jack is playing with big, overladen trucks, making appropriate noises. The mothers/ carers continue their conversation. There’s a far-off sound of an ice-cream truck. We know it’s far off because of the gentle text colour.

The story concludes with an image mirroring the introduction. It’s a broad landscape picture. The children, and relevant mother/carer, focus only on the other. Arms are outstretched in farewell. The leaves fall. The gentle tones and broad spectrum offer feelings of familiarity, trust and nostalgia.

Bookwagon Want to Play Trucks?

After the play is over

I wonder what has happened with Jack’s mother. When Alex’s mother/carer left to buy ice-cream, Jack’s mother held Alex’s sibling tightly. At the conclusion she is on the phone. The adults’ conversation has been private and constant throughout our story reading. What has been going on?

Further, Jack and Alex are gender neutral names. Does their gender matter? The story is greater than this. Their play and negotiation are our focus.

More by Morag Hood and Bob Graham

Further titles aboard Bookwagon by the two featured picture book magicians include When Grandad Was a PenguinHow the Sun Got to Coco’s House and Home in the Rain. Can you see the picture book clues used in these wonderful titles?

Bookwagon When Grandad Was A Penguin    Bookwagon How The Sun Got to Coco's House   Bookwagon Home in the Rain

Bookwagon picture books

Bookwagon The DamCurating our proud picture book selection is one of the reasons we formed Bookwagon. Picture books offer opportunity to ‘read’ unlike any other form of book. Picture book creators are magicians. France and North America appear to offer greater respect and time to picture books. Bookwagon seeks out works from these countries, and others.

Our picture books are separated into two categories; picture books and sophisticated picture books. The second group is a selection of titles more evidently for older readers and as likely to be enjoyed by adults. I will share some of these titles in a future blog.

However, books for younger readers, like ‘Want to Play Trucks’ and ‘I Am Bat’ include nuances of understanding applicable to readers of ALL ages. They offer as many questions as they do answers. They are critical to building a reading for pleasure habit. We invite you to wander through our ever expanding picture book selection.

Happy reading! 





Children’s reading choices

Children’s reading choices

What does gender distinction have to do with children’s reading choices?
Pink and Blue

It wasn’t until the 1980’s that gender specific clothing became common, i.e., pink for girls, blue for boys. The distinction coincided with prenatal testing determining the sex of an expected arrival. Parents shopped for merchandise to ‘prepare’ for the arrival.

Bookwagon pink booties

The determination of pink for girls and blue for boys could have gone the other way. Post-war parents were advised that pink was a stronger colour, more suitable for boys. Girls suited prettier, delicate, dainty blue. In 1927 Time magazine printed a chart showing gender-appropriate colours for girls and boys in leading US stores. The general advice was pink for boys, blue for girls.

Unicorns and dinosaurs

Bookwagon Are We There Yet?Supermarkets, chains and Amazon are profit led. Children’s reading choices in these arenas offer a wealth of products featuring unicorns for girls and dinosaurs for boys. Bookwagon makes independent choices. We have a couple of books featuring unicorns or dinosaurs.  One is Dan Santat’s sophisticated picture book Are We There Yet? It plays upon the familiar travel refrain. The long car trip becomes a journey through time, including a prehistoric past. Its appeal is its creativity and skill. ‘Are We There Yet’ appeals to readers, whether boy or girl.

Pink and blue and books
Unicorn and dinosaur books are presented differently. Unicorn books will feature a glitter background in the first, with pink, purple and aqua tones. Dinosaur books are created in primary colours, with dark or stark white backgrounds and bold font lettering. These seek to dictate children’s reading choices, subtly.

A leading publishing house offered Bookwagon a series of mermaid books. The introductory title features a sparkly turquoise background, its sequel pink.

A Headteacher told me that a commercial school book fair company separates sale stock into pink and blue to offer gender distinction to pupils. This book fair company offers huge discounts on titles to schools, yet the titles on offer are disposable and sparse within a gamut of merchandise.

Defender of the Realm

Bookwagon Defender of the Realm trilogyMark Huckerby and Nick Ostler shared their experience of publication of Defender of the Realm. The first published cover bore little resemblance to any character or incident in the book. A superhero, such as from a Marvel comic, stood poised. Anyone lucky enough to have read this wonderful series will know that Alfie, the central hero is a ‘weakling’ with little confidence or charisma. He chooses to surrender the throne to his younger twin brother, through fear and perceived reputation. Alfie is no superhero. Hayley, an independent, intuitive, suburban girl supports Alfie’s quest. Yet the market considered an image different from the story would attract a boys’, ‘superhero’ market. Further, the cover should not include a girl.


Bookwagon Lisa ThompsonWhen working with writers, we have heard adults ask, ‘How can you write as a girl?’ (to a male writer like Christopher Edge), or ‘as a boy?’ (to Lisa Thompson). Lisa Thompson said she was compelled by her characters’ stories, rather than concerned by their gender. Her concerted motivation shows. Matthew’s situation in The Goldfish Boy is unbearable. We feel for him in his enforced isolation. His is a human experience. We long to comfort and support Nate, beyond in any treasure hunt in the exceptional The Light Jar

Girls vs. Boys

When Mr Bookwagon attended a meeting of children’s bookselling members of the Booksellers’ Association a round table discussion arrived at the same conclusion. The ‘Rebel Girls’/ ‘Fantastic Girls’ market has created an overspill of similar titles. The message has become saturated and strained.

Predominantly parents and grandparents of daughters and granddaughters have felt compelled to buy these strongly female messaged books. They have not, in our experience, proved individual children’s reading choices. That children’s adults will share the message of these books is encouraging. However, it is more exciting to think of children assuming messages of equality and fairness through a reading experience of inspired fiction and alternative non-fiction. Bookwagon Defender trilogy

His/story and Her/story

#MeToo and the Suffrage centenary have empowered a female message necessarily. Yet at moments, it has felt almost competitive. There is room in our storytelling for all human experience and possibilities. This is what shapes us. It is a pleasure to share books about remarkable people like Zaha Hadid The World is Not a Rectangle or James Thompson, Cook’s Cook. Understanding Mafalda’s experience of losing her sight in The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree is revealing.  Vanessa Harbour’s magnificent story Flight builds from the Third Reich’s determination to capture the priceless Lipizzaner stallions of the Spanish Riding School. That stable hand Jakob is a boy, and the rescue mission of the stallions is interrupted by a girl, does not matter. Yet Jakob and Kizzy’s experiences as Jew and Roma, inform and enrich. Children’s reading choices benefit from such experience.

Bookwagon The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree        Bookwagon Flight

Girls and boys in books

There is some consideration from librarians and booksellers that it is difficult for boys to engage in reading if the central protagonist is a girl. The bookselling discussion, and an exchange at a boys’ school led me to enquire with the Bookwagon Readers’ group. They dismissed this as ‘nonsense’.  I had met with an experienced school librarian who told me that boys choose to read books with a male lead characters, only.  Despite years of experience in education, reading and library leadership, and bookselling, I had never thought to recommend books on a gender basis. Had I been doing boys a disservice? Should I have been my considered in my recommendations when working with girls?

Choosing a book

Bookwagon Trinny and Susannah 2My favourite part of being a bookseller is recommending a book. I suspect it feels like a diagnosis, or being Trinny or Susannah on the 1990’s ‘What Not to Wear‘. My motivation is to build a reader.

Parents and teachers are concerned about selecting the ‘right’ children’s books to initiate or build a reading habit. Professional children’s librarians and independent children’s booksellers enable children’s reading choices. Experience of a wide range of books and being able to fit the book to the child are unique to these professions. Children deserve more than to be typecast as pink or blue, unicorn or dinosaur, Walliams, Dahl or Blyton. Opportunity to experience as many genres, writers and themes as possible must be available to all young readers.

Happy reading!








Reading journeys

Reading journeys

Reading makes immigrants of us all. It takes us away from home, but more important, it finds homes for us everywhere.’- Jean Rhys

To a summer reading challenge

Bookwagon reading journeys holiday reading

I hope you’ve settled into a summer of reading. I wonder about the reading journeys  ahead for you and your family. What  titles have you selected; genres, writers, punts, or favourites. Have your children opted for favourites? Maybe books by familiar writers, with familiar themes? Are there a few challenges, titles and subjects to stimulate or confuse, amongst their books?

Bookwagon reading journeys' something familiarBookwagon is asked for qualified suggestions to extend the range and variety of children’s reading. Many informed parents and teachers are concerned that children choose books with which they are familiar exclusively. They want their children to read widely and richly in order to experience the full wonder of reading.

The familiar

I have an acquaintance who has returned to the same holiday destination at the same time of year for nearly 35 years. Her photographs are spectacular and she enjoys herself enormously. However, the curious adventurer in me wonders, ‘Don’t you want to try something different?’

When reading, I am keen to follow up a favourite writer’s work, or find links to certain genres or styles that attract me. Yet discovering someone or something new is so exciting! Reading journeys propel and ignite the joy and interest of reading.

The less familiar

Bookwagon reading journey piles of booksOften, I am asked how I source Bookwagon books. Every day, I search for titles that offer children reading journeys. Books with different characters, of contrasting styles, with disparate voices, including a range of settings, and from rich and varied origins.

Bookwagon reads and loves every book we sell. We describe the book in our own words, offering information and our impression of it for you.

The trail

A book will go through many incarnations before it arrives on our wagon. From the writer’s idea, to an agent’s suggestions, an editorial assistant’s reading, to a publishing meeting, editorial, sales, marking and publicity. The process can take 12 months. A scent of success in the creator’s original idea is essential. Books must be seen as marketable.  ‘Harry Potter’  was followed by a glut of magic stories, while celebrity writers are selected, and successful series revisited constantly. While writing this, I learned a major publisher is preparing a cookbook of ‘Famous Five’ recipes for the adult Christmas reading market!

How to break the mould

To break through, with a divergent idea or character is an achievement. Faith and marketing from the publisher,  knowledge and recommendation from librarians and booksellers, determines this.

Bookwagon reading journeys' something differentBookwagon is committed to providing an extensive range of books. Our reading experience enables informed recommendations. It is why we implore readers and customers to support independent booksellers when choosing books. We want a fair opportunity for book creators. Bookwagon respects readers as we for children to read widely and richly.

Recent research

Recently the Centre of Literacy in Primary Education published the outcome of its Reflecting Realities’ research. Amongst other results, it revealed that:-

  • 4% of children’s books published in 2017 featured BAME (black or minority ethnic) characters;
  • 1% of children’s books published in 2017 featured a BAME (black or minority ethnic) main character.

This is not my reality, and it is unlikely to be your reality, either.

Bookwagon reading journeys' books' selection

    Bookwagon reading journey’s selection

Something different

Divergence in books reflects and expands upon our own experience and reminds us of our humanity.

Refugee stories such as Boy 87 are essential. This is our world. Scientist writer, Nicola Davies was so perturbed when she heard of a refugee child turned away from an English school through the lack of a chair, that she created The Day War Came. The Guardian, along with writers and illustrators, have taken up the symbol of the chair to remind us of those seeking inclusiveness, empathy and welcome.

Bookwagon reading journeys' Boy 87           Bookwagon The Day War Came

Katie and Kevin Tsang’s titles  Sam Wu is NOT Afraid of Ghosts and  Sam Wu is NOT Afraid of Sharks had Bookwagon readers laughing uproariously. Yet, there are moments, such as when Sam invites his friends home for a traditional Chinese meal, that are meaningful and moving. Reading journeys into such a personal experience expand our emotional comprehension.

Something familiar

Kim Slater writes boldly, movingly and truthfully. Nottingham is the setting for ‘Smart’  and ‘928 Miles from Home’. These titles are raw and real. Smart is the story of learning disabled Kieran whose mother must learn to ‘rely on herself ‘ (to quote his grandmother). Kieran’s pursuit of justice for a homeless man found dead in the canal, is brave and authentic.

Bookwagon Smart               Bookwagon Reading Journeys' 928 Miles From Home

In 928 Miles from Home Kim Slater takes up the story of Calum, who copes through his father’s absences. Calum has picked up with a gang who bully an immigrant boy, whose story becomes central to Calum’s future.

Kofi, with a researching father and GP mother, demonstrates admirable resolve and determination in The Starman and Me  His middle England setting is entirely familiar, yet his discovery, taking in history and the future, is bold and magical. Rorti Thrutch, a prehistoric character, seems very possible, somehow.

Bookwagon The Starman and Me     Bookwagon What Lexie Did   Bookwagon Hope in a Ballet Shoe

Something near

Writer Emma Shevah researched the Greek- Cypriot community thoroughly in creating the relatable, readable  What Lexie Did . The quandary in which Lexie finds herself is possible. It offers us a dilemma on our reading journey with Lexie. What would we do in Lexie’s shoes?

Something far

What would we do if we were in the shoes of Mabinti, orphaned at four, and shunned by her Sierra Leonean village because of vitiligo and a capacity to learn? Ballerina Michaela DePrince’s autobiography opened up a world of terror, possibility and respect for me. We recommend Hope in a Ballet Shoe  to children seeking a rich experience upon their reading journeys.

Bookwagon Reading journeys' Dudley Do Right rollercoasterDays spent in Key West are remembered fondly by Mr Bookwagon and me. Jennifer L. Holm’s award-winning  Full of Beans explains the history of the development of this tourist idyll. Little did I know it was due to hardworking, ‘eye on the prize’ individuals like our hero ‘Beans’, during FDR’s New Deal!

I am compelled to include the outstanding Chinese translation  Bronze and Sunflower from any thoughts of titles that are diverse, different and distinguished.

Something pictured, poetic and perfect

Joseph Coelho has won huge, deserved acclaim for his incisive, contemporary, rich poetry and picture books. His latest, If all the world were…  illustrated by Alison Colpoys, is glorious. Reading journeys such as this, where we step into the shoes of a child mourning her grandfather through the seasons, are a privilege.

A Chinese grandfather is at the centre of the journey taken in Ocean Meets Sky the latest creation by the dazzling Canadian Fan Brothers. Creating a boat, our central character travels to places his beloved grandfather told him about, where ‘Ocean Meets Sky’. It is a treat for the emotions and senses.

I could not end this blog with a more diverse and wonderful title than the hypnotic Julian is a Mermaid. The lush illustrations, curious story and joyous conclusion lead us on reading journeys of radiance.

Bookwagon If All the World Were     Bookwagon Ocean Meets Sky   Julian Is A Mermaid

Wishes for your reading journeys

We hope you’re making the most of the holiday and the wealth of opportunity on your reading journeys. Please look to Bookwagon should you have any enquiries, or suggestions.

Happy reading.