What is independence?

While our website was being rebuilt, Bookwagon sought tuition from a marketing consultant. At one point we argued that his comparison of Bookwagon to Amazon was irrelevant. Bookwagon is an independent children’s bookshop. He asked, ‘What does independent mean? What is independence?’

Independence Bookwagon dictionaryChambers dictionary defines ‘independent‘ as- ‘not under the control or authority of others/ not relying on others for financial support, care, help or guidance; thinking and acting for oneself and not under an obligation to others‘.

Independence is intrinsic to every individual. The reader’s horror of George Orwell’s ‘1984‘ is Winston’s loss of independence. The fear of North Korea, or any totalitarian regime is an absence of independence. Sightings of ‘Love Island‘ have filled me with revulsion, because of the obligatory similarity of the contestants and their manipulated dependence. Where is independence?


England team independence BookwagonEngland is revelling in its revived national football team, not only because of its success in the 2018 FIFA World Cup, but because of the teamwork shown. Despite individual stars, none is mightier than the team. This team shows an independence of focused determination for which English supporters have longed. Its waist-coated manager, Gareth Southgate reminds each team member ‘You are writing your own story. You are creating your own history.’

Independent bookselling

Bookwagon loves being part of the community of independent children’s booksellers. It is a group with the same focus, i.e., to ensure children, families and schools might know about and access their own great children’s books.

Bookwagon book fair at Facebook HQ

            Bookwagon popup book fair at Facebook HQ

There is little profit to be made from being an independent children’s bookseller. The work is almost vocational, an act of dedication and love.

Bookwagon independence

Bookwagon is determined to root out ‘forever’ books; you may see that term offered in my descriptors. Descriptors are the mini-blurbs we write for every book we recommend. We could buy in the product descriptions – as many on-line bookshops do – but stand by our mission statement ‘to sell books we have read and loved only.’ How could we regurgitate another’s words when they do not reflect our experience? We are writing our own, independent story.

By shunning collective descriptions of titles, and selecting books we’ve read and loved only, Bookwagon’s  recommendations are authentic. We are not saying our selections ‘are the only fruit’. However, readers who look over our bookshop titles, or contact us personally for recommendations, trust our experience.


The reader’s need for independence

Choosing books from an independent children’s bookshop means wider choice. Independent booksellers like Bookwagon select books that meet readers’ individual needs of readers. Independent booksellers want readers to enjoy the best reading experience from their books.

The writer connection

Bookwagon feels privileged in its unique connection with writers. We work alongside writers, love and sell their books, learn their stories, (‘What is your inspiration?‘). To quote Costa winner Jason Wallace, with whom we have recently worked,  ‘When I write I seek a new perspective. I have an independence of thought I have to follow.’

Jason Wallace with Year 8 students

      Jason Wallace, Year 8 students, ‘Encounters

What can we do?

Working alongside a group of writers recently, one opined, ‘There are too many books.‘  Rather like the spew of cheap clothing that clutters our high streets, we are up to our chops in discard, mass-produced, reproduced titles and series. Publishers churn out similar material, or versions of long familiar material. Such a glut of books means it is too easy for ‘quality’ books that fulfil a reader to be lost and overlooked. 

In ‘The Pool’, writer Daisy Buchanan considered the demise of Britain’s department stores-  ‘We can’t keep shopping like this, seeking bargains we get bored of, supporting companies that don’t pay tax and buying five £10 dresses that get thrown away for every £50 dress we keep. In 2018, consumers can instantly get whatever they want, but we’ll eventually get what we deserve, too.’

It is the same situation for books. Charity shops request patrons do not donate books, or overly familiar works, or titles by mass produced writers. We need to choose the books we buy carefully, seeking ‘forever’ copies. That way we enable readers to have a rich, broad, quality, meaningful reading experience. We support our writing community honourably and informatively.

Independence in writing

We tread in the steps of the stories we read. A suggestion of recently added Bookwagon titles, offer rich participation pickings.

Some picture books:-

How To Be A Lion         The Flight of Mr Finch      The Secret Sky Garden

Ed Vere’s  latest title  How To Be a Lion  share’s Leonard’s life. Gentle, poetry writing, duck befriending Leonard, doesnt quite demonstrate what it takes. How can Leonard strike a blow for independence and avoid ‘chomping’?

When Mr Finch buys a vine to cheer Pip, his life is upended to wild experiences and worlds never imagined. The Flight of Mr Finch is a wonderful, Rousseau- like, sophisticated picture book we recommend for readers of all ages!

Funi takes the initiative on an abandoned carpark roof in building  The Secret Sky Garden. This is a luscious cry for independence and beauty in an urban world.

Some books for newer readers:-

Bad Nana Older Not Wiser            Rose's Dress of Dreams          Sam Wu is NOT Afraid of Sharks cover image            Embassy of the Dead          The Secret of the Night Train

Jeanie is admiring and horrified by Bad Nana Older Not Wiser. She’s embarrassing, tactless and unafraid. This is  Sophy Henn’s first early reader chapter book, after success with her wonderful picture books. It left me laughing out loud and longing for a Bad Nana all of my own!

Katherine Woodfine is best known for the superb Taylor & Rose detective series, opening with The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow. Now she turns her hand to the story of Rose Bertin, coutourière to the French Court of Marie Antoinette in Rose’s Dress of Dreams. This is a story of hope over adversity, independence over tradition.

Although Sam Wu denies he’s frightened, his actions tell another story. Both Mr AND Mrs Bookwagon have delighted in Sam Wu is NOT afraid of GHOSTS and Sam Wu is NOT afraid of SHARKS.

I don’t think Sam Wu would cope if he met Stiffkey, the undertaker, on a foggy alleyway. Jake’s polite ‘Good morning’ sets off a chain of creepy events that had me absolutely gripped! Embassy of the Dead is splendidly researched, pacy writing that deserves a wide readership.

Readers with rather more experience will enjoy Max’s break for respect and independence. She accepts an invitation by a ‘tricky’ great aunt to travel to Turkey from Paris accompanied by the curious Sister Marguerite. Sylvia Bishop has created an engrossing detective read in The Secret of the Night Train 

For confident readers to older readers:-

A Most Magical Girl              The Grand Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler           Secrets of a Sun King      Jelly         The Weight of a Thousand Feathers cover image

Bookwagon has a determination is to offer great international titles. Two books that delighted recently, include A Most Magical Girl by Karen Foxlee, writer of our popular Christmas title, Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy.

Meanwhile, the heatwave proved a great backdrop to enjoy the gorgeous, The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler. I could smell the beach! Henry finds a friend, and his voice on a family summer holiday to Yeelonga, learning to respect his independence and others’ too.

We welcome Emma Carroll’s latest, Secrets of a Sun King  It’s post war London, the news is full of Howard Carter, while Lilian’s grandfather is seriously unwell. Visiting his flat one evening, Lilian discovers a parcel containing ancient artefacts… How could this relate to events in Luxor?

Older readers are recommended Jelly, the latest title by the wonderful Jo Cotterill. This is about learning to value yourself for who you are, honestly, at any age. I love its determination, the strength of its story and its endearing, flawed, yet realistically created, lead character.

The Weight of a Thousand Feathers is a witty, unflinching story of a young carer, struggling to hold it together for his mother and younger brother. Mr Bookwagon claims it is one of the best books he has read.

Further Bookwagon independence  

After much consideration, we have declined to participate in the 2018 Christmas books’ catalogue. Participation would have meant agreeing to stock every title offered. Many are the sort of disposable  titles that do not meet our criteria of books that fill your heart and mind, thoughts and feelings. To that end, there’ll be a Bookwagon Christmas catalogue, full of books we have read and loved and recommend. First, there’s a list of summer reading suggestions to construct!

Happy reading.




Our Online Independent Children’s Bookshop

Our Online Independent Children’s Bookshop

Joy at the reveal of revised website, Bookwagon, our online independent children's bookshop

Bookwagon, our online independent children’s bookshop, is a year old. So here it is, right here, right now, with a drum roll and a huge bow, our brand new, proud website. Thank you to everyone who has contributed to its development, from suggesting designers, to making observations, to providing photographs.

In the weeks of  website development, we have read books and selected many we hope you, our readers and supporters, will love. Bookwagon sells books we have read and loved. It’s not a review process; what we write about the books are ‘descriptors’. Books included in our online independent children’s bookshop are those from our reading own experience rather than a publishing production.

Our bookshop

The Shop Around Every Corner, our online independent children's bookshop When we imagined our bookshop, we saw something rather like ‘The Shop Around the Corner‘, Meg Ryan’s bookshop in ‘You’ve Got Mail’. However, 21st century independent bookshops are prohibitively expensive to establish and run. Few succeed, and those that do are often highly indebted, compromised, or not as independent as customers might realise. We applaud independent bookshop owners who work hard to maintain something unique to our High Street.

Bookwagon aims to follow suit as an online independent children’s bookshop, but with a wider geographical perspective and content opportunity. All independent children’s bookshops are committed to sharing their knowledge and understanding of children’s books. Bookwagon is determined to celebrate this outstanding art/ literary form, support the wonderful creators of children’s books fairly, and bring our readers ‘best fit’, glorious children’s books.

Our readers

Jake and Ben reading books from Bookwagon, our online independent children's bookshopPhotographs on the introductory homepage slider of our website include relatives, godchildren and friends. Every one is a reader. Each child is at a different stage, with varying habits and preferences. We’re the same. It’s the experience of reading that offers us the opportunity to establish those choices.

Bookwagon remains reluctant to confine books exclusive by age group. We realise this is an established marker, but  many reading opportunities are lost. This week, I enjoyed a crafty French picture book, The Society of Distinguished Lemmings. I thought of friends who would love this book, one an experienced archaeologist. Yet, the picture book format suggests to some browsers a genre exclusively for very young children. I’m encouraged that Bookwagon readers use our tags, scroll through the categories, to arrive at unique and eye and heart tickling titles.

Our online independent children’s bookshop

Bookwagon visitors are invited to access our services directly on the site. You can keep up to date with the latest titles through the changing book covers, before exploring further. You can tap the tag cloud to locate books to match your readers’ preferences. These lead to links to other titles that might appeal also.

The Kate Scott CollectionBookwagon has introduced, offers within the drop down categories’ menu. We are delighted to include many of our favourites here in our introductory offers, including The Kate Scott collection, The Emily Hughes’ collection, The Jason Wallace collection and The ‘Defender of the Realm’ trilogy. These are all at great prices. What could be better? Wonderful books by superb writers at tempting prices?

Take a look

Visitors can see what we’ve been up to in our photo gallery of images within the Book Fairs and Writers’ Visits’ pages.

While the site has been redeveloping, we’ve taken writers including Sibéal Pounder, Jason Wallace and Robin Stevens into schools. We enjoyed a wonderful literary experience with Emily Hughes and Christopher Edge. Bookwagon spoke about the relevance of reading to the STEM subjects in education.

Bookwagon has held a number of book fairs within the past month, selecting our titles to match the theme and venue, whether charity, school, or local park during half term holiday!

Our schools’ links are growing strongly, as our knowledge and experience are sought to support the building of a rich, enabling reading experience for children.

From one dream to another

While never achieving Meg Ryan’s hairstyle, or fictional bookshop, I have achieved one long held dream while we’ve been ‘offline’. We are invited to an evening with acclaimed picture book makers, Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen during the rebuilding of our online independent children’s bookshop. The pair visited London to publicise Square the sculptured follow-up to the tricky Triangle. Rather like the completion of the renovation of our online independent children’s bookshop, the anticipation.

 With a rather big P.S.

Bookwagon readers who choose ‘The Guardian’ on Saturday, will discover Bookwagon listed as an independent bookshop in this newspaper’s recommended children’s books’ supplement. Next week  Independent Book Week 2018 will be celebrated. In this section is a selection of recent children’s book releases.

While we are able to supply any title included in this supplement, not all are included on our site. Please contact us should you have a particular title in mind. We are keen to maintain our online independent children’s bookshop ethos of hosting books that we have read and loved only.

Get in touch

Bookwagon invites you to call or email.. We love your feedback, comments and enquiries. You’ll notice our new telephone number on the Contacts’ page. What do you think of our brand new website for starters? Have you read any of the titles we include on our online independent children’s bookshop pages?


You’ll notice that we’re unique as described in ‘The Guardian‘ children’s books’ supplement, and known to our readers and supporters. Bookwagon is the only online independent children’s bookshop. It’s a proud place to be. 





To the live experience

To the live experience

                Elbow, the live experience

We have enjoyed a live experience from Elbow, a favourite band on a number of occasions. I love their songs, especially for Guy Garvey’s poetic lyrics. During our first Elbow concert, he explained that ‘Mirror Ball‘ was inspired by the rush of a first realisation of love. This confidence offered a memory for my new husband and me that makes this song special to us:-



You make the moon our mirror ball/ The street’s an empty stage/ The city’s sirens, violins/ Everything has changed’ Elbow Mirrorball Live with the Halle Orchestra

So close but so far away

                                                   Bathers at Asnieres- Georges Seurat

While at school, I longed to experience live works and creative people. I wanted the live experience of theatre, or see the paint laid thick under Van Gogh’s palette knife. In my first London year, much of my teaching income went toward cultural visits. I took in every exhibition I could. It was suddenly so close!


Mr Bookwagon and I share a joy in live experience. This week we took in a splendid example

Sir Mark Rylance offered a ‘radio show’ style performance of his play, ‘I Am Shakespeare‘ as part of Brunel University’s Shakespeare celebration. Sir Mark’s play compares the possible authors of Shakespeare’s plays. It was last performed last some eleven years ago. Sir Mark had gathered a group of family and friends to reprise the work for one night. To be close to a hero is one thing, but to enjoy a live experience that made me laugh till I hurt, was another. It reminded me of how important it is that all children should have equal access to visiting writers.

                                                             Sir Mark Rylance and friends, ‘I am Shakespeare’

Looking ahead

The Bookwagon school visit calendar is chockablock. Recently we enabled workshops with the wonderful picture book maker Jane Ray.  Robin Stevens, Christopher Edge and Emily Hughes will work with us in the week ahead. (Superstitions and the need for surprise prevent revelation of the full list!)

Each time we work with such gifted and generous creators, we are awed. Writers make huge efforts to inspire and inform their young audiences. Their impact cannot be underestimated.

Writers’ visits

Carnegie medal winning New Zealander, Margaret Mahy – Tale of a Tail provided my first live experience by a writerShe was bizarrely bewigged, but entranced us through story telling and performance. Since then, through luck, effort, event and location, I have been fortunate to enjoy working with or experiencing many children’s writers. Each stays with me. There is something about hearing the writer talk about his/her works that is particularly special.

Some consider that once a writer, including a songwriter, releases a work, that piece becomes the property of the audience. Perhaps. Anyone who has ever discussed their feelings about a book or song is likely to offer a subjective experience. Yet, the writer is the authority, finally, for he/she is ‘the seed’ that starts the work.


Threats to local libraries casts doubt that children have equal opportunities to interact with writers. School budget cuts mean that fewer children have live experience of a writer. Free or discounted visits, are available upon occasion, but these raise the spectre of the writer being left out of pocket. Already writers’ average earnings are abysmal, with many working extra jobs in order to earn a living wage.

The Society of Authors advises that schools plan ahead, as a number do, budgeting for events 6-12 months ahead. Suggestions include writer visits within a theme, subject, or special event, or sharing costs with another local school.


Aside from lasting memories and greater understanding as to inspiration and meaning, a live experience of a writer gives so much to a young audience. It:-

  • encourages reading for pleasure;
  • motivates creative writing;
  • shows that writing is vital;
  • builds reading confidence;
  • broadens knowledge of literature;
  • develops an ‘ownership’ of books;
  • improves library borrowing;
  • announces the school/ library as a reading environment
Emma Carroll school visit live experience

Emma Carroll, school visit

The venue

Jane Ray and Sally Thomas, librarian

Jane Ray, Sally Thomas, school librarian

Like welcoming guests to our homes, schools have a responsibility to host writers considerately. Titles should be known by pupils and staff, and the event well promoted and anticipated. Visiting writers should not be considered teacher fill-ins, to enable staff to enjoy their non-contact time, or work through English teaching points. Writers offer a special experience for all. Schools with librarians have an advantage here, in the expertise and appreciation offered.

Writers expect to sign copies of their books at their events. This is their livelihood. It’s a way to connect with readers.



What we do and why we do it

Bookwagon organises writer visits. It supports events as an independent bookseller, offering the visiting writers’ works for sale ahead of and/or during an event. Bookwagon offers information about writers,  biography and background, and descriptors of their works that schools, parents and children might make informed choices of books to buy and have signed.

We recognise the positive, meaningful and long-lasting impact that writers’ visits have on children. Bookwagon is proud of its expanding bookshop, and expertise and experience in reading.  We are committed to enabling and supporting equal and fair live experience of real children’s writers.

Titles by Bookwagon’s current guest writers

Everything You Need for a TreehouseEmily Hughes:-

Everything You Need for a Treehouse   Charlie & Mouse & Grumpy   The Little Gardener   Wild


The Infinite Lives of Maisie DayChristopher Edge:

The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day   The Jamie Drake Equation   The Many Worlds of Albie Bright


Jane Ray:-

Zeraffa Giraffa   The Glassmaker’s Daughter   Heartsong   Worry Angels


Robin Stevens:-

‘The Murder Most Unladylike’ series, including:- A Spoonful of Murder   The Guggenheim Mystery   Mistletoe and Murder   Mystery & Mayhem: Twelve Deliciously Intriguing Mysteries


We hope something there, or from our bookshop wagon piques your interest! Maybe your’e thinking ahead to your next live experience!

Happy reading! 

P.S. Watch out for exciting changes to our website!

A place to go and be happy

A place to go and be happy

The school place

Teachers spend chunks of time during their year reorganising classrooms. There are many reasons for this; from different events to varying themes and needs. However, one constant factor is a need to create the right reading place.

Physical restrictions of some classrooms mean the right place may have to be a child’s desk or table. In that case, the teacher will ensure that she/ he has the right atmosphere for reading. This will be a routine time, always quiet with the only focus upon the reading process. In some of the best classrooms I’ve seen, the teacher reads too. She/ he is modelling that this is a special time.

This is different from curricular class reading practice with  tasks and teaching points. This is reading, with joy of the book and a personal experience.

Joyce Carol Oates says, ‘Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.’  Readers know, what we hold is Not Just a Book 

The home place

At home, many of the same considerations for finding the right place to read apply. Reading time and behaviour should be routine. That means at the same time in the same way.

The home reading book for children should never be a battle. The child should be fed and watered and relaxed. Ideally, the same area for reading practice should be allocated.

Reading, aka reading for pleasure– the type that is C.S. Lewis’s ‘cup of tea‘ of life- needs a similar approach. This time should be uninterrupted, free of pressures, and comfortable. It should be their time. Parents who read demonstrate this sort of approach, so children assume it is natural. When children see their parents read as a matter of course, they will read too.

Bookwagon place

Mr Bookwagon and I read differently. Years of reading on his city commute became Mr B’s routine. He could block out the other travellers within a decent amount of travel time that was his own.

After his commuting days, he found it difficult to find a new reading place. Now it’s propped up on the the bed with cushions, morning and evening.

I read, as Gustav Flaubert instructed, ‘to live’. When teaching, with many hours devoted beyond the school day, my reading was truncated and frequently frustrated. It meant that any holiday became a void wherein I was offered ‘escape, comfort, consolation and stimulant‘- Paul Auster.

My reading place is different from Mr Bookwagon’s. While I like cushions, I need to be propped up. I sit on my feet, or stretch onto a footstool. A favourite place to read is in the room where I’m working, which is well lit, airy and secluded.

Bedtime reading

The bedtime read is an altogether different thing. This is that cherished time that bonds readers and the story they share. It’s physical and specia

Olivia by Ian Falconer:-

‘Only five books tonight, Mummy,’ she says. ‘No Olivia, just one.’ ‘How about four?’ ‘Two.’ ”Three.’ ‘Oh all right, but that’s it!’ 

Like reading alone, bedtime reading should always be routine and uninterrupted. Reading parents continue reading to their children long after they are able to read alone in their reading place. They recognise how hearing a story supports and extends understanding, vocabulary development, and real literacy.

Reading for pleasure

Even from infant, when it seems the child is too young and the book doesn’t make sense, that child merits a reading place.

It may be through a basket or shelf of books, possibly baby chewed, from which she or he will  make a selective decision. They may linger, point, approximate the text as they’ve heard the words read before, but they’re reading for pleasure. They’re hearing the voices, realising the story and reading.

When it’s all put together, the book becomes the jewel in the place, the target and  joy. J.K. Rowling says, ‘Wherever I am, if I’ve a book with me, I have a place I can go and be happy.’ 

Take a look at our selection of Latest titles for children’s books to read in their reading place. Every book has been read and loved by us, in our reading places.

Happy reading!








How do you read?

How do you read?

So how do you read?

How do you read?’ This question has been prompted through my visit to a schools’ reading resources’ provider’s website. As I browsed, I became frustrated, as I would have as a young reader. Titles within series had been separated through the variety of levelling systems offered. One book from a series may have been included on one level, but in order to read the succeeding book, the reader would have to wait until he/she had read the other books on that first level. So much time and waiting! What differences in text might there be between the individual titles? It is surely preferable for any reader to have a fully realised understanding of a story, style or voice?

I thought to my own experience, the experience of children I’ve taught and within my family. There was a blast of empathetic frustration! So, how do you read?

I want to read everything written by an author, or within a series when I really like a book. Most recently, I felt that way about the works of Holly Goldberg Sloan, after being knocked sideways by the magnificent Counting by 7s. I am happy to learn she’s a potential winner of the Newbery Honor award, announced next week, with her latest title. 

Today, I read Dan Smith’s latest thriller Below Zero . My godson, Jake, introduced me to Dan Smith. He wrote about Boy X for Bookwagon. I was terrified to read ‘Below Zero‘ as I have an overactive imagination that anticipates anything scary. I read the title during warmer daylight hours, reassured there would be no seafood on our evening menu. As the story concluded, I began to anticipate its sequel, where Zak might overcome the elusive Phoenix.

Overcoming is in our minds as we commemorate 100 years since Britain granted women the vote:-  Centenary of Women’s Suffrage.

Aboard the Bookwagon are  books that commemorate women’s suffrage, from those created specifically, like Make More Noise! to others that share and compare women’s experiences, like works by Emma Carroll, such as In Darkling Wood. Helen Peters compares experience across a century in the subtle, brilliantly researched  Evie’s Ghost. Researcher Kate Pankhurst’s Fantastically Great Women Who Made History offers punchy, proud information in a really approachable manner.

From Ursula Le Guin to Katherine Rundell

Fantasy and science fiction writer, Ursula Le Guin died at the end of January. Her works and experience influenced many readers. At school, I won ‘The Wizard of Earthsea‘ series as an English prize. Her genre was not a natural fit to me, yet those stories have lingered. She said:-

We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains.’

Considering these words, Ursula Le Guin’s influence, while commemorating women’s suffrage makes me think of the battles won and the battles ahead. However, reading, especially from an early age, offers validity in our truth. Katherine Rundell’s fearless experience influences her writing and readers. Katherine was the recipient of the Edward Stanford London Book Fair Children’s Travel Book of the Year award for The Explorer. Her determination, resilience and curiosity shine through in her works.

Children’s Mental Health Week

Early and constant reading experiences are essential for children. The theme of Children’s Mental Health Week 2018 is celebrating uniqueness; developing ‘a positive view of ourselves that can help us to cope with life’s challenges,  recognising the different qualities of others that allow us to connect with those around us‘.

The Reading Agency’s 10-year programme of research reported, ‘Reading for pleasure can result in increased empathy, improved relationships with others, reductions in the symptoms of depression and improved wellbeing. In addition, reading for pleasure has social benefits and can improve our sense of connectedness to the wider community. Reading increases our understanding of our own identity, improves empathy and gives us an insight into the world view of others.’ 

Reading and Children’s Mental Health

Many books on the Bookwagon site offering a sense of validation and community. I felt this way about Counting by 7s, one of the best written books about bereavement and grief, for child or adult, I have ever read. Worry Angels offers Amy-May an opportunity to work and talk through her fears. The reappearance of an imaginary friend from infancy triggers 10-year old Jackson to reveal the overwhelming sense of responsibility he feels for his family’s poverty in the outstanding, Crenshaw. AJ worries that the authorities will remove him from his parents after his Grandad, who supported their learning needs, dies, in the beautiful, Running on Empty. Anxiety is at the heart of the brutal relationship explored magnificently by Stewart Foster in All The Things That Could Go Wrong.

Reading for All

It is appalling to learn that financial pressures precludes many schools from having consistently well-resourced reading provision. Many British schools rely on the generosity of  teaching staff, parents, volunteers, and charity shops, for books. Bookwagon donated boxes of books that we had read and decided to no longer stock, to six schools in London, Hertfordshire, Norwich and Merseyside over Christmas. Basic educational needs like reading books should not be so adversely affected by budgetary concerns. Into the breach arrives Maz Evans, writer of the wonderful Who Let the Gods Out? series. 


Using her considerable influence on Twitter, Maz has created #BookBuddy, wherein schools connect with writers and booksellers to build positive reading experiences. Bookwagon is delighted to be involved. We are matched with two schools. We are keenly working to secure future projects and book donations. If you would like to be involved in supporting a school through this wonderful project, please follow:-#bookbuddy on Twitter.

Best Wheel Forward 

Bookwagon aims to roll ahead constantly. We have been preparing for a big resources’ fair this week. Ahead are writer visits, book fairs and a number of other events, including the London Book Fair. Meanwhile, we are considering how our business might develop. Several customers have set up subscription services with us, while we have a number of enquiries about this possibility, and others. If you have ideas, suggestions, or specific reading needs, we would welcome your feedback, to:-

Keep warm, and happy reading.




The Wonder of William Grill, Seton and Shackleton

The Wonder of William Grill, Seton and Shackleton

I don’t remember many of the books I read when I was a child. I read furiously and fast. However, something was triggered after I’d finished reading William Grill’s latest information picture book, The Wolves of Currumpaw

The fervour to the reality

There has been a lot of fuss about this title. Sometimes this happens when a writer’s first book has been acclaimed, like Grill’s  Shackleton’s Journey. I was skeptical. However, ‘The Wolves of Curumpaw’ is totally absorbing. Faded, native American ‘historical’ style illustrations feature. They are almost diagrammatic in approach.They complement the emotional draw of this story.

A remarkable story

A Sherlock/ Superman wolf King of Curumpaw, Lobo, holds the last New Mexican pack against Edward Seton, wolf hunter for hire. I was so caught up in the story that I could barely face the final chapters. The twist in the tale is encouraging, surprising and positive. It led me to research further about North American wolves, and Seton himself.










The research

I learned that he was an early influence on Lord Baden-Powell forming the Scout association. Seton was the first Boy Scout of America leader. His granddaughter was Anya Seton, author of ‘Katherine’ a story I loved as a child (a precocious child).

Back to Shackleton

Reading ‘The Wolves of Curumpaw’ led me to reread William Grill’s ‘Shackleton’s Journey’.  This  tells another seemingly impossible struggle. The Endurance expedition appeared to include absurdities, also. There was the construction of the boat (an artisan design, made in Norway, and bought for only £45,000 in today’s money). An ability to sing was a prerequisite for any crew member, too! Somehow, in picture book form, William Grill manages to impress the enormity of ‘against all odds’  survival  of Shackleton’s crew. The leadership and camaraderie were exceptional, beyond anything in a Boy Scout manual!

The conclusion

My copy of ‘The Wolves of Currumpaw’ was intended for Jake’s birthday parcel. Luckily for me, it is too special to give away. Jake requires a second copy!. Mine will take its rightful place beside its equally lauded predecessor, ‘Shackleton’s Journey.’ Both deserve their plaudits. The wonder of William Grill, Seton and Shackleton should be read, shared and realised!  Bronnie

The Wonder of A Monster Calls

The Wonder of A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Jim Kay (Walker Books)

A publishing sensation

A Monster Calls‘ was a publishing sensation. It is the only book to have won its author and illustrator the Carnegie and Greenaway medals, of 2011, respectively. Yet it had inauspicious beginnings.

Author Siobhan Dowd determined to write the story in 2007, as she dealt with her own terminal cancer. She left the manuscript for Patrick Ness, to complete. He took it and made it his own, saying he felt that Siobhan Dowd had given him permission to ‘set it free, let it grow and change.’ So began, the wonder of  ‘A Monster Calls‘.

Its liberty extended to Jim Kay’s illustrations. From just one submitted interpretation, he was selected to add images. Jim Kay and Patrick Ness did not meet until after the book’s publication, in May 2011.

Difficult subjects superbly handled

To write a story of a boy lost to the horror of his mother’s terminal cancer, with an absent father, distant grandmother, and negligent school community, is a tough call, and offers a tough read. There is nothing summery or sweetened here, but rough truths and real lives.

The reappearance of a monster yew tree forces Connor to admit to his guilty fears. It tells him four allegorical stories at seven minutes past midnight, while the clock ticks down to Connor’s own story telling.

My experience

A Monster Calls moved me so much that I encouraged my book group to read it, despite its ‘young adult’ placement. They were moved and awed, in turn. Daniel Hahn, writing in the Independent said, ‘A Monster Calls’ is ‘brave, beautiful, full of compassion.’

The screenplay

Patrick Ness wrote the screenplay to the film of his book, and Jim Kay, again, provided illustrations. I saw it last week, somewhat trepidatiously, as anyone who has loved a book only to experience its loss on screen can understand. There was no sense of loss here, only a feeling that all involved have done the book, the story and Siobhan Dowd proud.

It is a monumental piece of storytelling- brave, true and fulfilling. As the yew monster says to Connor O’Malley, ‘Stories are wild creatures. If you let them loose, who know what havoc they’ll unleash?’ This is the wonder of ‘A Monster Calls‘ Bronnie

An Entomological Expedition of Rip-roaring Reading

Beetle Boy by M.G. Leonard (Chicken House)

Darkus knows that the investigation into his father’s sudden disappearance is dubious. He is certain that foul play is afoot and his father is still alive. Dr Bartholomew Cuttle, Director of Science at the National History Museum, may be absent minded, but he is the sort of Dad who ‘played football on Sunday’ and ‘teased his son about his unruly hair’. We enter ‘An Entomological Expedition of Rip-roaring Reading’

Friends made at the new school to which Darkus enrols when he goes to live with his Uncle Max, join him on his hunt for clues. A more unlikely ally is Baxter, a rhinoceros beetle who turns up on his trouser leg.

Discoveries made at the vault, where his father was last seen, and at the house next door to his uncle’s, convince Darkus that he is on the right track to solving the mystery, saving his father and possibly, exposing the Fabre Project.

What rip-roaring reading!

This is a fast paced, convincing and amusing story. Dramatic, inventive characters, reminiscent of ‘101 Dalmatians’ or, sometimes, ‘Home Alone’, exist within a slapstick world of entomology.

Beetle Queen’, the second book in the series expands upon the story of the ghastly, yet fascinating, villain Lucretia Cutter. It also lets us into the horror that is Novak’s world.

M.G. Leonard’s own website is worth exploring too:- Her debut is as strong as a welter weight of beetles hurtling down Humphrey and Pickering. I can’t wait for the third in this exciting and unexpected series! The entomological expedition of rip-roaring reading continues!  Bronnie


Wolf howlingly wonderful

The Wolf Wilder’ by Katherine Rundell  

Katherine Rundell visited the school in which I worked shortly after her first book, ‘Rooftoppers’ was published. It was a sensation, as was she. Young, educated, articulate and convincing- she had her audience compelled by her energy and ambition.

The book deserved its acclaim. It was something fresh, daring and different. Yet despite being in that audience, loving her debut and her delivery, I felt reluctant to dive into her magic anew with her latest title, ‘The Wolf Wilder.’ I thought, ‘Can she really be that good?’

Yes, reader, she can. I think what Katherine Rundell can do, which is so rare for any author, whether writing for children or adults, is create something different every time. ‘The Wolf Wilder’ is unlike anything I have read. There is a ‘sniff’ of Philip Pullman’s Lyra, but Feo, Rundell’s main character, is unschooled, unsophisticated, almost fauve-savant.

The story is set in pre-revolutionary Russia. The setting is used to explain and exacerbate the turmoil bubbling from St Petersburg to the rural communities that threaten Feo’s way of life.

I loved the characters, full of impulsivity, passion and rage, the wintry backdrop, the history and zoology. I loved the way there is no compromise in the story’s delivery. We learn the harsh realities of poverty, cold, cruelty and superstition. We bear the full brunt of Feo’s and Ilya’s harsh location and lives.

’The Wolf Wilder’ is a triumph. This one, dear Jake, is in your birthday parcel.

Books for bonding and babies

This year we will celebrate 20 years since the publication of ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ by J.K.Rowling. Last year we commemorated the 400th anniversary of Shakepeare’s death. We remembered that it was 150 years since Beatrix Potter was born. These anniversaries have made me think about books and authors memorable to me. It took me back to thinking about books for babies.

From babyhood

I recall books that were read to me and that I could look over, from childhood. My parents knew that bedtime stories were crucial to my development and our relationship. Such practice offers essential bonding time, opportunity to extend vocabulary, imagery, imagination, thinking skills, general knowledge, and the ability to infer.

My mother read me poetry, especially works by Walter de la Mare and Robert Louis Stevenson, stories by Mary Grant Bruce and Ethel Turner, and picture books like ‘Make Way for Ducklings’ and ‘Madeline’. I can still recall big chunks of text and ‘see’ the pictures clearly. Hearing and seeing stories impacts for life. My mother realised the advantages of books for babies.

Early years

Miss Metcalfe, in Year 3, read us ‘Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat’ by Ursula Moray Williams . When Mrs Melvin, announced that she would read aloud from our set text ‘The Garden Party,’ in sixth form. Initially, I felt an adolescent insult. Within days, I was at home, trying to recreate the setting I heard and saw in watercolours. I can still see Crescent Bay in the early morning as the incomparable Katherine Mansfield described it.

The joy of listening

Listening to stories continues through the radio. Through podcasts, ‘The Listening Project’ and ‘Desert Island Discs’, Radcliffe and Maconie’s musings on 6Music, and a devotion to ‘The Archers’ my day is shaped.

Our senses are incorporated into the reading experience. Reading is not about sounding out, expression, correct pronunciation; these are decoding skills, and more about presentation. Reading is the message, the understanding and the joy. That is why the bonding process of reading is realised in books for babies.

The joy of books

My heart breaks every time a child demands a ‘chapter book’ or, a parent boasts that her or his child is reading the ‘Harry Potters.’ Part of the joy of listening to stories is the pictures. Picture books have the most complex vocabulary of any genre, because of the need for text to be succinct. Picture books offer opportunity to discover, read over, contemplate, recall and really develop one of the most important reading cues- context.

At a book fair I bought ‘Until I Met Dudley (How Everyday Things Really Work) by Roger McGough and Chris Riddell. Household items are described through detailed illustration. The text is an addition. I learned how my refrigerator really works, through ‘reading’ a combination of cues.

The gift of books

The Princess Blankets’ was a wedding present from a very close friend. ‘Look at the pictures’ she said, ‘the colours are for you. Watch them warm and envelop you. Look at the textures.’ I bought this book, in turn, for other friends. Meanwhile, Jane Ray signed ‘Heartsong’ as a birthday present for a family member. It will be cherished.

Picture books offer a unique opportunity to read, listen, look, share, question and bond. They should be revisited, loved and kept. They are essential to the bedtime reading ritual. Don’t overlook them.