On the road
Bookwagon has been on the road, supporting school visits by three exceptional, award-winning writers this week. Unusually, I had the opportunity to listen in and participate. School visits by writers are a unique opportunity to learn about ourselves, our world and possibilities beyond the possible.
Suffolk rape fields
Mr Bookwagon read The Bubble Boy by Stewart Foster, last year. Some subscribers know Mr Bookwagon. He is a rather unemotional fellow, even on match day. This wonderful children’s book captivated him. He explained the plot, considered the characters’ relationship and the abilities of the writer to engage him completely.
Stewart Foster didn’t stand a chance. When All the Things that Could Go Wrong was published, I was determined to read it ahead of Mr Bookwagon. This title made me cry, worry about the boys, feel like I wanted to phone their mothers, step into the playground, protect Alex… It is raw and wise and wonderful.
A school visit
Last year, we worked with Stewart Foster. Bookwagon is committed to supporting school visits by writers. James Campbell, The Funny Life of Teachers, Lisa Thompson, The Day I Was Erased and Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler Defender of the Realm. were booked for this proud event, too. Workshops by this group of superb children’s literature creators informed and delighted.
Stewart Foster, James Campbell, Lisa Thompson, Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler
A close friend, inspired Stewart to create Alex, one of his two main characters in ‘All the Things that Could Go Wrong’. Stewart talked gently about bullying to the pupils. Somehow discussing the book’s themes, emphasised them in a more intimate and meaningful way.
This week, Stewart led creative writing workshops in two schools in Hampshire and Surrey. I participated in the first. We imagined ourselves alone and unexplained in an unknown outpost, aware of something approaching… Stewart coaxed our stories. He read and listened, sharing his own writing experiences along the way. He attended to detail and pace and offered guidance as to how, when we read our writing back, fluency is a key to it ‘working’.
Creative writing workshop
I read ‘Check Mates’, Stewarts’ forthcoming title, within 24 hours. Chess and the Berlin Wall? ADHD, financial pressures, discovering a self-confidence… so many themes within a relevant, empathetic story.
Emma Carroll is one of Britain’s favourite writers. She is also one of children’s literature’s favourite writers. Emma wears the crown of ‘Queen of Children’s Historical Literature’. Yet she is so much more than this.
‘When We Were Warriors’ launch
While her stories from Frost Hollow Hall to When We Were Warriors include historical settings and themes, she offers a fresh, considered perspective. What happens to Eddie Jordan from ‘When We Were Warriors‘.? I love the comparable circumstances, despite a century’s distance, of Flo and Alice in In Darkling Wood. How can they be so similar, yet so different?
Emma Carroll titles
Learning while eavesdropping
Listening to Emma talk to children as she signed books, I heard, ‘Do you write stories? I thought so. I loved your ideas.’ And, ‘You asked some really interesting questions. Are you a reader? What stories do you like particularly?’ She attended to each child’s names, questions and observations, patiently and personally. Imagine the possibilities opened in these children through this feedback! School visits by writers and picture book makers offer immeasurable value!
A little learning and a lot of skill
Emma Carroll reads devotedly. The world and words engage her. Her writing is urgent, direct and accessible and so beautifully crafted. Reading her books is a joy, and working with her is a privilege.
She explained that when she opens a creative working workshop, she might suggest, ‘There’s something hanging on the gate. What is it?‘ More often than not, fledgling writers will opt for something expected- a body. Yet, through choosing something that leaves questions, e.g., a key, there are opportunities to hold a reader’s attention. We need to know more.
With writing props!
Emma leads creative writing workshops for children in schools, and adults through the Arvon Foundation. School visits by writers like Emma offer a ‘key’ of possibilities for readers and creators of all ages! .
Drawn to drawing
I explained my discovery of the wonderful works of Martin Brown in my most recent blog:- We read every book we sell. When we were the fortunate bookseller for a school visit recently, he opined about a lack of opportunity for children to learn drawing skills. He considered how we learn and practise other skills, from football to piano playing. Yet, somehow, we expect to know how to draw innately.
Martin Brown, amidst book signing
Martin Brown showed his school audience how he created the wonderful animals in his books Lesser Spotted Animals and Lesser Spotted Animals 2. His training and experience, from illustrator of ‘Horrible Histories’ to his own award-winning titles awed his audience. As they queued to have their new books signed, they asked questions about his research, how to arrange pages, create eye appeal. School visits by writers and picture book makers expands knowledge, respect and understanding.
Ahead of the visit
Bookwagon sends preview copies ahead of school visits by writers and picture book makers. We hope staff and children might become familiar with their visitor and their works. Possibly because of time constraints and pressures we discover these books have not been shared or read, unfortunately.
Bookwagon creates information about the writers whom we might support on school visits. We research a literary biography and include descriptions about each available title that that might be purchased by students and school.We create posters to be displayed and distributed.
The visit itself
Sometimes, when we visit the school alongside the writer, none of that information is visible.
On one occasion Bookwagon agreed to supply a book sale to accompany an author school visit. We created and distributed information. The writer planned his workshops. We all travelled many miles to attend. We were staggered to discover other book sales of used books and a visiting book fair. Further the writer gave his workshops while drama rehearsals continued simultaneously in the same venue. How could this realise the incomparable opportunity of a school visit by a writer or picture book maker?
Bookwagon supports school visits by writers and picture book makers by seeking fair payment for their professional hard work. Their books are often not as well known as those of writers whose works are in supermarkets, or stocked in huge numbers at chain bookstores and online giants. These are ‘forever’ books.
A Bookwagon book pile
A reading school
Bookwagon completed our preparations in our support of a visit to a Suffolk school by award-winning picture book maker Dave Shelton. Truthfully, we did not expect to sell too many books, despite the fact his books delight us. A Boy and a Bear in a Boat and Emily Lime- Librarian Detective: The Book Case are original, enigmatic and fascinating works.
Dave Shelton creative illustration
Yet, when we rolled our wagon into the foyer of this school, we spotted our posters. Then we were asked if we had brought enough books. Mr Bookwagon and I considered we’d brought too many; we were looking forward to a week of popup book fairs, where we know these titles will be popular.
This school surpassed our expectations. Staff had read the books themselves, and to their pupils. Our information was on display and had been distributed. Throughout their experience the children were involved, engaged and excited.
Further, children, staff and families realised the value of having their own signed copy of an original Dave Shelton book. We sold out of books. Late last night Mr Bookwagon and I continued to amass orders that children with specially signed bookplates might paste these into their very own book.
To participate in Dave Shelton’s drawing workshop with Year 6 was ‘icing on the cake’ for Mr Bookwagon and me. Dave asked us his audience to create a double- act as he had in his outstanding Good Dog Bad Dog The Golden Bone of Alexandria. (Mr Bookwagon created Space Giraffe and Space Pig. I created Fluff Cat and Slinky Puss.)
Double act creations, Dave Shelton
Dave Shelton stepped amongst his budding artists, offering tips, guiding and encouraging. He shared a range of wonderful characters these children imagined at the conclusion. His audience was captivated.
School visits by writers and picture book makers are an essential part of education.
As I bade Emma Carroll farewell at the train station this week, I considered that being in her company, the company of children’s writers whom we read, love and sell, is like ‘being with Clooney.’ To think Bookwagon has the opportunity to share writers and picture book makers’ company and creations in schools is a privilege and responsibility.
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.
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.
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 HQ + assistant
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.
Martin Brown, signing, school visit
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.)
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.
A letter from a reader
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.
She Wolf- Dan Smith
This is that godson reading ‘She Wolf‘ on Easter Sunday:-
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
In the basement of my grandparents’ house hung a shark’s jaw of teeth. My grandfather had captured the shark on one of his deep sea fishing adventures. I would touch the points of the teeth trepidatiously and wonder. Upstairs, in the sun room, stood a near fossilised swordfish’s sword. Today, it stands in my sister’s sitting room. I wonder if her family think about about the story of this item.
Grandad was a John Wayne/ Steve McQueen type of man. He survived Gallipoli. His bride nursed him before emigrating from genteel SW London for New Zealand’s untamed wilderness. Grandad broke that wilderness to create a sheep farm. Grandad was not an empathetic husband, father or grandfather. Yet I loved him when he sat me on his lap to tell me stories of whales and the oceans.
Forming the character
Like most of my mother’s family, I was terrified of my grandfather, aside from these times he would tell me stories. During these interludes, I felt close and able to build my own impression of him. I drank in the smell of Scotch and cigarettes. I felt the fabric of his shirt, the stretch of his braces. His sinewy arms, with their faded sailor tattoo, fascinated me. I saw the curl of his hair at the back of his head and compared it to my mother’s curls.
My grandmother was a storyteller. Her tales of childhood, her siblings, boarding school and nursing threaten to become a story one day.
A Room Full of Chocolate
Grandparents offer a wealth of storytelling potential. Jane Elson showed discord and misunderstanding between a parent and grandparent in her gripping A Room Full of Chocolate. One of Mr Bookwagon’s favourite titles, Hour of the Bees has the main character desperate for her grandfather to ‘tell me stories’ to make sense of her life.
Hour of the Bees
This week, we included A Witch Come True the third part of James Nicol’s warm- as- buttered- toast stories about Arianwyn aboard the wagon. I felt reassured whenever our main character’s grandmother was present. She enabled Arianwyn to confirm her instincts and role.
A Witch Come True
Stories recalled and left to tell
Alice Melvin created Grandma’s House, a lift-the-flap, picture book memoir of her grandmother’s home. This visit invites us to join her as she revisits nooks and crannies, mementoes and her grandmother’s history. Alice Melvin’s forever picture book tells me stories of love and familiarity.
When I Was a Child is a lyrical fantasy of memory and stories. Nostalgia for a golden age of wonder and possibilities is bridged by a greying sadness at the passing of time and a loss of hope. The child who picks up the story demonstrates empathy and positivism in her response to her elder. There is still wonder. Possibilities exist. The words and pictures are like a kaleidoscope of stardust.
When I Was a Child
My history, our history
At the turn of the twentieth century, dance and deportment teachers over sixty years of age were unlikely adventurers. Award-winning picture book maker Chris Van Allsburg recreates the story of Annie Taylor, the first person to ride a barrel over the Niagara Falls, in Queen of the Falls. I appreciate the dramatic way her story unfolds, from her ‘Eureka’ moment.
Queen of the Falls
Some years ago, I read Joseph O’Connor’s ‘Star of the Sea‘. A little way in, I realised the passage of Irish emigration described would have been similar to that taken by my great-grandmother and her parents. They travelled from the county of Leinster in the same year as that story. I smelled the ship, felt the fear, sadness and sense of possibility. The writer created a connection to someone I never met. There was a sense this long ago relative might tell me stories.
Stories that don’t measure up…
Maggie follows the most important rule of all, ‘Never go beyond the boundary.’ Her younger brother Trig urges her to ‘tell me stories’ of how the wanderers over the boundary attacked the Wetheral family. Her older brother, Jed, is an eldest, destined for heroism upon his fourteenth birthday. when he will head to fight The Quiet War. The Middler is a story of acceptance, honour and sacrifice. What happens when Maggie steps over the boundary and changes the stories of Fennis Wick?
Emmet and Caleb have little in common. One awakens early, while the other lies awake star gazing. One digs for nature or tinkers, while the other naps. We wonder at their friendship when they are such different characters. Yet Emmet and Caleb know and respect each other. Across a year, we view their friendship. This is an intelligent and heartfelt storytelling.
Emmett and Caleb
Reading Rocks South West
I caught some of writer Maz Evan’s presentation at Reading Rocks South West. Aside from her star-spinning Who Let the Gods Out? series, Maz teaches creative writing to children and writing. She recommends that writing is a ‘stew pot’ into which the first necessary ingredient is character. It makes sense.
When I read, I want to know the character. When I meet someone, I want to know the character. In sitting with my grandfather, or listening to my grandmother, I longed for them to tell me stories. Maggie, or Arianwyn, or Annie Taylor, or all the other wonderful characters whom I meet in reading every book we sell, tell me stories.
Annie Edson Taylor and barrel
Into the world
In the aftermath of the horrors of the terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern offered the victims’ stories. She sought to recognise and respect them. Such action has provoked empathy and a sense that New Zealand, as a nation, might chorus, ‘We are one’.
Listening to, sharing and reading stories, builds knowledge and understanding of different characters within a tolerant and communicative society. What are your stories?
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…’
The culprit pie?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Rewards in your reading matter
During the summer Bloomsbury will publish Dr Katherine Rundell’s essay , ‘Why You Should Read Children’s Books, Even Though You Are So Old and Wise’. Dr Katherine Rundell is exceptional. She is a Renaissance scholar, a Fellow at All Souls, Oxford, with a doctorate in the works of John Donne. She is a multi-award winning writer. I have shared her academic and publishing successes through this forum. (I’ve also mentioned her trapeze walking!)
Katherine Rundell in action
What are the benefits to adults from reading children’s books?
Authors4Oceans and each other
The world of children’s readers, bookmakers and independent booksellers is largely very warm, supportive and Empathetic.
As a teacher arranging school visits, I realised the pleasure writers and illustrators felt in their own professional company. There was an instant connection, without professional hostility or fear. There is genuine friendship between writers and illustrators. They share stories of their individual experiences. They connect over problems and recommendations. I love the way they share each other’s triumphs. This community demonstrates why adults should read children’s books.
James Campbell, Lisa Thompson, Nick Ostler and Mark Huckerby
Award-winning writer, Lauren St John of The Snow Angel formed Authors4Oceans last year. Alongside other leading children’s writers and illustrators, including Sir Michael Morpurgo, Piers Torday, Katherine Rundell, Nicola Davies and Sir Quentin Blake, this group campaigns to remover plastics from our ocean. It is inspired and inspiring. Their initiative, commitment and engagement are typical of this profession.
Stewart Foster and Lisa Thompson
What children’s books inspire in us
A parent shared , ‘I just had to tell you I’m reading R- No Fixed Address. We are about half way through. After I finished reading to her last night I continued the book as I just couldn’t put it down! I finished it… with many tears! It was so beautifully written. Thank you again for such a great recommendation. These sorts of books are just the way to start dialogues with the kids about such weighty topics that are normally so difficult to understand and Articulate.’
Susin Nielsen, ‘No Fixed Address’
Just a little extra
I have learned more from children’s books than I’d ever have thought possible. For example, Emma Carroll’s writing has extended my knowledge of WWII enormously. I used to teach this subject. My father and uncles served in this conflict. Her latest title When We Were Warriors had me ‘touring’ England’s South Coast alongside Eddie Johnson, US soldier. I know her characters and their settings. ‘When We Were Warriors’ made me think on how much children who lived through that time experienced.
Emma Carroll’s titles
I felt the weight of Lillian’s sadness at her grandfather’s illness and father’s PTSD inspired silence in Secrets of a Sun King. Emma Carroll’s story about the search for Tutankhamen’s tomb offered me new knowledge and understanding. This was despite this subject being part of my teaching programme. I felt engaged by the Dramatic settings and storytelling
I sought escape through The Star-Spun Web, the latest title by Sinéad O’Hart. There is menace, history, deep, lingering empathy in this subtle, clever story. It is Inspirational. This story led to a Bookwagon team discussion about metaphysics.
The Star-Spun Web
Storm Hound is set in the hills outside Abergavenny. Writer Claire Fayers has built her story from the Welsh legends of the hounds of Annwn and Ceridwen. Despite my abbreviated, Anglicised, first name, I have no Welsh ancestry. Reading ‘Storm Hound‘ set me searching for stories of Ceridwen. What a treasury! My responses demonstrate another reason why adults should read children’s books.
Then there’s laughter
Mr Bookwagon has recently read the fourth of the Rory Branagan series- Rory Branagan Detective The Deadly Dinner Lady. I knew he was reading that title. His laughter was constant and loud! Ralph Lazar’s illustrations tickle him hugely. Yet there are unspoken questions and beating pathos within the plot. Where is Rory’s father? Roll on book 5!
Rory Branagan Detective The Deadly Dinner Lady
I have a similar reaction to the illustrations of Gemma Correll, who works with A.L. Kennedy (yes, that one) on the outstanding ‘Uncle Shawn‘ series. Bizarre doesn’t even cover it! I love these stories! The message is subtle, yet strong (rather like paper towels). This week, I spied that a third title, sequel to Uncle Shawn and Bill and the Pajimminy Crimminy Unusual Adventure is due later this year. Reading such rich and amusing titles is Nurturing.
Uncle Shawn and Bill titles
Bookwagon participated in a weekend focusing upon children’s reading in Taunton courtesy of Reading Rocks. This initiative was the brainchild of Liverpool primary teacher, Heather Wright. At the end of 2018, she was named one of TES’s people of the year:- TES People of the Year 2018.
Adults who read and love children’s books inspire, support and populate Reading Rocks. Bookwagon loves this happy place.
Bookwagon Reading Rocks SW
Children’s books are not a stage, just as picture books are not a step to chapter books. Books matter. Reading matters. Reading enables us to Grow, in Galvanising, Ground-breaking, Generous ways.
Our Reading Rocks’ pitch
During our Reading Rocks’ weekend, we shared and sold a selection of meaningful picture books. Each inspires me forward, connects me to a memory or feeling, or reminds me of someone or a place. Adults should read children’s books to have such emotional and intellectual experiences. I suggest these reactions are unique to reading picture books.
When I read Jerome’s words- Jerome By Heart- and look at his picture, I feel wretched.
From ‘Jerome by Heart’
Mr Bookwagon and I compared our childhood experience with the narrator of Hello, Monster!. Our parents, too, would urge us to play with lone children in the playground. Yet none of them would choose to ‘go and play with the lady with the pigeons!’
Making reading choices
Parents compare their offspring with themselves. They retrace their steps, recall and confirm their positions and actions. They want their children to read what they know and experienced. Sometimes they seem to want their children to read books that they did not like, but feel as though they should.
The idea that books are disposable, i.e., to operate in a ‘one in one out’, set number, route to adulthood, is anathema. We need books to feed our hearts and minds. There are writers and picture book makers whose creations merit a wide and loving reading audience. Bookwagon is determined to find, read, celebrate and share them.
I urge parents and teachers to find the time to read children’s books. What is available now, new titles published by superb writers and illustrators, is outstanding. Adults should read children’s books for the experience of something new, fresh, wonderful, challenging, emotional and inspiring.
From Reading Rocks South
All of us benefit from continually engaging, enquiring and learning. Knowledge and questions do not stop once we enter adulthood. There are too many examples in history and society that refute this. Adults should read children’s books to stay alive, find the joy, feel the stimulus, and be in touch with the world. They make us better people!
Happy (children’s books’) READING!
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 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!
To any length for the right book
Last 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
Mr 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.
The Lost Book
Similarly 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.
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.
Wisp A Story of Hope
The cat and the king
Nick 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.
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!
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?
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.
I 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.
A little something extra