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!

Hitching our Wagon

Hitching our Wagon

The Bookwagon rolls into the London Book Fair

’Its only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realise your true potential’ – Barack Obama

This week the Bookwagon team has been at the London Book Fair at Olympia. The UK book trade’s annual showpiece has over 20,000 visitors and delegates from around the world. We attended last year, but were somewhat overwhelmed by the experience.  The sheer size of the event was daunting and as a consequence we spent far too much time drinking over-priced coffee!

At the LBF, huge deals are struck for the rights to new titles by very famous and new authors alike.  At least, that’s what attracts the interest of the news media. In reality, publishers setting out their wares for the coming year is the main business of the fair.  There is also a large number of overseas buyers seeking to broker rights and supply deals for their territories. This year, the whole shebang was sponsored by a market focus on the book scene in the Baltic countries Baltic Market Focus, whereas last year it was the Polish book market.

The Bookwagon commitment

With our commitment in mind to only feature on the Bookwagon site books that we have read and love we had a plan of action. Because of this, we wanted to secure early notice of new titles from the widest range of publishers and from suppliers.

Bookwagon has come a long way since last year’s LBF when we had not even opened for business.  Now we have over 550 titles available in our shop.  It was reinforced that we are the only, exclusively on-line independent children’s bookshop in the UK. We’re feeling increasingly more encouraged. Many of our best-selling titles we first encountered at last year’s fair. They include:

The Incredible Billy Wild by Joanna Nadia

I Don’t Believe it Archie by Andrew Norriss








Pax by Sarah Pennypacker

Children’s Publishers Presentations

This is one of the most popular sessions at the fair.  A ticket-only event, it’s the opportunity for the leading publishers to preview their new releases over the coming months.  Some of the most exciting new titles announced were by authors that have become Bookwagon favourites.

Katherine Rundell

There will be much anticipation for Katherine Rundell’s new novel ‘Into the Jungle’, her follow-up to the wildly successful and Costa-winning The Explorer. This time Katherine will be telling new stories from Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Jungle Book’, and it is to be published in September.

Emma Carroll

Another title we eagerly await is the lovely Emma Carroll’s ‘Secrets of the Sun King’.  Emma gave us a sneak preview of her new book when we had the joy of working with her on a school visit in February. Her earlier books have become Bookwagon top sellers too, especially Letters from the Lighthouse and Sky Chasers. Emma’s new novel is about the discovery that King Tutankhamen’s heart was missing when his tomb was opened and will be released in July.

Susin Neilsen

Susin’s new novel for young adults ‘No Fixed Address’ deals with homelessness and is due for release in October. We discovered this UK award-winning Canadian author last year and all her titles have been popular with our readers.  Her last release, ‘Optimists Die First’ being a top seller. But most importantly, Susin is one of Mrs Bookwagon’s Twitter buddies.

Patrick Ness, Chris Riddell and Deborah Ellis

Readers familiar with Patrick Ness’s classic ‘A Monster Calls’ will be delighted to learn his new novel ‘And the Ocean is Our Sky’, a re-telling of ‘Moby Dick’, will be published in September.

Former Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell has obviously been very busy.  His ‘Goth Girl’ series is outstanding for readers of all ages (even mine).  New publications ‘All The Things Inbetween’ and ‘Once Upon A Wild Wood’ come out in the Autumn.

The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis has become a modern classic. Following on from an excellent animated film version of the book, a graphic novel edition will be published in June.

New titles available in the Bookwagon shop

Despite hob-bobbing with the book trade set this week, the Bookwagon team have still had time to find new and interesting books that we love.  We hope you too will love the following new titles.

For 9-12 year olds

Fire Spell by Laura Amy Schlitz

Clara longs for escape from her prison of privilege and mourning. Parsefall and Lizzie Rose dream of full bellies and safe sleep. Little do they realise how their fate lies in the schemes of embittered witch Cassandra and evil puppet master Grisini – and a bewitching ‘Fire Spell’.

The Children of Willesden Lane by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen

A superb memoir of courage and survival about a girl piano prodigy who flees the Nazis and arrives in Willesden, in a London plagued by the Blitz. This is a compelling tribute to a special young woman that will both educate and inspire young readers.

’My Brigadista Year’ by Katherine Paterson

Lora’s grandmother understands Lora’s need to participate in Fidel Castro’s reading scheme. It is 1961 and Baptista’s puppet government is at war with Castro’s rebel forces. Fidel Castro’s initiative to educate rural communities is a key to his fight against American-backed forces. However, this plan involves transplanting school students, like Lora, to remote and dangerous areas. We join Lora in ‘My Brigadista Year.’

Picture books

The Rhythm of the Rain by Grahame Baker-Smith

Isaac feels the spots of rain on his cheek as he plays by the mountain pool. He watches the water stream from his little jar and contemplates it journey, from rain to river, ocean to steam to mountain…. Join an engrossing journey, through ‘The Rhythm of the Rain’, with absolutely beautiful illustrations throughout.

Hello Hello by Brendan Wenzel

‘Hello Stripes, Hello Spots, Hello Giant, Hello Not’…. This masterpiece picture book celebrates rare and endangered species. We greet a series of intricately created textured, toned warm animals – ‘Hello Hello’. Brendan Wenzel is rare and wonderful. In this page picture-perfect title he demonstrates his vision and skill anew.  A very worthy successor to ‘They All Saw A Cat’.

For 5-9 year olds

Just Jack’ by Kate Scott

Jack’s experienced in applying the Sherlock code to new situations. Moving six times has meant he’s had to evolve a way of coping so that he can fit in unobtrusively. What happens when there’s someone determined to find the boy beneath, the one who’s ‘Just Jack’?

Crowd-funding ‘The Lost Words’

Finally, we have been working hard to crowd-fund the provision of a copy of ‘The Lost Words’ into every primary school in Hertfordshire. This magisterial book by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris has caught the imagination and its importance cannot be underestimated.  The Scottish government has agreed to finance placing a copy of the book into every primary school north of the border. Many enterprising independent bookshops have been involved with their local schools to secure the book in public and school libraries.  We are working to do the same in our home county, with full support of ‘The Lost Words’ writers. Suggestions and feedback on this project are very welcome!

Happy reading!

Mr Bookwagon






Choosing the path between the stars

Choosing the path between the stars

Making a choice

Some years ago, we paced an aisle between cages of cats and kittens, choosing just one. There were representatives of every colour, breed and age of cat. So many cats were friendly and keen to engage. On our third, final agonising walk, a small cat unravelled herself from a sleeping hole and leapt to the shelf next to where I was standing. She purred and smiled. This small cat had been undisturbed by the feline kerfuffle of our visit. Yet once awake, she proved attentive. She was accompanied by two kittens, mirror images of her fluffy, bedraggled blackness and just about as big. They were a Jolly and Dolly to her Polly. The three had been found in a locked shed in north London.

Polly cuffed her kittens as she left for her ‘forever’ home and did not look back. She has not looked back since.

Without Polly, our home and Bookwagon, would not be the same. My sister calls her Princess Polly. She does rule our abode. Choosing her was both a wonderful and awful experience. Our circumstances curbed my urge to rescue more cats. Knowing we were enabling a half-starved, underage mother cat through a new, good start helps.

Making choices

The annual short-list of the CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) Carnegie and Kate Greenaway awards was revealed last week.The Carnegie Medal is Britain’s biggest national children’s book prize established in 1935 to celebrate the centenary of Scottish born philanthropist Andrew Carnegie’s birth. It recognises one outstanding book for children or young people published between the preceding school year period of September- August.

‘Distinguished illustration in a book for children’ is celebrated in the Kate Greenaway award, founded in 1956 and named after the 19th century children’s illustrator.

International writers and illustrators were included in both fields since 1969. Last year’s Carnegie and Kate Greenaway winners- Ruta Septys Salt to the Sea and Lane Smith There is a Tribe of Kids- are  American.

I shadowed the awards with two primary schools but found it increasingly difficult to offer the full range of titles. A majority of the selection appeared to target the YA market. It is the same with this year’s selection.

The shortlisted titles

Bookwagon titles included in this year’s shortlist of eight are Wed Wabbit and  Beyond the Bright Sea.

King of the Sky,  A First Book of Animals and  Under the Same Sky are Bookwagon titles within the Kate Greenaway shortlist.


Five of our favourite titles are amongst the judging panel’s final choices. However, we are nonplussed at the absence of so many wonderful children’s books published during the selection period.

Moving forward

Social media suggested that the Carnegie Award should  separate the children’s and young adult categories. Young Adult novels are consistent winners of the Carnegie Award. In the past 25 years ‘Ruby Holler‘ by Sharon Creech, David Almond’s ‘Skellig‘ and Frank Cottrell- Boyce’s ‘Millions‘ have been the only Carnegie medal winning children’s books.

I agree with a stand-alone children’s award within this annual prize-giving. The American Library Association offers this category amongst others that would be relevant to British children’s reading experience, including a separate YA award.


British books should be the focus within a revised Carnegie and Greenaway awards. Against that, British children would benefit from access to a more readily available, wider range of translated, international children’s books.

Aside from a discrete award for international work,the comparative American Library Association awards focus on American books.

Southwark Book Award

Regional children’s book awards are thriving. These are often voted for by schools and local, fully functioning community libraries. Most recently, Lisa Thompson won the 2018 Southwark Book Award for The Goldfish Boy. Later this month, that title will be in contention with other Bookwagon favourites for the Leeds book award.

Salford Book Award

Fleur Hitchcock’s pace and realism is enjoyed by Bookwagon readers.  Murder in Midwinter was named the 2018 Salford Children’s Book Award winner this weekend. Mr Bookwagon read Bus Stop Baby this week, while I completed Dear Scarlett today. These are such readable books, ideal for mystery lovers!

About choices

We seek books offering our readers excitement, challenge, interest and satisfaction. Recently, we chatted with a group of  young adult readers busily comparing the attractiveness of book covers. They offered that this is still the best way of choosing a good book.

This week, I added the magnificent A Lion in Paris to the Bookwagon shelves. The cover, scale and picture book maker encouraged my choice. Beatrice Alemagna’s On a Magical Do-Nothing Day is a Bookwagon favourite. Both would be amongst my choices as best international picture books, should there be any sort of competition in my room where I write.

A Feast of Choice

In The Perfect Picnic best friends Squirrel and Mole head out on a spring day, with a rucksack of food, just the way Squirrel likes it (‘No butter on the sandwiches, Mole!‘) However, their search for the perfect picnic spot is jinxed at every turn.

Rabbit and Hedgehog are stumped when they elect to celebrate their birthdays. What should would a Hedgehog like? What about a Rabbit? You can share this story, and three others in the beautiful gift compendium Rabbit and Hedgehog Treasury by national award winners, and former Children’s Laureate, Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell.

There are plenty of turns, twists and toots and traffic in the glorious new book for early readers by Katrina Charman and Nick Sharratt. I imagine many families singing Car, Car, Truck, Jeep to the tune of ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ at bedtimes across the soon-to-be British summer time country.

How might a book be enjoyed, at bedtime or any other time? Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross raise the question and come up with a reel of rhyming responses in the resounding Not Just a Book.

What do you choose?

On International Forest Day we enquire How Many Trees? We love this intriguing picture book by Barroux. However, we’re left with the question, ‘What comes first? The seed or the tree?

A satisfying choice

ALA award winner Laura Amy Schlitz is a Bookwagon favourite since The Princess and the Crocodile.  The Hired Girl introduces us to an impulsive, idealistic heroine, Joan Skraggs, aka Janet Lovelace. I recommend this title to readers of classic stories such as ‘Anne of Green Gables’ or ‘Little Women’.

We know that many of you are encouraging the Easter Bunny to share books, rather than eggs this holiday. Don’t forget to remind him that free delivery is available on books totalling £20.00 through choosing this option at the check out.

Happy reading!




A favourite but not a favourite

A favourite but not a favourite

Amongst the favourite books I do not really have is The Hueys in The New Jumper.  I have loved this title since it was first published. ‘The New Jumper‘ has been read with many children in different venues over the years. Always, their first reaction is incredulity that in following Rupert’s lead, Gillespie, and the other Hueys will extinguish individuality to be the same, all over again.

In support of the Time’s Up movement, female actors (actresses?) were encouraged to wear black to the 2018 Bafta awards. Frances McDormand, in her patterned pink dress was applauded when she explained, ‘I have a little trouble with compliance’. Her individuality stood out without diminishing her solidarity.

I have a little trouble with compliance. I choose to leave my hair curly and do not eat meat. Gary Barlow and ‘Take That’ have never lit my fire. Independent shops offer me greater pleasure to visit than chain stores.

Our visit to Llandeilo in the autumn was a joy for many reasons, not least the preponderance of unique, independent shops. One of my favourites was Eve’s Toy Shop, voted Britain’s best independent toy shop of 2017/18.

There is little shopping choice in my area. Like many, it is populated by an ever decreasing range of big name businesses with ever bigger warehouse stores.

Bookwagon, first imagined, was to be a high street shop. Coincidentally, a children’s bookshop in the area that had opened with much fanfare, closed after little more than six months in operation. This bookseller, in an ideal location, enjoyed a keen clientele and an obligatory cafe. High rents, business costs, customers who browsed with their phones yet bought elsewhere, led to its demise.

Bookwagon is following a unique route. I was motivated by the absence of specialist children’s bookshops. When teaching, I sought knowledgeable advice from professionals in Essex or Norfolk. When shopping for children’s books, I travelled to ‘The Alligator’s Mouth‘ in Richmond. It seemed absurd that so many wonderful schools and devoted families across many areas, should be without informed, independent children’s booksellers. I considered how my own training, knowledge and experience should be employed. In order to survive against the odds, we created a unique, online, independent children’s bookshop, Bookwagon, that might connect with a wide customer base.

Think of a book like a pie

We have been asked why we pitched ourselves against Amazon. We didn’t. Amazon is not a children’s bookshop but a warehouse. It does not have the same sort of overheads and taxes to pay as the majority of British businesses. Amazon’s owner is a billionaire Seattle tech entrepreneur focused on space flight, rather than a children’s bookseller. Through its preponderance of third party sites, Amazon does not pay a fair salary to writers, as explained here:- How authors are deprived of earnings through third party Amazon sales. 

Recently, during discussions at a writer’s event we had organised, it was suggested that people prefer to buy children’s books from Amazon because they are ‘cheaper.’ They are not cheaper. Books bought directly from Amazon are priced at the usual retail price. In order to earn free delivery you must subscribe to Amazon Prime, at £7.99 a month. To buy a book more cheaply from Amazon, you must turn to one of its third party sites that decimates a fair reward for the work of writers. Acclaimed children’s writer Jackie Morris explains how the writer- agent-publisher- bookshop payment system works: Think of a book like a pie 

I understand ‘cheap’, I understand ‘costs’. Bookwagon is working very, very hard.  We suggest that when customers do not take responsibility for the ‘food chain’ of selection, real choice is threatened.

Book fairs

Schools are offered enormous discounts of up to 60% from annual visits by a couple of well known book fairs. At the same time, I have learned how this offer is often not fulfilled, because the selection is so poor. Many books are dumped. Parents complain about the sticker books and pencil toppers their children return with from such events. I think of landfill mountains of disposable books.

Bookwagon fairs offer specialised choices according to the cohort and venue. We sell books we have read, know and liked only. Our product descriptors on are our own words and opinions based on our reading experience. BBC, Sky and Channel 4 news have reported on the paid reviews posted by Amazon.

We offer a proportion of the books we sell to schools, but not 60%. Our books are ‘forever‘ books that children want to read and keep.

                                      Guest writer, SF Said at a recent Bookwagon school event

When we take writers into schools or to events, the writer profits from the books we sell.  We buy the writers’ books from an independent bookshop supplier. We sell them without cutting any returns to the writer. Working this way, we are able to offer schools a selection of the writer’s quality books.

World Book Day

I have seen some exceptional celebrations for World Book Day. At one school children mapped the journey of a character of their choice, through setting, plot and obstacle. At another, children described and created book characters on wooden spoons! While authors harness their huskies as they face the Siberian blasts forecast this week, Bookwagon is packing specially chosen books for  fairs and writer visits, snugly and proudly.


Bookwagon has encountered a few very memorable characters in recent reading. Yesterday I finished the multi-award winning The War that Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. Ada is an exceptionally resilient major character suffering through disability, neglect and abuse until a lifeline, the wartime evacuation of her younger brother, is thrown to her. I felt lost bereft when I had finished reading this book.

Mr Bookwagon was gripped by Stella’s story in Star by Star. Her determination to force change from the debris of WWI and the granting of votes for women in 1918, is prompted by the loss of her mother to the Spanish flu pandemic.

The Astrid Lindgren award winner A House Without Mirrors proved an emotional read. Thomasine, who ‘weeps silent tears,’ waits in limbo in her dying step-grandmother’s house, with her father and wider family. An accidental discovery during a game forces each member of the household to face their inner truths.

More urgent, impassioned and current are the issues of Jade in the Coretta Scott King award winning Piecing Me Together. This is one of the best YA novels I have read in the past twelve months. Jade is so fully realised and her truths so necessary that they must be known.

Seeking fresh picture book inspiration for younger readers, I chanced upon Baabwaa & Wooliam. Our titular main characters are so fully formed and satisfied in their lives, that the arrival of a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ is taken as an opportunity.

Rather like the message of Sophy Henn’s wonderful Pass it On, Bookwagon strives to share wonderful children’s books, created by so many hard-working writers. In this week of World Book Day we celebrate their work respectfully and responsibly.

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.




There Once Was an Ugly Duckling

There Once Was an Ugly Duckling

Yesterday I listened to a Radio 4 interview with children’s writers Francesca Simon and Michael Rosen. They were asked about the comparative imbalance of gender representation in children’s picture books. Many fewer are represented in children’s literature, despite females making up 51% of the population.

I felt bemused. In our early days, establishing Bookwagon, I was impressed by a promotional video distributed by the writers of the bestselling ‘Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls‘. It showed the search for books written by women that included female protagonists. The video arrived at a miserable conclusion. This book, and its successor, are runaway hits. As Bookwagon has continued to trade in the past eight months, I’ve realised the sea change in children’s books. We are more likely to read books by female writers with female protagonists. That video does not show the truth of 2017-18.

Bookwagon has been on the lookout for books that are more representative of the world we know since we launched. We seek books that show people of different races, traditions and cultures, and stories from a variety of countries. I was staggered to learn that only 1% of translated children’s fiction is available to British readers. 

Culture and setting need representation in children’s books too. Psychologist Shaw (1998):- ‘Children are not passive observers. As they develop, children look for structure in their lives and are driven by an internal need to fit into this structure. They observe the world and try to develop sets of rules that they can apply to a wide variety of situations.’

It can seem a tall order to source books that show a true and representational world. While there are  many more female influenced children’s titles, the diverse market is rather slower to catch up. Publishing companies such as Lantana search out stories from other cultures. Bookwagon stocks a number of their books. However we assert that the quality of the story must not be compromised by the role of a representative message.

We have written about the importance of children accessing books with complex emotional themes that provide opportunity for empathy. Last week, a Bookwagon favourite author hit international headlines. Newbery Award winner Matt de la Pena wrote an open letter to the incomparable Kate DiCamillo. This is his full enquiry of Kate DiCamillo – (I dare you not to well up):- Matt De La Pena asks Kate Di Camillo whether we should shield our children from darkness This is her reply:- Kate DiCamillo about truth in children’s books. What a moving, necessary, wise statement.

I think our role is to see and to be seen.’ The power of words to help us find ourselves so that the innate truth of who we are and who we might be cannot be diminished. I have stepped in so many characters’ footsteps, from Anne Shirley to Jane Rosenal (‘The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing’).  Ernest Hemingway said, ‘All you have to do is write one sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’ 

Children’s literature is working toward replicating the richness of the  world through works greater diversity of race, culture, theme and setting.  A sensibility that voices, faces, settings, lives and feelings and must be shared, in this new year, that includes a centenary celebration of women’s suffrage.

Titles that offer a sense of self, and some difference, include:-

The Paper-flower Tree, from Thailand, where renowned designer Jacqueline Ayer lived, travelled, heard and retold wonderful stories.

From Nigeria comes the beautiful story of sisters dreaming and growing together, Sleep Well Siba & Saba

The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party is the sequel to the inspiring The Princess in Black . It offers daring, adventure, subterfuge and an alternative to the pink princess unicorn media frenzy. So, too, does the classic title The Paper Bag Princess, with the feistiest, most inspiring heroine to grace a page or outwit a dragon! 

Words of hope, offerings of magic, and bonds of siblings are considered so thoughtfully in Star in The Jar, which is justifiably gaining many plaudits from the reviewers. For even younger readers, we are delighted to present Sophy Henn’s Playtime with Ted. Just what can’t Ted do with his cardboard box?

There’s a never-ending order for Dad to make when he offers to prepare breakfast. This is a fascinating title, one sure to be read and reread. It’s also the first title I’ve read that offers mixed race families and characters with the same name (neighbours) amongst the sort of people with whom I’m familiar – The Longest Breakfast.

Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin have won five star reviews for their beautiful title King of the Sky which explores themes of being new and different, lonely and lost. It is exceptionally tender, skilled sophisticated picture book.

Being different is a theme of increasing popularity amongst writers, but it is being handled with growing sensitivity and understanding as in the wonderfully chatty, direct, Jacqueline Wilson-like Do You Speak Chocolate?  

Currently, the aforementioned Radio 4 is undertaking a search for the most influential women of the past century, as part of the celebrations for women’s suffrage. Yesterday’s offerings from the world of art and design, included one of my nominations, the trailblazing, glass ceiling breaking (and forming), Zaha Hadid. Jeanette Winter’s story about this outstanding designer and innovator is a necessity The World is Not a Rectangle 

Graphic novels offer a growing accessibility to representation, real issues. I was apprehensive that El Deafo might be exploitative of a serious issue, of which I’ve some experience. However CeCe Bell’s memoir is fresh, vital and empowering, and a favourite read. 

Issues of poverty, such as too many children face, are included in titles like The 1,000 year old Boy and Joe All Alone. Lisa Thompson is one of the first children’s writers to put a carefully considered toe into the water of domestic violence. The ‘light’ of her most recent title is bright and beaming and brilliant. We love The Light Jar . Childhood is not an Victorian idyll, even without the sort of horrors that Nate is experiencing. Sita Brahmachari empathises in her tender Barrington Stoke title, Worry Angels. when Amy-May needs support to cope with changes in her life. 

Bookwagon houses growing bookshelves of titles that better reflects our readers’ rich variety. Please get in touch, should you have feedback or enquiries,. We love hearing from our readers.

Happy reading!    

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