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






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!    

The Flame and the Flicker

The Flame and the Flicker

We attended the National Theatre’s acclaimed new production of ‘Network’ this week. This was originally a screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky, drawing inspiration from the Watergate crisis. It is a painstakingly considered attack on the exploitation and corruption of American values. Celebrated playwright Lee Hall (‘Billy Elliot‘, ‘The Pitmen Painters‘) updated the script for a new generation. He reports, ‘keyhole surgery‘ only, was required. The 1970’s setting seemed ‘more current now‘ since the ‘rise of Trump and all the stuff about fake news.

The play concerns the public meltdown of news anchor Howard Beale, and its effect on ratings and public influence. Network company chairman Arthur Jensen delivers a scathing tirade to Beale- ‘You have meddled with the primal forces of nature Mr Beale, and I won’t take it!‘ he states, Then, ‘Only 3% of the American people read a book, only 15% of the country reads a newspaper….‘ I am not confident about quoting verbatim, but these words really rang out for me. Could this be true?

My ears are Lhasa Apso sharp when it comes to reading, whether it be hubs, awards, international statistics or methodology.

The nature of home decorating trends was discussed during the New Year’s Eve gathering we attended. One guest offered how it is neither trendy, nor recommended, to display books publicly. She said that in visits about her leafy neighbourhood, she seldom saw an upturned or bookmarked book, bookshelves, or book piles. Last year, during a different discussion, I had been made to feel rather foolish by a suggestion made to an acquaintance, an interiors’ photographer. I considered that we could be supporting reading by including book and bookshelf furnishing shots in home decoration magazines. I asked, ‘When were bookshelves last featured in furniture recommendations?’ This suggestion was prompted by a visit to a family where the mother had been evicting books with abandon. She exclaimed, ‘It’s one out, one in, one out, one in system. We have only specific room for a small number of titles.’ Her children stood, devastated. They begged to be allowed to save a few treasured titles.

This week, we are finally heading to open the storage boxes that journeyed from New Zealand after my mother died. I have dreaded this moment’s arrival. While there will be objects associated with ‘home’, it is my books, the books of my childhood, those I associate with her, particularly, that will be the hardest and most meaningful in this reconnection.

The physical benefits of a reading habit, from developing empathy, building closeness and relationships, have long been realised. Reading for pleasure is linked to a reduction in depression or feelings of anxiety. 76% of adults report that reading improves their lives and makes them feel good. Yet according to the most recent statistics from The Reading Agency ‘most children in England do not read for pleasure on a daily basis.’

Paddy Chayafesky wrote ‘Network‘ before the emergence of a social media age. The premise, of this ‘fable of our times’, with Arthur Jensen’s assertion that ‘There are no nations, everything is currency, the world is a business in which everyone can participate‘ really strikes a chord. Is it as Lee Hall suggests, that the themes are ‘more current now’?

As President Trump copes with the fall out from Michael Wolff’s expose, ‘Fire and Fury‘ (St Martin’s Press), highlights recalled other leaks about this leader. Tony Schwarz, ghostwriter for Donald Trump’s ‘The Art of the Deal‘ said that, ‘in the eighteen months he spent with Trump, he never saw a book on Trump’s desk or elsewhere in his office or in his apartment.‘ The Washington Post says that President Trump claims that ‘he does not need to read because he has ‘common sense and business clarity.’

Early last year, Andrea Schleicher, education lead for the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development suggested that children should be taught in school how to spot fake news. Recently,  I learned that from March, the BBC will offer a special programme for up to 1000 schools. It will include  mentoring and online assistance to help students distinguish between real and false news. BBC supports schools with fake news programme. This follows research from the University of Salford.

There is a link between all these strands. A reading for pleasure culture that includes a wide range and ample opportunity to read is essential to society. People who read are not only happier, but they are able to make more confident distinctions between truth and falsehood. They have a place to go when they are sad. 

My wonderful mother shared the words of a policeman attending the suicide of a local, an elderly man in our farming village. My mother felt the tragedy keenly, for this was a neighbour upon for about she had concerns and tried to help. However with me, a newborn baby, two teenagers and a farm, my parents had been unable to be there for him, as they had hoped. The policeman coffered, ‘In every case like this, I’ve noticed a similarity between the homes. There are no books. You don’t find people who read feeling forced into such a dreadful act. Books can offer meaning to live.’

2017 Costa Children’s book winner Katherine Rundell, for The Explorer offers, ‘The only time that kids fully understand the world they inhabit is when they read, the rest of the time the world is so large and so frayed at the edges.‘ This multitalented writer and Oxford scholar reads widely and constantly despite the demands of a full work and life schedule- Katherine Rundell in The Guardian talks about academia, writing, reading and a Zimbabwean childhood

The world we inhabit is vast, strange and wonderful. I am updating our Bookwagon titles with some truly inspiring books.  The 1, 000 year old Boy by Bookwagon favourite, Ross Welford is a really moving title that fascinated me. Laughter and tears were constant throughout this reading experience. Occasionally I left the book, to learn more about events through which our hero, Alve (Alfie) had lived. The Battle of Towton was new to me, for example- Towton- England’s bloodiest battle

Bookwagon titles we plan to introduce include wonderful non-fiction and sophisticated picture books, starting with  On a Magical Do-Nothing Day. Do- nothing days are ideal for reading.  They are just waiting to support inventions too, maybe  Impossible Inventions Ideas that Shouldn’t Work.  We are preparing for book fairs in schools, and for schools. Our advice is sought on stimulating texts that support a reading culture and for cross-curricular and thematic reading.

The world is made more wonderful by the opportunity of a reading life for Bookwagon and our readers.  Books make the difference- from relationships to learning, confidence to emptiness, truths to memories.

Happy reading.

It’s Time to Turn the Page

It’s Time to Turn the Page

This time last year, I was buzzing with ideas for a children’s bookshop. I wanted it to sell selected quality books to families and schools and offer informed advice. I saw a need to fill the voids of which I am aware through teaching years and interaction with families. A year and a pub lunch later and Mr Bookwagon, who was but a glimmer of a delivery route in my eye a year ago, and I are about to step up the business with bold new directions.

Bold new directions are something many parents and teachers request from Bookwagon in its day to day business. If I had a penny for the number of times I’m asked, ‘He/ she likes David Walliams/ Tom Gates/ Jacqueline Wilson/ Magic Faraway Tree……. what can he/ she move onto?’ I’d be able to afford a ticket to the Mar-A- Lago New Year’s Eve Trump gala! 

There is a lot to cheer about when your young reader becomes captivated by a writer or series. It’s when the reader realises that reading makes sense and brings him or her pleasure.

As a child, I was insistent upon reading every book of a series, or by a particular author,. It could be ‘Famous Five‘, ‘Anne of Green Gables‘ or Tessa Duder’s ‘Alex‘. I am the same today. I insist on a need to read every book written by Ann Patchett, Anne Tyler, Elizabeth Strout, Lloyd Jones or Richard Russo.

At each change, when I’ve run out of an author’s titles, or a series, I’ve felt bereft. I felt this way again most recently, when I’d completed the Laura Marlin Mysteries by Lauren St. John- A Laura Marlin Mystery Dead Man’s Cove. I love this series. The fact we’ve sold one copy only, baffles me.

When you love a series or writer, you can hear the writer’s voice. Any reader at this stage has some startling reading advantages occurring within them. He or she:-

  • comprehends the setting, i.e., they can visualise and describe the place and time;
  • knows the characters, so that they can hear their voices, realise how they act, differentiate between their behaviours and characteristics, likes and dislikes;
  • is able to predict what might happen with greater certainty because of their familiarity;
  • can make informed statements and comparisons based on their experience of the stories;
  • realises how language flows in a story. Researchers recommend children are read to in their readers’, e.g., parents’, first language, so they may hear a confident flow of language as it should follow;
  • has an opportunity to ‘infer’, i.e., read between the lines, because of his/her familiarity;
  • grasps how language is structured in a story, i.e., how a story is formed.

Hearing the author’s voice’ is a vital marker for reading. Ask your child what happens when he or she is reading to himself/ herself? Does he or she ‘hear‘ the story? Can they ‘hear‘ the characters, the author’s voice, the descriptions? Once your child is at that point, they are ‘free’ reading. They are ‘hooked’ on books. Incidentally, what happens to you, when you are reading?

There are benefits of selling books we have read and love only. One is that it allows us to follow up writers and illustrators whose works we respect and enjoy particularly. The flip side is that we will not include a title if we feel it does not measure up to its stablemates. Keen readers may realise omissions from a couple of our series inclusions.

A concern with pursuing a series beyond its and your natural end is that the pleasure diminishes. It can seem to be like eating too much of one foodstuff; after a while you cannot realise the ‘flavour’. We understand that many of our readers love to follow up a Lemony Snickert, a Harry Potter, a Wimpy Kid with more of the same, almost exclusively.  However each of these is not the only character, the only book, the only theme or subject, or the only series. So, where next? I find that the best way to pick up and maintain my reading momentum, is to look to a similar series, or one that is completely different. When you’re of Tom Gates’ reading age, it can seem totally devastating, and the quest for the next title, may feel desperate.

I suggest for your typical Tom Gates/ David Walliams reader, that you look to the works of Lissa Evans, like Small Change for Stuart or Andrew Norriss’s I Don’t Believe it Archie. Readers could step sideways into quality non-fiction such as William Grill’s Shackleton’s Journey or the bizarre and captivating Impossible Inventions Ideas that Shouldn’t Work. These offer opportunity to extend the reader’s reading range and repertoire. This is so important at this age, so the pleasure and meaning offered by reading are enhanced and heightened. 

We love Helen Peters’ Jasmine Green series, too, starting with A Sheepdog Called Sky and anticipate the next installment in spring, keenly.

Bookwagon is able to offer suggestions for your reader looking for new or different paths, or along that continuum. We appreciate enabling readers to take real pleasure and meaning from their books. Readers may explore, discover, interpret and question from the wealth of sophisticated picture books available on our site. There are always endless possibilities with high quality sophisticated picture books. They offer the best route into developing confident reading comprehension skills.

We have been reading a lot over our Christmas and New year break ahead of the incoming spring tide of new publications. Readers will have the best quality titles available from those we select. Along the way, we’ve encountered a few wonderful picture books like On a Magical Do- Nothing Day, winner of the 2017 Landerneau award. We were fascinated by Caldecott award winner Chris Van Allsburg’s The Misadventures of Sweetie-Pie. Something entirely different was the rediscovered work by designer Jacqueline Ayer, The Paper-Flower Tree.

We’ve also been extending our repertoire to include real life, meaningful works like Berlie Doherty’s Blue Peter Award nominee The Girl Who Saw Lions. For older readers, we recommend Sally Nicholls’ acclaimed suffragette novel  Things A Bright Girl Can Do. Mr Bookwagon is building quite a relationship with Lissa Evans’ works. Her latest is included in many 2018 nomination lists. Wed Wabbit  is a favourite we recommend to readers aged from 9 or 10 years of age. A reading highlight for Mr Bookwagon is the enthralling Australian title Into the White: Scott’s Antarctic Odyssey.  This seeks to expand on the aims and achievements of the ill-fated expedition.

Bookwagon invite parents, families, friends and schools to contact us for recommendations. You may require a new direction in reading choices for your young readers. You could be seeking a  a change of pace or theme, or a recharge. We know and love our books. We relish opportunities to match them to readers who will enjoy them. (There may be a few good matches amongst our sale titles!)

Meanwhile, the Bookwagon team wishes you all a very happy year ahead, with lots of happy reading!

Happy golden days of yore

Happy golden days of yore

A house in a nearby street has its Christmas decorations primed for an annual reappearance all year. Yesterday, Santa’s boots were lit up anew to swing until February, when the switch will be dimmed.

Maybe because of the winter season, Christmas feels magical in Britain. It took time, but I’ve developed my own seasonal traditions. I’m not from a family that has ‘traditions’; we muddle through. Too many years of reading assured magazines and working with confident, permanently middle-aged teaching colleagues had me feeling a bit lost about seasonal practices.

However, now, with a home and (small) family of my own, we fall into a few happy Christmas customs.

1. We view the Christmas shop windows in central London (saving Liberty till last). 

2.We light the Advent candle on December 1st and watch it ceremonially burn a little every night to Christmas Eve- (actually, we usually forget for several days, recall, light it, forget again, and burn it to a fireman’s fury stump.) There are many candles. From the desperate Advent candle, to tea lights, to scented pine candles, to those made by a clever candle-making friend, our Christmas room would entice any reindeer.

3. We take a tour around suburban London and its outer limits in the hope of catching a would-be ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation‘ lighting job. 

4. We enjoy at least one show; this year we’ve ‘Pinocchio‘ at the National Theatre.

5. We will attend a carol service or two. Christmas days call for emotional singing along to John Rutter’s Christmas songs.

6. We create a Christmas tableau in our bay window that includes some treasured Kelly Hoppen silver baubles I bought in Fulham, years before Mr Bookwagon appeared.

7. Around the house hang Christmas stockings. These include the first, a hand-stitched gift for Mr Bookwagon. He was working as an environmental health policy officer, at that point. While I swear the theme I sewed was ‘Hickory Dickory Dock’ with a dangling mouse, unfortunately, Mr BW was convinced there was a rat (rodent) reference to my handiwork. Each year, it elicits chortles of derision and mockery. On Christmas morning, Mr Bookwagon will entertain me by galumphing through the house in an attempt to find items to fill my stocking because he’s forgotten, again.

8. We buy our Christmas tree from a different source each year. Last year there was a delay in bringing the selected tree home, after two cranky cars had a head-on carpark collision. Dressing the tree involves colour themes. Last year’s was white and gold. We have decorations from twelve Christmases together, and those from our previous lives. However, I suspect  Mr Bookwagon sat in his socks during Christmas days past, before I enlightened him. We add a new decoration to our haul every year.

10. There will be a Christmas turkey Mr Bookwagon ordered some weeks ago, that will necessitate an eleventh hour collection in a cursing queue. I will attempt some disappointing vegetarian recipe.

11. After sharing our feast, we will share gifts with Granny Bookwagon. Her departure will coincide with Her Majesty’s speech. When Mr Bookwagon returns from this taxi duty, we will open gifts to and from each other. Then, we settle into Christmas day for a little while.

12. We may have an early evening Christmas walk followed by cheese and crackers. We will be thinking about our television or movie watching. Mr Bookwagon will plump for ‘It’s a Wonderful Life‘ again; we’ll agree on ‘Some Like it Hot.’

I will be yearning for ‘home’. The day will have been wonderful and fulfilling, but nagging in my head and tugging at my heart, will be those far away. Those at ‘home’ are especially longed for on Christmas Day. Sharing the gifts and experiences of godchildren and family and friends matters so much.  I will recall the ‘muddling through’ of New Zealand Christmases past, and especially my Christmas birthday angel mother, who is missed every day.

Christmas has always served to remind me of my good fortune. Despite homesickness I know I have a secure and loving place. There are so many who are not so blessed.

One of our favourite experiences of 2017 occurred recently, when we set up a Bookwagon stall at St Elizabeth’s in Hertfordshire. St Elizabeth’s is a school, residence and centre for people with epilepsy and other complex needs. The fair was a joy. We sold books, connected with other stall holders, but more importantly, experienced and participated in something so joyful and inspiring. Those working and learning in that environment demonstrate Christmas, in their warmth, sharing and community.

Books remind us of the full capacity of ourselves and others. For both of us, the giving of books at Christmas was a seasonal tradition throughout our lives that we have continued. Each of us recall books we have been given. Most often they are ‘forever‘ books, books we love and share and keep. Many of mine have travelled over oceans, through  the years.

Proudly, we have a good share, despite our business youth, of ‘forever‘ books in the Bookwagon shelves. This week I added another, Hilary McKay’s Fairy Tales, one of the best interpretations of this genre I have seen. I’m delighted by the range of our sophisticated picture books, that delight all ages, like Harry Miller’s Run and the award-winning The Wolf The Duck & The Mouse. Books that make me warm and tingly, like La La La and How the Sun Got to Coco’s House and titles that make me know more about the world, like Do You Speak Chocolate?Kick and The Snow Angel are ‘forever‘ books. We have isolated a wonderful selection in our seasonal titles category. We are so happy to offer all our titles without free delivery during this period.

Whatever your traditions, wherever you are up to in this madcap, light-magic season, I hope it is happy and fulfilling. I hope it includes books, quality, forever children’s books, too.

Happy reading.

What stories do you tell?

What stories do you tell?

If I had a penny for the number of times where a fellow audience member has asked the speaker, ‘So, what’s your inspiration?’ I’d be a billionaire (well, much closer than I am now.) Inspiration, like creativity, is not something that you can explain or share or package. Inspiration is in your outlook, approach and need. Most often, inspiration is linked to your engagement and experience.

Recently, Bookwagon has enjoyed experiences with two highly successful writers. We supported a school visit by Robin Stevens, writer of the popular and acclaimed Murder Most Unladylike (Wells & Wong) mysteries. Robin impressed me with her positivism, engagement and sheer industry. Despite the fact she keeps up a regular 2000 word a day writing habit, punctuated by disciplined editing and diligent school visits, she has a vital and necessary presence on social media.

On our return drive to Radlett Station, she told me how as a young girl she’d met Morse writer Colin Dexter. She’d told him how she was determined to be a crime writer as an adult. Rather than patronising or dismissing her, he took the time to write to her with suggestions and encouragement.

Oliver Jeffers is midway through a publicity tour for his new title, Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth. Despite a rigorous schedule and absence from his pregnant wife and infant son, Oliver Jeffers’ engagement, excitement and energy fairly sizzled from the podium. He had so much to share, say, ask and show. 

Oliver Jeffers told us that he feels too ‘fired up’ to quieten down, that he is more engaged with the planet and politics than he’d ever been. His questioning about current events, history and science is urgent and frequently visual. He quoted Martin Luther King, ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.‘ I was reminded of him as I watched the most recent ‘Blue Planet II’ episode expanding on the wretched damage of plastics on our oceans.

Oliver Jeffers opened his talk with a quote from Sophia Loren- ‘Isn’t it wonderful to be alive? You know, you can forget all about it. Then suddenly you remember, and think of all the things you can do. Here I am. I can walk around. I can talk. I can see things and remember things. I am alive. How wonderful!

I have read at least two books this week that remind me of this. Lauren St John, like Robin Stevens, is a very popular children’s writer. Like Stevens she is an ‘outsider’, i.e., she emigrated to Britain. In her case, from Zimbabwe. Lauren St John’s background, alongside other experiences, informs her writing. Her latest book The Snow Angel is a revelation. I expected something mystical, possibly concerning an angel granting a Christmas wish. How wrong could I be? The snow of the title is a Tanzanian Albino girl, threatened because of her colouring. She enables our main character, Makene, to survive the Nairobi dumpsite where she’s hidden since her parents perished in the Sierra Leonean  Ebola epidemic. It is raw, heartbreaking, informative and real.

So too is Evie’s Ghost by Helen Peters. It did not meet my expectations. The book has lain on the wagon waiting for me to read it for some months. How could I have kept it waiting? From 21st century London, to existence in a Georgian country house, we travel with the title character, left to ‘free’ the ghost trapped by a bankrupt father, from imprisonment. The comparisons between the expectations and experiences of Evie’s ‘lives’ were realistic, informative, harrowing and provocative. I will never look at washing up liquid in the same way!

Sir Terence Conran states, ‘Never stop asking questions. Complacency is the death of society.’ Robin Stevens and Oliver Jeffers last questions. They access and use it in their work. They inform and engage us. Other writers with whom I’ve been lucky to work show a similar enquiry and interest. They are not locked behind a screen (unless they’re writing!) or trapped in their sheds. They question, comment, consider and interpret.

As we approach the Christmas season, I am overwhelmed by the wealth of opportunities for families to engage. From Christmas at Kew Gardens, to Paddington Bear II, Little Mix in concert, Pinocchio at the National Theatre, to the Illustration Cupboard Winter Exhibition, the season is ripe for engagement and entertainment. Longer hours of darkness demand board games. There are walks to take, skies at which to marvel, nativity words to learn and lists to write. As always, there are books to read. We have many, many fabulous suggestions on site, and, as ever, we are more than happy to recommend titles to you personally.

Have a happy week.

Interior Decoration and Clocks

Interior Decoration and Clocks

The furore over new book releases continues. We are reading at a pace, though devoted to ensuring we know, love and recommend any book included on our shop shelves.

Last week, saw much excitement about the release of Philip Pullman’s ‘The Book of Dust Volume One La Belle Sauvage‘. Like many of you, I read and loved the ‘His Dark Materials‘ trilogy. Mr Bookwagon and I discussed whether to rush read so that the new title might be included within the shop, but decided against it when we saw it offered for half its retail price in a supermarket and a major book chain – Philip Pullman Writers Can’t Make a Living From Books.  Our revelation coincided with a tweet from an established and beloved children’s author whose publisher had offered him a deal of 3p a copy per title sold, to be shared with his illustrator. What are we to do as a literate society? Well maybe, ladies and gentlemen, we need to read more good books, widely, variously and vigorously. 

To that end, we’ve put ‘La Belle Sauvage‘ aside and returned to recommending titles about which you may be less familiar, titles that shine, that must not be missed, including earlier works by Mr Pullman, like Clockwork, or All Wound Up, the title the author said he would most like to be remembered by.

Today I finished reading, Kick by Mitch Johnson. Although I’m inclined to leave seemingly ‘boys’ books for Mr Bookwagon, this isn’t a ‘boy’s’ book but a story of humanity/inhumanity within 21st century society. I took so much from it, I’m relieved it wasn’t one to be snaffled by Mr BW.  I re-read a favourite read aloud this week, Hoot, ideal for Junior age/Middle grade readers who relish a  gritty, funny, pacy story.

The most common enquiry we take from parents and teachers is ‘How do I get my child/children to read?’ I can, like the aforementioned Philip Pullman discuss some of the problems with 21st century teaching, learning and reading – from an exhaustive assessment system, to the demise of school and local libraries. However, I would include an additional suggestion for your consideration.

In addition to families needing to instil a regular bedtime reading routine, despite the stresses and pressures, children need to see their parents reading.

We had the good fortune to meet Gecko Press publisher, Julia Marshall this week. We discussed children’s literature, how to hook children into reading, what constitutes a good book. We talked about social media pressures on children, how the accepted wisdom is that children are always on their devices so they don’t read. Julia commented on something that I’ve observed, and about which I agree, that ‘it’s not the children, but the parents.’ She continued, ‘When do children ever see their parents read? Those adults who do read, read at bedtime, after their children have gone to bed.’ Also, when do children hear their parents discuss their reading? If they are reading after hours, it suggests those discussions are conducted when their children are asleep.

I extend this consideration to suggest that in many homes books are relegated to bedrooms, away from the living area. It used to be that bookcases were a feature in a home. Many families have a ‘one in, one out’ action as regards a book, so that any new book bought for the household must replace another so as to not take up too much room. So, if parents are children’s best models in terms of behaviour, what are they seeing and learning? If parents read books that are seemingly disposable that children never see, how can they realise the pleasure, mystery and information held between the pages? Children see their parents and adult carers using their devices – phones, tablets, laptops – constantly; these are part of their daily functioning. However, reading a book? A newspaper? Talking about their reading?

I love talking about books. It’s not only the bookseller in me, it’s a constant curiosity. I love it when Mr Bookwagon shares his reading, e.g., ‘The Unwinding: Thirty Years of American Decline’ by George Packer, formed much of our discussion during last year’s Florida road trip. We read differently and variously; he is more inclined toward history, economics and biography than me. We learn from each other and delight in our individual reading practices

Recently a friend attended Hillary Rodham Clinton’s London Literary Festival talk at the Southbank. She chose to take her 9- year old daughter. My friend, is energised by current events; she is a curious, informed thinker and reader. Subsequently, she and her daughter have chosen to read Hillary Clinton’s ‘What Happened‘ together; it has been reviewed as a trailblazing and honest account of Clinton’s 2016 US presidential campaign and subsequent global events. My friend’s 9-year old daughter concluded in a communication to her grandmother from sharing this reading experience with her mother:- ‘What do I want to do? I want to stand up for myself and all women that want to become something special. Every woman should be able to achieve their dreams and be treated as equally as men!’

Keeping books demonstrates that they are valued too. I will often look back over books that I have loved. Recently, Mr Bookwagon and I caught Robert Redford’s film version of Kent Haruf’s ‘Our Souls at Night’. We sought the title on our shelf to compare the plot. Frequently, I will look over my poetry books; our growing poetry collection in Bookwagon is a source of pride and determination for me. 2017 has introduced me to the works of Joseph Coelho, fresh and vigorous, as in Overheard in a Tower Block.

Mr Bookwagon and I have ‘discussions’ about how best to store our sophisticated picture books. I will frequently pull one of the titles out and look it over anew, most recently, Zeraffa Giraffa which I’d omitted from the Bookwagon shelf, accidentally, despite having my own much loved copy. Realising it has been adapted for a Christmas stage prompted me to amend my omission. I took Kate DiCamillo’s La La La to have signed, at the Bath Children’s Literature Festival, delightedly. In the post is a copy of Mrs Noah’s Pockets for lovely, encouraging friends who admire the works of James Mayhew.  I’m planning on gifting the wonderful Once Upon a Northern Night to an ethereal friend with a broken wrist, and missing bathroom fitter.

So, dear Bookwagon readers, when you remember and are able, please read that your children can see you. Talk about your reading. Let them know that you are a reader too, that you derive information and the sort of pleasure in your reading experience that you hope they will.

If you want a few suggestions, we’re only a phone call or email away!




From Wonderland to Widcombe Hill, a Girl and a Book

From Wonderland to Widcombe Hill, a Girl and a Book

Bookwagon enjoyed a busy week, with a lot of chewing gum chomping, checklists and children.

On Thursday, National Poetry Day, we accompanied poet Michaela Morgan, Ambassador to the Poetry Society, to Haberdashers’ Aske’s School for Girls, Elstree. Michaela read poetry from Wonderland Alice in Poetry and Reaching the Stars to the Junior School children before creating descriptive poetry with them. She shared an earlier rhyming publication with the younger girls, then developed rhyming phrases around a ‘rat-a-tat’ rhythm.

Michaela’s works from ‘Reaching the Stars‘, poems about exceptional women, gripped the audience, e.g., ‘Malala- afraid of one girl and a book‘ and ‘Ruby Bridges, My First Day at School’. Michaela shared ‘Freedom‘, a poem for the day read on the hour at Sutton Railway station, built around the theme of this year’s National Poetry Day. Thank you to all involved, especially the superb school library team, Christina, Fiona and Annette.

Bookwagon took a break of dawn drive on the M4 to be part of an audience with Kate DiCamillo at this year’s Bath Children’s Literature Festival. This outstanding writer of wonderful titles such as Because of Winn-Dixie, Flora & Ulysses and Raymie Nightingale  served as the United States’ Ambassador of Young People’s Literature between 2014-15. “Kate DiCamillo is not only one of our finest writers for young people, but also an outstanding advocate for the importance of reading,” said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington.’

I  have recommended, gifted and read ‘Because of Winn-Dixie‘ to many children. I have a special memory of reading this book to the beloved sons of a dear friend when we holidayed in a dilapidated house in the Ardeche, France about twelve years ago.

I adore Kate DiCamillo’s writing, in a way Mr Bookwagon does Luther Blisset and Watford Football Club. In Florida last year, I ‘was ecstatic to discover a hardback first edition of Kate DiCamillo’s ‘Raymie Nightingale‘ in Judy Blume’s Key West bookstore. Yesterday, the author signed that book.

Kate DiCamillo in person exceeded my hopes and aspirations. She was warm and wonderful. It made me think of how special it is to young people to realise writers, that this connection is vital to their reading attachment and development.

She told us how her mother’s vacuum cleaner inspired ‘Flora & Ulysses‘, that Opal Buloni of ‘Because of Winn-Dixie‘ is a far wiser character than she could ever be, that Raymie Clarke, and her situation as described in ‘Raymie Nightingale, are closest to her own, so that book is ‘autobiographical, but not autobiographical’. She held my attention like a tight goblet; the children in the audience were similarly enthralled.

On the same day a furious debate rang out across social media about celebrity authors platformed for World Book Day 2018, while lesser known authors and illustrators struggle. An average salary, the esteemed Jackie Morris wrote last  week, is £12 000-Jackie Morris Blog

Kate DiCamillo told her audience that her best selling, award winning, internationally acclaimed ‘Because of Winn-Dixie’ had taken six years to write and suffered 473 rejections. It was not until some two years after the publication of that title, after monumental ‘success’, that she was able to cut back to working 32 hours at a local bookstore in order to ‘make ends meet’.

Since that success, and during her role as Ambassador (similar to our Children’s Laureate), Kate DiCamillo has determined to ‘work hard to get to places you wouldn’t think mattered because kids need and love physical books.‘ I’d assert that kids need and love physical writers, real writers, real books, too.

Our predicted 2 hours 6 minutes of travel became 3 hours 35 minutes each way. We endured a furious argument when attempting to park in a garden centre . However, I returned with a greater determination to share our books and writers, with our lovely audience and beyond, so that writers like Kate DiCamillo are known and read, and would-be writers like Kate DiCamillo might enjoy greater opportunity to become known and read. It matters.


Poetry for the willing memory and conscious carrier*

Poetry for the willing memory and conscious carrier*

Motatau Road is unlikely to strike a chord of recognition with many Bookwagon readers. However, the memory of 4:00 p.m. Friday afternoons of Speech and Drama in a brick and tile bungalow on a corner of this road chimed brightly with me this week.

We took a break to Ffairfach, a small village before the winding bridge across the River Towey to Llandeilo, courtesy of lovely friends. (We’d have had a longer stay if one of us hadn’t forgotten the key to our accommodation necessitating an emergency stay in a local hotel’s honeymoon suite; angst does not fit well with such surroundings.)

The landscape, weather and township’s offerings were magnificent. We knew time was scarce so determined that a priority destination should be Laugharne, home to Dylan Thomas.

There was a ritual to those Speech and Drama afternoons. I had been reluctant to attend, but my mother was determined to see if this intervention would build my confidence. The activities were not demanding, and I enjoyed the conversations with the teacher. What I loved most, however, was her suitcase of poems. Each week there came a moment when she would reach for the suitcase, unclip it, and let me  loose upon scattered pages of typewritten poems that she had copied over the years, poems by Eleanor Farjeon, Alfred Noyes, Christina Rossetti, for example. I discovered many treasures, many of which crop up still in my day to day life with remembered lines or phrases. However, as my confidence grew, I asked for more; I wanted to discover more poetry, different poetry. That suitcase paved the way to my discovery of Dylan Thomas.

My teacher suggested that Thomas’s words would be too ‘hard’; in truth I didn’t really ‘understand’ them, but I understood the emotion and could visualise the pictures he painted with his words. From ‘Fern Hill‘ the first poem I was offered, my love for this bold, urgent poetry was sealed.

Dylan Thomas was not the only poet I loved, nor was Speech and Drama the only opportunity to extend my knowledge of and delight in this form of literature. We learned ‘The Eagle‘ by Alfred, Lord Tennyson by heart in Year 7, were introduced to the works of Allen Curnow whose ‘Time‘ can still be remembered in snatches. At each arrival home, to New Zealand, James K.Baxter’s words, ‘These unshaped islands on the sawyer’s bench/ Wait for the chisel of the mind.‘ pulsate. In Year 10, a maverick teacher had us enact ‘The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner‘ with desks piled precariously atop of each other to create the rambling shipwreck- it crashed, much to our delight. With other travellers, I coursed the waters of the Shannon alighting at W.B. Yeats’ printing press, realising his poetry anew. One of my most precious memories is performance poet John Hegley singing, while a girl danced, late into the night, long after his official performance at the Battersea Arts’ Centre was over. Wendy Cope and Seamus Heaney have created words I recognise through experience and feelings. Then there was hearing Michael Rosen’s dramatic recitation of ‘Chocolate Cake‘ to a mesmerised school, long after I’d first heard it at a meeting of the South Auckland Children’s Literature Association.

One of the best parts of the revised English programmes of study in the National Curriculum is the inclusion of poetry learning, from- ‘learning to appreciate rhymes and poems and recite some by heart/ building a repertoire of poetry learnt by heart, appreciating and reciting some/ listening to and discussing a wide range of poetry, recognising different forms of poetry.’ Poetry learning offers knowledge, authority, opportunity, attachment and reason. Poetry, in all its forms, is approachable for all ages. My parents long into their later years could still recite poems learned and loved at school, from John Masefield’s ‘Sea Fever‘ to Walter de la Mare’s ‘Silver‘. They were proud of their skills and the associated memories.

While teaching a Reception class in its first full week, I watched a young boy offer another, ‘I can read that book to you.’ He picked up Caryl Hart’s.Big Box Little Box The class had been introduced to rhyming strings in the morning and I had read this title through to them twice, then again after lunch at their request. Archie, at four, could recite the rhyming text, make connections with the pictures, predict and recall, and thus, ‘read’ the book. The precision of language was ideal.

Poetry is also deceptively easy to write; Michael Rosen urges teachers to unlock their own fears and allow their pupils to enjoy the words, the rhythm and flow. So:-

Emilia has a bad cof
Emilia needs antiybiats
For a week.
She has tishs
In her bag
She needs a hat
For a week too. 

This week Bookwagon has the opportunity to celebrate National Poetry Day, September 28th, through working with acclaimed poet  Michaela Morgan. We are delighted to be celebrating her industry and sharing her poetry with a live audience that we hope will remember the day, the poet but most of all, the words.

*from ‘Time‘ by Allen Curnow

(We invite you to browse through our proud collection of Bookwagon poetry titles by clicking on the tag, ‘poetry’ on the home page.)



Welcome to September: Squirrels, Birthdays and a Competition

Welcome to September: Squirrels, Birthdays and a Competition

This morning, while working, I was distracted by a squirrel tapping on pumpkins ripening on our garden bench. He left these, thankfully, before attacking my acer. What an autumn scene. I wonder if your garden is gathering leaves, squirrels, spiders’ webs, and other signs of the changing season. It’s all change in the world of children’s books. Exciting new titles are hitting the bookshelves. We’re reading ahead and choosing the best of what is out there. As ever, we do not go with the flow, but endeavour to find and sell quality children’s books that enable your children to build and sustain a real reading habit.

Recent treasures include:

Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen, which brings my devotion to this magnificent, award- winning Canadian author to a temporary standstill, for we’ve now read and selected every one of her great YA titles;

Come All You Little Persons, a sumptuously inviting, inclusive poem welcoming children from all over the world, by John Agard, gorgeously illustrated by Briony May Smith;

The White Fox by Jackie Morris, a mouthwatering, tear blistering, dyslexia friendly picture book by an author we are delighted to welcome to our shelves;

Stardust by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Jessica Courtney-Tickle, in which Grandad explains the truths and order of the universe and families, to a little sister, longing for recognition;

Little Mouse’s BIG SECRET by Eric Battut, is a super baby book to inspire participation, observation and early reading behaviour;

The Boy on the Porch by multi award- winning author Sharon Creech, is a tender, tear-jerking, beautiful tale of belonging, love and family.

Free postage and packing on Mr Bookwagon’s birthday, Sunday 10th September

The Bookwagon team celebrates Mr Bookwagon’s birthday on Sunday, 10th September by offering all our lovely customers, free postage and packing on all orders throughout this momentous day.

 New search tags for books that are dyslexia-friendly or with diversity themes

A number of our customers have asked us to identify books with themes of diversity or are specifically dyslexia-friendly.  You may now search for such titles by clicking on ‘diversity’ or ‘dyslexia-friendly’ in the tag cloud on the home page.

Newly available in paperback

Paperback editions of favourite Bookwagon titles, that we have loved since they emerged first, in hardback, are now available. They include:-

Mango and Bambang: Tiny Tapir Trouble

Raymie Nightingale

An award winning competition Finally, and most excitingly, to celebrate the new season and the growth of Bookwagon, we invite you to participate in our first competition! To be in for a chance to win a selection from this year’s award winning children’s books, namely:

    ‘A Poem for Every Night of the Year’- edited by Allie Esiri (Pan Macmillan) – Independent Bookshop Week Children’s Book of the Year;

‘The Reluctant Journal of Henry K.Larsen’ by Susin Nielsen (Andersen Press) – UKLA Book of the Year 12- 16 year category, 2017;

‘Mrs Mole, I’m Home’ by Jarvis (Walker Books) – V&A Best Illustrated Book, 2017;

‘A Child of Books’ by Sam Winston and Oliver Jeffers (Walker Books) – Bologna Ragazzi Fiction Award, 2017;

The Girl Who Drank the Moon’ by Kelly Barnhill (Piccadilly Press) – Newbery Medal, 2017

Simply enter by clicking the Rafflecopter widget below to verify your entries

. a Rafflecopter giveaway Terms and conditions

  • One prize winner of one package only to a UK reader.
  • The winning entry will be verified and if not correctly actioned the prize may be redrawn. Bookwagon will post the package to a UK address, but is limited to the reliability the nominated delivery company and can accept no liability of a lost parcel. The winner will be contacted by email within 36 hours of the end of the competition with and the parcel dispatched within 72 hours of the winners reply.
How Rafflecopter works:
  • You will need to complete the mandatory entry first by making a blog comment and subscribing to the Bookwagon newsletter. Click ‘leave a comment’ at the bottom of the post and leave your reply, then click  ‘contact us’ to join our newsletter.
  • Go back to Rafflecopter and click the green button to tell us you have made a comment; this will unlock all the other options. All entries are checked to see that the mandatory question is answered. Without this, all bonus entries will become void.
  • Rafflecopter will Tweet, like and follow on your behalf.
  • For information on how to find the URL of your tweet click here
  • For bonus entries, return to this page and enter the daily bonus entries.
  • If you are still unsure as to how Rafflecopter works please do check out this short video.
The gates to an unknown city, the lid of a treasure chest…..

The gates to an unknown city, the lid of a treasure chest…..

Occasionally, the Bookwagon duo watches ‘Pointless’. We have been known to hit a pointless answer or few. We have been known to shout crossly at contestants who respond to Richard or Xander with ‘That’s a bit before my time’. However, hypocritically, one of us in this team, states frequently, ‘I don’t know any pop music after 1990.’ It’s not this writer.

Since the Millennium music appears to have diversified hugely; there are conflictingly, crossovers of genre, and greater extremes within each music style. Mr Bookwagon was startled to hear in the gym, recently, a remastered dance track including samples from Gregory Porter, a favourite jazz artist.

Mr Bookwagon has a close friend who has kept up to step with the changing music scene, though not in the same devoted way as when they were both university students. At that stage, his attire changed to fit the music, so string vest, dungarees and espadrilles for ‘Dexy’s Midnight Runners’, bandanna for his ‘Duran Duran‘ moment, and flower-filled jeans back-pocket for ‘The Smiths‘. We look at the friend’s Facebook posts and wonder at who he is following, the style, the sound, and – occasionally – if we would be the oldest swingers in town, should we attend such a gig. We need seats now; no standing, and certainly nothing under canvas.

It is a joy, with Bookwagon, to discover new writers and illustrators. The more I read their books, the more I want to discover and the more determined I am to celebrate, proclaim and share these wonderful efforts with a waiting world. 

I was recently invited to join two reading groups on the aforesaid Facebook, but revoked my membership fairly quickly. Each had constant posts of recommendations of the same very familiar authors, those about in my childhood, who are seen and known, and reissued constantly, abound in supermarkets, linger in car boot sales and discount bins. Certainly those authors, and you can fill in the blanks, from the 1950s, 80’s, 90’s and recent Millennium have a place; but not to the detriment of any opportunity available to the outstanding writers and picture book makers who work so hard to be published and shared, earn a decent living, and become part of a real reading culture. Reading didn’t stop with ‘The Magic Faraway Tree’ or ‘Matilda’. It wasn’t revived (but that’s a separate soapbox) by ‘The Demon Dentist’.

During his haircut earlier in the week, Mr Bookwagon learned about The Vamps, a successful, British pop band. Despite their Number 1 status, they tour constantly to make ends meet. Recent press about the fortunes of musical acts backs this story; for every wildly wealthy Adele, who worked her socks off, touring America for 18 months with the release of ’19’, there are countless ‘The Vamps’ making very little for their creative, hard work, caught in a net of touring, writing, recording, touring, in order to make a sustainable living.

For every J.K. Rowling – and I have loved the Harry Potter series for 20 years, but reading doesn’t begin or end with these titles – there are countless wonderful authors, working extra jobs, falling into an unfair literary oblivion, seeing their books issued, but sorely publicised and thereafter not reissued, who deserve our attention and our readership. With the demise of libraries and independent bookshops who do not accede to free publicity promotional materials, but care about the reading, we are at risk of being that ‘before my time’ ‘Pointless‘ community.

This week, I tapped into a Tweet exchange between successful writer Matt Haig and a Bookwagon favourite writer/ illustrator, Viviane Schwarz:- ‘I really get uncomfortable with how writers are now expected to be performers. I hate performing. I write because it is easier than talking. /’New authors/ illustrators get thrown into performing without training, right at the deep end, on stage. A literal nightmare.’ Once, when booking writers to schools, there was a united frisson of excitement at the wonderful opportunity ahead; the greater concern is about how much they charge, what ‘they will do for the money’ and how the event would disrupt the timetable

Publishing companies look at what is a known or likely success. When we attended the London Book Fair’s new titles launch in March, we saw ‘revived’ copies of Enid Blyton books, a huge launch of a revised, illustrated ‘Harry Potter’ series, replications of ‘Hunger Games’ and ‘Sweet Valley High’. Some of the series and titles we saw had no author hand; they were industry creations. There is a push toward trilogies, or series, or using similar ‘winning factors’ or even author names. Others, seemingly created by celebrity authors, were actually the work of lesser known ‘real’ writers who took the money out of necessity. Meanwhile, their own wonderful books remain unknown and unread.

As a bookseller, I am asked to vote for a number of awards. This week, another reputable survey arrived in my Inbox. Yet again, with two exceptions from the six categories of about sixty books, the same well promoted titles were offered as reward nominees. None, except those two exceptions, were amongst the best children’s books I have read this year.

So, when you select your next book for your family, look a little further, explore a little more. Read our recommendations, for we have made a commitment, as experienced, informed, devoted readers, to unearth the best of children’s books from around the world, with wide ranging styles, for every age group and every interest. We are dedicated to building readers who read for information and pleasure, who are readers for life. We know that you, our subscribers and followers have the same objectives. Happy reading!

Favourite recent discoveries include:-

Susin Nielsen:- Word Nerd

Mimi Thebo:- Dreaming the Bear

Clementine Beauvais:- Piglettes

Stewart Foster:- All the Things that Could Go Wrong

Gennifer Choldenko:- The Monkey’s Secret

Miriam Halahmy:- The Emergency Zoo

S.E. Durrant:- Little Bits of Sky

Lorraine Gregory:- Mold and the Poison Plot

James Nichol:- The Apprentice Witch

Timo Parvela, illustrated by Virpi Talvitie:- Bicycling to the Moon

Eva Lindstrom:- My Dog Mouse

Juliette McIver and Sarah Davies:- That’s Not a Hippopotamus

David Barrow:- Have You Seen Elephant?

Kate Wakeling:- Moon Juice

‘I tried to climb into Jem’s skin and walk around in it…’ *

‘I tried to climb into Jem’s skin and walk around in it…’ *

“I feel that the care of libraries and the use of books, and the knowledge of books, is a tremendously vital thing, and that we who deal with books and who love books have a great opportunity to bring about something in this country which is more vital here than anywhere else, because we have the chance to make a democracy that will be a real democracy.” 
Eleanor Roosevelt

When I enter a library or bookshop, I am often frustrated that:-

  • there is a lack of choice, so I see the same titles in every bookshop;
  • I cannot find what I want;
  • staff, including professional staff, do not know about books;
  • so many books are moved on, to make way for best sellers, or popular genres (see 1);
  • there is an overabundance of popular, commercially linked, quick-sell and offer titles..

One of the reasons we started Bookwagon was to offer readers wider reading opportunities. We wanted to stock different books, from different countries, that may have been translated from other languages, or were worthwhile favourites that had been reprinted and were waiting to be reintroduced to a reading audience. We determined that we would leave no stone unturned to bring quality books to children.

I realise there are fewer people who really know about books; libraries are at risk in Britain because of funding issues, the majority of bookshops are chains selling the same titles dependent on stationery and add-ons for profit, while many schools consider reading as something to be taught and passed, only.

However, society knows in its collective bones that reading is what makes us human:-
Always be reading something, he said. Even when we’re not physically reading. How else will we read the world? Think of it as a constant.” ― Ali Smith, Autumn

People who travel, especially the type of travel where you step off the cruise ship and explore, expand their understanding of the world. However, people who read are enabled a wider world view than those who do not.

As the world becomes an ever more ‘fiery and furious’ place, books offer windows to the world. We can’t all travel and we don’t all meet and talk to people whose experiences are so different from ours. But we can read, learn, infer and understand:-“In reading we have to allow the sunken meanings to remain sunken, suggested, not stated; lapsing and flowing into each other like reeds on the bed of a river” – Virginia Woolf, Selected Essays 

Sometimes we look for people like us, be it the way we look or feel, but sometimes we need something really different:-“In truth, Kipling’s politics are not mine. But then, it would be a poor sort of world if one were only able to read authors who expressed points of view that one agreed with entirely. It would be a bland sort of world if we could not spend time with people who thought differently, and who saw the world from a different place.” ― Neil Gaiman, The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction

There has been a lot written about the need for greater diversity in children’s literature. Certainly, it is something about which Bookwagon is aware. Quality publishers are more likely to offer books that are more truthfully representative of a whole range of differences in our world, enabling society to have a fairer, more honest picture.

A favourite title of ours, that won four major American children’s reading awards, is Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson. We travel by bus across the city with a young boy and his grandmother, seeing the passengers and outside world through the boy’s eyes, comparing and making sense of him, ourselves and the surroundings. 

Younger readers adore the works of Stephen Davies. Drawn from his life in Burkino Faso, his stories are rich, colourful, divergent, humorous and mesmerising. We are proud to recommend The Goggle-Eyed Goats resplendent with Christopher Corr’s bold African sky colours.

The 2017 NZ Picture Book of the Year, That’s Not a Hippopotamus! by Juliette MacIver, illustrated by Sarah Davis, has a truly representative class of children helping their teacher and zookeeper find an elusive hippopotamus, in a rollicking rhyming story, full of incident and diversion. 

Coyote Summer by Mimi Thebo, sees Jules’ observations and experience of farming hardship and community contrast enormously with her own life in cosmopolitan London. Attitudes to animals, society and race are formed by conflicting traditional beliefs and history; these touch Jules through her experience and the discovery of her unknown father’s heritage.

Joanna Nadin’s Joe All Alone will be a CBBC drama in the autumn. Joe is left alone in the South London flat he shares with his mother and hopeless boyfriend. Without resources, protection or support, Joe has only an uncertain new friendship to offer him hope. White Lies, Black Dare continues the story of Joe’s saviour, Asha, whose fortunes have nosedived. In Peckham, she struggles through her mother’s aspirations and illness, and the demands of a cool gang, who coerce her into compromising, cruel and dangerous behaviour.

The Breadwinner tells Parvela’s story. She breaks the rules of Taliban Afghanistan to earn money for food for her family after her father is forced out of their home by the authorities.

Magically Frank Cottrell-Boyce has recreated the smell, innocence and hope of a Year 6 summer classroom, delighting in the differences offered by Mongolian brothers who arrive in their environment, entirely alien, defensive and scared, in The Unforgotten Coat

Andi’s delight in the arrival of her much- longed for older half-brother fractures when she realises how different she is from him, from height, to background, beliefs and culture, to fears and responsibilities. Tall Story by Candy Gourlay, is a funny, humane and heart-warming story.

Walter Tull rose to become Britain’s first black professional football player, and was later mentioned in military dispatches for his bravery on the front in WW1, where he became the first black officer. His story is beautifully told in Michaela Morgan’s Walter Tull’s Scrapbook

Darby, who has Down’s syndrome, narrates A Storm of Strawberries by Jo Cotterill. Darby is looking forward to the annual chocolate hunt, but feels threatened by her older sister’s new friendship.

We experience threatening urban poverty in Crenshaw where Jackson’s family face eviction, food banks, and a home in their car.

Reading allows us to discriminate between truths and ‘fake news’ and build a bigger, kinder picture of our world. It allows us to adapt, understand and empathise, and realise other people’s views, experiences and backgrounds. Reading is the food of our thinking, feeling and being.

“Atticus, he was real nice.” 

‘”Most people are Scout, when you finally see them.”- Harper Lee, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird

(*- Scout, from ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, Harper Lee)

The Friend in the Words

The Friend in the Words


When I was heading toward adolescence, and having a difficult time with home, school and myself, my dear Auntie Barbara gave me ‘The Friend in Your Mirror‘. There were many times I didn’t know what was wrong with me, or how to act. It was like walking through broken glass; I’m sure many of you will empathise with my memories and feelings.

There is a line in ‘What Katy Did‘ which explains that Katy was ‘sometimes surprised to realise how tall she was.’ I recall my relief that Katy felt the same adolescent awkwardness that I did. 

Later, when I was single, and alone on a holiday, I read Melissa Banks, ‘A Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing‘. I didn’t share a lot of the life that Jane, the protagonist, lived, but I did share her anxiety over ‘how to be, how to see, how to cope‘; Jane spoke to me and for me. I knew her.

I have just read Kwame Alexander’s Booked,  shortlisted for the 2017 Carnegie Medal and CLiPPA prizes. It has been praised internationally. I knew little about Kwame Alexander, other than his 2015 Newbery Medal for The Crossover . However, on the day I finished ‘Booked‘ I spoke with a fellow guest at a joyous wedding about books that ‘spoke’ to readers, offering flickers of recognition as in ‘I know how you feel. It will be OK.’ We agreed there is always a need for readers to feel validated through their reading experience, but particularly when they are going through uncertain times, most often as they approach and weather adolescence, when everything seems to be out of control.

Even when we are dearly loved we need words of nurture and affirmation. There are many, many people in our society who don’t have ‘dear loving’ and miss the security of nurture and affirmation. What happens to them? Do they have Jane or Katy moments? Do they receive nurture and affirmation through their reading, at least?

Our society appears to overvalue accreditation by ‘anonymous’ factors. Whether it be a tabloid suggesting that Princess Charlotte is ‘cuter than her brother’, having celebrity chairs spin at the sound of our singing on ‘The Voice UK’, achieving expected grades or levels, being seen with the ‘right’ friends, at the ‘right’ place, with the ‘right’ look…. we are afflicted by our need for approbation. What if it only comes by external factors? It may not be Will.I.Am, but it may be within social media. And social media approbation is not real, does not appreciate the you who is real, will not make you feel warm inside, nurtured, dearly loved, or ‘high five’ you with a sense of understanding complicity.

Bookwagon seeks out books that ‘speak’ to our readers. The smallest division of stock, thus far, is our Young Adult section, for we feel that there is greater vulnerability in, and a higher opportunity for exploitation of, this reading age section. We want to make sure that our books matter.

Booked‘ offers an opportunity for reading ‘rightness’. We share Nick’s tongue-tied shyness, his fear that his suspected intelligence and love of learning may be exposed, his heartbreak at his parents’ unwinding relationship, the way he relives experiences so that he can act and speak as he wishes he had in the first place.

For younger readers, there is a series I recommend cautiously, for fear of questionning. Rosa Lagencrantz’s My Happy Life shares Dani’s deepest thoughts and worries, about her father, her late mother, her friendships, and especially, her deep aching grief at the absence of her best friend, Eva. Although this series has a younger reading age, it has an applicability and maturity of conception and emotions that are in advance of many other titles. It is responsible, considered writing.

My Dog Mouse by Eva Lindstrom, offers readers opportunity to share feelings of loss, love and ageing, gently, as a young girl walks an old dog. The subtle text and faded pictures ache from the pages. This is a truly magical book that I love to bits.

I love Rebecca Stead’s Goodbye Stranger. Bridge, the main character, has survived a near fatal accident, but it has left more than scars. As she struggles with a feeling that she ‘survived for a reason’ she tries to make sense of friendships, groups, belonging, images, and change. So do her closest friends, all of whom react differently to social and social media pressures, and have to face the consequences of their actions. 

Rebecca Stead, like fellow US authors, Gary D. Schmidt, Richard Peck and John David Anderson, writes impeccably about that eggshell uncertainty of pre/ adolescent change. Another recent addition to our shelves,When You Reach Me set in 1979, has Miranda facing up to change when her closest friend and neighbour abandons her, suddenly. She feels a loss of control, and control, even in her reactions, is something Miranda depends upon to cope. I felt dizzyingly worried in attendance as I read her story.

We share Miracle and Zac’s of the British care system in  Little Bits of Sky by S.E. Durrant. The subject matter is ripe for exploitative mawkishness, but the complex sibling relationship and cautious settings, are offered in a careful, realistic, revealing manner. This is an intelligent and resonant debut.

Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock’s The Smell of Other People’s Houses  remains one of my favourite books of 2017. The author’s tender portrayal of vulnerable young people, each close to unravelling after being let down by adults around them, is valid, personal and raw. These gentle protagonists, each close to the edge of ‘not coping’, demand to be picked up, loved and cared for. This is a stunning book that I urge anyone with young/ adult teen readers in their world to read.

The UKLA made a brave decision in naming Susin Nielsen’s The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen, the winning title in the 12- 16 year category this year. Henry and his father are trying to reclaim a sense of routine and future in a new city, following a family tragedy. They have new identities, home, jobs, community, but the same nightmares, intensified by a fear of being discovered and undone. Like the parent with whom I tried to share it last week, I was initially dissuaded by the title’s subject matter. However, Susin Nielsen’s empathy and care for her main character, and the lack of exploitation of a  chilling situation, makes this worthy of every accolade. It is a stunning book.

While Mr Bookwagon read  The Bubble Boy, I was quick to read Stewart Foster’s latest, All the Things that Could Go Wrong  although at times I had to stop to draw breath. A relationship forced by well meaning parents between a bully and his victim, telling their stories in turn, is tough to take. Both boys are victims, of circumstances, expectations, crippling fears, the criminal justice system, and social pressure. This is uncompromising and real; Stewart Foster says it was drawn from his experience of working with secondary schools, and his research and understanding are evident.

We have others that we would love to share and recommend with you. Words matter. We store them in our hearts and minds. Ned’s mother’s spells  wriggle into his very being as he seeks to protect them from the wicked bandit king in Kelly Barnhill’s  The Witch’s Boy.  Ned’s experience shows the reader how words have the potential to ingratiate themselves into our very souls so t we might be encouraged, nurtured and inspired. It matters that we read the right ones. Bookwagon aims to provide these to our readers. Bronnie 


Are We Nearly There Yet?

Are We Nearly There Yet?

Shh! Some schools have broken up for summer, while others have a week remaining, only! While the duration of my school holiday may have seemed unendurable to my parents, it seemed to whisk by in a flash for me as a child, and again, when I taught.

Already, friends and family are asking, ‘But what can I do with them?’ There are play dates (play dates?), activity camps, a stay with relatives, a week away, possibly, and a Kids’ Club. But what to do? 

The trouble with school (sounding rather like Kes Gray’s beloved ‘Daisy’) is that children are organised. Their days are compartmentalised. Families continue this structure at the end of each school day, so homework, piano practice, swimming lesson, bath, bed, story, sleep, and it starts all over again. Then- Kaboom!- it’s school holiday time, and ‘What do we do?’

I am a firm advocate of play based learning, especially in younger years. It offers children a developmental opportunity to make decisions, experiment, fail and try again. It gives them the much needed time to choose. So do holidays. Children need to be able to be bored. As a society, we need people to be able to fill in their own time, to be bored.

Even now, as an aged adult, I love the blank canvas offered by holidays. I grew up in a golden era where I played out, played in, and was lost for many hours in my own inventions and friendships. It’s not so easy for children now, and nor is it as easy for their parents, many of whom are very concerned about their children’s progress and place in the world.

Time to choose, real free time is vital to children’s development. It may be that you choose to follow the advice of child psychologist Lyn Fry, who suggests that at the top of a school holiday, children make a list of all the things they’d like to do during their holiday. Then, when/ if/ should they declare they are bored, they have a list to which to refer for ideas and wishes.

Alongside a welterweight of wonderful reading titles, to which we will be adding throughout the summer, Bookwagon has a specific few that offer motivation should there be lulls or blank patches. It happens- long waits while travelling, periods with relatives, waiting at restaurants, wet days, illnesses… Also, sometimes, children just want something else to do. The books I have selected are open-ended, i.e., they offer opportunity for children to think, engage, enquire, create and/ or respond. We cannot endorse text books, drill books, fact books, or colouring books.

My family has always travelled armed, as with a bag of things to create or use. There were always cards, a ball and pen and paper. I recall a busy afternoon of tea and chat with six adult family members and one four-year old. The afternoon was very hot, there was a tiny garden, lots of loud reminiscing and no small company. Little Bella went to her mother’s bag to find the pens and paper and began to draw. She drew for hours, until I joined her effort and we played ‘The Shape Game‘ my go-to- amusement, and an essential tool for all families-

Another recommended ‘doing’ title, whether at the airport, in a tent, or with company, is ‘The Anti-Colouring Book‘. This title has not been out of print since its publication over 30 years ago:-

Even now, as an adult, alongside my books, I pack a sketchbook and small pencil case when holidaying. The redoubtable picture book maker Viviane Schwarz introduced me to watercolour brush pens.  I take a small pack to add colour to my sketches. They are easy to carry, attractive and last a long time.

I wonder if the inestimable Michael Foreman carries such art materials on his travels. Budding artists and readers of any age, would enjoy the opportunity to share his around the world experiences through his sketches and watercolours shared in ‘Travels with my Sketchbook‘   

Any time stuck on site- campsite, airport waiting lounge, tennis lessons or dentist- Bookwagon has just the tote bag title, in ‘Spot the Lot‘, a fascinating Lonely Planet Kids’ new release 

Bookwagon loves Andrea Beaty’s fabulous activity titles, released over the past three years:- ‘Iggy Peck, Architect‘, ‘Rosie Revere, Engineer‘ and ‘Ada Twist, Scientist‘- We are proud to introduce the first companion piece to these motivating books, in ‘Rosie Revere’s Big Project Book for Bold Engineers‘ This fits our requirement brilliantly, in that it is open ended and high order (so demands thinking), encouraging effort over achievement, and endorsing error as an opportunity to try again. Further examples from this series are promised over the summer.

Another favourite and best selling title on our shelves, ‘Shackleton’s Journey‘ by William Grill, has launched a companion piece, in ‘Shackleton’s Journey, the Activity Book Rather like a scouting leader, William Grill poses many questions for his readers that draw on their own observations, thoughts and opinions, and their response to his title. It is a compelling book, different from any other activity book  I have read.

Former Children’s Laureate, Chris Riddell’s ‘Travels with My Sketchbook‘ was released to acclaim last week. During his tenure as Laureate, Chris Riddell determined he would keep a picture diary detailing his engagements and activities every day. Many times I have suggested that reluctant child writers keep a visual diary, with drawings, and photographs they have taken, accompanied by ticket stubs and incidental anecdotes. Chris Riddell takes this to another level. I have been reading this book all week and am still only midway through 2015. It is a fascinating effort and experience! 

Bookwagon will shortly add a beautiful new title by zoologist picture book maker Nicola Davies,  illustrated by V & A 2016 illustrator of the year Laura Carlin. Ms Carlin won this title for ‘A World of Your Own‘ in which readers are asked to consider her questions and respond through collection, writing or illustration. The questions are wide, various and curious, and the book one to treasure-

Finally, the former educator, devoted godparent and citizen in the world in me combine to request that you limit device time for your child. Holidays, with a majority of sunny days, a redundant school alarm, good company and cheer, are meant to be enjoyed individually and socially, with exploring, inventing, trials and errors. Devices do not allow this. Neither do tutors- but that’s a story for another day.

So, we recommend days of playing, lots of reading, lots of listening and sharing, and a few activity reading books. And again, if you are lucky enough to be travelling, please make sure your children know their destination, its location and have a chance to discover a little about the culture and history. Maps, travelogues, guide books and brochures all add to the reading experience and opportunity for holiday makers, however young. So, does experience of quality atlases; we took ages to find one we liked, ‘Amazing World Atlas‘ that could be mulled over at any point by enquiring readers. 

Happy holiday wishes to you all, and as always, happy reading! Bronnie 


Where all the biggest questions meet

Where all the biggest questions meet

Near the top of my travel wish list is Prince Edward Island, a determined destination since I read Lucy Maud Montgomery’s ‘Anne of Green Gables’ series. I loved the stories when younger, but as I grew slightly older, I appreciated Anne’s dilemma anew; empathising in the fact she was an ‘outsider’ and that her red hair, adopted status with elderly, inflexible guardians, academic ambition, and creative imagination, made her the object of curiosity, doubt and fun. 

I did not share the majority of Anne’s experiences, but I could empathise. I felt an outsider in my school, and was very aware of my differences. Anne’s victories reassured me so that I could claim them, a little, for myself.

In a society of constant, rushing news, and edited reality, it can be hard to isolate facts and admit to feelings.There can be so much, that it is easy to be disconnected and immured. Also, when there is such diversity and difference, it may be safer, to stay in your place, erase, or hide.

At times I struggle, when selecting our books, to decide what is ‘appropriate’ to readers, and at what stage. Already I have explained that the age groupings common amongst booksellers are a publishing device, unpopular with writers when introduced in the late 1990s. The inclusion of titles is random and limiting. Paying attention to readers’ comments, we have introduced a considered recommendation at the footnote of each new entry, offering some suggestion as to suitable age and interest groups.

I am aware that some parents and teachers find the ‘tough’ stuff, the more realistic challenging themes and subjects, ‘off limits’ from children’s literature.

When Sarah Garland’s ‘Azzi in Between’ an outstanding story about a child caught in war, was selected by a keen 7-year old, as a favourite book on World Book Day at a school in which I worked, a colleague declared it ‘inappropriate’. She was not alone in this criticism.

Yet, reading books that take such a crisis, craft and clarify it carefully for the audience, encourage a child to understand, appreciate and empathise, all attitudes desirable in an enabled reader. That child was really reading.

Recently, I have been reading a number of titles inspired by ‘real’ events or problems. As ever, the books we have selected are the best offered. This morning, I read Gill Lewis’s latest book, ‘A Story Like the Wind’. It is stunning; centred on the plight of refugees aboard a small boat, escaping civil war.

I added ‘All The Things that Could Go Wrong’ by Stewart Foster this week. It focuses on bullying, with the story told in turns by the victim, who suffers from OCD, and the perpetrator, whose older brother is held in a Secure Training Centre. It is frightening and truthful. Yet it is also wonderful.

One of the reasons we have a large number of picture books in stock, is that images and sparing text allow readers opportunity to read meaningfully, drawing inferences from the words and pictures, and building a real contextual understanding. Picture books introduce and expand a child’s understanding of tougher themes and subjects with subtlety. That is why such superb works of the human condition, such as ‘The Journey’ by Francesca Sanna, and ‘Last Stop on Market Street by Matt DeLa Pena, have been praised by educators and librarians around the world. A number of our titles cross divides because of the universality of their subject.

We have stocked our Young Adult section cautiously, despite the number of titles published in this popular market. In this area of children’s writing, readers want to be challenged, affirmed, and always, gripped enough to think and feel. The works have to be believable. An essential ingredient is an adolescent protagonist who will probably face monumental difficulties and learn and grow stronger, or more resilient.

Concerns in the declining reading habits of boys as they grow older suggests that the propensity of heroines in YA fiction is unsurprising. However, 55% of YA titles are bought by adults.

The best YA books are confident enough to tackle issues in a memorable, risk taking, potent way. They validate us, make us human. These books are essential in building an informed, empathetic society.

Award winning writer Patrick Ness says, YA books are about ‘finding boundaries and crossing them and figuring out when you end, who you are and what shape you are’. That’s a tough call!

I suggest books in other groups, like ‘The Journey’ and ‘All the Things that Could Go Wrong’ that do this; it is not exclusive to YA books. The differences are often the language, tone, introduce of sex and violence, and the impact, and varying level of hope, e.g., Sally Gardner’s masterpiece, ‘Maggot Moon’. Earlier, age appropriate experience of reading titles that are affirming and real, like Jo Cotterill’s ‘Library of Lemons’ support and enable us as readers, and citizens of society.

I have travelled Henry K. Larsen’s path as the brother of a murderer, in ‘The Reluctant Journey of Henry K. Larsen. My heart broke when Ruth realised her grandmother’s sacrifice in ‘The Smell of Other People’s Houses’. Tears welled when I joined Jack, not Jackie, recalling the yellow dog, as he rushes to rescue Joseph from the fractured ice in Gary D. Schmidt’s superb ‘Orbiting Jupiter’.  I urged Jackson’s parents to face their financial situation honestly in ‘Crenshaw. I have been absorbed, bruised and confirmed, feeling more alive for reading such superb books.

So, don’t avoid the real stuff, for you and your smaller readers, will be all the better for the experience. Each book that we choose with a nugget of truth, is unique, perfectly crafted, and totally memorable. Denying these titles at the right time, in the right way, is what may be termed ‘inappropriate’ to readers. Bronnie


All Around the Campfire

I have just returned from our allotment with a haul of raspberries and gooseberries. Tidying up, watering our garden and staking the echinacea, I’ve been listening to Edward’s Sunday story. Edward is a neighbour aged about two with city working parents. Every Sunday night, I have the pleasure of hearing his parents read aloud. His bedroom faces our property, and I can hear his laughter, his joining in, and the absolute delight that he and his mother and father feel in their closeness.

There is conjecture about children ‘losing their knowledge’ during the school holidays, so that they have to be retrained into learning through the first term of school. As an educator of many years, in many locations, I assert that this is complete tosh. Long summer holidays are essential to all families. They offer a time to drop off the schedule, regroup and rediscover natural rhythms. So much of our lives are spent chasing clocks.

I loved realising the evident changes in children returning to school after the holidays; they’ve always grown so clearly in leaps and bounds; they are happier, chattier, more enquiring and more likely to encounter their siblings in school with pleasurable familiarity, and better able to socialise with equanimity. 

One of the best parts of a family summer holiday, either at home or away, is the chance to become completely captivated by a big book or series. This is the time to cuddle up without bedtime curfews, under a camp light, on the sofa, at the beach, or on the hotel bed. Every person involved, be it reader or the read to, benefits and feels loved, close, safe, unified by the experience and the story.

We know that our first sensory awareness is hearing; it is also our last. My cousin and her partner have paved furrows in their constant journey between their home and a London hospital to support their premature babies. Their twin boys were born four months early. Their existence remains fragile, so every step is a breakthrough, an exhalation. Cuddling them, even touching them, has been limited because of their medical needs. So their father has read to them. They’ve worked their way through nursery rhymes and traditional tales, and now, ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’.

Family and friends who raise their children bilingually are giving them an advantage over those who have one language only. Their synapses, like my cousin’s babies’, are soft and so receptive to sound and language. It is why hearing tests on the newborn are so early, that any necessary support is given early, while the synapses are still soft and mobile. It is why, I, at umpty-flip years, have little hope of mastering other languages beyond frantic level one,

Listening to a story benefits a child educationally as well as emotionally. They are hearing the rhythm and sounds of language, they are increasing their vocabulary, gauging reading pace and tempo. Also, they are having the best opportunity to build contextual understanding, and this is the most important part of the reading process. Without using context, reading has no meaning.

Michael Rosen, esteemed poet, former children’s laureate and Professor of Children’s Literature at Goldsmiths, University of London, gave an interesting example of the importance of context, from a family experience. Through repeated sharing of ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ (essential to every home), Emil, aged three, volunteered that Max wanted/meant ‘Mummy’ when he arrived at the text ‘He wanted to be where he was loved best of all’. Emil had interpreted the text. Through sharing a book, taking time, Emil was able to interpret, retrieve and infer. What’s more, Michael Rosen believes that formal comprehension enquiry, which is an increasingly weighty addition to children’s reading experience – ‘kills reading’. 

The stories we hear should have a reading age pitched at least two years above a child’s chronological level. That’s why settling into ‘Harry Potter’ as a read aloud when a child is seven or so, works. However, there are many other, and I assert, better titles. Different settings, more challenging themes and subjects, can be included when we read aloud. There is time for discussion and consideration. It is building real reading power. Also, these, more challenging stories, are better shared in a setting where there is an emotional bond. I remember my mother reading me Ethel Turner’s ‘Seven Little Australians’ and us both being overwrought at circumstances and events of the story. There was trust, love and sharing. 

We have a few in stock that I would recommend for the distinct purpose of being wonderful books to read aloud. Please feedback to us from our recommendations, letting us know what  you thought of our suggestions. Should you wish any further advice, specific to your child, please get in touch. It is a privilege and a joy to match families to books:-

They All Saw a Cat‘ by Brendan Wenzel- calls for repeated reading, contemplation and story sense building for children aged from 3 or 4 and beyond;

Last Stop on Market Street‘ by Matt De La Pena- what is your journey like, where are the boy’s family, what are the differences the similarities, the stories of the other passengers?- an essential book to share with readers from 3 or 4;

The Sleeper and the Spindle‘ by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell, a whole new, breathtaking retake of the traditional ‘Sleeping Beauty’ story that is brilliant, bold and beautiful in every sense;

The Silver Donkey‘ by Sonya Hartnett, such a family story, such a riveting, emotional, wonderful story, set in France in WW1, when two sisters discover a deserter;

Katherine Applegate is one of my favourite Bookwagon authors. Her titles, ‘Crenshaw‘ and ‘The One and Only Ivan‘ are emotional, based on real experience, humane and linger long after the stories have ended;

Journey to the River Sea‘ by Eva Ibbotson is one of the few stories (another is a Kate Di Camillo title) that I read aloud to a class more than once. It deserves its status as a classic children’s book. I have read it aloud, successfully, to children aged from 7;

The Journey‘ by Francesca Sanna- (the first ever picture book winner of the UKLA Book Award for 7- 11 year olds)- the story of a refugee family in picture book form calls for families to read and appreciate this beautiful interpretation of a modern-day tragedy, together;

The same subject is dealt with subtly, honestly and movingly in Jo Cotterill’s masterly, ‘Looking at the Stars‘ which I recommend as a read aloud for listeners aged from 10;

A Monster Calls‘ by Patrick Ness and Jim Kay, from a story originated by Siobhan Dowd- ideal for children aged from 9 years to hear; 

Bridge to Terabithia‘ by Katherine Paterson, a Newbery Medal winner, a stunning story, recommended for listeners aged from 8 years;

Mostly Mary‘ and ‘Always Mary‘ are Clara Vulliamy’s reprised editions of Gwynned Rae’s much loved stories of the small orphan bear in Berne Zoo;

Scientist Nicola Davies has created a diverting non-fiction read aloud in ‘Animals Behaving Badly‘ which fascinated me, and would be enjoyed by all the family, with members aged from 5 years;


Readers aged from seven would love sharing ‘The Cat Who Came In Off the Roof‘ by former Dutch laureate, Annie M.G. Schmidt. This is warm, funny and entirely original storytelling, recommended for listeners aged from 6 or 7 years;

My 11 year-old goddaughter loved hearing Miriam Halahmy’s ‘The Emergency Zoo which offered her a subject that she would have been intimidated by as an independent reading choice. She and her mother love the story;

Christopher Edge has been one of my great discoveries. He cannot write fast enough for me. Both of his titles, the recent ‘The Jamie Drake Equation’ and ‘The Many Worlds of Albie Bright’ are ideal to read together, talk about and love during, and beyond, a summer holiday.I suggest they fit best with readers from 9 years old;

Older readers are directed toward the incomparable Kate Di Camillo. Every one of her stories is a superb summer read aloud (I speak from happy experience). These beg ‘summer holiday share’- please! Readers from 7 years old would enjoy hearing these outstanding books;

M.G. Leonard, and Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler have hits on their hands with their exceptional series- ‘Beetle Boy‘ and ‘Defender of the Realm’ respectively. Both are ideal for readers from 9 years old to hear and enjoy;

For those lucky enough to take day trips, a dose of ‘All Aboard the London Bus’ by Anglophile Patricia Toht and Sam Usher is a superlative accompaniment, with a wonderful array of poetry to support and expand the experience;

If you are at home, and looking for something to dip into that is a quality title to keep for years, to share, read and love, please do not look past Jane Ray’s traditional tale collections, from ‘The Emperor’s Nightingale and Other Feathery Tales’ to ‘The Little Mermaid and Other Fishy Tales’ Jane Ray is an exacting story crafter, from her painstaking illustrations, which demonstrate her original training as a ceramicist, to her carefully collated stories . These books are unctuous (in a coffee way!);

Pax‘ is a hard and disconcerting title. Sara Pennypacker pulls no punches in this story of a boy forced to give up his tamed fox. We watch them both struggle in new, unknown worlds;

The Reluctant Journal of Henry K Larsen‘ by Susin Nielsen was a surprise winner of the 12-16 year old age group at the 2017 UKLA awards. It is a difficult subject that could easily seem exploitative in the wrong hands. It is all the better for being read aloud. I suggest this book is better suited to readers aged from 11, with a parent sharing the reading.

Finally, the great Marilyn Brocklehurst, owner operator of the Norfolk Children’s Book Centre, and national librarian, suggests that you read to your child until they ask you to stop. Reading together is not something to abandon once your child ‘can’ read, but something to be cherished that is good for all the reasons outlined. Marilyn Brocklehurst’s perfectly normal, functioning, academic son, was read to until he was 14.

We know that children who are really reading independently and meaningfully hear the story when they read. Do you? When you read, what do you experience? Ask your young readers, and then, make the most of the forthcoming summer holiday that they may hear your voice.

It has been a pleasure to speak with families this week looking for recommendations specific to their children. We welcome your enquiries; please email or call. Bronnie



Blind Date

Sometimes, my husband and I regale each other with bad dates. He once met a woman who excused herself from the table for a comfort break, but headed to the door, never to return. (I can only think he’d told her about the Parrot Society.)

My date arrived at our appointed destination covered in pigeon poo; he’d had the misfortune to have been caught en route. That wasn’t the worst part; he’d forgotten to wear socks. It was November.

Reading a book is a bit like dating – looking for that attraction, that ‘hook’ that draws you in. Where do we go for that opportunity to choose the best options – ‘Bring’em on down!’ Cilla would call on a Saturday night. 

Public libraries should be our first ports of call. However, cuts to the service have seen £25million erased from the annual library budget, 8000 jobs culled, and library usage fallen by 30% in Britain. Community libraries have some protection in America, and my home country, New Zealand. However, because of demands on the books and authors I wanted to read, when I lived in New Zealand, I was frequently very frustrated. To make matters worse, there was one major book chain in New Zealand, that was compromised by stationery, add-ons and staff who did not know one book from another. There were the best sellers, the certainties, linked to previously successful titles and authors, or blockbuster movies or series. Does it sound familiar?

When I arrived in Britain, I discovered independent bookshops. My favourites remain the same as they ever were, with a name change:- ‘Daunt Books’, Marylebone and ‘The Alligator’s Mouth’, Richmond (once, ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’.) To enter these havens and find books like jewels, that were unique, considered, different, special, wonderful, and staffed by real readers…. I felt like I had discovered the Koh-i-noor diamond! 

This week (June 24th- July 1st) Britain celebrates Independent Book Week. You may have looked through your weekend newspapers’ features on recommended titles.

Bookwagon is the new kid on the block. Moving on a step from my favoured bookshops, we stock only books that we have read and loved. I do love some of the bestsellers (including the  ‘Harry Potter’ series) but these are known, familiar, and stocked and restocked. There are other books and sometimes better books, other authors, and so many better authors, that I am desperate to introduce, who deserve their works to be read, enjoyed and shared.

To that end, in Independent Book Week, looking toward the summer, I have compiled a discreet booklist of titles that I recommend to you, as you consider your children’s reading needs and interests. My greatest pleasure, beyond Radiohead at Glastonbury, or finding my climbing rose has flowered in its first year (!) is recommending books to children. In our three weeks of operation, it has been a Cilla-style pleasure to match books to readers, contemplating their needs and likes, and hoping for a ‘blind date’ match. Please feel free to call or email for suggestions.

For now, a few recommendations:-

For the Very Young:-
(Baby) – ‘Before & After’ by Jean Jullien– for babies to return to, compare, for the humour, for the strong, simple pictorial context;
Can I Come Too?’ by Brian Patten– the journey, the assembled travellers, their comparison, the context demands reading for meaning beyond text, for repetition that supports early reading cues;
Zim Zam Zoom’ by James Carter, illustrated by Nicola Colton – for repetition, colour, word play, word building, rhyme, use of inspired pictorial context  to support the poetry

For Independent Readers, (readers building their momentum and reading diligence):-
(Series) – ‘The Fairy Detective Agency‘ by Sally Gardner, illustrated by David Roberts – for humour, for setting, for word play, for strong and inferred characterisations, for problem solving, for language excellence, to support reading empathy and inference;
Mostly Mary’/ ‘All Mary‘ by Gwynedd Rae and Clara Vulliamy – an ideal read aloud for the summer, for the stories are chapter sized, the characters clearly compared and defined, the problems demand consideration, the setting different and interesting, the language is of high quality.

For this group, and Confident Readers:-
Caleb’s Cab’ by Sally and Sylvain Chomet – for complex settings and fascinating, difficult characterisations, for ‘visual’ storytelling in that you can ‘see’ the story as you read/ listen to it, for problem solving, for high quality writing
The Cat Who Came In Off the Roof‘ by Annie M.G. Schmidt – for something unique, empathic, for problem solving, for piquing curiosity, resolution, determination, with high quality language .

As bedtime stories during the summer, I recommend Jane Ray’s compendia. Do you recall the age of annuals? Those that had collections of stories, poetry, articles, recipes, introductions to classic stories? –  (It’s how I was introduced to ‘Mansfield Park’ aged 8!).  In a similar way, Jane Ray has reprised this example in her outstanding tales’collections:-
The Lion and the Unicorn and Other Hairy Tales,
The Emperor’s Nightingales and Other Feathery Tales‘,
The Little Mermaid and Other Fishy Tales
Each story or poem is one specially chosen for its relevance to the chosen theme. Included are traditional tales from different cultures, classic stories, myths, legends, parables, poetry and fables, beautifully and memorably presented. These books are to be read aloud, independently, repeatedly, and to be treasured within the family.

Christopher Edge’s books have been a revelatory and emotional discovery (ask my hairdresser who had to mop up my tears as I concluded’ The Jamie Drake Equation’)
Christopher Edge’s emotional intelligence is highly tuned, as is evident in The Jamie Drake Equation and ‘The Many Worlds of Albie Bright’. So is his respect for his readers’ intelligence, and his quest to find answers and possibilities to satisfy his writing curiosity. These are high end, demanding, wonderful books, ideal for confident readers, or to be read and shared at bedtime with this group, or younger, less confident readers.

Confident readers would love The Defender of the Realm’ by Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler. This and its sequel, ‘Dark Realm’ are captivating, pacy, historically referenced, relevant and superb. I have been recommending them since fortunately finding the first title.
The Witch’s Boy‘  by Kelly Barnhill is unflinching, stylish, compelling and has the reader drawn in so closely so as to almost feel Ned’s pain and choices. This writer is outstanding. We look forward to introducing our readers to her latest award-winning title, in paperback, in the autumn.
No home should be without a copy of ‘The Silver Donkey’ by Sonya Hartnett. It is a classic tale, with story within story, empathy, warmth and meaning.

For Young Adults, suggested summer reads would include:-
The Smell of Other People’s Houses’ by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock, set somewhere so remote and rejected,full of longing and hurt, rather like the main characters. This is meaningful, respectful, real and beautiful writing;
An Island of Our Own’ by Sally Nicholls, in which the lead character offers the sort of ‘gung ho’ determination that most readers, including this book seller’ would love to possess. Despite every obstacle, from washing machine breakdowns, to outgrown shoes, and absent parents, she shows the sort of resilience and loyalty that is palpable.

I wonder how new host of ‘Blind Date’, Paul O’Grady will fare. I wish him well. Hopefully, as a book matchmaker, I have offered our readers something that suggests,  ‘pick me’. Happy Independent Bookshop Week. If you do buy a book this week, make sure it is from someone who cares about readers and loves books! If you need advice, or suggestions, I am at the end of a keyboard and telephone. Bronnie 

The Inaugural National Empathy Day

‘You should never read just for ‘enjoyment.’ Read to make yourself smarter! Less judgmental. More apt to understand your friends’ insane behaviour, or better yet, your own. Pick ‘hard books’. Ones you have to concentrate on while reading. And for God’s sake, don’t let me ever hear you say, ‘I can’t read fiction. I only have time for the truth.’ Fiction is the truth, fool! Ever hear of ‘literature’? That means fiction, too, stupid!’John Waters, Role Models

Tomorrow the newly formed Empathy Lab initiates British Empathy Day- The association is supported by many authors, including Dame Jacqueline Wilson, Neil Gaiman, Cressida Cowell and Jo Cotterill

All involved are charged with the need to share with the general public the ‘creative power of words to build empathy’, and that the ‘power of empathy can make our world a better place’. As the first anniversary of the murder of trailblazing, humanitarian activist MP, Jo Cox draws near, it is timely. We live in strange times, readers. More than once in the past 18 months, friends and family have asked, ‘How do I explain this to my children?’

Reading offers some of the answers to that question, and to society’s need to sustain a compassionate, informed society. Research proves that people who read, and read fiction, demonstrate better understanding of each other, communicate more easily, can form and maintain relationships, are kinder and more sensitive, and are generally comfortable with being ‘human’.  Reading ‘allows for higher level thinking and greater creativity’- (Mar and Oatley’s comparative studies, 2006/2009).

Looking through our Bookwagon titles, I realised how many  have empathic themes or substance.

I believe that while we read, we are able to trial behaviours and experiences, thus building tolerance and understanding. It is why we are so often sorely disappointed, by film adaptations, for the lives of our literary characters have been realised by us, the reader. They are not what we experienced when we read.

This is why I am so keen that our books offer our readers opportunities to tread worlds of chaos, curiosity, complexity, confusion, but ultimately, certainty, that they may establish this ‘creative power of words to build empathy’ through their reading.

Some recommended titles from the Bookwagon bookshop, that focus on building empathy, amongst their themes, include:-


‘Sometimes I stare boredly into space, thinking utterly of nothing’

You can be completely sure what might happen next’ – Lauren Child 

Michael Morpurgo and the late Ted Hughes, neighbouring Devon farmers, devised the Children’s Laureate scheme nearly twenty years ago. They considered that children’s books did not have a presence in the national consciousness. A successful, eminent, representative children’s writer was necessary. To some degree the profile of children’s books has become greater, despite children’s reading being buffeted by conflicting ideologies, commercial interests, educational dogma, and growing testing pressures.

The writing history, success and humanitarian work of Lauren Child suggests she will fill the role of Children’s Laureate superbly.

Each of her characters have individual voices. She encountered the original ‘Charlie and Lola‘ seated opposite her on a Scandinavian train; a long suffering older brother and persistent little sister. ‘Clarice Bean‘ is built from her memories of herself as a child; from Clarice’s worries, her day dreams – ‘sometimes I stare boredly into space and think of absolutely nothing.’ Lauren Child recommended in a BBC interview that children should be left alone more to dream and ponder – ‘being bored is how you create things.’

Like all the best children’s writers, Lauren Child does not rest on her laurels. Most recent titles are the ‘Ruby Redfort‘ series, developed from the books to which Clarice Bean is devoted. These, unlike her early works, are aimed at the confident reader – tween to teen years. Lauren Child is perplexed as to why readers suggest her books are written for girls, while she is keen that they are enjoyed by all readers. However, as the mother of a daughter adopted from Mongolia, where she worked with UNESCO, Lauren Child is concerned by the few representations of different cultures in children’s writing.

Lauren Child’s picture making style has progressed from pen and ink illustrations, adorned by her familiar long, linear text full of complex, challenging phrases and considerations, to entirely computer generated images. Her reinterpretations of ‘The Secret Garden’, ’Pollyanna’, ‘Pippi Longstocking‘ and ‘Goldilocks’ used collage from a wide range of sources. She has rediscovered and adapted fairy and traditional tales throughout her career; building miniature sets to expand the reader’s appreciation of their settings, e.g., ‘The Princess and the Pea’ and developed characters that fall or escape into these imaginary lands, e.g., ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Book.’ 

Chris Riddell is the most recent children’s laureate. He is the Observer’s political cartoonist, and writer of titles such as ‘Wendel’s Workshop’, the ‘Ottoline’ and ‘Goth Girl’ series, and illustrator of works by Neil Gaiman, Paul Stewart and Richard Platt. Chris Riddell was appointed as President of the School Library Service, subsequent to his role as Children’s Laureate. Like Lauren Child, he revisited familiar characters and texts. With Neil Gaiman, he reworked ‘Sleeping Beauty’ into ‘The Sleeper and the Spindle’ (Bloomsbury- Kate Greenaway Medal winner) a threatening story more akin to its origins, and more appealing to 21st century readers (and adult followers of ‘American Gods’, Neil Gaiman’s Amazon series).

Chris Riddell’s ‘Goth Girl’ books are written for children and adults. There are so many nods to dates, stories, events and heroes of the Gothic age, and so much word and picture play, that would not be appreciated (or laughed over) by younger readers.

It is interesting that both laureates have used traditional and familiar tales as inspiration. Albert Einstein advised parents, ‘If you want your child to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales. ‘

We invite you to a look at our traditional tales’ section in the Bookwagon bookshop- Picture books/ Non-fiction/ Poetry. Lauren Child advises parents- ‘children need the freedom to dream and imagine.’ We suggest her role, her works, like Chris Riddell and the laureate champions before, and a healthy dose of quality reading, allow this freedom. Bronnie