What does it mean?

What does it mean?

Looking for meaning

The range and wealth of children’s poetry has been a delightful discovery for me. Since starting Bookwagon, I have sought to read and expand my knowledge of children’s poetry.

Poets are looking for meaning in their creations. The tweezer picked perfection and impact of their words create images and stimulate feelings. Poetry is a most accessible genre to children and adults. It offers children a chance to understand, word play, recall, recite and build a word relationship.

I found teaching poetry a direct, structured, liberating form of writing. Poetry invites us to write and read for meaning.

Kowhai New Zealand

Young New Zealand poet Isabel Carmichael had been asked to consider the impression of war on a setting, when her class learned about Gallipoli:-

In one minute’s silence…..
Can you imagine the firing of the guns as the sky turns black from the bullets?
In one minute’s silence…..
Can you imagine people having a good day,
When suddenly people with guns come running onto the shore?
In one minute’s silence……
Can you imagine all of the diggers shooting at all of the other soldiers,
When they know that they are just as important as them?
In one minute’s silence……
Can you imagine all of the dead bodies lying on the floor from being shot…..
In one minute’s silence.

Piha West Coast beaches Bookwagon

CLiPPA prize

Bookwagon loves, recommends and sells this year’s CLiPPA poetry prize nominations’ list proudly.

Thinker My Puppy Poet and Me is an empathetic poetry diary between a new puppy and his boy master. They are looking for meaning in their relationship with each other and the world.

Dark Sky Park by Philip Gross is rare and tender and beautiful, recommended to nature loving families.

A Kid in My Class is essential school fare. Rachel Rooney’s dedicated examination of a classroom of children is raw, empathetic and recognisable.

School is the setting for Everything All At Once by Steven Camden. We travel through secondary school doors with an assembly of characters, keen to fit in, experience, not stand out, be themselves… if they knew who that might be. They are looking for meaning in alien worlds of adolescence and education.

CLiPPA books Bookwagon

A selection of CLiPPA nominees

Oxford Spires Academy

Oxford Spires Academy has won more poetry awards nationally, than any other title. Writer in residence, Kate Clanchy has compiled a selection of this school’s poems in an outstanding collection, England Poems from a School

Students speak more than thirty languages with more than fifty dialects. Yet there impressions of home, growing up, England and their future resonate with truth, longing and hope.

Rainbow over Oxfordshire fields Bookwagon

    Rainbow over fields of barley, Oxfordshire

The meaning of words- Geordie style

My Geordie mother-in-law enjoyed opportunities to recall traditional words and phrases from South Shields. ‘Wey aye ‘man!’ as she agreed with something, ‘cannae’ offered in a stream of conversation for ‘can not’. Reminiscing about wartime dance floors, she would occasionally consider a ‘Bobby Dazzler’, or a ‘bonnie lass/ lad’ or her ‘marra’, Doris. Cheryl (Tweedy/ Cole/ Versini-Fernandez) delighted Helen, until she disappointed her. ‘I think she’s gotten above her station. She’s not a Geordie lass.’

Geordie lass and language

Geordie lass and lingo

The meaning of words- Kiwi speak

Mr Bookwagon is beginning to understand the New Zealand art of understatement.  A family member texted him after Watford F.C’s devastating loss in the FA Cup final- ‘No words mate’.

Nouns that tangle me still, include:-

  • cling film- Glad Wrap (New Zealand)
  • flip flops- jandals (New Zealand)
  • tacky back plastic- contact (New Zealand)
  • newsagent/ corner shop- dairy (New Zealand)
  • Tippex- Twink (New Zealand)
  • lolly- iceblock (New Zealand)
  • plasters- Band Aids (New Zealand)
  • kiwi*- kiwifruit (New Zealand) * – This one makes me very cross! A kiwi is our native New Zealand bird, and/ or a native New Zealander, not a hairy fruit.
Iceblock eater Bookwagon

      Iceblock eating Kiwi

What writers do

Emma Carroll, best-selling, award-winning children’s writer explained  Operation Mincemeat to a recent school audience. She explained its initiative and how this event in WWII developed into a story within When We Were Warriors. Emma shared how she is looking for meaning in her research and storytelling. Her research allows her to ‘be who she wanted to be’ and ‘create the stories she wanted’.

Asked for a top tip when writing, she advised, ‘Lose the adjectives. Give the words a chance to make a story.

Emma Carroll signing

Emma Carroll school visit

Kate DiCamillo- and how we read for meaning

  Walker, Kate DiCamillo

Kate DiCamillo’s books are deceptively simple. Yet her words are laden with poignant meaning. We seek meaning in the context and our innate understanding to assume nuance, impulse and setting. Deckawoo Drive, her early chapter book series including Leroy Ninker Saddles Up, offers complex words and feelings.

Leroy Ninker lives a small life. His dreams of being a cowboy sustain him.

‘ A car drove by Look, Mama!’ a boy in the backseat of the car pointed at Leroy. ‘It’s a very tiny cowboy.’

Leroy stood up straighter.

‘I am a cowboy on his way to procure a horse,’ he said. ‘I am a man wrestling fate to the ground.’ 

Fate appears to conspire against Leroy, yet he does not buckle.

Bookwagon Leroy Ninker Saddles Up

Leroy Ninker Saddles Up, Kate DiCamillo & Chris Van Dusen

Early chapter books

Bookwagon has hit the trail with a succession of author visits and popup book fairs recent weeks. I have spoken about children’s literature, also .

Bookwagon on tour

Bookwagon popup fair

Frequently, we are asked for recommendations about early chapter books, titles to bridge picture books and middle grade readers.

Bookwagon asserts picture books’ relevance to readers of all ages. Picture books offer an incomparably varied opportunity to readers looking for meaning. We are looking for meaning in the pictures of our daily lives; from babies, physical health, DIY, gardening, internet shopping, home interiors, to photographs. They are part and parcel of how we understand.

Early chapter books are a landing stage, however. To that end, Bookwagon has been working to extend our  selection of ‘forever’ early chapter books, titles where the stories are interesting and meaningful.

Bookwagon early chapter books

A selection of early chapter books

Don’t forget

We invite readers to click on our tag cloud to discover a unique selection. Remember! Every Bookwagon book has been read and loved by us. We only recommend and sell books we love. We are looking for meaning.

Words and meaning

A friend’s  grandsons are being raised to speak three languages. They will hear, speak and read for meaning in these languages. My nephews are fluent in Japanese and English.

SCL Bookwagon

   Bookwagon family readers

A difficult part of raising bi- lingual or tri-lingual families is unravelling the nuances of individual languages. A basic example of this is in national humours. Another is gestures. When we work to acquire another language we are looking for meaning beyond the words and  phrases alone.

ESOL/ EAL experts recommend families speak and read to their children in the adults’ first language, but ‘share’, i.e., read books together, in the adults’ secondary languages.

Bookwagon is building a range of quality translated titles from around the world. The subtleties, subjects and construction of these works, even in translation, are different from English books. Reading translated books extends understanding for readers looking for meaning.

Across the oceans

Before an audience at the British library, children’s laureates Lauren Child and Sir Quentin Blake discussed how their different works hit problems in translation. Lauren Child shared the consternation of American publishers by ‘My Uncle is a Hunkle’.

“What’s a hunkle?” her publishers demanded.

“It’s word play,” she explained.

“Word play?”

Bookwagon Word Play

Looking for titles with determination

I am delighted when international titles we seek to share with our readers become available in Britain. Works by writers like Kate DiCamillo fly from the wagon into readers’ waiting hands. Recently, we’ve included unique early chapter/ graphic books by Canadian writer Ben Clanton- Narwhal Unicorn of the Sea!

Minh Lê and Dan Santat collaborated to form a glorious picture book about characters looking for meaning in their relationship in Drawn Together

Polly Horvath wrote ‘Everything You Need on a Waffle‘, a favourite title I read to classes. It is unavailable in Britain. I am very happy to welcome her most recent title, The Night Garden. The setting is Sooke, a little known, hidden treasure on Vancouver Island. We holidayed there before the giddy days of Bookwagon.

Bookwagon an international books' selection

 Some recent international titles

Further looking for meaning

Customers ask how the Bookwagon team maintain our pledge to sell books we’ve read and loved only. We are committed to knowing every book we sell. It means we recommend children’s books for  your children confidently in person, by gift and online. It means that I am writing in a room covered in books seeking my readership. What bliss! Check out the latest titles rolling off this reader’s lap and onto a page soon!

Happy reading!

RIP- Helen Mayho, Granny Bookwagon







Tell me stories

Tell me stories

Shark's teethIn the basement of my grandparents’ house hung a shark’s jaw of teeth. My grandfather had captured the shark on one of his deep sea fishing adventures. I would touch the points of the teeth trepidatiously and wonder. Upstairs, in the sun room, stood a near fossilised swordfish’s sword. Today, it stands in my sister’s sitting room. I wonder if her family think about about the story of this item.

Grandad was a John Wayne/ Steve McQueen type of man. He survived Gallipoli. His bride nursed him before emigrating from genteel SW London for New Zealand’s untamed wilderness. Grandad broke that wilderness to create a sheep farm. Grandad was not an empathetic husband, father or grandfather. Yet I loved him when he sat me on his lap to tell me stories of whales and the oceans.

Bookwagon deep sea

Forming the character

Like most of my mother’s family, I was terrified of my grandfather, aside from these times he would tell me stories. During these interludes, I felt close and able to build my own impression of him. I drank in the smell of Scotch and cigarettes. I felt the fabric of his shirt, the stretch of his braces. His sinewy arms, with their faded sailor tattoo, fascinated me. I saw the curl of his hair at the back of his head and compared it to my mother’s curls.


My grandmother was a storyteller. Her tales of childhood, her siblings,  boarding school and nursing threaten to become a story one day.

Bookwagon A Room Full of Chocolate

A Room Full of Chocolate

Grandparents offer a wealth of storytelling potential. Jane Elson showed discord and misunderstanding between a parent and grandparent in her gripping A Room Full of Chocolate. One of Mr Bookwagon’s favourite titles, Hour of the Bees has the main character desperate for her grandfather to ‘tell me stories’ to make sense of her life.

Bookwagon Hour of the Bees

Hour of the Bees

This week, we included A Witch Come True the third part of James Nicol’s warm- as- buttered- toast stories about Arianwyn aboard the wagon. I felt reassured whenever our main character’s grandmother was present. She enabled Arianwyn to confirm her instincts and role.

Bookwagon A Witch Come True

A Witch Come True

Stories recalled and left to tell

Alice Melvin created Grandma’s House, a lift-the-flap, picture book memoir of her grandmother’s home. This visit invites us to join her as she revisits nooks and crannies, mementoes and her grandmother’s history. Alice Melvin’s forever picture book tells me stories of love and familiarity.

Bookwagon Grandma's House

 Grandma’s House

When I Was a Child is a lyrical fantasy of memory and stories. Nostalgia for a golden age of wonder and possibilities is bridged by a greying sadness at the passing of time and a loss of hope. The child who picks up the story demonstrates empathy and positivism in her response to her elder. There is still wonder. Possibilities exist. The words and pictures are like a kaleidoscope of stardust.

Bookwagon When I Was a Child

 When I Was a Child

My history, our history

At the turn of the twentieth century, dance and deportment teachers over sixty years of age were unlikely adventurers. Award-winning picture book maker Chris Van Allsburg recreates the story of Annie Taylor, the first person to ride a barrel over the Niagara Falls, in Queen of the Falls. I appreciate the dramatic way her story unfolds, from her ‘Eureka’ moment.

Bookwagon Queen of the Falls

 Queen of the Falls

Some years ago, I read Joseph O’Connor’s ‘Star of the Sea‘. A little way in, I realised the passage of Irish emigration described would have been similar to that taken by my great-grandmother and her parents. They travelled from the county of Leinster in the same year as that story. I smelled the ship, felt the fear, sadness and sense of possibility. The writer created a connection to someone I never met. There was a sense this long ago relative might tell me stories.

Irish emigration

Irish emigration

Stories that don’t measure up…

Maggie follows the most important rule of all, ‘Never go beyond the boundary.’ Her younger brother Trig urges her to ‘tell me stories’ of how the wanderers over the boundary attacked the Wetheral family. Her older brother, Jed, is an eldest, destined for heroism upon his fourteenth birthday. when he will head to fight The Quiet War. The Middler is a story of acceptance, honour and sacrifice. What happens when Maggie steps over the boundary and changes the stories of Fennis Wick?

Bookwagon The Middler

 The Middler

Emmet and Caleb have little in common. One awakens early, while the other lies awake star gazing. One digs for nature or tinkers, while the other naps. We wonder at their friendship when they are such different characters. Yet Emmet and Caleb know and respect each other. Across a year, we view their friendship. This is an intelligent and heartfelt storytelling.

Bookwagon Emmett and Caleb

 Emmett and Caleb

Reading Rocks South West

I caught some of writer Maz Evan’s presentation at Reading Rocks South West. Aside from her star-spinning Who Let the Gods Out? series, Maz teaches creative writing to children and writing. She recommends that writing is a ‘stew pot’ into which the first necessary ingredient is character. It makes sense.


When I read, I want to know the character. When I meet someone, I want to know the character. In sitting with my grandfather, or listening to my grandmother, I longed for them to tell me stories. Maggie, or Arianwyn, or Annie Taylor, or all the other wonderful characters whom I meet in reading every book we sell, tell me stories.

Annie Edson Taylor

 Annie Edson Taylor and barrel

Into the world

In the aftermath of the horrors of the terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern offered the victims’ stories. She sought to recognise and respect them. Such action has provoked empathy and a sense that New Zealand, as a nation, might chorus, ‘We are one’.

You should have been safe here

Listening to, sharing and reading stories, builds knowledge and understanding of different characters within a tolerant and communicative society. What are your stories?

Kia kaha.

Happy reading