I do find it hard keeping secrets, so it’s a great relief to finally be able to make this announcement. I have a new book out this September!
HILDA AND THE HIDDEN PEOPLE is a fully illustrated story starring Hilda, a blue-haired girl with a thirst for adventure and an uncanny talent for making friends with magical creatures. My book is based on the forthcoming Netflix series HILDA, which in turn is based on Luke Pearson’s popular comic book series. Over the last six months I have enjoyed getting to know this brave, kind-hearted girl and her friends. They’re wonderful characters to write, and I hope you’ll come to love them too. HILDA AND THE HIDDEN PEOPLE comes out in September and is published by Flying Eye.
We had a good break in a cottage in Prussia Cove, Cornwall, over the holidays. I spent much of it asleep in front of a woodburning stove, occasionally waking up to play Ticket To Ride with the girls or to read a few more pages of the Rub of Time, a delicious collection of essays by Martin Amis.
Also on my bedside table Being Read pile is The Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz, which my sister Debbie gave me for Christmas. It’s one of those books like The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas where pretty much anything you say about it constitutes a spoiler, so I’ll refrain, except to say it’s clever and thoroughly engrossing. Thanks Debs!
Back to work, now, and another year of writing and school visits awaits. I’m currently doing rewrites on my YA novel about a rebellious chess prodigy. I have a list of possible titles for it, but none of the candidates thus far are screaming CHOOSE ME! Tricky things, titles. Often the very last thing to fall into place.
Next week I start outlining Book 2 of an exciting new fantasy series. I’m not allowed to say anything about that project yet but will no doubt shout about it from the rooftops come September, when Book 1 is published.
School visits: I do have one day still available in World Book Week – Wednesday 28 February. Let me know if your school is interested in a visit that day – see here for details.
A very happy new year to anyone reading this. Hope it’s a good one for us all.
Thrilling news recently – Torben Kuhlmann is illustrating the German edition of my book Survivor Titanic. The Hamburg based author-illustrator is best known for the modern classic Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse. Here is a sneak preview of his Titanic illustrations. Such attention to detail.
Many children are fascinated by the story of the Titanic and it is often studied in primary schools as a window onto early twentieth century history, particularly in Key Stage 2. Today is the 105th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, as good a time as any for some recommendations of good Titanic books.
Before I go on, I should declare an interest. My own Titanic book came out earlier this year. Survivor:Titanic is published by Scholastic as part of their new historical fiction SURVIVOR series. Jimmy from Ireland and Omar from Lebanon meet aboard the Titanic and are exploring the ship together when tragedy strikes. The book is written for reluctant readers, but can be enjoyed by anyone 8+.
Here are eight of the best children’s books about the Titanic – four non-fiction and four fiction – in no particular order.
1. Story of the Titanic
When it comes to portraying the details of this disaster, show don’t tell is key, and cutaways are definitely the best way of showing the inside of the Titanic both before and after the iceberg struck. Steve Noon’s book is highly recommended by Titanic geeks on Encyclopedia Titanica, as well as on Amazon. A real feast for the eyes.
2. Titanic (Eyewitness)
More Show-Don’t-Tell from another sumptuous DK picture book. Really brings the story alive with anecdotes, secrets, facts and puzzles. Perfect for homework projects about the Titanic tragedy.
3. On Board the Titanic: What it was like when the great liner sank
Tanaka’s book uses real historical characters to tell the story. Jack Thayer’s account is particularly interesting. He was seventeen at the time of the sinking and was one of the few men to stay on the Titanic until the very last minute and still survive. A thrilling true-life story.
4. Inside the Titanic
Ken Marschall made a name for himself for lavish illustrations of books about the Titanic, and this is probably his best one. Like Steve Noon, he uses cutaway illustrations to make readers feel they are actually inside the doomed liner. The real-life accounts of passengers focus on the children aboard the Titanic, which is a particularly compelling (and harrowing) approach.
Ken’s paintings almost seemed to be stills from a movie that hadn’t yet been made. And I thought to myself, I can make these paintings live. It became my goal to accomplish on film what Ken had done on canvas, to will the Titanic back to life.
There are dozens of children’s books set on the Titanic, including several time travel offerings where a modern-day hero gets transported back to 1912. The four I have chosen are not time travel stories, but they have all proved popular with young readers.
I SURVIVED is historical fiction, describing ten year-old George Calder’s battle for survival. Lauren’s book is gentle fare, especially considering the terrible setting, but it is well researched and enduringly popular.
Michael Morpurgo’s KASPAR PRINCE OF CATS is an absolute classic. Insired by Michael’s time as Writer in Residence at the Savoy Hotel, this book is charming, evocative and unpredictable, and it deals with mature themes in a very elegant way.
I can’t survey children’s books set on the Titanic without mentioning POLAR THE TITANIC BEAR. Another classic with beautiful full-page colour illustrations. Polar is a teddy bear, of course, and this is the Titanic as told through his eyes. Starts with him being sewed and stuffed in the factory and ends with- well, that would be telling.
TITANIC: MY STORY by Ellen White is the thrilling story of a young orphan Margaret Anne who can hardly believe her luck when she is chosen to accompany wealthy Mrs Carstairs aboard the great Titanic. This is a really good read, but something of a slow burner. It takes a while for Margaret Anne to get aboard the Titanic. When she does, the story is unputdownable.
If you are a teacher in the UK and your class is studying the Titanic, I would be happy to visit. My Titanic presentation covers the background to the tragedy, the research involved in writing historical fiction and some tips on writing exciting action scenes. Do contact me for more details.
Yesterday I received copies of TALES OF HIDDEN HEROES, Pearson’s new Bug Club Comprehension title. It contains two stories, one by Malachy Doyle and one by me, beautifully illustrated by Teresa Martinez.
The Secret of Mulan is a retelling of an old Chinese poem about the girl Mulan, who saves her father from certain death by going into battle his place. I enjoyed spending time with the Mulan legend and studying the character of Mulan herself, an ancient oriental forerunner of today’s badass YA heroines. I haven’t got around to watching the Disney treatment of the story but I love the various Chinese versions of the tale (link). Fascinating to see how the story evolved over the centuries: Mulan herself remains surprisingly constant but the arch villain changes to reflect the taste (or rather distaste) of each new day. In my retelling I have returned to the baddie of the original poem – the fearsome bandit Flying Swallow and his weaponized bronze cymbals.
TALES OF HIDDEN HEROES is not yet available for pre-order, but I’ll let you know when it is.
2017 is shaping up to be a busy year of book releases and school visits. First up, the books:
SURVIVOR: TITANIC (Scholastic) comes out this Thursday, and is the first in a new gripping series of first-hand surival stories.
SAHARA DISCOVERY (Rising Stars, 28 April) is a non-fiction book about the Tuareg people of the Sahara. See featured image above.
SAHARA SURVIVAL (Rising Stars, 28 April) is a story about a Tunisian family whose plane has to make an emergency landing in the middle of the desert. Both books are beautifully illustrated by Hatem Aly.
BLOOD & INK is coming out in the US in September, published by Charlesbridge. Cover to be revealed soon.
Later in the year, Pearson UK are publishing my retelling of the well-known Chinese story of Mulan. I loved writing this one and am very excited about its publication.
As for school visits, the diary is filling up fast. Author visits in schools inspire children to read widely and also to write for pleasure. At the time of writing I still have three days available in the week of World Book Day 2017: 27 and 28 February and 1 March.
West Leigh Infants
St Matthews CofE
20 - 25 February
Talks and Workshops
Sydenham High School
Book week visit
Book week visit
Book week visit
Book week visit
Book week visit
Cologne Literary Festival
19 - 31 March
Talks and Workshops
Able Writers Day
St Anne's Catholic School
Travel Writing workshops
Able Writers Day
William Cobbett Junior
Able Writers Day
You can find more information about my school visits (including content, rates and testimonials) by visiting the Author Visits page on this site. Alternatively, for details of my Able Writers Days, please go through the events agency Authors Abroad.
Back in September I enjoyed visiting Bishop MacKenzie in Lilongwe, Malawi. It is now Book Week there and Year 4 have been doing some wonderful paintings inspired by DON’T SPILL THE MILK. Well done, all of you!
If art is your thing, you may also enjoy these ALL ABOARD colouring sheets, drawn by Christopher Corr. Click on an image to download a printable pdf.
To celebrate the centenary since Roald Dahl’s birth, pupils at my daughter’s school are dressing up as characters from Roald Dahl books. I wanted my daughter to go as Mrs Twit (because THE TWITS has always been my favourite) or as Matilda (because it’s an easy costume to make!) but Libby had other ideas.
Her first comment on the matter was ‘I don’t like Roald Dahl.’ I picked my jaw up from the floor and pretended not to have heard the heresy. The truth is, Daisy Meadows (Rainbow Fairies) is currently an all-consuming fire in my daughter’s heart, leaving little room for other suitors. We have listened to CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY in the car and her class is currently reading THE ENORMOUS CROCODILE, but she doesn’t know the other stories yet.
Her second comment was ‘I want to go as Veruca Salt’. She didn’t stamp her foot or wag her finger in true Saltesque fashion, but she managed nevertheless to bend her father to her will. So Veruca Salt it was, complete with golden ticket in her hatband. She went merrily off to school saying, ‘I want an oompa loompa, I want a squirrel, I want five thousand two hundred Pokecoins’ etc.
There were plenty of other Charlie and the Chocolate Factory characters at the school gates, as well as a gaggle of Matildas and one excellent Mrs Twit (with a ping pong ball for an eye – love it!).
When I was my daughter’s age I read and adored Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Twits, George’s Marvellous Medicine, Fantastic Mr Fox, The Witches and The BFG. I was in awe of Roald Dahl then and even more so now. I do hope that my daughters enjoy his stories for themselves in due course.
Here’s a documentary about Roald Dahl’s life and work. Watching it I learned lots of interesting things about the great man, including that he wrote the screenplay to the Bond film YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. If you’re interested in Dahl and his work, you’ll be sure to enjoy it.
He wanted to discover whether reading fiction affects the economic preferences of individuals. By ‘economic preferences’ he means trust, contribution to public good, risk-taking and patience.
The resulting research paper makes for fascinating reading. It concludes:
Much as advocates of reading fiction would like to believe that reading transforms lives, deepens empathy, and develops better intuitions about the interior lives of others, the reality is more likely to be that effects are small or short-lived.
Or, as he phrases it in the video:
Reading makes better readers but not necessarily better humans.
As an author of books for young adults, it would be lovely to think that my ilk are saving the world. And no doubt Michael, as a champion of African village libraries, would have been pleased if his research had uncovered a clear link between reading and development. Alas, this is not the case. Reading provides relaxation, enjoyment and solace, but that’s pretty much all.