Monthly Archives: October 2015

My Top 5 NZ Series for Kids and Teens

Like many kids I’m a fan of series.  There’s nothing better than sinking your teeth into a great series and being able to read more than one book featuring your favourite characters.  While there aren’t a heap of New Zealand series for kids and teens there are some that really stand out for me.  Some of them make me laugh again and again, while others take me to different times and places.  Here are my Top 5 NZ series for kids and teens.

  • 1219373The Karazan Quartet by V.M. Jones
    • Book 1 – The Serpents of Arakesh
    • Book 2 – Beyond the Shroud
    • Book 3 – Prince of the Wind
    • Book 4 – Quest for the Sun
I was excited when the first book in the series, The Serpents of Arakesh, came out.  The idea of an orphan boy getting the chance to test a new computer game and go into this game to retrieve a magical object sounded fantastic, and I wasn’t disappointed.  As soon as I started I knew I was going to love this book, and the other three books in the series just got better and better.  It’s one of my favourite fantasy series and just writing about it now makes me want to go back and read it all over again.  After publishing this series and a couple of great contemporary (and award-winning) novels, V.M. Jones seems to have disappeared.  I really miss her writing and I wonder what she’s doing now.

These are all out of print now but if you have this series in your library, get it out on display and promote it to your Year 5+ kids, especially the boys.

Recommended for 9+

  • The Juno series by Fleur Beale
    • Book 1 – Juno of Taris
    • Book 2 – Fierce September
    • Book 3 – Heart of Danger

Once I got in to Juno of Taris I couldn’t put it down.  Fleur Beale’s strength with this series is her characters, the strong bonds between them and also the conflict between them.  Fleur really makes you feel for her characters and the strange situation that they are in.  After reading the first book, I would have been satisfied to leave the characters as they were, then Fleur wrote two sequels.  I really enjoyed following these characters as they settled into their new life, and it was great to find out more about the other characters in the series.

Recommended for 11+

  • Dinosaur Rescue series by Kyle Mewburn and Donovan Bixley
    • Currently 8 books in the series, starting with T-wreck-asaurus

Prehistoric toilet humour – what more can you ask for!  These books are full of dinosaur farts, dinosaur poo, caveman vomit and partial caveman nudity.  Not only are they disgusting and hilarious, you also learn heaps about dinosaurs and prehistoric life.  The challenge is trying to figure out what is factually accurate or just a huge whopper.  Kyle and Donovan are too of the wackiest people to ever be thrown together to create a series and it’s a truly winning combination.  If your children haven’t discovered this series yet they are seriously missing out.

Recommended for 7+

  • My New Zealand Story series by various authors

9781775431824The My New Zealand Story series from Scholastic New Zealand introduces children to different events and periods of New Zealand’s history.  I love this series because it gives a snapshot of the life of a fictional character (based on real people) and how they cope with life in the goldfields, or in colonial New Zealand, or how they react to a disaster like the Napier Earthquake.  These books also highlight how different the lives of the characters is to the lives of children today.  They really bring history alive for young readers and connect them with the history of their country.  The latest in the series is Canterbury Quake by my good friend, Desna Wallace.

Recommended for 9+

  • QueenTales of Fontania series by Barbara Else
    • The Traveling Restaurant
    • The Queen and the Nobody Boy
    • The Volume of Possible Endings
    • The Knot Impossible

Barbara Else’s Tales of Fontania series is a fantasy series that stands out from the crowd.  Barbara has an incredible imagination and her world and characters jump off the page.  Her tales are full of adventure, danger, royalty, spies, flying trains, a floating restaurant, stinky trolls, poisonous toads and much, much more.  You never know what who or what you’re going to meet next.  Thanks to the stunning covers by Sam Broad the books jump off the shelf and grab your attention.  I have it on good authority that there are more Tales of Fontania to come too.

Recommended for 9+

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My Most Anticipated Kids & YA November New Releases

Harry Miller’s Run by David Almond, illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino (Walker Books)

Liam just wants to go out running with his mates – it’s not long till the Junior Great North Run, and there’s training to be done. But Mam needs him today, to help old Harry clear out his house. Harry knows a thing or two about running. When he was a lad, he says, he ran all the way from Newcastle to South Shields. “But Harry,” says Mam, “that’s thirteen miles!” Harry grins. “Different times,” he says. This is the story of that day: of sweltering heat, clattering boots, briny sea air and the heavenly taste of ice cream; the day when Harry and his pals ran and ran and ran through the blazing sunlight all the way to the sea.

Fairytales for Mr Barker by Jessica Ahlberg (Walker Books)

Peep through the holes in this delightful fairytale adventure.

“Once upon a time, there was a troll,” says Lucy. But Mr Barker isn’t listening. He’s off on his own fairytale adventure. Who will he and Lucy meet and will their story end happily ever after?

Illuminae: The Illuminae Files 1 by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (Allen and Unwin)

The year is 2575, and two rival mega-corporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, exes Kady and Ezra – who are barely even talking to each other – are forced to fight their way onto the evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But the warship is the least of their problems. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results. The fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what the hell is going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.

The Grunts on the Run by Philip Ardagh, illustrated by Axel Scheffler (Allen and Unwin)

Over the years, the Gruntshave made more than a few enemies. But fortunately they’re all safely behind bars. Or are they? There’s been a prison break-out, and three of them are after REVENGE. It’s time for the Grunts to go On the Run. This last book brings back some familiar faces from the series and solves a couple of mysteries too.

The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold, illustrated by Emily Gravett (Allen and Unwin)

Rudger is Amanda Shuffleup’s imaginary friend. It’s a funny old life, not actually being there, but someone’s got to do it.

Nobody else can see Rudger – until the sinister Mr Bunting arrives at Amanda’s door. Mr Bunting hunts imaginaries. Rumour says that he eats them. And he’s sniffed out Rudger.

Soon Rudger is alone, and running for his imaginary life. He needs to find Amanda before Mr Bunting catches him – and before Amanda forgets him and he fades away to nothing. But how can an unreal boy stand alone in the real world?

Stripes No, Spots! by Vasanti Unka (Penguin Random House)

Tiger claims that stripes are best. Leopard insists that spots are tops. Their squabble turns into a quarrel; the quarrel becomes a battle; and, by lunchtime, the jungle is a complete mess.

Monkey calls a meeting of the Jungle Council and all the animals put their heads together to come up with a plan. Their cunningly stylish way of resolving matters will bring out the best in everyone . . . well, almost everyone.

Cool Nukes by Des Hunt (Scholastic NZ)

Professor Walter Mayhew has always been weird, but an explosion in his backyard lab sends him over the edge. Soon afterwards he disappears in bizarre circumstances. Then three of his youngest and cleverest students – thirteen-year-olds Max, Jian Xin , and Cleo – start getting cryptic messages which seem to be the plans for a nuclear device – one that could solve all of mankind’s energy problems.

At first they welcome the opportunity to make something spectacular for the upcoming ExpoFest science fair. But this machine, if it works, will be worth a fortune, and Max soon becomes the target of a criminal gang. As the day of the ExpoFest approaches, the pressure increases until Max is forced to choose between completing the task or saving the life of his best friend.

The Bloodtree Chronicles: Bragonsthyme by Elizabeth Pulford (Scholastic NZ)

When the Bloodtree loses its last leaf, there will be no more stories in the Silvering Kingdom . . .

The Silvering Kingdom is the home of fairy tales but the kingdom and all those within are in danger of vanishing because the Bloodtree – the source of all stories – has been poisoned.

In Book 2 of the series, Bragonsthyme’s story is frozen in time. It is up to Abigail (Spindale) and Flint to track down the story’s happy ending by finding the dark master Treolle’s last words, thus helping the Bloodtree to heal.

The Roly-Poly Baby by Catherine Foreman (Scholastic NZ)

The roly-poly baby rolls through the house, past her cat, her sleeping grandad, her mum and older siblings in the kitchen, then outside into the elements and the autumn leaves, and then back into her mother’s arms for her evening bath.

The Bad Guys: Episode 2 – Mission Unpluckable by Aaron Blabey (Scholastic NZ)

The Bad Guys are back with a daring plan to rescue 10,000 chickens from a high-security cage farm! But how do you rescue chickens when one of you is known as The Chicken Swallower? Join The Bad Guys as they return for more dodgy good deeds with a new member of the team. And watch out for the super villain who might just be the end of them! Good deeds. Whether you like it or not…

Liquidator by Andy Mulligan (David Fickling Books)

LIQUIDATOR! The brand-new, delicious and wildly popular energy drink. “For those who wanna win!” The company that makes it is set to earn a fortune, with its global launch climaxing at an international rock concert that will SHAKE the planet. The only problem?An innocent child is dying. Meet Vicky and her class-mates – their work experience is about to spin totally out of control as they uncover a secret that could change the world. And put them all in mortal danger.

Olive of Groves by Katrina Nannestad, illustrated by Lucia Masciullo

Olive has always dreamed of attending boarding school, but Mrs Groves’ Boarding School for Naughty Boys, Talking Animals and Circus Performers is not what she expected. To tell the truth, dear reader, it is not what anyone expected!

The headmistress is completely bonkers and Pig McKenzie, school bully and all-round nasty swine, is determined to make Olive’s life unbearable.

Olive, however, is clever, sweet and kind, and soon gains the loyalty and devotion of three rats, a short-sighted moose, a compulsive liar and a goose who faints at the sight of cherries.

But will friendship and wits be enough when Pig McKenzie puts his Truly Wicked Plan into gear? Or will Olive be cast out of Groves forever?

 

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The Bookshop That Grew Me

I wouldn’t be where I am today, in my dream job as a CYA Librarian and blogging about books, if it weren’t for two things:

  1. My parents
  2. The Original Children’s Bookshop

The Original Children’s Bookshop has been part of my life since I was a baby.  My parents bought my first books for me from the shop when it used to be in Beckenham and were regular customers when the shop later moved to Victoria Street.  I have vague memories of visiting the shop as a kid but it wasn’t until I was a teenager that I started visiting regularly.  I went to school in the central city and my dad’s business was there as well so I spent a lot of time exploring the centre of Christchurch.  When I was about 14 my reading spark was ignited and I couldn’t get enough of books.  The central public library became one of my favourite places.  When I was old enough I started helping my dad out by running errands around town and I would often wander down to the bookshop after I was finished.  As I started to earn a bit of money I would spend most of it on books.  I remember going into the bookshop to see if the next instalments in my favourite series were in yet.  I especially loved Philip Pullman at this stage and I was very eager to get my hands on the next book by William Nicholson (I loved the Wind Singer trilogy!).  It was while I was chatting with the lovely ladies in the bookshop one day that I got the courage to ask if there was any work available.  It must have been my lucky day as they were looking for someone to do some extra hours in the lead-up to Christmas.  I almost skipped out of the bookshop, I was so happy!  That began six wonderful years of working in the best children’s bookshop around.

Writing this now I still remember the smell of the bookshop as I walked through the doors.  It was a mixture of paper, printer’s ink, wooden toys, plastic dinosaurs, and puppets, but it was also magical.  It reminded me of my childhood but it was also the promise of all those stories waiting to be read by children and adults alike.

One person who I can’t thank enough is Sheila Sinclair.  Sheila owned the bookshop for many years and she took me under her wing from my very first day.  She taught me so much about children’s literature and the book trade, like how to choose the perfect book for a customer, how to display books to catch a customer’s eye, what toys are suitable for different ages, and how to wrap the perfect present (a skill that I am always thankful for).  I’m also hugely thankful to Mary Sangster, the new owner of The Original Children’s Bookshop.  Mary taught me all about the other side of running a bookshop, the behind-the-scenes work that keeps a bookshop ticking along.  I spent many years unpacking, pricing and processing new stock and also got to eavesdrop on visits from publishers selling their new titles.  There were many other lovely ladies who I had the pleasure of working with over the years and who made me feel part of the bookshop family.  You all helped to fuel my love of children’s literature and encouraged me to grow my collection of wonderful books.

There were so many things I loved about working in The Original Children’s Bookshop, but my favourite things were new release deliveries and meeting amazing authors.  I loved it when new releases arrived!  Sometimes you would get a whole trolley of beautiful new books in a trolley to shelve and all the staff would gather around and check them out.  Other times I would get to be the first to see them when I opened the box to process them.  It was hard to restrain yourself from opening a box with a big ‘New Releases’ sticker on it, even if there were stacks of other boxes waiting to be unpacked.  I also met so many amazing authors in my time at the bookshop.  It was incredibly exciting meeting and getting the chance to talk to Jacqueline Wilson, Michael Morpurgo, Chris Riddell, Anthony Brown, Joseph Delaney and Julia Donaldson.  I was awestruck (and I still am every time I meet an author or illustrator I love).

The Original Children's Bookshop

Saturday 31st October is New Zealand Bookshop Day.  Make sure you visit your local bookshop and tell them how much you love what they do.  Buy books and support them so that they can keep bringing you the books that you love.  If you’re in Christchurch make sure you pop along to The Original Children’s Bookshop (now at 227 Blenheim Road).  They have illustrators Jenny Cooper and Helen Taylor in the shop and you could even come and listen to me read some stories at 2:30pm.

Thank you to Sheila, Mary and The Original Children’s Bookshop for growing this passionate reader.

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Seriously Spooky Month: Guest Post – Dave Shelton

As part of my Seriously Spooky Month I asked some of my favourite spooky authors to write a guest post for My Best Friends Are Books.  Today I’m joined by award-winning author, Dave Shelton.  Dave’s debut novel, A Boy and a Bear in a Boat, won the 2013 Branford Boase Award and was shortlisted for the 2013 CILIP Carnegie Medal & the 2012 Costa Children’s Book AwardsDave’s most recent book is the seriously spooky Thirteen Chairs, a series of thirteen interlinked short stories that will send a chill down your spine. If you haven’t read it I highly recommend it!  Dave joins me today to talk about writing Thirteen Chairs.  Thanks for joining me Dave!

It’s interesting what different people find scary. When I wrote Thirteen Chairs I had an idea that I was writing for readers aged maybe eleven and up, so I wanted not to include anything too gruesome, in terms of explicit blood, guts and gore, but I did want to be properly scary. So I set out to try to get inside the reader’s head a bit and to make them imagine the worst thing for them, rather than be too specific about details that I might find frightening but which the reader might just shrug off. Occasionally I would lead the reader part way along a certain route and then leave them to carry on and imagine what happened next after I had brought the story to a close. It’s something I’ve noticed occasionally when returning to books and comics I’ve read in the past looking for a particular scene that I remember vividly and I find it isn’t actually depicted at all, it’s only suggested. I’d just been given the space to imagine it for myself. And yet sometimes that’s the part I remember the best. This is also why I only drew one illustration per story: I didn’t want to impose my images in a reader’s mind when they were certain to provide better ones themselves if suitably prompted. I was trying to be clever (or maybe lazy; but sometimes it’s possible to be both).

Thirteen Chairs

In certain other respects, though, I was neither clever nor lazy (quite apart from the monumental error of thinking that short stories must surely be an easier option than a novel – er, nope!) I had decided that, rather than a collection of unconnected short stories, I wanted there also to be a linking narrative that would connect the individual stories in some way. The idea I eventually settled on was that each of the stories was being told by one of thirteen odd characters gathered together in a deserted house. As such, each story would be written in the distinct ‘voice’ of the character telling it. This decision was not clever. This decision was not lazy. I thought it would be an interesting exercise, a way of providing variety throughout the book (both to the reader and to me writing it). I thought it would be fun.

Ha!

Actually, to be fair, occasionally it was: when I wrote as the young, possibly slightly autistic, Amelia in the story The Girl in the Red Coat, I had a whale of a time; when I rewrote The Red Tree from being told as a slightly ironic folk tale to being voiced by the Eastern European giant Piotr in his somewhat fractured English, I amused myself greatly; when I became gossipy Josephine relating the story of the demonic cat Oswald, I had a rare old time of it. But mostly … mostly it was just hard work keeping track of everyone. In my previous book A Boy and a Bear in a Boat I had (albeit accidentally) been really clever in choosing to write my first substantial piece of prose fiction with only two characters in the whole story. Two characters; two voices. Simple. Thirteen characters and voices (and more again within the stories told) turned out to be quite tricky. How well I succeeded in the end is for the reader to judge of course. Those of you that read Thirteen Chairs: do feel free to let me know.

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Filed under children's fiction, children's horror, Guest Post, Seriously Spooky Month, Seriously Spooky Month 2015

My Top 10 NZ Read Alouds

There are lots of New Zealand books for children that are great read alouds, either to share one-on-one with your children or in a classroom.  Here are my Top 10 NZ Read Alouds, some old and some new (in no particular order).

Red Rocks by Rachael King

Red RocksWhile holidaying at his father’s house, Jake explores Wellington’s wild south coast, with its high cliffs, biting winds, and its fierce seals. When he stumbles upon a perfectly preserved sealskin, hidden in a crevice at Red Rocks, he’s compelled to take it home and hide it under his bed, setting off a chain of events that threatens to destroy his family. Can he put things right before it’s too late?

Suggested read aloud age: 9+

See Ya Simon by David Hill

Simon is a typical teenager – in every way except one. Simon likes girls, weekends and enjoys mucking about and playing practical jokes. But what s different is that Simon has muscular dystrophy – he is in a wheelchair and doesn t have long to live. See Ya, Simon is told by Simon’s best friend, Nathan. Funny, moving and devastatingly honest, it tells of their last year together.

Suggested read aloud age: 11+

The Brain Sucker by Glenn Wood

How would you act if part of your personality was stolen with a brain-sucking machine?

Lester Smythe has a black heart. He s invented a dangerous brain-sucking machine that removes the goodness from its victims, and he intends to use it to rid the world of all human kindness. But Lester didn t count on thirteen-year-old Callum McCullock and his two best friends, Sophie and Jinx. The trio vow to destroy the brain sucker. And nothing will stop them.

Suggested read aloud age: 8+

Snake and Lizard by Joy Cowley

Snake is elegant and calm, and a little self-centred; Lizard is exuberant and irrepressible. Even though they’re opposites, they are good friends. With its wisdom, acceptance and good humour, Snake and Lizard captures the essence of friendship.

Suggested read aloud age: 7+

Steel Pelicans by Des Hunt

Sometimes friendship and loyalty can be dangerous things – especially when fireworks are involved. Inseparable Aussie friends dare-devil Dean and tag-along Pelly often get up to no good. That’s what makes them the Steel Pelicans. But as Dean’s homemade fireworks get increasingly dangerous, things start going wrong, and Pelly’s parents hasten a move back to New Zealand. After living most of his life in Australia, Pelly feels like he’s been dumped in a foreign land with no friends and a school that doesn’t care, until he joins up with Afi Moore and is invited to stay the weekend at the Moores’ seaside bach. Then the pair stumble on a smuggling operation and find themselves deep in trouble, which only gets worse when Dean comes over for the holidays. In no time at all, Dean’s obsession with explosives threatens not only the investigation but also their lives.

All of Des Hunt’s other books are great read alouds too.

Suggested read aloud age: 10+

Northwood by Brian Falkner

Cecilia Undergarment likes a challenge. So when she discovers a sad and neglected dog, she is determined to rescue him. No matter what. But her daring dog rescue lands her in deep trouble. Trouble in the form of being lost in the dark forest of Northwood. A forest where ferocious black lions roam. A forest that hides a secret castle, an unlikely king and many a mystery. A forest where those who enter never return. But Cecilia is determined to find her way home. No matter what.

Suggested read aloud age: 9+

Juno of Taris by Fleur Beale

Juno is young; she has no authority, no power, and to question the ways of Taris is discouraged. She knows what it’s like when the community withdraws from her – turning their backs and not speaking to her until she complies.The Taris Project was the brainchild of a desperate twenty-first-century world, a community designed to survive even if the rest of humanity perished. An isolated, storm-buffeted island in the Southern Ocean was given a protective dome and its own balmy climate. And now Juno is one of 500 people who live there – but what has happened to the outside world in the years since Taris was established? The island has not been in contact with Outside since the early years of its existence.Juno yearns to know about life Outside, just as she yearns to be allowed to grow her hair. It is a rule on Taris that all must have their heads shaved bare. But is it a rule that could be broken? Danger awaits any who suggest it.

Suggested read aloud age: 11+

Super Finn by Leonie Agnew

When Mr Patel asks his class what they’d like to be when they grow up, Finn (most famous for getting in trouble and doing stupid things) chooses ‘superhero’. With his friend Brain, the two boys make a list of things needed to be a superhero, including superpowers and saving someone’s life. Can Finn use his superpowers to help save his World Vision sponsored child? Sometimes, despite the best intentions, things don’t always work out as planned. Join the hilarity as the boys’ money-making scheme comes unravelled. Look out, world …here comes Super Finn!

Suggested read aloud age: 7+

The Wolf in the Wardrobe by Susan Brocker

Finn had seen those eyes before. They were golden yellow, like the colour of the moon hanging low in the sky. And they were full of pain. When Finn comes across a car accident, little does he realize his life is about to change forever. The huge, injured animal he discovers is no dog – but a wolf, escaped from the circus. Finn is bewitched. Instinctively, he knows he must save the wolf, Lupa, and prevent her return to the cruel circus. Where to hide the wolf, and how to feed her, are just the beginning of Finn’s problems. For the sinister circus clown, Cackles, is hot on their trail and will stop at nothing to get Lupa back. But Cackles doesn’t even like wolves, so why is he so determined to get her? In a race against time to save Lupa, Finn gets help from unlikely quarters. But will it be enough?

Suggested read aloud age: 10+

The Ghosts of Tarawera by Sue Copsey

On holiday near Rotorua, Joe and Eddie are fascinated by the area’s bubbling mud pools and boiling geysers. Local volcanologist Rocky tells them about the Pink and White Terraces that existed on the lake where they’re staying, and how they were destroyed in the cataclysmic 1886 eruption of Mount Tarawera. But Joe’s fascination turns to unease when strange sightings on the lake and dark rumblings from the Earth hint that the volcano is reawakening. Can he persuade Rocky, who puts his faith only in science, to sound a warning?

Suggested read aloud age: 10+

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Filed under authors, books, children, children's fiction, New Zealand, NZ Book Month 2013

Win a NZ Books Pack to celebrate NZ Book Week

To celebrate New Zealand Book Week I have two prize packs of NZ books for kids and teens to give away.

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Picture Books Prize Pack

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Young Adult Prize Pack

I have a Picture Books Prize Pack and a Young Adult Prize Pack to give away.  To get in the draw for these prizes all you have to do is leave a comment (along with your name and email address) on this post telling me ‘What is your favourite NZ book for kids or teens?’ In your comment also let me know which prize pack you would like to win (the picture books, YA books or both).

Competition closes Sunday 1 November (NZ only).

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My Favourite NZ Books for Kids and Teens

I love New Zealand books and I’m happy to shout it from the rooftops.  We have so many wonderful, talented authors and illustrators here in NZ who write for kids of all ages.  My personal mission, as a librarian and a blogger is to spread the word about New Zealand books and get as many kids (and adults) reading them as possible.  I’ve also had the absolute joy of judging our New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, which really highlighted the breadth of literature that we have here in New Zealand for our young people.

I’ve read and reviewed many NZ books here on My Best Friends Are Books over the years.  I’ve got so many favourite books that I come back to again and again (especially picture books).  Here are just a few of my favourite NZ books for kids and teens, along with the links to my reviews if you want to know more about them:

There are many more fantastic books that I’ve missed off this list, so it is no way complete.  I have a New Zealand category here on the blog so if you want to find more New Zealand content click on the category on the right hand side of the page.

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Seriously Spooky Month: Guest Post – Elys Dolan

As part of my Seriously Spooky Month I asked some of my favourite spooky authors to write a guest post for My Best Friends Are Books.  Today I’m joined by author and illustrator Elys Dolan.  Elys is the author and illustrator of three picture books, Weasels, Nuts in Space, and her latest book, The Mystery of the Haunted Farm.  I love Elys’ books, both for her quirky stories and wonderful illustrations.  Elys joins me today to talk about the making of The Mystery of the Haunted Farm.  Thanks for joining me Elys!

Writing Spooky Books for Children: The Making of The Mystery of the Haunted Farm

1 haunted farm cover webIf you like ghost stories and agriculture then my new book, The Mystery of the Haunted Farm, is the picture book for you. In this book Farmer Greg discovers some very spooky things happening down on his farm so he flees to called for help:

2 flee the farm

And who you gonna call when things go ‘BAH!’ in the night?

3 pig mobile

The Three Pigs Ghost Hunters of course. The pigs explore the farm to try and find out what’s causing the haunting and along the way they meet some bizarre, spooky and something rather sticky creatures. Below you can see them investigating the zombie duck pond but there’s even more creatures lurking on this farm including ghost cows, a frankenhorse and of course The Mighty Donkula to name just a few.

4 duck pond

I had a brilliant time creating a book with a spooky theme but when writing and illustrating a story that deals with things that could be seen as scary you sometimes have to tread carefully. In my experience though many children love things that are a little scary. The more gruesome it is the more fascination it seems to hold. This is of course variable depending on the child but it’s a trend I’ve notice when doing school visits and other literary events. I find it’s parents and other adults who tend to be more cautious.

I was quite determined that this book would be more funny than frightening though. For instance in the zombie duck spread there’s exposed brains and eyes falling out which could be quite gory but I’ve combined it with lots of slapstick, ridiculous facial expressions and general silliness which seems to negate any gore. Also I find using animal characters provides another degree of separation and can be more amusing than if the same things were depicted with human characters.

Whilst making Haunted Farm I found that working in an international market can also effect the kind of scary or spooky things you can include in a book. Originally it was intended to have a very different storyline. I had a totally different plot planned out centring around Farmer Greg releasing The Curse of the Phantom Chicken upon the farm by accidentally eating some cursed eggs:

5 greg eats eggsI even had an origin story for the curse and everything:

6 phantom chicken origin story

Once the curse is released it turns the farm animals into monsters which gives us all the zombie ducks, vampire bats and Frankenhorses that the final book contains. Again the pigs are called in and eventually they subdue the phantom chicken and everything goes back to normal (sort of). But alas this story wasn’t to be.

My publisher was worried about the curse element of this story and how that would work in the U.S market. It’s quite important to be able to sell a picture book in the U.S because it’s such a big market and it can make a book financially viable. They felt that the phantom chicken could be seen as too occult and that might upset certain readers with the references to witchcraft. In fact they decided that having any real ghosts in this book could be a bit tricky so I had to be very careful about how I handled them. You’ll have to read the book to see exactly how I did this because it’s a major spoiler!

To finish I think I might point out a couple of my favourite bits in the book. I’m a big fan of horror movies and you can probably guess that I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from movies such as Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy etc but there’s a couple of other film references in there that I hope some of the grown ups might recognise.

First up you can see climbing the stairs in the farmhouse there’s the shadow of a Nosferatu chicken:

7 nosferatu chicken

At the barn there’s a Jack Nicolson sheep as seen in The Shining:

8 the shiningAnd finally I was very pleased be able to squeeze in a bit of a ghostbusters/farming pun at the chicken coup:

9 afriad of no goat

The Mystery of the Haunted Farm by Elys Dolan is published by Nosy Crow and out now. You can find out more about Elys and her work at elysdolan.com and elysdolan.tumblr.com or follow her on Twitter and Facebook at @ElysDolan and facebook.com/elysdolanillustration.

 

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Filed under Guest Post, picture books, Seriously Spooky Month, Seriously Spooky Month 2015

Happy New Zealand Book Week!

There is no New Zealand Book Month this week but the wonderful New Zealand Society of Authors are running New Zealand Book Week instead, from October 26 to November 1.  This is the week to celebrate all the fantastic, talented authors and illustrators (don’t forget the illustrators!) that we have here in NZ.  There are events organised all around the country, with authors and illustrators visiting independent bookshops to celebrate NZ Bookshop Day on Saturday 31 October.  Check out the list of events on the NZ Society of Authors website.

Join me here on My Best Friends Are Books this week to celebrate New Zealand Book Week.  I’ll be highlighting my favourite NZ authors, illustrators and books, giving away some great NZ books, and of course I’ll be reading NZ books.

Happy NZ Book Week!

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Filed under books, New Zealand, NZ Book Week

Pugs of the Frozen North by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre

Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre are a dream team.  They creative truly wonderful books together that grab readers’ attention. I have loved both of their previous books together, Oliver and the Seawigs and Cakes in Space. I get really excited every time I see they have a new book coming out and I can always tell by the title and the fantastic cover that it is going to be another great book.  They even have their own ‘A Reeve and McIntyre Production’ logo that Sarah has created.  Philip and Sarah’s latest collaboration is called Pugs of the Frozen North and it’s their best book yet!

The race to the top of the world! It comes around once in a lifetime – and the prize? Your heart’s desire. Shen and Sika can’t resist the chance to win, but competition is fierce. The path to victory is littered with snow trolls, sea monsters and a gang of particularly hungry yetis. But Sika and Shen have something the other contestants don’t have. Actually, they have 66 other things – PUGS, to be exact. That’s a 264-paw-powered sled. Let the race begin!

Pugs of the Frozen North is an action-packed, fun-filled spectacular of a book.  One moment you’ll be holding your breath in anticipation and the next you’ll be laughing out loud.  You meet Snow Trolls, sea monsters, hungry Yetis and all sorts of wonderful characters in Pugs of the Frozen North. I don’t think there is another author and illustrator team that are so perfectly matched as Philip and Sarah.  They come up with the ideas for their books together, then Philip writes the words and Sarah draws the pictures.  You can tell they have a lot of fun coming up with their stories as they are just brimming with imagination.

In Pugs of the Frozen North, True Winter arrives, freezing the seas and bringing adventurers from miles around to join the race to the top of the world.  Everyone wants to be the first to reach the Snowfather at the top of the world and have their wish granted.  Shen has been abandoned by his captain after their ship is frozen in the ice and he is left stranded with only sixty-six pug dogs to keep him company.  Luckily Shen finds Sika, a girl who lives in the village of Snowdovia with her mother and grandfather.  Sika really wants to enter the race to the Snowfather and thanks to Shen she now has sixty-six pug dogs to pull her sled.  Shen and Sika are racing against other more experienced adventurers, including Professor Shackleton Jones with his high-tech sled and SNOBOT companion, Helga Hammerfest and her team of polar bears, Sir Basil Sprout-Dumpling and his butler Sidebar, and the glamorous Mitzi Von Primm.  Someone is determined to take their fellow contestants out of the race and win the prize for themselves.  There are also Snow Trolls, sea monsters, hungry Yetis and fifty different kinds of snow to deal with.

The main appeal of Philip and Sarah’s books for me is that they are chock-full of Sarah’s cute and comical illustrations.  I’ve never seen a pug dog look as cute as the ones that Sarah has drawn in this book!  Sarah truly brings the characters to life, from the pompous Sir Basil Sprout-Dumpling to the cuddly-looking Yetis. The limited tone of the illustrations (green, white, black and grey) gives the illustrations an icy feel.  I also really love the cover, which I think looks incredibly appealing to kids.

Pugs of the Frozen North is one of my favourite books of the year.  This wonderful book has all the elements that I love in a story and I can’t recommend it highly enough.  Curl up with Pugs of the Frozen North and you’ll be sure to fall in love with Philip Reeve and Sarah McInytre’s books.

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Filed under adventure, books, children's fiction, funny, humour