For me, there are lots of parts to being a children’s writer. There’s my own writing - idea-hunting, editing, connecting with other writers, sending out stories and crossing my fingers and hoping. There’s the admin – tax returns, emails, contracts, promotion, social media. Then, there are the ways I get to connect with children and readers. This is one of the things I like best. I love doing school visits, talking to children and young people about my inspirations for writing, hearing about theirs and witnessing their stories and interests and curiosity bubble up. I always leave a school visit or book festival event invigorated by all the surprising, frank, funny, questions that I’m asked and armed with a long list of new book recommendations.
Another way I get to talk about books and the magic of storytelling is through the Book Pen Pals project. Book Pen Pals began in 2018 and it matches up children’s authors and illustrators with schools. Once matched up, the Book Pen Pal and the school (perhaps a class, perhaps a whole year group) share postcards back and forth with their reading recommendations. I’m Book Pen Pals with two schools and I love sharing wide-ranging books with pupils and hearing what they’re reading too. There is nothing like getting post especially if it comes with drawings and amazing factoids too! Here’s a glimpse of some Amazing postcards I’ve received from one of my schools.
Because I love talking about books and I’m always keen for young readers to find the book that makes them go ‘Wow!’, I wanted to start sharing my children’s and YA recommendations here. Here’s what I’ve been reading recently: three stories set in three different countries…
Where the World Ends by Geraldine McCaughrean
I read this almost in one go. I loved it and have been telling everyone I know about it. The story is based on true events.It follows a group of boys and a few men from the remote Scottish island of St Kilda who go to hunt and harvest gannets and other birds on Warrior Stac – a massive, barren rock, for a couple of weeks in Summer 1727. But the boat that was meant to pick them up never arrives and they’re stuck on the unforgiving perilous cliffs of Stac as winter draws in, with no idea what has happened to their families back home. It is an atmospheric, thought-provoking expertly crafted story that explores survival, hope, imagination and the dynamics of power.
King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender
This is beautiful, important storytelling. Kacen wrote King and the Dragonflies after realising that they’d never read a middle grade novel with a young gay Black boy in it before, and this book explores the complex intersections of identity so well. King and the Dragonflies is hopeful and heart-wrenching and follows King as he grieves his brother’s death and navigates his own and his friend’s sexuality. It’s a tale of friendship, grief, and family and I hope this stunning book reaches so many readers. The dedication at the start reads: ‘To everyone who loves, no matter what. We’ll be all right.’
The Unadoptables by Hana Tooke
Although it did take me a little while to get into this book, by the end, I was hooked. It begins in an orphanage and we learn a lot about the five main characters in quite a short space of time. As soon as scary Rotman appeared, I was engrossed. The gang of five “unadoptables” must escape Rotman and follow a series of clues to help Milou find her family. What I enjoyed most about The Unadoptables was the real sense of menace and danger, as well as the children’s stubborn and daring inventiveness. Set in Amsterdam in 1880, this fast paced mystery has puppetry, spooky trees, mysterious claw marks and a really big heart.
What books have you been enjoying recently?