Picture Book Reviews

Review: Not My Hats! by Tracy Gunaratnam and Alea Marley


Hettie the polar bear loves hats. She hat tall hats, small hats and any size at all hats. Hettie will never, ever share her hats. When Puffin comes along in search of a hat, Hettie remains firm, until she discovers Puffin might have something to share in return. 

A story of friendship and sharing. 

img_5316Issues of sharing will be familiar to parents of small children. The lovely thing about Not My Hats! is although it has a clear message, it never comes across as preachy. The story is made funnier by Hettie’s facial expressions, from her anger at the thought of sharing to her sudden interest in Puffin’s scarves. Everything about her is exaggerated. It is impossible not to love her, even when she is being a diva. 

The rhyme-scheme is fantastic. Children will soon join in as the words and the rhythm become familiar. I can see this being popular with infants school teachers. It would be a great resource for teaching phonics, particularly because it is not written for this purpose so does not feel in any way forced. 

I love how the muted pastel backgrounds are changed for primary colours when Hettie feels a particularly strong emotion. 

The illustrations are clear and simple, with a focus on the main characters and Hettie’s img_5315hats. There is minimal distraction from the main story. The pictures are bright and full of character, and I love the recurring fish motif. 

A delightful story, perfect for fans of Oh No George! and Oi! Frog! Be warned – this is one has an addictive rhythm, and you might be asked to read it three times in a row. 


Louise Nettleton

Thanks to Maverick Arts Publishing for my copy of Not My Hats! Opinions my own.

Q & A · Q and A/Author Interview

Q&A: Author Meaghan McIssac

MeaghanMcIssac bannerimg_5130

A door to the future has been opened 

Movers have the ability to pull people from the future into the present day. Time travel is not only possible, it terrifies the authorities. Regular readers might remember that I reviewed Movers a couple of weeks ago. I was struck by the relevance of certain themes to the present day, and enjoyed the complex world McIssac has created.

Time travel, morals and strong female characters. There was so much I wanted to ask McIssac, and I am thrilled to be able to share her answers with you. 

Welcome Meaghan McIsssac, and many thanks for your time.  bird

Movers is set in world where people from the future at trying to immigrate to the past. It also features an organisation who are vehemently opposed to this movement. To what extent was this inspired by current events? Why did you decide to explore this through Sci-Fi?

I hadn’t really been considering any specific current event when I set out to write Movers over five years ago now. The idea actually came from something I’d read from Stephen Hawking who said that one of the most compelling reasons for Time Travel not existing is that,  if it did, we would be inundated with immigrants from the future. What a wild thought. What would that world look like? How would people now react to people from tomorrow? How would the government handle it? And the world took shape from there. I’ve definitely been struck by how applicable Movers has become to events unfolding in the news every night since then. So while I didn’t necessarily set out to comment on any current events, I think it’s great that people are able to engage with Movers, and Sci-fi as a whole, to help navigate  and make sense of important discussions surrounding those events . Sci-fi may take us to new worlds, but it also reflects the one around us. And I think that’s what makes it so captivating.


Pat’s mother is a movement advocate. Other parents in the story are against movement. How can fiction help young readers to shape their own political views?

I’m definitely not looking to shape anyone’s “political views” but I do think fiction can have an impact on a young reader’s moral compass and view of the world. Through Sci-fi, and all fiction, really, young readers are confronted with big questions and extreme dilemmas, but let’s face it, life is filled with these things too, and young people are forced to confront big questions by virtue of the world we live in today. Heck, I’m thirty and still figuring out my place! My hope is that fiction and story can provide an exciting and safe space to engage those questions, to sort out their feelings and reflect on thoughts and ideas that they hadn’t considered.


Were there any challenges to writing time-travel?

Oh gosh, yes. Paradoxes, paradoxes, paradoxes. Time travel is one big tangled hairball of paradoxes. Think of Terminator — ‘Wait, if John Conner’s dad goes back in time to save his mom so that John Connor can be born, but his dad can only be his dad if John Connor is born in the first place to send him back in time, what comes first? What?… No wait…What?” This is ALL YOU THINK ABOUT in a time travel story. Not John Connor, no, but problems like these. If this plus this equals that, but this can only exist if that exists too…Oh goodness. The brain melts. So trying to patch up these tricky problems is a BIG challenge and requires a lot of organization. I am not the best at organization. I spent a lot of time doodling diagrams and moving skittles across my desk to try and get the answers I needed. Also lots of problem-solving sessions with friends and family and editors helped immensely. Time travel is a tricky beast, but it’s also a lot of fun.


How did you plan a novel set in the future?

Again, a lot of doodles. To be honest, I went into the time travel part of it a little naive. It wasn’t until I was revising that I realized how much planning would have helped avoid the paradox problems. So for book 2, which takes place both in the past and the future, I had multiple diagrams in my notebook of timelines with plot points marked on each one. I can’t recommend timelines enough. They change as the story develops, asking you to redraw them again and again, but they are so worth it for keeping the story organized.


Your female characters include intelligent Gabby and strong Rani. How did you make them into fully-rounded characters?  

I don’t do anything special for my female characters vs. my male characters. I just try to write convincing people — their fears, desires, their secrets and they just grow as the story unfolds. Writing is such a crazy process, because you make up these people and you think they are exactly who you want them to be, but it doesn’t take long for characters to take on a life of their own. Before you know it, they are saying and doing things you never planned for them to do. It’s kind of spooky, but exciting. Gabby and Rani came together the same way Pat did, the same way Roth and Leonard did — I set them free in my brain and they started saying and doing things that were totally them. It’s the best part of crafting a story, watching your characters become who they are!


Huge thanks to Meaghan McIssac for your time, and to Harriet Dunlea at Andersen Press for arranging this opportunity.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: The Exact Opposite Of Okay by Laura Steven



…his gaze is fixed so intently on me that he barely notices. Then he smiles this weird, bashful smile I’ve never seen before. Smiles. Danny. I mean, really. 

(The Exact Opposite Of Okay by Laura Steven. P19.) birdSynopsis:

Eighteen year-old Izzy is an aspiring comedian and writer. She doesn’t know how to take her next steps in life, only that her best friends and her grandmother will be at her side. There is no money, but Izzy doesn’t think life is so bad.

Then pictures of Izzy are leaked on to the internet. Pictures which show exactly what happened between her and a politician’s son. At the same time, Izzy’s friend Danny is getting stranger. He keeps buying her gifts, and he can’t accept that she doesn’t want a relationship. 

Who has set up the website? With her best friend Ajita at her side, Izzy tries to find out who is behind the website. It is not okay. It is The Exact Opposite Of Okay. 


The fact that behaviour isn’t criminal doesn’t mean it is acceptable. The Exact Opposite Of Okay challenges the beloved narrative that says good guys get the girl. The book also challenges the double-standards for men and women. Women are far more likely to be shamed for kissing someone and deciding not to date them than men.

You know those people with immense capacity for judging others? The I’ll-throw-the-first-stone-for-the-good-of-everyone-else types? They can destroy lives. The Exact Opposite Of Okay is the story of what happens when a girl is shamed for kissing more than one guy. Something which might have caused a bit of friction between two or three people is blown out of proportion into a national sensation. 

The story looks beyond the website’s creators to those who condone its existence. Her school board don’t want to be the first to speak out on her behalf. A politician thinks his son’s chances at Harvard might be spoiled if he takes equal responsibility. Izzy’s friend Danny can’t take no for an answer. Other kids in the school are happy to gossip and laugh. I was pleased to see this big-picture approach. Society’s beliefs stem from individual actions, and if we want a society in which women are equal, we must all take responsibility.

Laura Steven is clearly a strong observer of real life. The friendships feel real and raw. Friendships in YA can feel more like caricatures (think Mean girls VS nerds, and BFFs.) The Exact Opposite Of Okay shows relationships which are as complex – life comes between friendships, and issues constantly have to be resolved.

What makes this a total joy is Izzy’s narration. She’s witty, clever and isn’t ready to take the world lying down. She is shameless because she is fed up of seeing girls shamed and I love her to pieces. Laura Steven is one to watch out for. Her writing is raw and witty and right up to date in terms of language and trends. Read it, shout about it and join in the conversation.




Northern YA Literary Festival – Signings, Stalls and Swag.

Oh my fangirl!

Northern Book Bloggers L-R: Steph, Louise [self], Charlotte, Liam, Cora, Rebecca, Kelly and Hannah. [Photograph taken by event managers.] 
What an event. The first ever Northern YA Literary Festival was held on Saturday 24th of March 2018. Previously I have told you about the author talks, but author talks are only part of a literary festival. There are other things going on. These can be summarised in three ‘S’s –

  • Signings
  • Stalls 
  • Swag

Beyond that the festival was a great chance to network. I spent the day with the Northern Book Bloggers. It was lovely to put faces to names and to realise that I have so much to say to these people outside of the Twittersphere.


Signed book alert. Between author talks there were chances to meet our favourite authors and have our books signed. Every single author took part in signings at some point in the day. I took four books with me, and purchased two more (The Fandom by Anna Day and The Exact Opposite Of Okay by Laura Stevens.) I’m digging those sharpies, and Samantha Shannon’s Scion stamp is a thing of beauty. There is something so precious about a signed book. A minute’s conversation with a favourite author can last in the memory for a lifetime.



There were several vendors at NYA. Waterstones were on hand to sell those books we had heard about and suddenly couldn’t live without, while the university’s own press was promoting its very first YA novel. There was a fab cupcake stall which I walked passed several times just for the pleasure of seeing those creations. 

I was particularly pleased to see Rebecca from Taken Moons. 

Rebecca is a Northern Book Blogger who began her own Etsy business earlier this year. Her candles are themed around popular YA books. Brave Of Heart is her Gryffindor candle. I kid you not, I take the lid off and sniff this thing several times a day. Check her out here and add a whole new dimension to your reading experience. 



The first place many people headed was the publishing pretties swag stall. This is like the ultimate bookish goody-bag experience. We were given tote bags upon entrance and filled them at the swag stall with posters and pencils, bookmarks and mirrors and postcards. And proofs. Don’t forget the proofs. Books were limited to two per-person, but when I got to my reserved seat I found a goodie-bag waiting with two more books. I picked up:

  • Not If I Save You First by Ally Carter
  • The List Of Real Things by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald
  • Grace And Fury by Tracy Banchart
  • Fragments Of The Lost by Megan Miranda

Bookish merch. is more than a perk. If you love film or sport, chances are you can buy merchandise to express your hobby. Until the dawn of Etsy and smaller online marketplaces it was impossible to buy posters and badges to celebrate books. These freebies allow people to take their hobby beyond the pages of their books. 

If you missed out …

If you missed out, fear not. The University Of Central Lancashire plans to make this an annual event. The hope is that this will remain a free event. I can’t celebrate this enough. Literary festivals should be open to as many people as possible. I’m already looking forward to next year. See you there? 

Louise Nettleton.

Were you at NYA? What was your favourite part? Let me know in the comments below.