Football School: The Guardian Young Sportswriter Of The Year 2019. About the competition and enter a giveaway.

Football School: The Guardian Young Sportswriter Of The Year 2019. About the competition and enter a giveaway.


About the competition:

Calling all young sports fans. The Guardian has opened a competition for young sports writers and the winner could see their piece published in the newspaper.

The newspaper has teamed up with Alex Bellos & Ben Lyttleton, football expert and creators of the bestselling Football School series, to create the competition.

To enter you need to write a 600-word match report on any sporting event, or a 600-word player profile about a sportsperson of your choice.

There are two categories, 7-9 and 10-12. The winners of each age category will win:

  • A once in a lifetime opportunity to watch a Premier League football game as a journalist in the press box
  • Their entry published by The Guardian
  • A signed bundle of Football School books and goodies

The two runners-up in each category will win a signed bundle of Football School books and goodies.

The competition kicks off on 2nd April 2019 and closes at 6pm on the 19th May 2019.

To enter, visit the Football School competiton homepage where you will also find some activities, videos and information about the books.

Best of luck!

(Information taken and reworded from the Football School homepage).


Win a copy of the book:

Want to swot up and get in ahead?

Check out my Twitter homepage where I will be running a giveaway to win a copy of Football School: Star Players. The giveaway ends at 11.59pm on 07/05/2019.

Thanks to Walker Books for providing the prize as part of a promotion.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble

Review: The Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble

The Dog Runner


There’s no food left in the city and what food is coming in is being sold at extortionate prices to people in the rich area. Ella and her brother Emery are starving in their part of the city, and they know there is no more food coming. The decide to go to Emery’s Mum who lives in the country.

To get there they must travel vast distances across open land. They manage this by using their dogs – Wolf and Bear, Maroochy, Oyster and Squid – as sled dogs. 

There are as many dangers beyond the city’s boundaries as there are inside it, especially for two children out alone with animals other people would eat. How will they survive the journey, and will there be food at the end? 



A dystopian look at the near future. The inspiration for this story comes from problems with crop diversity which already exist. Given our rapidly-changing climate and the lack of meaningful action from the world’s governments, this is a future which is all too possible. With every sentece I read, I felt more aware of this. This isn’t only fiction about made-up people. It is about us. Our world.

Bleak? Certainly, but that doesn’t mean boring. Far from it. Emery’s mother is one of the people working to reintroduce indigenous crops to the Australian land. With a diverse range of crops, we wouldn’t rely on the health of a small range of plants. If one failed, there might still be enough food to feed the population. 

I cared about Ella from the start. School hasn’t existed for a while, so she’s made it her mission to read every book available in her apartment block. She also cares deeply for her canine friends and sees their potential to aid humans. 

The other big question in the story is whether Ella’s Mum and Ella and Emery’s Dad will manage to follow their children. This takes huge twists and turns and I wanted everything to work out for their family. 

After loving How To Bee, I knew I would enjoy this, but it confirms Bren MacDibble’s ability and her strong voice in climate fiction for younger readers. We need the next generation to care about climate change like nobody else – a challenge they are rising to far better than most adults – and strong stories are a good place to start. 

An intelligent dystopia which brings another aspect of climate change to light. 


Thanks to Liz Scott PR and Old Barn Books for my copy of The Dog Runner. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews · Q & A · Q and A/Author Interview

Blog Tour: Q&A with author of ‘The Dog Runner’ Bren MacDibble

The Dog Runner

About The Dog Runner

The crops have failed and there isn’t enough food left to feed everybody alive. Food is at a premium, sold to the wealthiest for extortionate prices. Food parcels aren’t coming in as often as they once were. 

Ella and Emery are starving in the poorer part of the city. Emery’s Mum lives in the countryside where people are trying to reintroduce indigenous crops to the land. The children want to reach her, but to do that, they must cross vast areas of dry land. 

The only way their plan might work is with the help of their dogs. 

I was delighted to be offered the chance to ask author Bren MacDibble some questions about her story. Her debut nobel, How To Bee, was a big favourite of 2018 and I was particularly impressed by how she turned serious topics into compelling fiction. 

Thanks to Bren for your time and to Liz Scott for organising this opportunity. 


Q&A with Bren MacDibble

Food production and land management play an important part in The Dog Runner. Why did you decide to write about these themes?

I’m very interested in where our food comes from and how we treat our environment, so when I wrote a story where a couple of kids take a dog cart across Australia, I made their reason for doing it to flee a famine-ravaged city, and it seemed natural to me, to take on a common threat to our food-security, which is wheat fungus, and expand that in my famine. We seem so disconnected from our food sources these days that we don’t understand how food is produced or the threats to our food from disease, lack of landcare or climate change. Australia is in a particularly strange place where we have a dry climate but we grow European foods, and yet the Aboriginal Peoples were growing and cultivating different grains, grinding flour and baking bread 600 years before the Egyptians. There is a wealth of knowledge and grain types that have previously been completely ignored, but which could be vital to our future as the planet warms.


What kind of books did you read to write this story? Was there anything you learned about for this first time?

I read Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe, (a children’s version of that came out recently), also The Biggest Estate on Earth by Bill Gammage, both of these books talk about life and land use and land care before Australia was colonised. I was delighted to learn about all the methods of sustainably harvesting food: Fish nets that let the small fish through, and only killing large male kangaroos, and how the many peoples would travel to take advantage of seasonal harvests, like the protein-packed baked bogon moths.


The acknowledgments section mentions that you travelled as part of your research for The Dog Runner. How did this shape your work?

Yes, I received a travel grant from the Neilma Sidney Travel Fund. It was so good to visit the rail-trails and land the children travel across on their journey. Just to feel the heat and see the amazing colours of the dirt and study the plants other than grass that grow there, trying to imagine what that landscape would look like with even less vegetation. I also visited a mushroom tunnel, and a grassland regeneration project, and got to see sled dogs in action. Honestly, you think you know a little bit about a topic but when you visit people and talk to them, you learn so much more.


Ella and Emery travel across the land with the help of their dogs. Do you have any strong feelings about animals in children’s fiction? What is important when you write animal characters?

It’s easy to make animal characters too human, especially dogs who love to interact with humans, and one of these dogs is super smart, but I think it’s really important to show dogs being dogs. They have their needs and their limitations, they can supportive when the kids are down, or unpredictable and cause problems. Above all, the kids are ultimately responsible for the health and care of the dogs. They have to keep them safe and fed, and it’s a big responsibility in this book. Dogs are family, even when they’re naughty, and their needs can’t be ignored.


Ella’s Dad says that the people who survive extreme circumstances, such as a global food shortage, are the ones who learn to stand on their heads. Can you tell us a bit more about this idea?

He says when the world turns upside down the first ones to walk on their heads will survive. It’s a bit of an odd saying… but then he’s a dad, and we all know with Dadisms it’s the intent behind the saying that’s important. What he means is you have to be prepared to change immediately to suit the world you find yourself in. You can’t cling to your old ways and expect life to go back to normal. Survival is ultimately about being resourceful and thinking creatively about how to solve new problems. This is why it’s important to raise creative kids in an ever-changing world. Creativity may be the most important thing we can encourage in our kids, building, exploring, getting out in nature and just playing is super creative.


The book ends with a note of hope and makes references to seed banks. What could readers do now to care for the planet and support diverse food sources? 

 If you can source food that is produced without use of fertilisers and pesticides, buy this organically produced food as the land, insects and surrounding waterways are less damaged by natural processes, and you will encourage growth of this organic market. Eat what is grown locally and what is in season, learn some new recipes if you have to. If you eat meat, eat less red meat. Save beef for special occasions. Plant wildflowers, let grass grow long and have a few wild places for bugs, don’t spray weeds (dig them out by hand or put salt and boiling water on them if they’re in pavers) to keep the insects and bees healthy. Limit waste, especially plastic waste, and walk, cycle or take public transport more often.


Author Bio:

Bren MacDibble was raised on farms all over New Zealand, so is an expert about being a kid on the land. After 20 years in Melbourne, Bren recently sold everything, and now lives and works in a bus travelling around Australia. In 2018, How to Bee – her first novel for younger readers – won three major awards downunder and arrived in the UK. The Dog Runner, her second children’s novel, hits the shelves on 2nd May.




Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Awards 2019 · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Beyond The Fence by Maria Gulemetova [Shotlisted For The CILIP Kate Greenaway award]

Review: Beyond The Fence by Maria Gulemetova [Shotlisted For The CILIP Kate Greenaway award]


Piggy lives in a large house with Thomas. Thomas chooses the games. And what Piggy wears. And whether or not Piggy should go outdoors. This is the only world Piggy has ever known, until one day a wild pig appears in the garden and tells Piggy about the world beyond the fence. 

A gentle story about freedom and friendship, and what it looks like when friendship goes wrong. 

Toxic-friendship is a difficult subject to explain to young children, whose worlds are neatly divided into best friends, friends, nice people to play with and bullies. How do you explain that these aren’t character types? That someone who plays fun games and makes you feel special can also be controlling?

Story is a powerful thing and reading this would be a lovely way to introduce questions about why Piggy feels trapped in the big house where he appears to have everything. Is giving people nice things friendship? Why does Piggy feel free when he bounds away from Thomas and makes friends with the wild pig instead? By talking over the story, readers can learn to recognise controlling behaviour. 

Every word used in the story counts and the illustrations speak volumes. Thomas, with his greying pallor, is a less attractive friend than the wild pig. The house, although filled with luxuries, is a box-like space of straight lines. The doors are closed and we only see windows when Piggy is looking out at the wild spaces. Otherwise the rooms close him in. The hills, on the other hand, roll in every direction. They are painted in different brush strokes and different hues. 

Beyond The Fence is shortlisted for the CILIP Kate Greenaway Award. To me, it appears to be the quiet contender, up against big names from big publishing houses. Yet this is a story which matures with every reading. What looked like simple pictures the first time I picked it up now seem rich with detail. It isn’t a big and riotous story. It is a solid story told in a way which makes the reader pick up on big themes. I can see it lasting for years and being used to open discussions about friendship.

A winner by every count and story which stays in the mind. 

A story about toxic friendship which gets bigger and better with every nuance the reader picks up. 


Greeaway banner.png

The winner of the CILIP Kate Greenaway medal is announced on 18th June 2019. Learn more and keep up with news of the awards on the official website.


Thanks to Riot Communications and Child’s Play for my copy of Beyond The Fence. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Midnight At Moonstone by Lara Flecker

Review: Midnight At Moonstone by Lara Flecker



Kit grasped the banister for support. She felt dazed with shock because, down below, the hall was not empty and silent as it should have been; it was teeming with hundreds of historic costumes. The mannequins of the museum had come to life. 

(From Midnight At Moonstone by Lara Flecker. P79.)



Kit is supposed to pass the entrance exam to a prestigious school like her siblings did. Her Dad won’t accept any less. The trouble is, Kit’s already found and hidden the rejection letter. The one which refers to her as ‘mediocre’.

Fed up of revision and tuition sessions, Kit runs away to find her grandfather at Moonstone Costume Museum.

Bard (as her Grandfather agrees to be called) isn’t keen on visitors, especially family visitors. He still hasn’t recovered from the death of Kit’s Mum and the loss of his wife. The Museum, once a glorious visitor attraction, is falling into disrepair.

It also has a secret. When the clock strikes midnight, the mannequins come to life. Kit meets them all and befriends the child mannequin Fenella.

Refusing to let her new friends go on the scrapheap, Kit sets to work. But how can she save the museum unless Bard gets in on the action?



A feel-good story which is a most for all fans of the Green Knowe series. Every night at midnight, the mannequins at Moonstone come to life. Their characters represent the people who might have worn the costumes exhibited in the museum. Fenella, for example, is an aristocratic child from the eighteenth century. The most delightful thing about the book is I have seen some of the costumes which inspired the characters (including Fenella’s dress, which is exhibited in the Museum Of Childhood, a couple of miles from where I grew up).

The stakes are set out nicely and there is a chance, at any moment, that Kit could be taken away. With her grandfather unable to face the challenge, the museum will fall into the hands of a suitably vile property developer.  His determination to turn it into a conference centre beautifully demonstrates the challenge the arts face to survive in a culture with a narrow idea of productivity.

The theme of pressure will be familiar to children even if their siblings aren’t as impossibly talented as Kit’s. Even without entrance exams, children of ten or eleven will be familiar with the pressure to pick studying over playtime. In his drive to produce academically-exceptional children, Kit’s father overlooks and derides the talents his daughter does have – her creativity and dedication to her arts and her drive to get things done. The book reminds us that different talents are important and that however we measure up in one area says nothing about another.

On the surface, this is a gentle story about a magical museum and a feisty, determined heroine. Go deeper and you will find themes which are sadly relevant to our current society.

A beautiful story. I hope to see more from Lara Flecker.


Thanks to Oxford University Press for my gifted copy of Midnight At Moonstone. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Wilfred And Olbert’s Epic Prehistoric Adventure by Stephan Lomp

Wilfred And Olbert’s Epic Prehistoric Adventure by Stephan Lomp


A time machine takes Wilfred and Olbert back to the beginning of time. Through a series of portals, they travel through pre-history, starting with the Big Bang and ending with the frozen ice ages of the Quaternary period. During their adventures, they see how animals evolved and the environment changed across millions of years. 

A zany look at the prehistoric era which mixes puzzles, games and humour with an illustrated guide.

Fact file this isn’t. Information is, on the surface, kept a minimum with a short line of summary at the top of each double-page spread and name labels for the animal life in the pictures. The many speech bubbles are filled with jokes and follow Wilfred and Olbert’s adventure. 

Actually, the book is packed with information, but most of it is in the pictures and puzzles. Each spread is a great at-a-glance guide to the different ages. Did you know the dinosaurs had to contend with meteors? Or that corals were around right when the earliest life began? All of this information can be learned through the pictures. 

This would suit readers who enjoy reading pictures – really taking time to get information out of the illustrations. It is encouraging to see books which take a fun approach to non-fiction. We can learn in hundreds of different ways and books which encourage play and laughter are picked up many times by readers who might shy away from traditional fact-files. 

A double thumbs-up for Wilfred and Olbert. Looking forward to learning where their next adventures take them. 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Rumple Buttercup by Matthew Gray Gubler

Review: Rumple Buttercup by Matthew Gray Gubler


Rumple Buttercup is afraid to take part in the world because he doesn’t look like other people. Ashamed of his crooked teeth and weird feet and green skin, he hides away underground. Not wanting to be lonely, he makes a friend out of sweets and watches the world on special occasions. 

When a couple of boys come to find him on the day of a parade, Rumple learns that most people are insecure about some parts of themselves. 

A gentle and funny story about insecurity and self-confidence. 

I was moved by this story. It is the book I needed as a young teenager, even as a pre-teen when I stood out a little for my wild hair and braces and persistent acne. A few comments made me certain that the whole world was looking. Insecurity begins from the silliest of places but it can destroy people’s ability to function as normal. 

The saddest part is that those things we dislike about ourselves are rarely that noticeable. 

Rumple’s story is like the little message which lots of people need. I love that the book has been produced in small format because it would make a lovely gift for people to carry around when they need that reminder that they don’t stand out in a crowd. If you know somebody with self-confidence issues, or someone who has been affected too much by one comment, pass them a copy of this book. Suggesting that people need to pick themselves up, when they are feeling insecure about themselves already, only comes across as additional criticism, so give them a fictional friend and let them work the rest out for themselves. 

Sketchy, cartoonlike illustrations give the book the same feel as a series of motivational doodles. Humour in the pictures gently suggests that Rumple, with his underground hideaway and tin can chandelier, might have taken things too far. 

This is a beautiful story about self-confidence that people of all ages will relate to and embrace.


Thanks to Penguin Books UK for my copy of Rumple Buttercup. Opinions my own.

blog tour · Guest Post · Non-Fiction

Blog Tour: Ocean by Sabrina Weiss and Giulia De Amicis

Blog Tour: Ocean by Sabrina Weiss and Giulia De Amicis


About Ocean – Secrets Of The Deep. 

Have you ever wondered what lies beneath the ocean? 

With new technologies, scientists are learning more about the watery world every day. And what a world it is, with coral reefs and kelp forests and zones so deep that only four humans have ever explored them before. 

Written by science communicator Sabrina Weiss and illustrated with graphics from Giulia De Amicis, this volume is packed with facts and information about the oceans. 

As part of the blog tour to celebrate the book’s release, Sabrina Weiss has written a guest post about manatees, the stunning animals who inspired legends of mermaids.  

A huge thanks to Sabrina for your time. 




Swimming with the animals that inspired the mermaid myths

By Sabrina Weiss

I have always had a love for the marine world and learned to scuba dive at the age of 11. I have since travelled extensively across the world and dived in various places: from Mexico and Colombia, to Eastern Africa, the Red Sea, and Southeast Asia. But it was a recent trip to northern Florida that gave me a glimpse into the lives of one of the most elusive marine creatures.

During the winter months, large numbers of manatees gather in the Three Sisters Springs to relax and keep warm. The water in this lagoon is crystal clear so it was easy to float on the surface and watch them go about their daily lives. Some of the calves, which are born at an astonishing 30kg or so, are curious by nature and will often initiate playful interactions with snorkellers.


ocean pic1

Manatee in Three Sisters Springs, Florida © Sabrina Weiss


Manatees are the only vegetarian marine mammals (along with their cousins, the dugongs). They love to graze on fields of seagrass and algae. And they need lots of it to grow to 400 kg in weight. Their short, paddle-shaped flippers and horizontal tail fluke help them to power through the water, at a comparably slow 5-8 km per hour, although they can go faster in short bursts.

Manatees are sometimes called sea cows, but their closest relatives on land are actually the elephant and hyrax (a small rodent-like mammal). What is even more extraordinary about these slow, bulky animals is their history. On his voyage to what is now the Dominican Republic, the explorer Christopher Columbus supposedly saw three mermaids from his ship. In his journal, Columbus described the mythical creatures as ‘not half as beautiful as they are painted’, and historians believe that he actually mistook manatees for mermaids.


ocean pic 2

Manatee mother and calf in Three Sisters Springs, Florida © Sabrina Weiss


That was reason enough for us to include this amazing animal in our OCEAN: Secrets of the Deep book. As well as beautiful illustrations of mermaids and manatees, we tell the tale of the fearsome Kraken: a ferocious, tentacled beast that was believed to pull ships down to the murky depths of the seabed and devour the sailors on board. Young adventurers will also enjoy our map that explores the possible locations of the legendary lost civilisation of Atlantis. Scientists are still scouring the ocean floor, from the Mediterranean to the North Sea and even the Caribbean but are yet to find evidence of this peaceful utopia.

OCEAN: Secrets of the Deep by Sabrina Weiss, illustrated by Giulia De Amicis (£14.99, What on Earth Books)

Follow Sabrina on twitter @sabrinamweiss and Giulia @giulia_de_amicis

Find out more at


Thanks to Laura Smythe PR and What On Earth Books for my gifted copy of OCEAN: Secrets of the Deep. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Diver’s Daughter by Patrice Lawrence

Review: Diver’s Daughter by Patrice Lawrence

diver's daughter


‘You want me to go to an unknown place and seek out a guide to help me find hidden treasure? That’s not a plan. That’s a children’s tale.’

(From Diver’s Daughter by Patrice Lawrence. P35.) 



When Eve falls into the River Thames, she is rescued by her mother, possibly one of the only people in Tudor London who is a strong swimmer. This catches the attention of one George Symons, who asks them to go to Southampton and find the diver who salvaged treasure from the Mary Rose. There is another shipwreck nearby, and it’s contents might lift Eve and her mother out of poverty.

The reception they get in Southampton is cruel and places them in a debt they can’t pay. Eve is desperately afraid of water, but she knows that treasure below the surface is the only chance she and her mother have of escaping terrible punishment and accusation.

Will Eve and her mother ever be free to live a secure life?




 An extraordinary story which draws on the forgotten voices of the past. Patrice Lawrence’s tale started with the African divers who salvaged treasure from the Mary Rose (Henry VIII’s warship which sank in 1545). Set years after the event, Diver’s Daughter follows a child on a quest to find the surviving diver and improve her family circumstances.

Although slavery wasn’t legal in England at that point in history, and there were black people in British society, it was legal in other European countries and Englishmen could be involved if they operated from countries like where it was legal like Portugal. This meant that black people in England at the time, although protected by law, were not free from threat. Diver’s Daughter, set in Elizabethan London and Southampton, shows how this shadow overhang people’s lives.

Eve is a great protagonist. She has a strong voice and isn’t easily fooled by the people around her. She’ll also do anything to keep her mother afloat in a world which can be unbearably cruel.

The story doesn’t shy away from the less savoury parts of Tudor society – the tarred heads stuck on spikes and the women pinned to the pillory posts in the town centre. Threat of hunger and cold may look the same today as it did then, but the penalties for stealing food or failing to pay for shelter were higher. The darker parts of the narrative are balanced with friendship and determination and hope and a sense that Eve, whatever the odds, is a survivor.

A must for readers of historical fiction. I hope we’ll see more stories based on lesser-known characters from the past, and I would love to see some non-fiction on the same subject. Britain has been a diverse island for centuries and it is time our literature reflected it.


Thanks to Scholastic UK for my gifted copy of Diver’s Daughter. Opinions my own.


Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

When The Bees Buzzed Off by Lula Bell and Stephen Bennett

When The Bees Buzzed Off by Lula Bell and Stephen Bennett


Where have all the bees gone? The other insects search through the undergrowth, but they can’t find the bees anywhere. This is a terrible day for the garden. What will happen to the vegetables, flowers and supply of nice green leaves?

A lift-the-flap story which works in facts about environment change and pollination.

The threat facing our bees is tremendous, and the cost of losing them would be catastrophic, yet we don’t hear about it on a daily basis. We need to be worried, we need to act, and most of all we need to care about the consequences. This is a huge thing to say to very young readers but the story gently hints at what might happen if the bees had gone away for good while the other insects search to bring them back.

Following a happy but realistic ending, the insects work together to collect and plant wildflower seeds to bring the bees back to their garden.

The illustrations get close-up with the undergrowth. I love this insect’s-eye view of the garden, which reminds us to be curious about how much is really in an outdoor space and reminds the reader that humans aren’t the only ones who care about the garden. More alarming spreads of greying leaves and dying plants are mixed with colourful and happy habitats.

Flaps hide more creatures and creepy-crawlies. Young readers who enjoy the hunt through the book will be desperate to get outside and do it in the real world.

The journey through the undergrowth is a joy and the subject is treated with optimism and care.


Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my gifted copy of When The Bees Buzzed Off. Opinions my own.