Q & A · Q and A/Author Interview

Q&A with Emma Read, Author of ‘Milton The Mighty’.

Q&A with Emma Read, Author of ‘Milton The Mighty’.

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About Milton The Mighty 

Milton is a little spider with a big problem. 

When a piece of viral internet content names Milton as a killer, his life is in danger. This is not helped by his house human’s phobia, nor with the arrival of Felicity Thrubwell and her plans to annihilate spider-kind. 

Helped by his eight-legged friends and young human friend Zoe, Milton begins a campaign to clear his name. 

Milton The Mighty is filled with humour, determination and creepy-crawly fun. My full review will be available on Monday 3rd June 2019, but suffice it to say I loved the book. A lot. The characters learn that even the smallest of us can make a big difference. It reminded me of the books which were my very favourite as a child. 

I was delighted when Emma Read agreed to take part in a Q&A. Her answers offer a wonderful insight into the inspiration for her story, and the ways in which it grew as she wrote. Thank you, Emma, for your time. 

 

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Q&A with author Emma Read:

 

You wrote about something you’re scared of. Why did you do that?

That is a very good question and one I asked myself a lot as I was researching spiders from behind a cushion! I was originally pondering unwanted fame, such as being misrepresented on social media, or in the press. Once I’d created the character of Milton I fell in love with him and felt compelled to tell his story, despite his leggy-ness!

 

Did your feelings change as you wrote?

They really did. The more I learned about spiders, their incredible skills and beauty, I grew to love them. They are vitally important to our ecosystems and, besides having an intrinsic right to exist, they have the potential to improve human lives too. They really are teeny super-heroes!

 

Milton’s trouble begins with a piece of viral web content. Milton and Zoe also use the internet to help with their campaign? Why did you decide to include the human web in a story about spiders?

Web puns aside (although they do come in handy!) I wanted to help young children begin to understand that the internet is a powerful tool which can be used for right or wrong, depending on the user. So there’s a cautionary tale in there, amongst the humour and action! Also, Milton and Zoe have a message to share and what better way to do that than making connections, just like a spider-web.

 

Felicity Thrubwell’s vendetta against spiders is partly the result of a bad childhood experience. How do you think bad experiences can shape our behaviours?

Experience is how we learn – in childhood it shapes our brain, influencing the adults we become. It’s a huge subject! Animal phobias are apparently common following a negative experience as a child, and do affect behaviour. As a full-blown arachnophobe I would check the room before going to sleep, and simply not sleep in a room where I had seen spider.

 

What are your favourite facts about spiders?

I have loads! But here are three which are pretty cool: Spiders have blue blood; spiders live in every habitat on earth, except Antarctica; the average web of a garden spider contains about 30 metres of silk – that’s as long as a blue whale!

 

I first heard about Milton when you were shortlisted for the Bath Children’s Novel Award. How much did the story change between that time and publication and what were the major changes?

The first change was that Chicken House wanted more – hurray! The heart of the story remains, but Milton now faces additional peril at the hands of dastardly pest-controller, Felicity Thrubwell, a mishap with some rather naughty (and a just little bit deadly) cousins and a Spider-calla-friendship-istic-expi-arachnid-ocious finale! The manuscript which shortlisted for BCNA grew with the help of my amazing editors, from around 13K, ending up at roughly 30K. So there’s a lot more fun and excitement (and running and screaming!)

 

Zoe is ridiculed when she stands up for what she believes in. Do you have any thoughts for people who have experienced the same thing?

This element of Zoe’s story was inspired by a young Canadian called Sophia Spencer, who was bullied at school for liking bugs. She went on to co-author a paper in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America after support for her went viral on social media. It can be so hard to be different, especially when you’re young – I know, I yielded to peer-pressure when I was a child and gave myself a phobia of spiders that lasted decades. But what I say to my kids is: ‘If someone wants you to change you to suit them, and it feels wrong, then it probably is. Speak your own truth – whether you do it loudly or quietly, is up to you’.

 

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Board Book

Review: Hello House and Hello Garage by Nicola Slater

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Review: Hello House and Hello Garage by Nicola Slater

Ludo is looking for some friends to play with. 

As he travels around the neighborhood, Ludo looks into similar places. In one book he looks into houses. In another he looks into garages. This offers the reader some lift-the-flap fun as they peek inside different buildings and vehicles. Who is inside? What are they up to? 

A bright and cheerful series which introduces young readers to the different things they might find in the local area. 

Tiny people are insatiably curious. What might be a five-minute walk for an adult can drag out into fifty – and that’s not just about the footsteps. Time must be factored in to read street signs and admire insects and wave to passersby. Do you remember being small? Every walk was a learning journey and things which adults took for granted were endlessly fascinating. 

These beautiful books allow readers to explore and to talk about the amazing things they see around them. Background details such as bridges and ponds, cars with open bonnets and cars being hosed down will all provide talking points. These differences are all talking points to people who are seeing them for the first time. What on earth is happening to that car? Why does that bridge look different from the one I’ve seen? The books are not overloaded with details but everyone is thought through as if the designers have seen the world through a toddler’s eye. 

The cast of animal friends will be popular with fans of Peppa Pig and Hello Duggee. Donkeys work alongside rabbits. One of the houses is home to a range of woodland creatures. It is a thriving and pretty world and the characters all look friendly. 

The colour palette is a refreshing mix of natural colours, bright colours, and pastels. While the backgrounds are in a sugary blue, there are plenty of natural details which prevent this from becoming overly sweet. This will make the series more popular with adult readers. 

A gentle series which has resisted becoming sickly sweet. These books offer an introduction to different buildings and places via a lift-the-flap adventure. 

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow for my gifted books. Opinions my own.

Early Reader Reviews · Picture Books · Young Middle Grade

Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown and Rob Biddulph

Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown and Rob Biddulph

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Flat Stanley is back, and this time he is in picture book format.

When a pinboard falls on Stanley, it squashes him flat. Flat as a pancake. Changing shape has advantages and disadvantages. Stanley’s brother can fly him like a kite, but Stanley also gets stuck up a tree.

When the local museum reports trouble with sneak thieves, Stanley comes up with a cunning plan to help. A plan which only someone who is flat can enact.

A humorous adventure from the author of the original Flat Stanley titles. This is a very similar story to one in the original book, but the words have changed to bring it to a new audience.

img_9403Changing shape and doing things which nobody else can is a big dream at a certain age. The Flat Stanley stories play on this to great effect, but they also explore the downside of feeling different. Stanley faces physical obstacles and he is also on the receiving ends of unkind comments and thoughtless behaviour from other people. This more than anything makes him wish to be the same as everybody else.

Stanley is lucky to have a big brother, Arthur, who is always there to help him. The sibling relationship in this story is as memorable as that in the Horrid Henry series. It is difficult to imagine Stanley without Arthur.

Rob Biddulph’s illustrations have brought the stories to life. Both in the picture book and the new collection of the Flat Stanley stories, Biddulph’s work adds energy and freshness which was missing before. Given that the stories are over 50 years old, it makes sense for the illustrations to be updated for the current generation.

Seeing the same brand in different formats is an encouraging new trend in children’s fiction. There is nothing more powerful at an early age than a familiar character. Think how small children are drawn like magnets to their favourite television characters. (For me it was Postman Pat. Everyone can name theirs.) Transitioning to chapter books can feel like a big jump, but knowing the character already takes away part of the work and makes it feel more like an adventure. For a great post about picture book/early reader pairings see this post by mother of small children and blogger Lilyfae. 

A bright and beautiful new edition of an old classic which will be a hit with a new generation. 

 

Thanks to Egmont UK LTD for my gifted books. Opinions my own.

 

 

 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Tide by Clare Helen Walsh and Ashling Lindsay

Review: The Tide by Clare Helen Walsh and Ashling Lindsay

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Sometimes Grandad forgets things. Like what the sandwiches are for or who he is with. His memories are like the tide. Sometimes they are far away and distant. Other times they come crashing in.

Grandad still loves everybody just as much. And when the tide is in, everyone celebrates.

A beautiful and reflective story about observing the changes in a loved one with dementia.

Dementia is an unforgiving condition and there is currently no cure. Watching a loved one change and struggle is equally unforgiving. The suffer’s behaviour might seem perplexing, and correcting someone with dementia when they are certain of a fact is futile. Even for a small child who isn’t in a caring role, this can be frustrating. The Tide acknowledges this, yet also shows a protagonist move from bewilderment and fear into a state of acceptance.

Grandad loves everybody just as much as he always did. His memories just happen to ebb and flow, and he behaves differently at times. 

The tone of this story is beautiful. As someone who has seen dementia in the family, I know how frustrating it is when people get too upbeat. The book gently explores what might change and what remains the same, and how the good moments become more precious. It doesn’t suggest that the changes are good, only that the love between everyone concerned remains the same. And that there will be good times. 

A gentle colour-pallette is broken up with bright details. These stand out in the pale pictures like the brighter moments in the story. There is a poignant picture where the protagonist stands alone against a blank background. She looks tiny in a double-page spread of nothingness. The text explores her fear the everything about Granddad is going. A later spread shows herself and Granddad dancing in the waves, like an answer to the first spread. The tide will come in again. And then everything will feel brighter for a while. 

An outstanding story which not only teaches the reader about dementia but encourages them to empathise with both the sufferer and their loved ones. This is the best picture book about dementia I have seen and I highly recommend it to everyone. 

 

Thanks to Little Tiger UK for my gifted copy of The Tide. Opinions my own.

 

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Longest Night Of Charlie Noon by Christopher Edge

Review: The Longest Night Of Charlie Noon by Christopher Edge

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Extract:

‘Old Crony lives in the woods. Deep in the heart of the woods. He’s been there for years. He’ll be the one that’s left the message, not some stupid spy.’ 

Beneath the dark line of his close-cropped hair, Johnny’s eyes stare with a strange fascination.

‘Old Crony eats children, you know.’ 

(The Longest Night Of Charlie Noon by Christoper Edge. P13.) 

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Synopsis: 

There could be anything in the woods. Even Old Crony, the legendary monster. They say he eats children. Charlie, Dizzy and Johnny set out in search of the truth.

First the trio get lost among the trees. Then they get lost in time. Faced with puzzles and questions and all kinds of revelations, Charlie fears they will never leave.

What if they remain lost?

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Review:

An intelligent middle-grade novel which demands a second reading. It begins with three children who get lost on the trail of a legendary figure. Events get stranger, puzzles deeper and the children are forced to question where they stand in time. And whether time exists at all.

The mystery of Old Crony builds tension throughout the story. Are the children in danger of being eaten? What kind of creature is it that lives in the woods?

As the puzzles are solved, the characters are faced with big questions. What is time? Are we ever in one moment?  

Science and Philosophy aside, this is a great story. It has a strong cast of characters – friends and frenemies. The fact that Johnny doesn’t begin the story as one of the gang makes it stronger, both at points of conflict and when they all manage to work together.

The reader, like Johnny, is forced to face their own prejudices as information about the characters is spelt out. Details we didn’t know are made clear. Reviewers often talk about these moments as big character revelations but we need to think a little deeper. Have we learned anything new? Or have we learned plenty about the character, about the person’s traits and interests, already? What difference does this new information make?

This is not only a story about time. It is also about nature. The two are inextricably intertwined, especially at this moment when our world is facing a climate crisis. Time (as the old riddle goes) eats men, women, children, animals and trees … and this time it might not only take individuals away. It might take every species. Towards the end of the story, our protagonist Charlie asks the question which must plague today’s children: what can I do when I am so young? The answer is encouraging and powerful. ‘You will change the world. All you need is time.’

A book which proves that stories for children can be both gentle and intelligent.

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow Books and Clare Hall-Craggs for my gifted copy of the book. Opinions my own.

 

 

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Brave Molly by Brooke Boynton-Hughes

Review: Brave Molly by Brooke Boynton-Hughes

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Every time  Molly tries to go outdoors, her fear-monsters appear. 

They follow her down the pavement and prevent her from having conversations with new people. They crowd her and surround her and multiply no matter how far she runs. Eventually, Molly realises that if she ever wants to join in with other children, she will have to face her fears down. 

A beautiful wordless picture book about social anxiety.

The thing about social anxiety is that, on the surface, it can look like nothing is wrong. Like the person in question is being rude, or like they shun the company of other people. The truth is that the experience is intense. The fear that you won’t be liked, that other pepole are laughing at you, and that you’ve done everything the wrong way is a tremendous thing to deal with and it multiples inside you just like Molly’s monsters. 

The trouble is, walking away from social situations doesn’t defeat it. 

The story begins with Molly indoors. She is a happy, creative and intelligent girl whose love of art and reading can be seen around her bedroom. The trouble isn’t that she likes to spend time alone – and this is an important point because sometimes it feels as if society views social pastimes as superior to lone ones. The trouble is that when she wants to socialise, her fears stop her from making friends. I liked how the opening scene shows us how much Molly has to offer. A person skulking away may not look, at first glance, like the obvious friend, but make that little bit of effort and they might turn out to be interesting and kind. 

Molly’s monsters are dark shadows which hang over her. The way they darken any social situation and hound her away from other people is extremely evocative. 

As well as encouraging people to face down their fears and recognise their worries, this book will help others to empathise with people who have social anxiety. The wordless format is brilliant because it encourages the reader to ask what is going on and to take time to read the visual clues which we so often miss out on in the rush of real life. 

A wonderful and relatable book about social anxiety. 

 

Thanks to Abrams & Chronicle Books for my gifted copy. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: William Bee’s Wonderful World Of Trains And Boats And Planes

Review: William Bee’s Wonderful World Of Trains And Boats And Planes

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William Bee loves trains and boats and planes. He has a massive collection of engineering marvels from across time and he likes to play with them all. Join him as he travels through his collection, laying tracks and flying rescue planes and blasting off into space. 

A joyful celebration of vehicles. 

The illustrations in this story are a visual feast. The colour pallette and detailed drawings remind me of the Haynes instruction manuals which are instantly recognisable as a brand. Although they are vibrantly coloured and full of little quirks which will delight small readers (such as the smiling traffic-cones) the illustrations fully respect how even the very youngest of children can be hungry to know how something works.

The language, too, is challenging and never once underestimates its readers. It talks about gravity, about streamlined design and cylinders and pistons and supercharged engines. It takes readers who have fallen in love with vehicles straight to the heart of their design. 

With shelves and television programmes filled with talking trains and animal pilots and imaginary trips to space, it is refreshing to see a book which shows that vehicles are designed and built to fulfill a purpose. This simple understanding is the first step to an interest in engineering, and it can’t come too early in life. Playful vehicles have their place but it is great to see a book which acknowledges that some children take their trains seriously. 

William is the only human in the story. He is helped along the way by animals and walking, living traffic cones. This style will be appealing to children who enjoy their own company. My one thought is that it would be great to see some titles in the series lead by a girl. With uptake of STEM subjects far lower among girls, it is pivotal that all children see these subjects as something they might play a role in from an early age. That’s not a criticism of the book as it stands – I firmly think it is important to show people enjoying solitary activities as well as social ones – but I would love to see a girl in the series.  

A wonderful book which will make readers of all ages curious to learn more about vehicles and engines. 

 

Thanks to Pavilion Books and Catherine Ward PR for my gifted copy of William Bee’s Wonderful World Of Trains And Boats And Planes. Opinions my own.