Non-Fiction

Review: The Beetle Collector’s Handbook by MG Leonard

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Review: The Beetle Collector’s Handbook by MG Leonard

You’ve read about beetles in the Beetle Boy trilogy. Now you can learn all about them in The Beetle Collector’s Handbook. Beautifully designed and illustrated, the book is packed with information, from how to set out on a search for beetles to facts about the different species. 

When hearing MG Leonard talk in October, I became aware of two things – beetles are more fascinating than I ever realised, and children are curious and interested in the world in a way which adults forget to be. The younger members of the audience that day demonstrated a wide knowledge of our world – the sort of facts which adults dismiss as ‘trivia’. There is so much to learn on any one subject, but children understand instinctively that this is a wonderful thing. 

The handbook would appeal to anybody with an insatiable appetite for fact. It is also a fascinating read – did you know that a wheat weevil can produce over six-thousand young a year? That Bombardier beetles can produce a toxic acid? This would be a brilliant book to start a life-long interest in entomology. 

img_7403In the series a book by this title is used by the main character. This editon is designed to look like the very same copy used by Darkus, complete with his notes scribbled in the margins. This format has a particular charm and will encourage children familiar with the fiction to explore the handbook. There are in-jokes and comments which make sense to readers of the trilogy, but these are not intrusive to anyone just looking to do some research. 

The illustrations and diagrams are not only appealing, they are a good size – there is nothing worse than a non-fiction book with tiny, black-and-white drawings. The pictures draw the reader in as much as the text. More than once I stopped on a page because I saw an illustration and wanted to know more. 

This book was nominated for the Blue Peter Award, and for good reason – it is an attractive guide which links to a loved and respected trilogy. Perfect for anyone who wants to learn more about beetles, who loves facts or for fans of the Beetle Boy trilogy. 

 

Thanks to Antonia Wilkinson and Scholastic UK for my copy of The Beetle Collector’s Handbook. Opinions my own.

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Chat · Monthly Wrap Up

Four things I learned in October

October. It has gone quickly, leaving the branches bare.

I travelled across the country to see a friend, blew out the candles on my birthday cake and edited, edited, edited my middle-grade manuscript. It is coming to six months since I began this work and the changes it has seen in that time are ginormous. There is no way to explain to someone who hasn’t written a story of this size how much it takes to make it even vaguely like those things you see on the bookshelf. 

This also marks the first full month of GrasmereBulletJournal – a blog about literature, bullet-journalling, and stationery. I began the blog in consultation with The Wordsworth Trust, who loved the idea of Dorothy Wordsworth as a bullet-journaller. I have translated parts of Dorothy Wordsworth’s journals into bullet-journal form, and this is the journal at the centre of the blog. The first month has given me new experiences – such as making a YouTube video – and put me in touch with wider networks. 

So begin the dark nights and the countdown to Christmas. Snuggle up, find time for yourself and decide what is really important to you rather than being swept along by the festive-tide. 

Let me know what you’ve been up to this month – I love hearing from my followers. 

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MG Leonard at the Guildford Book Festival

We’d be dead without dung beetles

Really. MG Leonard told me and she is the undisputed queen of beetles. 

It was a pleasure to get to an author talk with my friend Christina, especially because our long talks about children’s literature are a special part of our friendship. My visit to the South East coincided with the Guildford Book Festival, so we booked tickets to see M.G. Leonard. 

What a fabulously interesting morning. 

Leonard’s trilogy is about a group of children who befriend genetically-enhanced beetles and uncover the plot of fashionista and scientist Lucretia Cutter. One of Leonard’s early thoughts was that there were no books in which beetles were the heroes. We think of insect life as creepy and other, when in fact our planet wouldn’t be the same without beetles.

Take the dung beetle. By gathering rolling dung into balls, burying it underground and feeding on it, dung beetles take it away from the surface of the environment. Without them, there would be far more parasites, and large areas would be inhabitable. 

This is one of the true joys of children’s literature – it teaches us so many interesting things about our world. 

 

Lights, Camera, YouTube

I am camera-shy. Painfully so. A good picture emerges every six or eight years but mostly when I see a camera I stop acting naturally.

But you know what? I took part in a YouTube video

I filmed this with the team at The Wordsworth Trust, to promote the GrasmereBulletJournal blog and the bullet journalling station which we’ve created at the museum. The whole experience has been tremendous and the video explains everything I would have hoped.

New experiences are pivotal – they give us a taste of other disciplines and encourage us to think more widely about what we can do. I have learned so much about other social media over the past two years and have totally embraced content-creation. It was amazing to learn about creating for YouTube. 

 

How to make a hedgehog from an information booklet 

There has been lots of discussion on the Twittersphere about what should happen to old proofs. Several weeks ago I came to the conclusion that the proofs I didn’t want to keep were perfect for crafting. 

Following on from that, my friend and I checked into her local library for a session on paper folding. 

Without scissors, without anything other than folding, I turned an information booklet into a hedgehog. It certainly took patience – there were a lot of pages to fold and the action was the same every time – but it was a lovely craft for a Saturday morning. Two googly-eyes later and my hedgehog came to life. His name is Harold and he lives on my shelves. 

Papercrafting is a brilliant solution to the proof question – so brilliant that I hope to feature some posts in the run-up to Christmas. 

 

CS Lewis never considered the mental health of his characters

You’re eleven years old. World War Two is raging around you, so you’re sent to live with a total stranger. All that is traumatic enough. While playing with your siblings, you find yourself trapped in another world. A world which is also at war, and by the way, only you and your siblings can end that war. Although you solve the war, the door to your own world is shut, so the only option is to stay in that realm and grow into an adult.

Then suddenly you are eleven years old again. The Blitz is still very real. 

The characters in The Chronicles Of Narnia showed unswerving loyalty to this other world. Once a King or Queen in Narnia, always a King or Queen. The exception was Susan Pevensie, a character derided as shallow and vain.

This month I read  The Light Between Worlds, a book which takes up the same narrative through different characters, and considers the impact such an experience might really have on different people. Susan is vindicated as the one who was able to adjust back to her past reality. 

I will always love Narnia, but the questions posed by The Light Between Worlds are valid. I wonder whether CS Lewis imagined how this experience might affect his characters? The assumption that they would become good, loyal Narnians never considered the impact this would have on their other lives. 

 

What have you been up to this October? Let me know in the comments below.

 

 

Round-Up

Event round-up: Author MG Leonard at the Guildford Book Festival

Event round-up: Author MG Leonard at the Guildford Book Festival

mgleonardDid you know we would die without beetles? I didn’t either until I heard MG Leonard talking as part of the Guildford Book Festival. Dung beetles clear away the nasty stuff – the clue is in the name – which would otherwise litter our world and cause lots of diseases. Without dung beetles, we would be dead in weeks.

Way to captivate an audience – especially a young one. 

It was clear that MG Leonard had thought about how to keep her audience interested – and she spoke about how children as a general rule are more open to new facts and new ways of thinking than adults. Her event reminded me what it was like to be young, and to be in a state of near-constant exploration. 

I read Beetle Boy for the first time ahead of the event. I have meant to read it since its debut in 2016, but one way or another never got my hands on a copy. The story follows Darkus, whose father disappears in suspicious circumstances. As he investigates, he learns about genetically-modified beetles and a villain called Lucretia Cuter, who is as interested in high-fashion as she is in science. 

I read the book in one setting and chose the sequels for my birthday. I loved how, although it was the familiar and archetypal story of child-vs-big-bad-power, there was so much I hadn’t seen before. For one thing, the villain is not only a woman, she is also a mother, and her child aids our heroes. I can’t think of a single book where a woman with a family is the villain. Female villains are often shown to have chosen something wrong in over family. (Think of Nicole Kidman in Paddington, who totters around London in impossible heals and tight cat-suits.) Lucretia Cutter has both. 

During the talk, MG Leonard spoke about the inspiration for her story, and the pressure to be original. She struggled with many genres because she felt everything had been explored before. The thought which set her on the road to her story was that, although beetles have featured in stories, they are usually shown as monsters. As villains. 

It was lovely to hear a children’s author talk honestly about her writing history. Too often, it can seem that writers were just able to write a manuscript without any learning. MG Leonard spoke about being a child, and about how her ideas seemed to come faster than her writing. 

It is always a pleasure to hear authors talk about their work. There is no better way to gain an insight into the writing process and to add depth to our reading of a novel. Many thanks to MG Leonard for her time, and to the organisers of the Guildford Book Festival.