Non-Fiction

Review: Rise Up by Amanda Li. Illustrated by Amy Blackwell.

Review: Rise Up by Amanda Li. Illustrated by Amy Blackwell.

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From pilots to musicians. Chess players to campaigners. Read the stories of children and young adults who have risen to the top of their field, and think about ways to learn from their stories. 

Books of inspirational stories have become popular in recent years. At times I wonder if the meaning of the word has been lost. In the media at least, the world inspirational is brought out without thought to what it truly means – that we can learn from these people. That before their names were known, they were ordinary people who put in extraordinary effort and dedication. 

Rise Up acknowledges this. Rather than reading like a list of impossibly heroic figures, it recognises the journeys each of its subjects took and suggests starting points for young readers who want to develop their own understanding of a particular field. 

The book features modern-day heroes like Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai alongside historical figures such as Frida Kahlo and Louis Braille. The subjects represent a vast range of talents and areas, and it is lovely to see artists and musicians alongside the usual public speakers and activists. What these subjects have in common is the sheer number of hours they have put into their passion. Recognising the hard work and skill of artists has never been more important because some politicians behave as if arts are only hobbies. 

The stories are told in a narrative, taking a moment in each subject’s life to represent their wider tale. After each story, activities and fact files encourage the reader to explore an area for themselves. This layout encourages dipping in and makes the book perfect to read in little windows of time. It would be perfect for a classroom or library display, as well as for readers who enjoy real-life tales. 

Amy Blackwell’s illustrations bring the tales to life. They are bold and full of energy, and exactly the sort of pictures which make a reader curious.

This book stands out because it is aware of its readers. People who read a book of inspiring stories want to feel they could make an impression too. Rise Up doesn’t pretend that doing so is easy, but it does suggest it is possible. It strikes exactly the right balance and will inspire lots of young people to find their own passions. 

 

Thanks to Buster Books for my gifted copy of Rise Up. Opinions my own.

 

Blogmas 2018 · christmas · Q & A · Q and A/Author Interview

Author Q&A: HS Norup – author of The Missing Barbegazi.

Author Q&A: HS Norup, author of The Missing Barbegazi, talks about mountains, fairytales and Christmas traditions.

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The moutains which inspired H S Norup’s writing 
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HS Norup 

The Missing Barbegazi is one of my middle-grade hits of 2018. It is the story of a friendship between a girl and a mythical, fairylike creature which lives in the mountains. The story is about family, friendship and trust and it is set in the days shortly after Christmas. If you are looking for a magical story to read in the build-up to Christmas, I can’t reccomend this enough. 

I was delighted when author HS Norup agreed to answer some questions about her work, about the snowy landscape which inspired her setting and about fairytales in general. It is a pleasure to share her answers. Thank you Helle for your time. 

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Q: Barbegazi are mythical creatures who come out at first snowfall but are rarely sighted by humans. Did you want to write about Barbegazi, or did these creatures fit into your story?

A: When I began writing THE MISSING BARBEGAZI, I had never heard of barbegazi. I wanted to tell the story of an eleven-year-old girl, Tessa, who was desperate to win a ski race. A story set entirely in the real world without any magic or mythical creatures. But I had not written more than one chapter before Tessa met a strange furry creature in the snow. After some research, I discovered that the creature Tessa had encountered was a barbegazi. And everything about them fit perfectly into the story.

 

Q: Aside from the Barbegazi, do you have any favourite stories set in snowy landscapes? What is it you love about these stories?

A: Snow is magical! I still get excited every winter when I see the first snowflakes floating down, and there’s nothing quite like waking up to a newborn glittering world after a night of snowfall. In a novel, the dangers of snow and cold weather immediately raises the stakes. A landscape covered in snow can become a character in its own right and influence the story through the opposition or help it gives the protagonist, as is the case in THE DARK IS RISING by Susan Cooper. Other favourite stories that are set in the snow includes: C.S. Lewis’s THE LION THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE, Philip Pullman’s NORTHERN LIGHTS, Sinéad O’Hart’s THE EYE OF THE NORTH, Vashti Hardy’s BRIGHTSTORM, Piers Torday’s THERE MAY BE A CASTLE, and Katherine Rundell’s THE WOLF WILDER.

 

Q: Mountains play a huge part in your story. Why did you choose this setting?

A: I love the mountains and find them immensely fascinating—perhaps because I grew up by the sea in a flat country. From afar, the mountains present this beautiful, serene panorama, but up close they are wild and unforgiving. Add snow, and the mountains become both more beautiful and more dangerous. I have a deep respect for these dangers, especially avalanches, and they played a role in the story even before I discovered the avalanche-surfing barbegazi.

 

Q: You write about a world which is very like ours, except for the magical creatures who live in the mountains. What drew you to magical realism and how do you think fantasy elements help us to tell a story?

A: I have always loved reading magical realism and low fantasy stories. The idea that there might be magical or otherworldly creatures around us is both enticing and scary. I can’t go for a walk in the forest without secretly looking for fairies and I’m still afraid of the dark—my imagination often runs wild. I think fantasy elements can help us create story worlds that are fresh and interesting. At the same time, the presence of fantasy elements signals to the reader that this is a pretend world, which they can safely explore along with the protagonist.

 

Q: Family plays a huge part in The Missing Barbegazi. Tell us a little about how the two main characters fit into their families.

A: Tessa and Gawion are tweens (although Gawion is 154 years old) and both are part of loving families, but with very different family structures. Tessa’s parents are divorced, but she and her mum lives in the same house as her grandmother (and until recently her grandfather) and near other relatives, so she has a wide family network around her. Gawion’s family lives in complete isolations, far from other barbegazi, so they are a very close-knit family, and Gawion’s twin sister is his only friend. It’s important for the plot that they are isolated, but it’s also a situation I know well and wanted to describe. Whenever we, as a family, have moved to a new country, we have experienced 6-12 months of being each other’s only friends, and, since we left Denmark a long time ago, we have not had any family network to depend on. All family structures have positive and negative sides, and it’s important to show diversity without judgement in children’s fiction.

 

Q: Your story is set in the days after Christmas – the days when the presents have been unwrapped and the crackers have been pulled. Was there a reason you set your story after Christmas, and not during the festivities?

A: There are a couple of reasons I didn’t include the Christmas festivities, but the main reason is that it would have distracted from the story I wanted to tell. Tessa’s grandfather died shortly before Christmas, and the family is grieving, so I can’t imagine their Christmas was a jolly affair. Also, for many of the locals in a skiing resort, the week between Christmas and New Year’s, is the busiest week of the whole year. Tessa’s mum and Uncle Harry were both working over Christmas, catering to the needs of guests instead of their own families, but I’m sure Aunt Annie took good care of Tessa, Felix and Oma.

 

Q: Fun: Favourite cracker joke? Best Christmas jumper?

A: We have neither Christmas cracker jokes nor jumpers in Denmark, so I can’t really answer these questions, but we have other fun traditions. We celebrate on Christmas Eve. For dessert we always have Risalamande, a kind of rice pudding with almond slivers and one whole almond. Whoever finds the whole almond receives a small gift, but the fun lies in hiding the almond if you have found it or pretending to have found it if you haven’t. After dinner and before opening presents, we all dance around the Christmas tree, singing first psalms then jolly songs, usually ending with the whole family chasing each other around the house.

 

Q: Which animal would you have on the front of a Christmas card?

A: Mountain goats! We sometimes see them in the snow, springing around the steepest mountain sides, defying gravity. They’re more interesting than reindeer and deserve to be on Christmas cards.

 

Many thanks to HS Norup for taking the time to answer my questions. The Missing Barbegazi is available from Pushkin Press.

Blogmas 2018 · christmas · craft · Guest Post

Craft: 3 simple festive crafts

 

Craft: 3 simple festive crafts – a collaboration with Lisa’s Notebook

There’s no better time for quick crafts than in the run-up to Christmas. Whether you’re looking to distract the children for half-an-hour, to make a last-minute gift or for a bit of time out, factor some craft time into your festive agenda. 

This post is a collaboration with Lisa from Lisa’s Notebook. I adore Lisa’s blog. With regular features about gardening, self-care and kid-friendly activities, there is something for everyone. Be sure to check out Lisa’s post and see how she got on with the same crafts.

We chose some crafts from Pinterest – collaborating was a lovely way to motivate each other to do the crafts, rather than just pinning them to our boards. It was also a great way of finding things we might not have picked ourselves. Our theme was ‘nature’ and I love how we interpreted this in different ways. 

The three crafts featured here are:

  • A pine-cone elf
  • Bird feeders
  • Star decorations made from twigs 

Check them out below, then have a look at Lisa’s post to see how her crafts came out. 

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Pinecone elf – 

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This was the first craft I picked. There are many examples over Pintest and by looking at these I decided I wanted to keep my elf simple, to add a jingle-bell to his hat and to have accessories in two colours. 

The fiddliest part was making the hat, but once I found a template it came together quickly enough. The result was very sweet and I think these would make lovely little gifts or table-favours. 

 

You will need:

  • Sheets of felt
  • One pinecone 
  • A wooden ball 
  • Jingle bells
  • A pen to draw on the face
  • A glue gun 

 

Instructions: 

  1. Cut out the hat. There is a great template here which shows you the shape to cut the felt. Stick the hat together using your glue gun and add a jingle bell at the top. 
  2. Cut out the feet and scarf.  
  3. Stick the hat to your wooden ball, then stick the head on to the pine cone. Add the feet and scarf. When everything is dry, draw on the face. 

 

Bird feeders – 

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You will need – 

  • Dry mix: Birdseed, currents, sultanas, oats 
  • Fat. I used vegetable fat. 
  • Cookie cutters laid out on a baking tray. You need open cookie cutters, not the ones with patterns in. 
  • Straws (Paper ones work just fine.) 

 

Instructions –

  1. Measure out your dry ingredients. I used a ratio of 2 parts dry ingredients to one part vegetable fat, so I used 500g of dry ingredients to 250g of vegetable fat. Mix your dry ingredients together in a bowl.
  2. Melt the fat in a saucepan. When it is ready, pour it in with the dry mixture and stir until all the fat is soaked up. This step should be done by an adult. 
  3. Distribute your mixture between the cookie cutters, patting it down with a spoon. 
  4. When you’ve filled your cookie cutters, stick a straw in each one near the top of the cutter. This will form a hole so you can hang up your bird-seed cake when it is set. Leave your bird-seed cakes to set. 
  5. When your bird-seed cake is solid, remove the cookie cutter, tie the string through the hole and hang it on a branch. 

 

Twig star decorations:

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Never again will I judge a craft by the picture on Pinterest. When I saw this, I thought it would make a nice, easy extra. Little did I know how difficult it would be. The tricky part was cutting twigs to equal length and laying them out in a five-pointed star. They move so much that it was like a game of pick-up sticks. I am pleased with my final result and would try this again. 

You will need –

  • Twigs (we picked up longer sticks and branches and cut them to equal length. This should be done by an adult.)
  • A glue gun
  • Raffia or any ribbon or thread to wrap around the centre. 

 

Instructions – 

  1. Cut the twigs to equal length and lay them out in the shape of a five-pointed star. This is easier said than done. My advice is to draw the star out on paper and not overthink the layout. See how it comes together. 
  2. Stick your star together. Before you get the glue-gun out, look at where your twigs overlap and make a plan. I started with the overlaps nearest the bottom and worked up. 
  3. When your star is dry, tie raffia on to the twigs and wrap it around the decoration. This is a very kid-friendly part and you could use all sorts of ribbons and spare bits of thread. 

 

Final thoughts – 

Thanks again to Lisa for joining me in this collaboration. Our nature theme got me outside looking for bits and pieces, and it was lovely to take time out of the busy Christmas schedule for some crafting time. 

Have you tried any of the above crafts? Do you have any favourite Christmas activities? Let me know in the comments below.