Thursday, 21 December 2017

What is the Best Book you Have Ever Read?

I asked a class of 9 year olds to name the best book they ever read. This is what they said:





Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Blog Tour: Defender of the Ream: Dark Age by Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler

Today on Middle Grade Strikes Back we are pleased to host a stop on the Defender of the Realm: Dark Age blog tour

For those of you who are yet to start the series we have an extract of the the first chapter from the first book here you can read

Defender of the Realm: Dark Age by Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler published by Scholastic is out now.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Jackie Marchant's Five Favourite MG Books

We're really pleased to welcome Jackie Marchant, author of the hilarious Dougal Daley: It's Not My Fault to MG Strikes Back today to talk about her five favourite MG books.

My Five Favourite MG Books
By Jackie Marchant

Picking out five favourite books from my MG shelf at home is an impossible task – my bookshelves are my treasure-trove and I love every single one.   Plus all the books I’ve ever borrowed from the library – and I spend a lot of time there.  How do I pick five?   No choice but to close my eyes, run my fingers along my shelves and stop at five random moments.  I can’t wait to see what they come up with . . .

And here they are, in no particular order – and I can honestly say each one is a favourite of mine:

Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead.
There’s something about Georges (with a silent S) that I Iove.  He’s an ordinary kid playing ordinary kid spy games with a quirky kid from the flat upstairs.  But the way Rebecca Stead writes her characters brings them bouncing to life, allowing you to sink right into their stories.  Loved it.

Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson
One of my go-back-to comfort reads.  I love Eva Ibbotson’s style of writing, how she manages to be page-turningly exciting yet gentle with the reader at the same time.  Her books are for curling up with, for going on journeys with characters you grow to love.   This one takes orphan Maia from her familiar life in London and sends her to the Amazon to live with relatives she’s never heard of.  I love Maia’s optimism, even though you know things will not turn out well – yet it is Maia’s unfailing cheerfulness that not only keeps her going but saves the day. 

Holes by Louis Sachar
This is the writing tutor’s dream.  It has everything -  superb plot, characters that bounce off the page whether they are good or bad, writing so clean that not a word is wasted – an opening line that people quote as soon as you mention the title, the whole check-list of what makes a stand-out book. 

The Diamond of Drury Lane by Julia Golding
I love this book.  It’s late-eighteenths century setting is so well realised it’s like going back in time to run the cobbled alleyways with its heroine, Cat Royal.  What’s no to like about an orphan girl abandoned on the steps of the Theatre Royal in Covent Garden as a baby, who as maid-cum-mascot enjoys a life of exploring every nook and cranny of her unconventional home?  And the adventure she uncovers keeps those pages turning.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
This is what I call a book with a capital ‘B’.  It’s what reading is all about, a pleasure simply to hold – big, heavy, pages black-edged so that each one sits in its own frame.  Told in both gorgeous illustrations and text, this is a book you don’t just read, but experience.  It’s a book that has to be read in hardback, for the sheer weight of it, the pleasure of turning each thick page.  And on top of all that, there is the wonderful story it holds between its lovely covers.   

I, Dougal Daley, am dead! Ok I’m not actually dead. But if I’m not careful I soon will be.

 In this first book, football-loving Dougal Daley finds himself at risk from the mysterious creature living in the garden shed. Nobody believes him but as a precaution, he sets upon writing his will - rewarding those who help him and disinheriting those who get on his bad side. Meanwhile, as limbs and windows alike are broken by rogue footballs and unhinged canines, Dougal finds himself in all sorts of trouble. . .and NONE of it is his fault!

Information about the Book

Title: Dougal Daley: It’s Not My Fault
Author: Jackie Marchant
Illustrator: Loretta Shauer
Release Date: 4th April 2017
Genre: MG
Publisher: Wacky Bee Books
Format: Paperback

Author Information
Dougal Daley was inspired by a messy bedroom and a random question from my son about writing a will. Dougal Daley has been huge fun to write about – you wouldn’t believe the disasters that happen around him (none of which are his fault of course)! When I’m not writing I love doing school visits and creative writing workshops. I also take time away from the writing world looking after guide dogs while their owners are away.

Illustrator Information
I originally studied performing arts and have a degree in Dance Performance – well you never know when you need a quick pirouette! I also worked in practical conservation for a long time, and spent many years battling balsam, identifying lichen, and searching for creepy crawlies before I picked up my pencils and paints and began exploring illustrating and writing for children. In 2011 I won the Waterstone’s ‘Picture This’ competition and I now illlustrate full time. However I am still happiest noodling around for fossils and shells on the beach!

Tour Schedule

Monday 1st May

Tuesday 2nd May

Wednesday 3rd May

Thursday 4th May

Friday 5th May

Saturday 6th May

Sunday 7th May

Monday 8th May

Tuesday 9th May

Wednesday 10th May

Thursday 11th May

Friday 12th May

Saturday 13th May

Sunday 14th May

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Cover reveals: Defender of the Realm series by Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler

Today we are very excited to be hosting not one but two cover reveals celebrating the new edition of Defender of the Realm out in April and the new book Defender of the Realm: Dark Age out in June

First up we have the new cover for the new edition of Defender of the Realm (published 6th April)

Alfie thought he knew his destiny. He didn't know the half of it. Fourteen-year-old heir to the throne, Alfie, didn't expect to be King so soon. He DEFINITELY did not expect to be DEFENDER OF THE REALM, a legendary superhero, fighting a secret, centuries-long battle to protect the nation from monsters and super-villains. An ordinary girl, Hayley Hicks, finds herself fighting alongside Alfie in a desperate struggle to stop a fearsome new enemy, the Black Dragon.

and next we have the cover for Defender of The Realm: Dark Age (out on 1st June)

After the great battle at King Alfie’s coronation, the nation thinks it’s seen the last of the Black Dragon, and Alfie gets busy learning what it means to fill his father’s shoes. But when a band of undead Vikings appears, Alfie, Hayley and the rest of the Yeoman Warders fear that Professor Lock is back to finish what he’s started. For the epic battle that’s brewing, Alfie will need to enlist help from abroad, as well as from a mysterious new friend who seems to be watching over him…

Monday, 27 February 2017

#CoverKidsBooks – One Year On

One year ago, #CoverKidsBooks launched a campaign to get more media coverage for children's books.  We presented research that showed children's books were getting just 3% of all book review space in national newspapers, despite accounting for over 30% of the UK book market.

Since then, their market share has continued to grow.  Children's literature – by which we mean the entire range of books for young readers, from the youngest picture book to the oldest YA, including fiction, non-fiction and poetry – now accounts for 34% of all print books sold in the UK, according to The Bookseller.

What about media coverage?  One year on, has that grown too?

For our first #CoverKidsBooks blog, Imogen Russell Williams counted the number of reviews and column inches given to children's books in UK national newspapers in August 2015.  Isabel Popple and Naomi Burt have done the same for August 2016.  Here are their findings.

Weekend Newspapers, August 2016

All Book reviews
Children's Book Reviews
Percentage Children's Book Reviews
All Book Reviews (inches)
Children's Book Reviews (inches)
Percentage Children's Book Inches
Sunday Times
Sunday Telegraph
Sunday Express
Mail On Sunday
Sunday Mirror

For comparison, here is the bottom line of the August 2015 data; the full table can be seen in the original blog:


The good news is that children's books now account for 7.7% of all book reviews, an increase on 4.9% last year. 

The bad news is that they still receive only 3.2% of all book review space, virtually unchanged from 3.1% last year.


Children's books now account for 7.7% of all book reviews.  This is heartening given the shrinking number of book reviews as a whole.  Every newspaper we surveyed reviewed fewer books in 2016 than in 2015, and in every newspaper we surveyed, the column inches given to books as a whole shrank as well.  Many newspapers announced cuts to books staff and space, while The Independent and The Independent On Sunday ceased to exist at all as physical entities.  But while it is a step in the right direction, 7.7% remains a massive under-representation for over a field that accounts for 34% of the market.


#CoverKidsBooks wrote an open letter to national newspapers last year, printed in The Bookseller, calling on them to commit to covering at least one children's book a week.  Back in August 2015, only two newspapers averaged one children's book review a week or more, and only one actually published a children's book review every single week.

By August 2016, the numbers had doubled.  Four newspapers now averaged one children's book review a week or more (The Times, The Sunday Times, The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph), while two of them (The Times and The Daily Telegraph) had a dependable slot every single week.  These are very welcome developments, and the editors of those newspapers deserve great credit for them. 

It should also be said that The Observer has just changed its policy, introducing a new Children's Book Of The Week slot on January 29 2017 – another hugely welcome development that should encourage all who care about children's literature.  #CoverKidsBooks would like to thank and applaud The Observer New Review's editor Jane Ferguson, its literary editor Lisa O'Kelly, and its arts editor Sarah Donaldson, and we urge all remaining national newspapers who have yet to commit to covering at least one children's book a week to follow their example. 


Despite these improvements, children's books are still receiving the same proportion of space, getting just 3.2% of all book review column inches.  Children's book reviews remain shorter than other book reviews, which is why the figure for column inches is smaller than that for the number of reviews.  For example, look at The Guardian's figures across the two years:

All Book reviews
Children's Book reviews
Percentage Children's Book Reviews
All Book Reviews (inches)
Children's Book Reviews (inches)
Percentage Children's Book Inches

14 children's books were reviewed in August 2016, a huge increase from 4 in 2015 – yet the space devoted to children's books has actually shrunk from 58 inches in 2015 to 37.5 inches in 2016.  This is because The Guardian has moved from printing a long review every week to just one long review a month, along with a monthly roundup.  The roundup has greatly increased the range of children's books covered by The Guardian.  But 13 of the 14 books reviewed received a mention in the roundup, rather than a full review of their own.  

The Guardian's current policy means that no more than 12 children's books can receive a full review each year.  Only 12 children's books are considered worthy of the space and critical attention given to other kinds of books. 

The field of children's literature is going from strength to strength, constantly expanding in size and increasing in quality.  The bestseller lists are full of children's books, with Harry Potter & The Cursed Child topping the 2016 list. 

Meanwhile, in libraries, the PLR figures are dominated by children's books.  65% of the top 20 most borrowed authors are children's authors.  The success of the field is snowballing, as more and more new writers are attracted to it, as the Waterstones Children's Book Prize and Brandford Boase lists demonstrate each year. 

There is every indication that the field will continue to grow in commercial and cultural significance.  Philip Pullman has just announced that his long-awaited follow-up to His Dark Materials, The Book Of Dust, will publish its first volume this year.  James Daunt of Waterstones estimated that this book alone would have a 2% impact on Waterstones' entire revenues, worth around £8 million. 

As Pullman himself told #CoverKidsBooks, in our writers & illustrators blog:  "There ought to be a space in the mainstream media, in the book pages, for coverage of children's books.  It's important that the general reader sees children's books being discussed intelligently."

Books cannot be discussed intelligently without space.  3% of space for over 30% of the market is simply not enough.  There is of course a lot of excellent children's books coverage online.  But print coverage remains vital.  Huge numbers of newspaper-reading adults need to know about children's literature: parentsteachersbooksellers, librarians, and all the other buyers and recommenders of children's books, as well as adults who read them for their own enjoyment.   

So while we are encouraged by the progress we've seen in the last year, and while we understand that space for books coverage in print as a whole is shrinking, we would like to see newspapers give children's books a fairer proportion of whatever space there is.  

#CoverKidsBooks calls on all national newspapers to make a clear statement that children's books matter as much as any other books.  We urge them to give children's literature a proportion of space that reflects its significance as the most dynamic part of the publishing industry, and a vital part of the nation's cultural life.  

#CoverKidsBooks invites you to join in a public conversation about children's books.  Leave a comment, write a blog of your own, or tweet about it using the hashtag.  Tell us why children's books matter to you, and what you'd like to see the media do to #CoverKidsBooks! 

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Guest Post: Ally Kennen on what she loves about writing for children

We are big fans of Ally Kennen's here and can't wait to read The Everything Machine! We're excited to have her talking about what she loves about writing for children.

Do I love writing for children? Well, sometimes yes and sometimes absolutely not. On the ‘yes’ days the writing flows, the words tumble, I laugh at my genius jokes and amusing quips. Maybe it will distract some little soul somewhere. Maybe it will encourage a horde of naughty lads to go and read something richer afterwards, and then something else and then something else. Perhaps my wisdom and wit will entertain, guide, enlighten.. who knows?

On some of the ‘yes’ days I get to go visit schools and meet Actual Children. This is always humbling and makes me want to up my game. These kids are being exposed to my ramblings. I must sharpen up, make it for them, crack on with the story, don’t leave anyone out!

On other ‘Yes’ days I get to try out drafts of books on my own children. I have four of them. They’ve all had to endure first drafts and I am rewarded with their brutal X-Factor panel style judgements. But my eldest son is 9 and a half and DOES NOT WANT ME TO READ TO HIM ANYMORE (emojj’s of horror/terror etc) so I am sneakily writing a football book. He loves football and cannot resist a football story, so now I get to read to him again. AND I get to write a book with a guaranteed audience. (currently of one, but you never know)

Then there are the No days. When I’d rather scrub out the dustbin or clean the toilet than write another word. But I think this would be the case if I was writing for children or adults. Sometimes my brain doesn’t fire up, or it is clogged with too many distractions, or I am simply not inspired.

I don’t hold with the notion that writing for children is easier than writing for adults. There are plenty of glorious children’s books that are far richer and more elegant than any amount of books for adults. (and plenty that aren’t.. ha ha) We children’s authors also have to compete against a myriad of more immediate entertainments. How can we possibly make our stories more alluring than the latest must-have game, with all its addictive ploys and tricks? Maybe the children’s book is DYING! like stamp collecting and dissecting tadpoles for fun. (though book sales data seems to suggest otherwise, that lots of children still read hurrah hurrah)

And so my latest book (this is a Yes day now) is all about some kids who are utterly addicted to a computer game, MAZZO. But something arrives at their house which is even more compelling and fun.

It’s Russell, a state of the art, cutting edge, globally created, sentient 3D printer. It is The Everything Machine!

The Everything Machine by
Ally Kennen

Three kids let loose with a top-secret magical machine with a mind of it's own . . . What could possibly go wrong?

Olly, Stevie and Bird have just had a very special delivery. It's a machine that has a name, can speak and is able to print ANYTHING they want it to. How about a never-ending supply of sweets and a cool swimming pool in the shed, for starters?

But is getting everything you've ever wished for all it's cracked up to be?

Information about the Book

Title: The Everything Machine
Author: Ally Kennen
Release Date: 2nd February 2017
Genre: MG
Publisher: Scholastic UK
Format: Paperback

Author Information

Ally Kennen has been an archaeologist, museum guard and singer-songwriter. Her dark and thrilling teen novels have been nominated for over eleven literary awards. She lives in Somerset with her husband and four children.

Tour Schedule
(Banner Below)

Monday 13th February

Tuesday 14th February

Wednesday 15th February

Thursday 16th February

Friday 17th February

Saturday 18th February

Sunday 19th February