21st Century Dodos

If you are looking for something to read that is fun, well-researched and will have you shouting out at regular intervals “Oh my goodness, YES I remember that!” I can recommend nothing more highly than Steve Stack’s new book, 21st Century Dodos. I was lucky enough to read it recently and loved it so much I promptly followed @dodoflip (the twitter account which works VERY well with the iPad – more of which in the book – and gives extra shots of reminiscence) and joined in the conversation as well as telling all my friends about it.

But since I’m also lucky enough to be hosting Steve on his blog tour for the book, I’ll hand over to him!

Hi Steve!

Hello. The lovely Rebecca has invited me on to her blog today to tell you all about my new book, 21st Century Dodos. It is a collection of short, hopefully humorous, pieces about inanimate objects that we all grew up with that are now in danger of extinction. The perfect stocking filler for anyone over 30.

Want to know more? Well here is my son, Ethan, reading two entries from the book about Marathon bars and Opal Fruits.
21st Century Dodos: Marathons and Opal Fruits

Thanks so much, Steve! Now, what are you waiting for you? Off you go and buy it, from here!








Book Review: You Choose!

Pippa Goodhart & Nick SharrattDaniel’s nursery have a book loan scheme and we brought home our first book from this yesterday, chosen by Daniel; I presume based on the fabulously bright and cheerful cover.

It’s not a story book but it could keep a child entranced for hours. On every double page you have to choose what you would like to visit/wear/live in… the list goes on and on. The illustrations are absolutely amazing – incredibly detailed without being fussy or difficult for three year-old-eyes to discern and filled with friendly characters; even Dracula is a very friendly vampire! The choice on every page is vast and there are more every time you look; you certainly won’t see everything the first time through, or even the second.

Another thing I loved about the illustrations is how cleverly they’re done. Nick Sharratt has somehow made it normal for a pirate ship to be sailing past a space rocket or a poodle to be sitting next to a dragon, and the range of things covered in the book is excellent. There’s a double spread covering jobs that people do, my favourite one which is all sorts of food, one for children who love to dress up offering a variety of clothes…again, it just goes on forever. There are clothes, houses, food items etc from all sorts of cultures (even the undead…) giving opportunities to discuss other cultures.

This book is so versatile, it can be used in many different ways. I’ve been straight through it with Daniel, just choosing what he would like; we’ve also branched out to choose things for other members of the family; we’ve talked about what jobs his grandparents did, and what he would like to do. It’s a brilliant introduction to asking “What if…?” and thinking in timescales or tenses other than the present or immediate future. It’s a great springboard for the imagination as children can make lots of choices safely – Daniel has no problem with his imagination but I think that if a child is struggling in this area, this is a great way to encourage them to explore. There’s no right or wrong, they can make as many choices as they like, but there’s a guide to help them until they have the confidence to use their imagination on their own, in free play. It also introduces new vocabulary and new concepts without children ever realising it. If your child is a bit younger, don’t bother with the “What if..” use, it’s just a great first word and picture book. If you’re really confident, you could even use it as a primer into other languages. One use which I intend to explore soon is helping Daniel to make his forays into storytelling. He’s three and a half at the minute – I can see this being a favourite for years.

I have to return the book to school this week, but I’ll be straight onto Amazon to buy my own copy. And I can’t recommend it highly enough.

You Choose! – Nick Sharratt & Pippa Goodhart. ISBN 978-0552547086

Available from Amazon.co.uk here.


“When danger, passion and chance collide…”

So reads the strapline on this gripping novel from Nicola Morgan, and it sums up the book perfectly. The story of Jack, who lives his life by the flip of a coin, and Jess, who comes into his life, had me by the throat start to finish. Luckily I was actually being looked after following a night of illness so I had the perfect chance to sit and read without worrying about children or housework or anything else that would have so rudely taken me away from Jack and Jess’ story.

The pace is relentless, the main characters so perfectly drawn and the twists and turns of their lives so agonising that you can’t help but think “What if…” long after you’ve put the book down. It’s a Young Adult book, but really I think most adults would be equally as riveted by it, if not more so. Nicola makes you think about what the alternatives to your life could have been just by making one choice slightly differently, even the most seemingly trivial and irrelevant ones. I remember watching the film Sliding Doors eleven years ago with my new boyfriend, and I think that film had the same objective – what if one thing had happened differently, how would your life have gone? Wasted does this much more effectively and brutally and there are moments throughout that actually haunted me and replayed after I’d finished reading. As an adult reading this, I think Nicola’s writing had a much more poignant effect on me than if I’d read it as a young adult, ten years or more ago.

On a different note, Nicola also captures tiny details that really bring that atmosphere to life as well as the breakneck feeling you get when true love coincides with the end of your school life; it’s like one life ending as another begins and Nicola gets this so perfectly. I actually felt breathless at several points and very often was transported back to the start of my relationship with my now-husband which happened at the same point in my life. It’s really excellent writing.

Nicola has a non-fiction book coming out next June, called Write to be Published, and is running several workshops on this theme before then. I can’t recommend them highly enough, as this is so clearly someone who really knows what good writing is, and I’ll be doing my very hardest to get myself onto one! Check out Nicola’s blog or website for more details (this isn’t an official plug, I’m just genuinely that enthusiastic about this book!). Nicola’s blog, Help! I Need a Publisher! by the way, is one of my favourite blogs for writers. Unbeatable advice.

Here’s the Amazon listing for Wasted; it’s available in paperback and Kindle version. Go and buy it…or flip a coin and let chance decide.

Firebrand: An Interview With Seth MacGregor

I was over the moon to recently receive a copy of Firebrand, the first book in the Rebel Angels series by Gillian Philip. If you haven’t read this book, I can’t recommend it strongly enough. It’s an action-packed fantasy adventure that really had me gripped start to finish, and its fabulous anti-hero, Seth MacGregor, has kindly agreed to be interviewed here today! Eeek! Yes, you heard me. Seth (not Gillian – I’m hoping she’s busy getting the next books in the series ready for release as I can’t wait to read them), the bad boy faerie who fights too much, drinks too much and tweets about BBC dramas that just don’t get it right.

I don’t want to give too much away, but to give you a taste, the book starts with Seth about to shoot an arrow into his half-brother’s heart. He and Conal (his half-brother) are exiled from the land of Sithe behind the Veil to our own land – except it’s the sixteenth century, and witch-hunting is getting too popular for comfort. Firebrand gives one shocking turn after another in Seth’s story; but I have to say that although the story itself is high-paced, the plot gripping and the detail incredible, for me it’s the characters that make the book so memorable.

Gillian obviously knows her characters inside-out as they jump off the page into real, full-blooded life. In fact, I have heard that she was writing a different book entirely, set in our own time, when one of its characters demanded his own story be told instead, and I can certainly believe that of Seth. Even though he’s a brat on more than one occasion, my heart was bleeding for him right from the start and by the end of the first chapter I was completely in love with him. His relationships with his family and friends are complex and totally believable and add so much to the book’s impact and drive.

But enough of my waffle, let’s hear from the man, er, Sithe, himself.

Hi Seth! Welcome to My Little Notepad.

I love the relationship between you and Conal. But what would you really change about your brother if you could?

Good question. Apart from him being such a bossy git? Let me see. Make him second-born? That would have saved a lot of hassle… well, maybe not. He’s good at the older-brother thing, I’ve got to admit. Just one thing, then: he does have a hell of a temper.  One of those slow-burn, explosive tempers. It’ll get him in trouble one of these days. And let’s face it, trouble’s my department.

Is there anything from our world that you would take back to your dun? I mean, there was a distinct lack of chocolate as far as I could see…

Just between you and me, I do take stuff back (including chocolate. There’s a guy called Sulaire who’s crazy for it). And your whisky’s got an awful lot better over the centuries; I take that back with me now and again. Your clothes – they’re great, really beat the old days. The Boss shops for me; she picks out some nice things. Ah… and bits and pieces of technology. Sionnach’s addicted to his iPod Touch.

What’s the one activity you would really have liked to have done with your father?

What? Not bothered. I don’t think about it. Not ever. Why would I bother pining over that? Doesn’t concern me. Not one bit.

Bet you’re really glad we don’t burn witches anymore. Tell me one other thing about our world you would change.

You ask good questions, you know. I think your world is great. I prefer mine, but really there’s a lot to like about your world. I don’t hate it the way I used to. Things have got better in a lot of ways.

Tell you what: I’d switch off all the lights at night. Every single one. Then you could see the stars. And if everybody had to look at the stars every night, you’d realise what a big universe it is and what an amazing stroke of luck it is that you live on this gorgeous habitable planet in the middle of all that space dust, and you’d stop trying to wipe each other out. Mostly over superstition, I might add.

I mean, I know the Sithe do love a fight, but we’re not trying to achieve our own mass extinction in the shortest time, y’know? Well, except for one of us. But we won’t talk about her.

How do full-mortal girls compare to Sithe girls?

You’re all gorgeous. I love full-mortal girls. You’re different but you’re great, you know? Obviously, you don’t live nearly so long, but… look, how can I put this tactfully? You don’t involve so much commitment.

Wolves or water-horses?

That’s like asking me to choose between my children. (Though obviously that’s not a bad thing where I come from.) Let me put it this way: wolves for companionship. Water horses when you’re in a really tight corner with a Lammyr after you.

I’m very intrigued by the idea that Gillian was going to write a different book but you took over and demanded that this story came first. Were you this demanding while she was writing? And do you keep shouting at her when she’s writing other books?

You have to understand (which she doesn’t, by the way) that when I call her the Boss, it’s with a massive dose of sarcasm. Why wouldn’t she want to write my story? She should have started there in the first place. So me taking over, it was for her own good.

As for her other books – oh please. It does my head in. She insists on writing books that don’t involve me, but believe me, I bug her the whole time. Some guy called Nick Geddes tried to punch me, once. That was a great scrap. I think we called it a draw in the end.

Who do you think should play you in a movie of Firebrand? (ask Gillian what that is…)

I’ve asked her this. She says she was watching a movie called Stage Beauty when she first saw me clearly. The guy was called Billy Crudup. I find it really disturbing and annoying that he was wearing a frock at the time.

I don’t think you’re how most people would picture a faerie. Do you ever see yourself in sparkly tights and wings? Why do you think we got it so wrong?

See my answer above about the frock. Good grief. I don’t know why you got it wrong – maybe because we’re hard to see? So you reckoned we must have wings, be very small, yada yada… Maybe it was just too much Buckfast.

I do know that the Boss’s daughter had those wee gossamer things all over her room when she was smaller and it drove me nuts. Too bad she never woke up and saw the real tooth fairy when I was putting the pound coin under her pillow. Ha ha. That would have been fab.

I know Gillian has a book shortlisted for the Royal Mail Awards for Scottish Children’s Books (good luck with that, everything’s crossed!). What would you do to treat Gillian to celebrate Firebrand winning an award?

In that unlikely event, I think she should be treating me. But that aside, she’d probably be happy with a good movie and a fish supper down on the seafront. She’s very easily pleased, you know.

And she says to say thank you for the good wishes, by the way. And for keeping me out of trouble for an hour.


(Note from Gillian: Gods, he’s a bighead, Rebecca. I do apologise. I hope this is OK.)

I hope you all have a read of Firebrand. The Times recently called it the “best children’s fantasy novel of 2010” – I think I would call it one of the best fantasy novels I’ve ever read.

Follow Seth on Twitter at @sethmacgregor

Gillian’s website is at www.gillianphilip.com.She blogs with other children’s writers at http://awfullybigblogadventure.blogspot.com , at www.trappedbymonsters.com, and at http://crimereading.blogspot.com. She’s also on Twitter as @Gillian_Philip.

NB There should have been a picture of the book but I’m having trouble with WordPress. I’ll get one posted asap!

Book Review: Stick Man

This week’s book review is a book we got out of the library and now have to buy for our son as he fell instantly in love with it. Don’t forget to click here for Daniel’s own opinion!

Stick Man, written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler (who also brought us The Gruffalo), is a lovely book which reminds me of the books I used to enjoy as a child. The illustrations are delightful, with a range from small vignettes to full page pictures, in a traditional style. The main character, Stick Man, is totally brought to life and you wonder how he could be mistaken for anything other than Stick Man (read the book and this will make sense!) Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler

The writing is fabulous, rhythmical and musical in rhyming couplets that never jar or feel forced. There are a couple of refrains that are repeated throughout so very young children like my two year old join in before they’ve even finished the book once. I think this has a lot to do with why he took to it so quickly, and demanded it to be read again as soon as I’d finished. Actually, when I think about it, I don’t think he has let either my husband or myself read it only once since we took it out of the library!

Story-wise, the book has a lovely pace and momentum, building up to a tense climax that had both Daniel and his Daddy on the edge of their seats. If anyone is worried, though, there is a happy ending!

For the sake of balance, here are my only reservations about a fantastic picture book, and they are all minor niggles. Firstly, to get the most out of the book, I would recommend it for children not much younger than two or even two and a half. Younger children will enjoy the sounds but the story is quite long and may not hold their attention all the way through. On the other hand, older children will discover more and more nuances to the story as they mature and enjoy it even more. Secondly, Santa makes an appearance so depending on how strict you are about keeping Christmas things to Christmas time you might prefer to keep the book as a seasonal treat, but this really is a tiny issue. I think my biggest problem is with one of the rhymes, which doesn’t actually work with my northern English accent – scarf and laugh are put together which is fine except if you say, as we do, “scarf” and “laff”. But this is the only instance in the whole book of the rhyme not quite working, which is quite an achievement in a book of this length!

We will be buying a copy as soon as we return this to the library, as I’m fairly sure Daniel would be heartbroken if he couldn’t read it any more. If you fancy giving it a go, here‘s the Amazon UK link.

Remember, don’t just listen to me. Click here to get Daniel’s opinion of Stick Man.