City of Rust – Gemma Fowler

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My wife always takes the micky out of me because I used to say that I wasn’t a fan of Science-Fiction. It only took her about 3 films and 2 books for me to admit that I had no idea that I was a massive sci-fi fan! Since then, I’ve lapped up any great sci-fi books and eagerly anticipated any new releases. When I saw the cover of ‘City of Rust’ I knew that it was love at first sight and this was the book for me!

Everyone loves a comparison, so I’ll try to claim that Gemma Fowler’s City of Rust is Wall-ee meets Mortal Engines! The futuristic warnings of looking after our planet and cool spaceships from Wall-ee and the gritty excitement and machines from Mortal Engines.

We first meet our female lead, Railey (Hopefully not named after the Essex town…) as she is battling in the drone racing championships. I picture this as an epic movie sequence to kick off a film! Then we meet her secret weapon… Her bio-robotic gecko, Atti!

The race is interrupted by an ominous man who chases Railey, Atti and her kick ass Grandma. Fearing for her life and saying goodbye to her Grandma, Railey must go on an adventure to find out what on Earth is going on! But the real danger is not on Earth. A trashbomb (lots of junk in the atmosphere that has combined and about to fall to earth) is due to cause devastation to all those on the ground. Can Railey and Atti come up with a plan to save Earth? Well of course they’re going to need a bit of help from some new friends and a daring plan!

This book is exciting and will have you wrapped in its tale (tempted to do a gecko tail joke there but I’m running out of steam!). It will help to convert those that claim they hate reading – I fail to see how anyone can’t love this story!

Stick it on the shelf in a UKS2 classroom and watch it get passed around and enjoyed by all!

Thanks to Chicken House, Laura Smyth and Gemma Fowler for the review copy.

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Customisable Tube Maps

When I first made the R4P Tube Maps they were for our school library. The school librarian and I chose books from our library that fitted each line. The ones that I shared we’re not the same (they included books that our library didn’t have).

A self criticism of my maps is that they will contain many books that your classrooms etc don’t have. This renders many of the recommendations useless…

Therefore I have decided to share the blank maps so that people can adapt them for the books in their classroom…

As always, I share things for free.

But a charity donation (foodbank) or a book for my children/classroom are a bonus if you want to…

Q & A with James Cambell – Boy Face


What’s Your Favourite Thing About Writing?

My favourite thing about writing is that when I have silly ideas – that’s my job. Most people have to keep their silly ideas to themselves but for me, that’s what I get paid for.

What Are Your Top Ten Tips For Writers?

I don’t do tips. Everyone seems to be looking for a hack. There are no short-cuts with this. You have to spend a lot of time writing. The closest I have found to a hack is editing. Editing is the biggest way to improve your writing.

Will There Be Any More Boyface Books?

A few years ago we put on a production of Boyface and the Christmas Jumper at the Apex in Bury St Edmunds. I think this would make an excellent story for the fifth book. So let’s see!

Where Do You Do Your Writing?

All over place. I do a lot of my writing in an off-grid caravan in the corner of a field. But I love writing on trains and in cafes. I can write anywhere really.

How Old Were You When You Started Writing?

I was seven when I decided I was a writer.

Where Do You Get Your Ideas From?

I don’t know where they come from. The sky? Buddha? Heaven? Intergalactic Mermaids? What I do know, however, is that the more ideas you have, the better your ideas will be. So practice having ideas.

Schools can register interest via

Key Player – Kelly Yang

It is difficult to try and share how fantastic a book is when it is the fourth in a series. Those that have read the first books will know just what a phenomenal writer Kelly is and they’ll already be in love with Mia and her gang. So I guess my job here to to just give a glimpse into this brilliant book that is enough to tempt new and old readers into the series…

Front Desk is the first book in the series which follows Mia and her family as the emigrate to America – but things aren’t as amazing as they hoped… Mia’s family wind up running a motel for a horrid, unjust man and Mia and her friends must find a way to achieve the justice that they deserve.

In Key Player, the first thing to note is that this time Mia is swept up in World Cup fever and she’s desperately searching for a way to interview some of the participants (which is proving to be a lot harder than she thought). There are obviously very close links to many of our own fans who will be loving women’s football after the Lionesses victory this summer – The front cover could/should be enough to coax in a few readers!

Mia is a superb character (and role model) who has a strong sense of what is right and what is wrong. Her morals are tested when Mr Yao (the horrible, horrible man from the first book) is back to the motel as co-owner. Jason (Mr Yao’s son) believes that he is changed and deserves a second chance… Can Mia trust him?

Obviously, the point of this blog tour is to get you to want to read this book, but you really must read the entire series!

Massive thanks to Knights Of and EdPR for the advance copy

6 to get you started

Sometimes starting a class library can be tricky. There are hundreds of amazing books and recommendations out there. But with money limited sometimes it can be hard to decide where to start…

That is why I created ‘6 to get you started’. 6 brilliant books that will help you be September ready in your new classroom!

As always, my resources are free to download

but if you want to show your gratitude you can do it in one of three ways

  1. Put all the change in your pocket into the next charity pot you see…
  2. Add something extra to your shopping list and give it to your local food bank.
  3. Buy a book for my kids/my class

Major and Mynah – Karen Owen

As a hearing aid wearer, I’m always happy to see more representation in children’s books. Major and Mynah by Karen Owen is the latest to feature a character with hearing aids.

I have written about my experiences with my own hearing aids –

Here Karen explains her own relationship with her own hearing aids.

Guest Post – Karen Owen

I spend my days living in my imagination. Depending on what my current writing project is, I could be trying to survive a hurricane on a remote Caribbean island, or walking in the footsteps of historical figures at the Tower of London, or pretending to be a high-tech robot. This is my grown-up world and I love that it’s my career. I love the world of story, whether it be creating my own or reading other authors. Like many readers, it’s my way of discovering and understanding the world that we live in.

            As a child, my imagination was my means of escape. I was born with a cleft palate and mixed hearing loss which caused speech and language issues. I underwent a number of surgeries and at various times I had to miss out on things for fear of infection or ruining my recovery. Instead, I had to watch from the sidelines while my friends enjoyed swimming lessons. I was only allowed in for a few minutes to have a careful paddle once my classmates had got out. So I used to sit there in a huff and imagine I had a superpower, an ability to hear something that no-one else could. It was the spark for the idea that years later became Major and Mynah.

Major and Mynah is about two best friends and their secret detective club. There is Grace, who’s good at numbers and code-solving, and there’s Callie, whose skill is remembering interesting words and keeping secrets. Callie has recently been diagnosed with hearing loss and needs to wear hearing aids – something she really doesn’t want to do. But when she does, something very special and unexpected happens.

            I have a love-hate relationship with my hearing aids. Having chatted with fellow users, I know each person’s experience is unique. Some have no issues at all, while others find the transition – and continued use – far more tricky. I love that my hearing aids open up a clearer hearing-world for me. Noises become more defined, words are clearer, and it’s easier to pick up nuances in speech. But, frankly, I hate them too: the way they feel, for starters. My ears aren’t particularly fond of them either and try their best to reject them. It took many months for me to become accustomed to them and get the most out of them. That was the world I wanted to present with Callie as well; it’s why she calls her hearing aids the Slugs.

In Major and Mynah, we follow Callie’s first day at school wearing them. On her journey there, everything sounds very noisy: a dog barks as loud as a lion, a letterbox snaps shut like the jaws of a crocodile and a lorry growls like a hungry dragon. In the playground, the football bounces on the ground like a stomping giant. She accidentally covers up the microphone on the hearing aid which causes feedback and uncomfortable interest from one of her more ignorant classmates. Later, she gets such a bad headache that it feels like a tyrannosaurus rex has taken up residence and is break-dancing in her head. 

But I wanted to give Callie’s hearing aids a positive slant so I gave them a key role in the plot. They have a magic quality which allows her to communicate with Bo, a stray mynah bird. Bo joins Callie and Grace’s secret detective club as the ‘spy in the sky’ and they solve the crime and save the day.

I write the stories I wanted to read when I was younger. I never found a story like mine, where the main character has hearing loss but it’s not the focal point of the drama. So, mostly, I wrote Major and Mynah for the child inside me. My hearing loss – and Callie’s – is not THE story. It’s simply part of who we are.

Major and Mynah by Karen Owen is out now and published by Firefly Press.

Follow Karen on Twitter 

Riddle of the Sea – Jonne Kramer,

Jonne Kramer, freshly out of university, decided to send a couple of her short stories to a young publisher to get her attention. Only a few days later, she started writing her adventurous and exciting debut children’s novel: The riddle of the sea*.

Jonne came up with the idea for the story while she studied Creative Writing at the University of Westminster. It was going to be about a cursed ship, a quest for a lost father with just a tiny bit of magic. When she came into contact with the Dutch publishing house Billy Bones and told them about the idea, there was an immediate match. Months later, it was in stores all over The Netherlands.

The gorgeous cover illustration by Karl James Mountford made it easy for bookshop owners to fall in love with the book right away and they made a great name for it. They called it “an enchanting sea tale” and said that “if the book would have been out when I was a child myself, it would’ve definitely been one of my favourites”.

Het Parool, a renowned Dutch newspaper, wrote in their recommendation: “Jonne Kramer describes the most loving bond between two boys in a children’s book I have read in a while.”

Another bookshop owner reviewed The riddle of the sea on national radio NPO Radio 4 and said “it is exactly what you want if you’re looking for a fun and exciting children’s book. […] All the ingredients are there.”

Photo:Nikolai van Nunen

Soon, the book was read and loved by many children. In 2020, it got nominated for the Hotze de Roosprijs, the Dutch prize for best children’s book debut, and for the Kinderjuryprijs, a national prize where children decide what’s the best book of the year.

The riddle of the sea’s success didn’t go unnoticed. The remarkable cover and the story with a subtle romance between two boys caught the attention of Bonnier Books UK. They acquired the rights to translate it into English and let the press know: “We are delighted to have acquired World English Rights in Jonne Kramer’s wonderful debut. We already work with Karl Mountford […] and so were immediately drawn to his stunning artwork in Het raadsel van de zee. And Jonne’s text is just as special, with warm and convincing relationships – and a page-turning pirate adventure story. We can’t wait to publish.”

This week, the English translation is finally out and available in all book stores in the UK. Go get yourself a copy and set sail!  

*Original Dutch title: Het raadsel van de zee.


Mini Review

If your children are anything like mine, they will adore this book!

They both love sitting down with a sticker book but also can’t resist a good story. The Superquesters combine both of these things with ADDED STEM LEARNING! I found mine revisiting the book over and over again. Either together and laughing at/reenacting Lili, Bea and Leo’s adventures or quietly in their room. Can your child help them track down Lord Grumble and his Snapettes and return the stolen sun

This really is a must for any active STEM loving child. Even if for some strange reason, they’re not a STEM loving child, they will be after this!

Benjamin Dean – The Secret Sunshine Project

I’ve heard The Secret Sunshine Project referred to as ‘sweet’ by many people but I find that patronising for such a book! It is a brilliant story of inclusivity, family and loss.

I’ve written and rewritten this review a few times as I don’t want it to come across as condescending like the ‘sweet’ reviews that I’ve read. The book does a fantastic job at normalising LGBT+ which is exactly what we need in MG books and the world generally.

I love how the story starts with pure happiness. You realise that this is a family bursting with love but then death blocks out the sunshine. The rebuilding of the family and their search for happiness is what make this book brilliant. It will give hope to readers who have suffered their own set backs in life. It will teach them to find the good in others and to try to bring the sunshine to their world!

Now if you want to write a story as good as this, you can follow Benjamin’s writing tips!

Benjamin Dean’s Top 5 Writing Tips

1. Be patient! Writing a book can be a long and frustrating process, so don’t be discouraged if you haven’t written a bestseller in three days. Focus on smaller goals and, when things get tough, remember why you started writing your story in the first place.

2. Don’t aim for perfection first time round. Most author’s first drafts are far from perfect, and they’re not supposed to be!

3. Build a house! The foundation and walls come first – this is the broader picture of your story, like an outline or a rough first draft. Then think about floors and paint – editing and elevating the story you’ve just laid down so things start to take shape. Once all of that is set, furnish it – start polishing things up and making it pretty!

4. Ignore number 3. Yes, ignore me if you want to! There is no right or wrong way to write a story. I spent a long time trying to force myself into doing what other writers did and it never worked. The fun of writing is discovering what works for you.

5. Remember that doubt is normal. During every stage of the process, I have doubt over a number of things: Can I do it? Am I good enough? Will anybody else want to read my story? Remember that all your favourite writers experience doubts, no matter how good or successful they are. Don’t let it stand in your way. Your story is worth telling.

Jo Clarke – Libby Blog Tour

Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe was commissioned by Napoleon to celebrate France’s military might. The viewing platform at the top offers of one of the best views in Paris. It is situated at the heart of the Place Charles de Gaulle in the middle of the world’s largest traffic roundabout – called the Grand Axe– where twelve avenues meet.

The Inspiration Behind the Travelling School Mysteries – Jo Clarke

Growing up I was obsessed with mystery stories and boarding school stories. I would read at every opportunity I could get, even reading under the covers by torchlight at bedtime. My mum used to take me to my local library every Saturday morning where I would clear the shelves of Famous Five, Tintin, Malory Towers and Trebizon books. I was desperate to go to boarding school, it seemed like the perfect escape and I couldn’t get the thought of midnight feasts out of my head. Could anything be more exciting and delicious-sounding? Or failing that escape to the coast to try and capture some dastardly smugglers with George, Anne, Julian, Dick and Timmy the dog. I dreamed of a life filled with excitement and adventures.

When I became a school librarian eight years ago, I found myself drawn back to mystery books and boarding school stories. I began devouring books by Katherine Woodfine, Fleur Hitchcock, Robin Stevens and Harriet Whitehorn. My blog gave me the perfect opportunity to indulge my love of reading and my bookshelves at home are stuffed with mystery and boarding school stories for all ages. I knew that if I was going to write a children’s book it would have to be a mystery and if I could find a way to set it in a boarding school then even better. Detective stories seemed to be having a renaissance so I needed to find a way to bring a twist to my story.

The idea for ‘The Travelling School Mysteries,’ originated from a random conversation in the staffroom at work. We had a supply teacher working and she was talking about how her daughter was at a school in Japan, even though she was from New Zealand and living in England. It really intrigued me and I asked her lots of questions about why her daughter went to school there and it was a simple answer that she wanted to learn about a new culture. It came to me then what if I wrote a story about a school and set it in another country. While I found this idea really intriguing, I wasn’t sure if it was different enough to stand out in a very crowded market. To make it more interesting I decided that the school should move location each term. This would give Libby and Connie a new place to explore and quite possibly a new mystery to solve! And so Mousedale’s Travelling School came to life. Libby’s aunt Miss Mousedale – who is the head of the school – is named for my secondary school English teacher, who was a huge influence on me and encouraged my love of reading and writing. I’m not sure I would be an author today without her inspiring me.

The locations for, ‘The Travelling School Mysteries,’ are inspired by places that I have visited and feel a special connection to. Libby joins the school in Paris, for her first term and I chose this location as it was the first city I visited with my husband over 25 years ago. The second book in the series, ‘Libby and the Highland Heist,’ publishing in Spring 2023, is set against the backdrop of the Highlands and Edinburgh. I was born in Scotland and I have spent many happy times in Edinburgh. You get a sneak peek of the first chapter of the book in ‘Libby and the Parisian Puzzle.’ Just like Libby and Connie, I got to travel on the Caledonian Sleeper as part of my research on my last trip. Watch out for more details on, ‘Libby and the Highland Heist,’ later this year.

Updated Reading Roads

Where the Tube Maps were made to support children to read different genres and broaden their reading, the Roads help children to find progression within a genre. The start of the roads are for early readers (whatever age that may be, whether yr 1 or yr 6) and they lead to the end of Primary. All of the books are (in my opinion) appropriate for Yr 6s, but further research may be needed for younger children and the later books.

As always, my resources are free but there are three ways to show some gratitude and pay it forwards

  1. Put some change into the next charity box that you see!
  2. Donate some food or money to trussell trust or via your local foodbank
  3. Buy a book that will either go to my classroom or my own children!

Due to people wanting different things, there are about 3 million variations…. Strap in, it’s a busy post!

Animal Road

Magical Road

Fantasy Road

Monster Road

Mystery Road

Sci-Fi Road

Funny Road

Scary Road