Fantastic Fin Faces his Fears

Last year we read Superheroes Don’t Get Scared by the talented Kate Thompson in our book club. It was a big hit, and has helped many children deal with their fears. But you can never have too many superhero books so I was thrilled to be invited to review Fantastic Fin Faces his Fears by Jessica Bowers as part of the book tour.

I really want to praise the wonderful vibrant artwork by Andrew Whitehead – it brings the story alive and each page sparkles with energy. I absolutely adore the strong colours and the scratchy text. This will really appeal to the slightly older superhero fan. Actually, I’m getting a strong Ben 10 vibe overall, and I’m a Ben 10 expert 🤣

The story covers a great range of every day scenarios and shows how the boy tackles them – this is super for starting conversations.

Overall, I had mixed feelings on the rhyming text. I loved the catch phrase “Then he though of something cool, his mind could be a useful tool”, but a few times the language felt slightly forced to fit. Rhyme is so hard to get right – I think this is one reason publishers can be reticent to look at rhyming picture books – I believe the other big reason is it’s a nightmare to translate). But I know it can help a reluctant reader and often makes it easier to read aloud.

There are a few support notes at the back of the book, and if you’d like more, there’s also a free 17 page resource pack at www.jessicabowers.co.uk.

Blurb

Come and join Fantastic Fin as he grows his courage by embodying various inspiring characters and animals to face his fears!

Teachers, Parents and Carers can access the free Fantastic Fin Teaching Resource Pack available from the author’s website.

This is the first book in a series supporting children’s mental health by well-being author and psychotherapist Jessica Bowers. Ideal for children age 4-7.

Author Bio

Jessica is a well-being writer with an extensive background in supporting both young people and adults with their emotional well-being and mental health. Jessica is a qualified Counsellor and Psychotherapist who trained at the Sherwood Psychotherapy Training Institute. Prior to this, she worked for over 10 years with young people with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties. Jessica consults with and writes for the wonderful Storytime Magazine, for their emotional well-being and mental health content. She has written a collection of well-being themed children’s picture books for 4-7 year olds, and Fantastic Fin Faces his Fears is her debut book. She has also developed some school workshops which offer emotional education aswell as offering author visits to read her books and poetry to EYFS and KS1 children. Jessica develops free activity and teaching resource packs around emotions and well-being themes which are available from her website.

Mix-up Monday

It’s Monday, and I’m just back from holiday, so obviously I’m in chaos and the family are playing pranks on me. In fact, I feel like the farmer in this fabulously funny new book from one of my favourite picture book authors, Elizabeth Dale on the publication of her 86th book!!!!!

I laughed like a drain at this. Seriously, it’s one to read on your own even if the children are 26. Fabulous flowing rhymes, hilarious situations (and the best horse poo joke ever). If you like Julia Donaldson books, you’ll love this.

In anticipation of the launch, we had a long chit-chat. She’s also set us a writing challenge, plus we have a few bespoke colouring sheets.

Your latest book, Mix Up Monday, is hitting the shelves. Can you tell us how it came to be?

I normally like to write a picture book with a subtle message, but sometimes it’s good to write something that is just pure fun, especially as long-suffering parents or carers are the ones who have to read picture books over and over again – so they should enjoy the story too. And reading a funny rhyming story is the best fun of all. So I knew the kind of book I wanted to write, I just needed a plot. And I find a good way to think up a fun plot is to ask ‘What if?’ and let my brain go wild. So for this book, I thought ‘What if a farmer gets up late, half-asleep and does everything wrong? How might his animals see his confusion and capitalize on it to have even more fun? How crazy can everything get? And once I started off with the sheep  pretending to be cows and so Farmer Fred tries to milk them, the other animals on the farm joined in one by one and the story seemed to write itself. All I had to do was  make sure that the rhymes and rhythm were right! 

Why did you decide to become a children’s writer? 

I’ve always loved writing stories, and after having been unsuccessful with my novel for adults – which took SUCH a long time to write – I decided I would always write something shorter in future! So I started writing short stories for magazines. But then, when my daughters were born, I was reminded just how lovely children’s books are and decided to try writing them, too, and found that to be the greatest fun of all. I’ve always loved writing poetry, so writing rhyming picture books is now one of my favourite things to do. 

Can you describe where you work and your working day?

I sit by a window overlooking my garden, which can either inspire or distract me!  I’m a bit of a workaholic – but simply because I love writing so much. I am usually on my laptop by 6.30. And then I spend all day doing any admin emails, chasing up publishers, commenting on illustrations etc. but most of all writing, whether it’s editing or writing something new! And  on sunny days I am out in the garden plotting and thinking up ideas. Bliss!

What children’s books have inspired you recently?

Oi, Frog! (pic bok) by Kes Gray and Jim Field, and other ‘Oi’ books in the series – I think they’re so clever

The Princess and the Pea (pic book) by Jonathan Emmett and Polly Bernatene – very funny fairy tale twist

I, Cosmo (MG) by Carlie Sorosiak – such a brilliant insight into the mind of a dog

A Boy Called Hope (MG) by Lara Williamson – another funny insight – this time into the trials of a boy whose father has left home – and turned up on his TV screen.

What makes you happy? 

Writing! Getting a book accepted! Time with family, country walks, reading and holidays in the mountains or by the sea. Oh and it’s so, so wonderful to see children enjoying reading/listening to my books.

What’s your worst habit? 

Untidiness! In my writing it’s using too many !!!s (see?!!)

What are your top tips for budding young writers? 

1.As a child, you are a far better  expert than me on what makes a great, fun children’s book. So you are the best person to write fab kid’s stories. So get writing!

2.Don’t worry about the spelling or getting the words down right at first. Just write away, letting the story take you – getting words on the paper/screen and telling a good story is the most important thing. to begin with. 

2. plus The best stories have a problem at the start that your characters want to fix.  But if they fix it too easily, it could be very short! For longer stories, make things go wrong and then fix them  – and do that again and again all on the way to the final satisfying end.  I call these ups and downs ‘Uh-oh!’ and ‘Yay!’ moments. Try looking out for those in the next book you read. 

3.When you’ve finished writing your story, read it again and change any bits you don’t like. All writers have to do it. No one writes their best story the first time.

4.When you think your story is as good as it can be, try reading it out loud or ask your mum or a friend to. Hearing the words spoken really shows you what isn’t quite right.

5.If you’re not happy with your story, don’t just throw it away. By all means start another story, but come back to that first story another day. You brain may well have been working on it while you’ve been doing something else and you will suddenly see how to change it.  

6. Don’t ever think ‘I will never be good enough at writing to grow up to be an author.’ Every author has probably thought that when they were young – I know I did! If it’s what you want to do, then go for it! Someone has to write the books of the future, why not you?

7. If your dream is another career altogether, then go for that instead. But if you love writing, too,  just do it for fun. It’s great to escape into a world you’ve created.

Writing Challenge

For your next story, why not try to think up a plot the way I did for Mix Up Monday? Just think ‘What if….?’ And imagine the craziest or scariest or most awful or exciting situation you can think of. How would everyone react? What might happen next? How can it all end well? Remember everyone wants a great ending!

Get your Mix-Up Monday Colouring activity here

Blurb

Farmer Fred is more than a little sleepy this morning ― and his animals know it! Everyone wants to join in on the Monday mayhem but what will happen when he starts mixing up all the animals?

Author bio

I began writing magazine fiction and have sold thousands of stories all over the world, but when my daughters were born and I started reading to them, I was reminded just how wonderful children’s books are, and decided to try writing them myself. They are the most fun of all and I have had over eighty books published from picture books up to novels for up to age 12. 

Some of them deal with issues I have faced with my own children such as a pet dying – Scrumpy (Andersen) or an over-adventurous hamster – Hammy (Orchard), others cover issues common to many children, such as being scared of monsters – Nothing Can Frighten a Bear (Nosy Crow), being different – Delightfully Different Dilly (Quarto 2021) and being small – Billy and the Balloons (Salariya) and Off to Market! (Frances Lincoln -a runner-up in the Dundee Picture Book Award and based on my journey on an over-crowded minibus in Uganda filled with villagers, furniture and animals! 

Have you got your ‘lucky pants’ on?

I’m not a football fan – in fact I have been to only 1 match in my life (if you’re curious, it was Partick Thistle in Scotland with a ex-boyfriend, and I can’t even remember who they were playing!) – however I do love sporty books. I’m currently working my way through my collection of vintage pony books.

Anyway, since featuring a fantastic non-fiction book about Lily Parr called Trailblazer, and a fiction book about women’s Camogie and Gaelic football, Izzy’s Magical Football adventure I have been on the look out for a new football book for a while, so when I spotted ‘Danny Mann, super fan‘ I was keen to have a look.

book tour banner
Tour banner

It’s a straightforward read – perfect for the chapter book reader/ reluctant reader, and absolutely chock full of football. Whilst simple in concept, I love how it addresses our little pre-match rituals. For example, I fully admit to having a pair of lucky riding socks which I HAVE to wear when I go to a dressage competition. Of course, I’m perfectly aware they are just socks, but I can’t help it!

Lucky socks?
Lucky socks?

I digress. Back to the book …

Blurb

Danny Mann, super fan book cover
Danny Mann book cover

Danny loves Chadmouth Town Football Club more than anything, but a run of defeats and terrible luck has left them bottom of the table and looking certain to be relegated with time running out.

But then, Danny and his best friend Nelson stumble across a bizarre pre-match ritual that seems to turn their luck around, and his beloved team starts winning again. Is it too little too late though, and can he keep doing everything right before each match, even when he starts finding more and more obstacles in his way and despite the relentless teasing from his classmates? It’s going to come down to the wire.

Does Danny have what it takes to save Chadmouth’s season?

Author bio

Ian Slater author
Ian Slatter author

Ian published his debut novel, Eco Worrier, in 2020 – a middle grade adventure story with plenty of twists and turns and lots of laughs.

He has also written two non-fiction books for adults – Premier League Legends – the top 10 greatest Premier League players of all time and Incredible Moments in Sport.

Ian wrote for satirical website newsbiscuit.com for ten years, as well as writing for comedy sketch shows on ITV and BBC Radio.

When the Karate Kid gets real

This isn’t an obvious choice for my blog, but bear with – it will make sense in a minute. If you were wondering, I have never even tried a martial art myself and my personal knowledge is almost entirely limited to the Karate Kid movies, however one of my flatmates at Uni was a black belt in Aikido and his daily practices outside our place probably deterred any potential burglars, as well as impressing the rest of us with his commitment and dedication. Then I didn’t give it a second thought until my son started both judo and karate and I, like many other mums, found myself spending hours sitting outside the dojo.

As a mum of an enthusiastic seven-year-old, martial arts were pitched to me as self-defence, strength, and co-ordination training rather than combative, and offered in both our local community hall as well as at an after school club, so pretty much all his friends participated in one form or another, many did both. So from the title to the opening lines of this book I was a little surprised to see the emphasis on fighting, although in the context of the “mean streets” it makes sense. In fact, this sets the scene for a gritty, hard-hitting recount of a fascinating life bringing in class, race, and society generally. It’s by no means a light read, or an easy read, but I’m passing it to my now teenaged son to see what he thinks (NB: given the content, this book is not recommended for younger readers). In the meantime, I’m going to finish by saying I fully expect this to be turned into a movie or, more probably, a docufilm.

Blurb

Novelist and former karate champion Ralph Robb recounts his experiences at one of Europe’s toughest dojos and provides an insight into the philosophy and training methods of a club which produced national, European and world titleholders. In a hard-hitting story, Ralph tells of the fights on and off the mat; his experiences as one of a very few black residents in an area in which racist members of the National Front were very active; and the tragic descent into mental illness and premature death of the training partner who was also his best friend.

About the author

Author Ralph Robb

Ralph Robb was born and raised in the industrial town of Wolverhampton, England and now lives in Ontario Canada with his wife, cat and dog. A proud father of four, Robb works as an engineering technician and loves rugby, martial arts and a good book. His world is balanced by quality TV, global events, great outdoors and of course his grand-daughter. 

Chase those witches!

The Beatles song “Paperback writer’ is stuck on a loop in my head, although with a slight tweak to the lyrics.

So I wanna be a picture book writer
Picture book writer

I blame the new picture book, Chase Those Witches, by Elizabeth Dale! It’s just such great fun, so interactive, and fabulously illustrated. I absolutely love it. I’m definitely going to use it in some of my after school clubs.

Now bizarrely, I got sent this book to review a few days after I’d bought the new Tom Fletcher picture book, ‘There’s a witch in your book‘. It seemed such a coincidence to have two witch-themed interactive picture books on my desk at the same time, so I was very curious as to the differences.

Actually, they are both absolutely brilliant, and surprisingly different.

In a nutshell, Tom Fletcher has bright, bold graphic illustrations, easy actions, and a simple plot so is ideal for the youngest picture book reader.

On the other hand, Elizabeth Dale’s rollicking, globe trotting adventure has more detailed illustrations and slightly more complex actions, including a very funny “Whatever you do, don’t …” which of course I did, and every other reader will too! I laughed out loud at falling for that one. Anyway, as a result, it’s ideal for the older picture book reader.

Definitely no need to wait for Halloween to enjoy these witchy treats, although I can see both books being best-sellers when the spooky season arrives! Have fun 🙂

Blurb for Chase those Witches

When Bernie, a boy’s pet frog, is stolen by a coven of wicked witches, the reader has to help rescue Bernie by turning, shaking and blowing on the book as the boy ventures through ice caves and aboard pirate ships on his mission. A fun and interactive picture book adventure!

Author Biography

Elizabeth Dale worked as a writer of fiction for magazines before becoming a full-time author of children’s books. Her work has won multiple awards, including in the picture book category in the 2019 Northern Lights Book Awards. She was also a runner-up in the 2015 Dundee Picture Book Award.

Illustrator Biography

Sian Roberts graduated with a First Class Honours degree in Illustration from the Arts University in Bournemouth in 2018. She works as a freelance illustrator of children’s books.