Book box birthday party!

It’s flown past but the book subscription box business I run, The Book Dragon Club, is one. If you haven’t already seen the boxes then clearly my social media presence needs some attention, so here is a little teaser.

At the start of the pandemic I turned my after-school book clubs into a range of carefully curated book boxes and themed activity packs. The monthly boxes save parents’ time and effort in ensuring their child has access to a high quality, diverse library, and are specifically designed to encourage cross-curricular learning. Plus our regular book club meetings (online) are a great way to encourage a love of reading.

The book boxes are designed to inspire a lifelong love of reading with an emphasis on diversity by both genre and author. Each box includes an exclusive themed activity pack designed by experts to encourage cross-curricular, immersive, learning. Our boxes are suitable for all abilities, from reluctant readers to bookworms, although of course we call them book dragons. 

If you aren’t a member already, I’d love to see you there.

You can find out more about the book boxes at www.bookdragon.club

PS – prices will be going up in the summer for new members, so join now to lock in the current bargain!

Ten books about Ramadan every child should read.

Most of you know that I run a book box club (www.bookdragon.club). The club is committed to diversity and I wanted to share this article on books about Ramadan that every child should read.

We’re very keen to expand to this list, so if you have any other recommendations, particularly for older readers, please let us know!

A taste of Scotland?

Book tour banner

My own book tours are run by the fabulous Rachel Gilby from Rachel’s Random Resources and, although I try to stick to reviewing kids books on this blog, every now and then she tempts me with something different. So, as a Scot, and a Highlands girl myself, I couldn’t resist taking a peek at High Heels in the Highlands. There’s nothing much about the Scottish setting, in fact it’s ancillary to the story (fair enough given this is more RomCom than Literary Fiction), so I filled in the blanks with a place I know myself which worked rather well to flesh out the location.

Having created my setting, back to the plot. If you take Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons you’ll get the general idea; meddling Londoner decides to fix rural community. Compared to Flora in Cold Comfort Farm who managed to meddle in a charming way, I actively disliked Clem at the start, although I did warm to her over the book. Then replace the swarthy, brooding, silent Seth with Rory. Throw in a surprise inheritance, a mysterious housekeeper, some stereotypically brash American tourists, a sheep, a ceilidh, a wedding, high drama in the fashion and art worlds, etc, there’s certainly a lot going on but once I settled into the story, I loved the combination of community, mystery, dreams, and love.

Oh, and this is book 2 in a series, but I didn’t realise, and it can certainly be read as a stand-alone.

Blurb

High heels in the Highlands book cover

Clementine’s swapped a London flat for a Scottish castle – but will she get her fairytale ending?

After discovering they were heirs to an enormous fortune, the lives of the five Hiverton sisters have never been the same. 

While oldest sister Ariana settles in Norfolk, Clementine heads up to the remote Scottish Highlands to move into the castle that forms part of their estate. Not bad for a girl brought up scrabbling for money in a tiny house in East London…

However, Clem quickly finds out that Ruacoddy Castle is falling apart, the neighbours – especially grumpy young farmer, Rory – are suspicious of her and the eccentric housekeeper, Ottoline, is still in residence.

But as Clem finds herself growing closer to the village community, even growing closer to Rory and forming an alliance with Ottoline, she realises that life in the Highlands might just be the change she needed. 

She just needs to find out if Manolo Blahnik make wellies…Take a trip to the gorgeous Scottish countryside with this utterly feelgood, romantic and hilarious read – fans of Jen

Biography

Finalist for the 2021 Romantic Novelists Association Debut Romantic Novel Award for A New Life for Ariana Byrne

Liz Hurley (not THE Liz Hurley) writes exciting and heart warming stories that will make you cheer and laugh. Her heroines are overflowing with grit, gumption and good old-fashioned gorgeousness!

Author of 
– Dear Diary, a prequel to the Hiverton Sister series.
– A New Life for Ariana Byrne. Book 1 / Hiverton Sisters series
– High Heels in the Highlands. Book 2 / Hiverton Sisters series
– Cornish Dreams at Cockleshell Cottage. Book 3 / Hiverton Sisters series. 

How to get into a writing habit (and keep it)

I must be part magpie – I love shiny new things. Unfortunately, this includes collecting shiny new writing projects. So I need help! I reviewed the first journal in this series a while ago and love the way it helps keep me from those oh-so-tempting distractions (you can about read it here). Having not quite finished Book 1, I was interested in what the next 52 weeks would look like, and how a blank journal could possibly be different! Of course, I had to ask the author what the difference would be, so here she is …

Why create a second volume of an undated journal and planner?

That’s an excellent point, and was my thought exactly when I first received a question about ‘next year’s version’. What next year’s version? It’s an undated journal and planner. Something you can buy and use over and over.

‘Right! I thought you might change the cover or something, so we don’t end up with a row of the same journals a few years from now.’

Now that I hadn’t considered. I, who wouldn’t even buy the same notebook twice…

Obviously, I could have taken the easy road after that seed was planted and simply slapped a new cover on the version I already had. That, however, isn’t how I do things (I might have to work on that at some point). So, instead of merely swapping covers, I handpicked fifty-three new writing quotes and came up with as many new writing prompts and exercises. Of course, I also gave the journal and planner a new look, because why not? (I really have to work on that not taking the easy road, don’t I?)

Without further ado, here’s the second volume of the 52 Weeks of Writing Author Journal and Planner. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I enjoyed creating this new version.

Mariëlle

P.S. There’s no actual order to the two volumes. If you picked this one up first, you can simply get the other one next year.

DISCOUNT!

Anyway, when I finish my current (blue journal), I’ll definitely get another. And I do love purple, so I think it will be book two. By the way, this is a hefty tome, and you need a paper copy, so it’s well worth the price. But if you want to print at home, you can purchase a printable PDF through: https://payhip.com/b/0YgJ Get 50% off until 31 March 2021 by using the coupon code 52WOW during checkout.

52 Weeks of Writing:

  • makes you plan, track, reflect on, and improve your progress and goals for an entire year;
  • helps you unravel the truth about why you aren’t where you want to be; and
  • keeps you writing through weekly thought-provoking quotes and prompts.

With this second volume of the 52 Weeks of Writing Author Journal and Planner, writing coach and writer Mariëlle S. Smith brings you the same successful strategies to craft the perfect writing practice as she did in the first journal. The only difference? Fifty-three different writing quotes and prompts and a brand-new look!

Here’s to more fun in ’21

Christmas may be cancelled, but at least we’ve almost made it to the end of 2020. Congratulations! It’s been a particularly challenging year. I know each of us has had different experiences, and different stresses, whether we’re key workers, home educators, shielding ourselves or our loved ones, furloughed, seen our businesses closed for months on end… I can’t be the only person with a whole lot more grey hair now. Having only been to the hairdresser twice this year, if I hadn’t discovered my husband was actually quite handy with a bottle of hair dye, it would be a lot more obvious!

Anyway, here’s to a more fun filled 2021.

Book club news!

I’m very excited to announce that the book boxes have been rebranded so the KidsClub.family is now the BookDragon.club There were a few reasons for this. Partly, it ties to the name of one of my books, The Book Dragon Club, but more importantly, I hope it will be more obvious what it does – a lot of people thought the old name sounded like an activity centre or playgroup. If you haven’t had a look, do check it out.

If you join before the year end, then your first book box will be posted out at the start of January, and I can send an e-gift card (which might be very handy given the festive chaos we’ve all just had thrown at us).

Whatever else 2021 brings, let’s fill it with books!

I wasn’t sure what book to wrap up the year with, but Alex Johnson has solved my problem! He has an eclectic range of books out with several quirky treats (e.g. The Book of Book Lists). Anyway, he has a new one out published by the British Library which ticks the boxes for my book club and parent hats, and I love the cover.

I asked him to join me for a chat.

What I remember about reading as a child is as much the pleasurable experience of it as the actual books. So while I have fond recollections of Noggin the Nog, Mumfie, Tintin, and Mr Rabbit and the Lovely Present, what is just as strong is the emotional memory of reading in bed (especially – cliché klaxon – under the covers with a torch), in the garden, on holiday, and especially being read to by my parents.

The only real rule about encouraging your children to read – and now that we’re going back into lockdown there will be even more time for doing so – is that it should be enjoyable. However you plan to encourage them, the most important thing is that reading doesn’t become a chore or, even worse, some kind of punishment. “Get off that Xbox and read a good book” is unlikely to lead to success.

Children turn into readers when they find a book they like, and as soon as books make them feel happy, they’re hooked for life. This means encouraging them however they read. Are they rereading an old favourite for the billionth time? Smashing, rereading is not only a key part of understanding a book but it’s also comforting. Are they engrossed in a Dandy annual? Great, reading comics/graphic novels is great fun – my youngest boy spent a large amount of the first lockdown alternating between Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights trilogy and my 1980s Tiger & Scorcher annuals. One is not better than the other. 

Having said that, don’t keep encouraging them to read something you loved as a child if they’re not keen. Guide and suggest, but as far as possible, let them make the choice themselves. I (still) love Anthony Buckeridge’s series of books about the schoolboy Jennings (less magical than Harry Potter, less mischievous than William Brown). My three children swiftly decided against. That’s absolutely fine.

An important way to keep children reading is to encourage them to read all kinds of things. So whether it’s a novel or a poem, a history book or a science guide, a travelogue or a comic, diaries or jokes, a biography or a picture book, variety is the spice of reading life. Although library visits are down on last year for obvious reasons, think about using e-lending services which have seen a massive rise in use in 2020. As well as ‘traditional’ books, ebooks are well worth considering. There’s a lot to explore online too. For example, try Poetryline run by the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education at clpe.org.uk/poetryline or search for the work of performance poets such as Kate Tempest and Caleb Femi.

And don’t forget that audiobooks are books too. People not only learn in different styles but they also enjoy stories in different ways. Traditional books don’t suit everybody and audiobooks should certainly not be seen as some kind of fraudulent replacement for a ‘worthy’ hardback in the hand. Storytelling, after all, is far older than reading a printed book.The biggest commercial player in the audiobook market is Audible, owned by Amazon, but do search out other options too such as Listening Books (www.listening-books.org.uk).

As I mentioned above, one of the nicest ways of encouraging your child to read is to do it together and read to them. This is important to do when times are normal, but now everybody is unsettled this is a particularly excellent way of comforting your child. You absolutely don’t have to be a professional actor to read out loud, but do put plenty of emotion into it (I’ve always rather enjoyed doing ‘voices’ even though they are often rather mixed up – my sons gleefully pointed out that the dwarves in The Hobbit appeared to change which part of the country they came from every other reading session) and don’t go too fast – everybody tends to read too quickly. Older children who have not been read to for a while might also now enjoy this again.

As well as reading, it’s good to discuss the books your child is reading. Chatting about books is a huge part of the reading experience and enjoyable for both you and your child. Ask questions which make them think about what they’re reading or encourage them to look for answers in another book, rather than simply lobbing information at them (but remember they’re not doing a school test on it so don’t turn it into an interrogation!). If you’re reading something together, don’t whizz through it as fast as possible, but pause regularly to discuss issues that it raises and connections to other books your child may have read. Think of yourself as a ‘reading mentor’ rather than a broadcaster.

Lastly, don’t let your child have all the fun. You should read too. Not only is it enjoyable, if your son or daughter sees you reading then they are much more likely to follow your lead.

Thanks Alex!

Parent/ teacher alert

You can get your book wall off to a nice start in January as Alex has offered to send a personalised postcard to anyone who shares a picture of them with their copy of his book on social media and tags me. [UK only – sorry]

Before I log off now until the new year, I want to wish you all a very happy holidays, stay safe, take care, and see you in 2021!