Racoon and the Hot Air Balloon

Jill Atkins is in my writing group so I was thrilled to be invited by her publisher to take part in the blog tour for her new book, Racoon and the Hot Air Balloon. Unfortunately a hiking holiday in the hills meant I missed the actual tour, but I was lucky enough to be sent a copy to review anyway.

I absolutely loved the Racoon character – everything you could want in a role model – kind, compassionate, brave, and adventurous. And always getting into mischief – something that should appeal to young readers!

And the Eagle mum character is also very strongly written. She allows Raccoon to explore, but there in the background to prevent disaster. What a lovely way to include the “grown-up” in the story. I remember hearing Katherine Rundell say in a speech “there is nothing so endangered in children’s literature as a mother” and it’s true – as writers we’re encouraged to write them out so the children can solve their problems, but I like them to be there in the background.

And as if that wasn’t enough, there is the underlying message of good deeds repaying themselves.

Blurb

Raccoon is in search of adventure! A hot air balloon looks like the perfect way for her to experience flying…but how do you get down?

Author Bio

Jill Atkins is a self-proclaimed ‘escaped teacher’ who is now writing for children with 46 books published so far, ranging from early reading material to teenage novels. She is married with two grown-up children and five grandchildren, and loves to read both adult and children’s books.

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! 

Delightfully different, totally terrific

Dilly the penguin has one leg, so she hops rather than waddles. Some penguins are fine with this, others not so. Approaching the topic of “difference” often feels like a potential parental minefield, but I promise you can’t go wrong with Delightfully Different Dilly. There’s a learning here, obviously, but many stories which cover this scenario feel uncomfortably forced or contrived. Not so here. This is a classic adventure set-up, with courage, teamwork, and friendship shining through, and it’s flawlessly done.

Stunning illustrations (see the pic), tons of drama, great characterisation, and an important message that is not rammed down your throat – this is an absolute must for every home bookshelf and classroom book box.

Not only are there great talking points leaping from every page, but I was so impressed with the linked sensory activities done by @rascals_and_rainbows that I have to highlight them here. Check it out!

Blurb

When Dilly is born, her parents think she is perfect – from the top of her head to the bottom of her foot. The other babies notice that she is different but soon accept her, and love her different way of doing things. They even try  to copy her – in the funniest ways! Their mummies and daddies aren’t sure, though – someone different makes them anxious, they like everyone to be the same. Can their babies convince their parents to accept Dilly – and to understand that it’s actually brilliant to be different?

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! 

Not a bus book!

On the day that Meghan Markle’s “The bench” is all over the media for being a pure vanity project, entirely devoid of plot, and barely in English (seriously, Puffin should be embarrassed to have published it), I’m thrilled to have a beautifully written picture book for you.

I’ve reviewed several of Sue Wickstead’s bus-themed books over the past few years. They’re all beautiful gentle stories, with a simple, appropriate message, and with lovely traditional illustrations. So when I saw she’s branched out and published a non-bus themed book, I was intrigued.

Firstly, I was pleased to see that Barty Barton, the bear who was loved too much has the same illustrator (I wish they were credited on the cover). The picture of Barty reminds me so much of my own tatty teddy, who is definitely “loved too much” but still sits on my shelf (with his best friends).

It’s a heartwarming plot line that brought a lump to my throat. Perfect for reassuring any youngster before their favourite toy goes for its annual bath!

And in case you were missing the buses, I spotted one sneak into the illustrations.

Giveaway

Giveaway to Win a  Lego bear and some teddy bear colouring sheets (UK) plus a few more goodies.

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/33c69494424/

*Terms and Conditions –UK entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

Author bio

Sue Wickstead is a teacher and an author and writes children’s picture books with a bus theme. She has also written a photographic history book about the real bus, which is where her story writing began.

Sue once worked with a playbus charity based in Crawley. This led her to write the photographic history book about the project. The ‘Bewbush Playbus’ book was published in 2012.

Sue then began to write a fictional tale about the bus. ‘Jay-Jay the Supersonic Bus’, his number plate JJK261 gave him his name and has now been followed by more picture books (ten to date) which all indeed have a bus connection as well as links to her teaching journey.

Gloria is the most recent bus book and is based on the summer play-schemes which operated during the school holidays providing a safe place to play and to meet other children. (published 2020)

‘Barty Barton; the bear that was loved too much’ was also published in 2020. Barty was written for both her son and grandson.

Some of Sue’s books have been entered and shortlisted in ‘The Wishing Shelf Book Awards’, her book ‘A Spooky Tale’ was a silver medal winner in 2019. It is a story written with her class in school and is aimed at the younger reader.

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.