Tag Archive for Edge Christopher

Space Books: the complete package

Ever had a child who shows an overwhelming interest in one thing – and they know many more surprising statistics and facts about that than anyone else you know? If your child is ‘into’ space, then here are three superb books to guide them further along. One activity book, one fiction, one non-fiction – a perfect package.

Self-Destructing Science: Space by Isabel Thomas and illustrated by Nikalas Catlon

Shortlisted for the ASE Book of the Year Award 2017, this is a fabulous book crammed with projects, all with a view to teaching about space. The idea of the series/book is that each page of the book is to be torn out and used as part of a project – from folding, cutting, experimenting or scribbling on it.

As the reader destroys the book, other amazing things are learned and built – such as a Martian bug to a pocket rocket.

I asked one of my child samplers to test my review copy by highlighting which pages caught their interest as interesting projects, only to find that she had put post it notes on every page.

The instructions are easy to follow, delivered in a chatty manner, and explain which extras the reader needs for each project – just like a recipe. None of these extras are too difficult, just things such as scissors and tape. The page about gravity, for example, is all about dropping things from a height. Then small paragraphs explain the science behind the game. And around the text are lots of small cartoon drawings of astronauts, aliens and craft ideas on a background of neon orange – so it looks like lots of fun too.

The ideas are all creative and original, and all have subliminal or subtle teaching behind them. You can keep a moon diary, make a pinhole viewer and a sundial, dress an astronaut, guide a Mars rover, make a Martian bug, answer a quiz and take part in the Lunarlympics. And that’s only half the book!

A terrific learning resource, or just great fun, this is a really engaging activity book. You can buy it here.

The Jamie Drake Equation by Christopher Edge

Last year Christopher Edge wrote a beautiful novel about grief and quantum physics, which I recommended for its warmth and heart, as well as its wonderfully subtle infiltration of science into storytelling. This latest novel, The Jamie Drake Equation, I think is even better. It manages to captivate its reader, whilst imparting space facts, information about the Fibonacci sequence, and the Drake Equation, at the same time as telling a wonderful contemporary story, so that the reader doesn’t feel they’re being educated at all – just experiencing a sumptuous story.

Jamie’s father is an astronaut aboard the International Space Station, and is due to complete a space walk on the same day as Jamie’s birthday. He’s on a mission to send information to outer space to find out if there’s alien life. At the same time, Jamie stumbles upon something on Earth that might lead him to a faster conclusion about life on other planets. But then his family equation begins to go wrong, as do things in space, and it’s up to Jamie to try to keep it all together.

Definitely inspired by Tim Peake, the characters feel real, as does the school setting and projects, as well as the science behind the story. Of course, for dramatic effect there are some deviations from pure science, some exaggerations perhaps, but it makes for a wondrous telling.

But, for this reader, most of all, the story spoke with heart. Because for many children in today’s global world, they often have one parent away from home at times, and communication is through Skype or the telephone, and Edge has really captured how it’s just not the same as having the parent present. Edge has identified the difficulties it can throw up. This is dealt with so subtly and sensitively, and shows real craft.

There’s also a terrific pace to the story – it’s not long, and a reader will speed through it, and then perhaps (in my case certainly) go back to revisit all those brilliant facts. The questions and answers with Jamie’s father whilst on the video link from the ISS were great, as was much of the beginning, explaining different bits about space travel.

A lovely middle grade story, which orbits gently around space travel while sitting comfortably in the contemporary story band too. You can buy it here. And see here for Christopher Edge’s guest post, which further discusses the ‘absent parent’ in children’s literature.

Ground Control to Major Tim: The Space Adventures of Major Tim Peake by Clive Gifford

One of my favourite non-fiction writers, Gifford has a way of succinctly describing something with minimal words yet maximum information. This is one of those standard non-fiction texts for children that I used to work on at Dorling Kindersley, and for many children it is a really clear way of being presented with factual information.

Each page has a different colour background, and three or more large photographs highlighting aspects of Tim’s journey, whether it’s training, blast off, life on board or life afterwards.

The book is jam-packed with information, and reads half like a biography and half like a space information book. The first page introduces Tim Peake and the ISS Space Expedition, and includes a mission memo with facts, a quote from Tim, and facts about the initial entry to the ISS. Each paragraph is short and to the point – there are no wasted words.

Favourite bits include a quote from Tim’s physics teacher, the description of the Vomit Comet, and the photograph of Earth seen from space at night. There are loads of facts in here, from how much muscles shrink in space without exercise, to details about Tim running a marathon, to how much training it takes to be an astronaut, to when Tim read a bedtime story to his children via satellite. This book beautifully tells the incredible story of our current space exploration, and should be an inspirational guide for children. You can buy it here.

 

The Absent Parents: A Guest Post by Christopher Edge

There’s something to be said for writing any book – it’s not an easy task – takes time, effort, perseverance and grit, as well as, more obviously, great imagination and observation. Edge not only writes great fiction for kids, but in his latest two novels, has managed to incorporate topical science in a subtle and interesting way. No mean feat. Last year I reviewed The Many Worlds of Albie Bright, which combined quantum physics with a heartrending story. This year’s offering, The Jamie Drake Equation, also separates our protagonist from his parent, but for a very different reason. Combining space and family dynamics – this is one special book. Christopher Edge explains below about writing ‘the absent parent’ in children’s fiction.

The first rule of children’s fiction is often to get rid of the parents. From orphans such as the unfortunate Baudelaire children who lose their folks in a house fire to the eponymous James of Giant Peach fame whose mother and father are run over by a runaway rhinocerous, sometimes it seems that the beginning of every children’s book is just focused on clearing the stage so the child protagonist has free rein.

I must admit I’ve been guilty of this myself in my time, choosing to make Penelope Tredwell, the heroine of my Victorian-set Twelve Minutes to Midnight series, an orphan heiress, and more recently, in The Many Worlds of Albie Bright, telling the story of a young boy’s quest to use quantum physics to reunite himself with his dead mother.

As in The Many Worlds of Albie Bright, sometimes the absence of a parent or parents in a children’s novel can create the central mystery to be solved, such as Darkus Cuttle’s search for his scientist father in M.G. Leonard’s glorious Beetle Boy. However in other books, parental absence can simply colour the intricate web of relationships that the central character spins around them, with the emotions depicted ranging from anger and loss, to an uneasy fear that an absent parent will never return.

In children’s fiction, the reasons for a parent’s absence can be as numerous as in real life, from soldiers at war (Stay Where You Are and Then Leave by John Boyne), imprisonment (The Railway Children by E. Nesbit) or just a job that takes a parent away from the family home (Framed by Frank Cottrell Boyce and The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange). In these stories, the protagonist’s desire to see their parent again is often the emotional thrust that fuels the narrative.

In The Jamie Drake Equation, the absent parent can’t be found anywhere on Earth, but is instead floating on the International Space Station in lower-Earth orbit, spinning round the world at 27,000 kilometres per hour. Jamie Drake’s dad is astronaut Commander Dan Drake who’s headed into space on humanity’s first mission to launch interstellar probes for the stars. Ten-year-old Jamie ought to think it’s really cool to have a dad who’s an astronaut, but really he just misses him and can’t wait for him to come home.

Our relationships with our parents or guardians are ones that can go on to define us in later life, and often a key staging post in childhood is the recognition of a parent’s flaws. Jamie’s dad might be able to fly like Superman on board the International Space Station, but back on Earth it takes an alien to help Jamie realise what it means to be human, and how the moments we have with the ones that we love can be the most precious in the universe.

With huge thanks to Christopher for his insightful guest post. To buy a copy of The Jamie Drake Equation, click here

 

The Many Worlds of Albie Bright by Christopher Edge

Albie Bright

One of the many rewards from reading good novels is that they can teach you about something new in a gentle narrative way. Sometimes it’s something you didn’t realise you wanted to know about. I would never take a course in quantum physics, but this book for eight years and upwards not only taught me about quantum physics, but also gently taught me to make peace with my lot in life. And alongside the complex subjects and depth of thought, there was a dose of humour, and allusions to bananas.

Albie (named after Einstein) by his scientist parents, is a curious Year 6 boy, who is grieving for his mother who died just two weeks before the book begins. To assuage his sadness, and to discover where she might have gone after death, he explores the idea of parallel universes – could she be alive in a different time and space? After studying Schrodinger’s cat theory in a book (and Edge explains this particularly well), Albie tries to recreate the experiment and transport himself to a parallel universe using a box, a laptop and a rotting banana, in the hope that, in that universe, his mother might still be alive.

To his, and the reader’s great surprise, it works. Although, of course, if there is one parallel universe, there must be many – and each one is slightly different from the next. Albie doesn’t find exactly what he’s looking for, but he finds out some intriguing answers to some very powerful questions. With every new universe, his family appears in a slightly different guise – this conceit works very well in imbuing a child with empathy – being able to see their own situation differently, and also view things from the point of view of those around them. Albie is confronted with the death of different family members, a disability, and his parents’ and his changing success in the various universes. All of which open his eyes to his own reality.

This is an extraordinary novel for children that sets out to explore the possibilities of our world – like a child itself, and like science itself – discovering and exploring through experimenting and seeking. Although it throws up questions about life and religion and death and science and meaning, it’s all on a level that can be understood by any eight year old. An admirable feat. It also incorporates other elements of science, as well as quantum physics, such as space exploration, energy resources and suchlike.

There was considerable sadness at Albie’s mother’s death – at times it was highly emotive, and this did drop a pin of doubt when reading – a sensitive child may find it difficult. The different scenarios of Albie’s life in the parallel universe may need some unpacking (it’s a book I would encourage conversation about) – I was saddened more than once at Albie’s experiences and ‘what ifs’ – but the answers at the end of the book do provide a satisfactory conclusion for this age group.

There are many lovely humorous incidents too, for example Edge’s explanation of an NQT (not-quite-a-teacher) made me laugh, and the scenes are painted vividly.

Dipping into the book is like entering a brave new world for today’s child – they might even find some answers to questions they weren’t asking. You can buy your own copy in this universe here.

How To Write Your Best Story Ever by Christopher Edge

how to write your best story ever

As a writer I am constantly overwhelmed by the amount of advice out there for budding authors. Blogs, podcasts, books, individual tweets, facebook groups. The advice goes on and on. In the end, I always feel if you want to write, sit down and WRITE. However, for the youngest among us a blank piece of paper can be quite frightening and a little guidance can help. Christopher Edge, author of fiction such as the Penelope Tredwell series, has written a sensational learning accompaniment to creative writing. In fact, it made me revisit some of my own writing and proved an invaluable resource for my daughter, who is fast rivalling me for story-telling prowess.

Firstly, thanks to imaginative and colourful illustrations, it doesn’t look like a learning resource at all. It comes across as a fun, informative and creative non-fiction children’s title. The first half covers a range of different ideas and definitions and starts with how to get inspired. It draws on the very powerful question ‘what if?’, as a start to using imagination, and also explains that the simplest newspaper headlines can inspire a novel. It highlights making notes, using dreams and just having a go, even if you don’t know where the story will end up. In between the hints and inspiration are informative notes about grammar and vocabulary. Christopher Edge outlines setting a scene, delineating a character, and how to incorporate setting and character into the action. He explains tenses and why not to mix them up, how to open a story, incorporate dialogue, introduce red herrings, how to end – and then how to edit. This is a really important skill, and something that’s easily forgotten in the rush of excitement brought by finishing a story. Re-examining your own text though can be crucial to making improvements and Christopher handles it well with a web of questions to help edit.

There is a huge amount of detail and interesting pieces set out in fun ‘inspiration stations’, such as fabulous titles, quotes illuminating how a character is portrayed in dialogue, as well as little circular bubbles with hints “If you can’t tell which character is speaking you might need to change the dialogue”, and ‘red alerts’ to explain difficult grammatical constructs.

The second half trots through the different genres, from adventure through crime, horror, mystery, comedy to writing about love, history, sports and so on. It is certainly comprehensive. And for the last spread alone, it inspired me to make it book of the week – the last page gently explains that writers can find their inspiration from other writers. Reading is the key. It highlights some great opening lines from children’s fiction – including two of my personal favourites – “When the doorbell rings at three in the morning, it’s never good news” Stormbreaker, Anthony Horowitz, and “There is no lake at Green Camp Lake.” Holes, Louis Sachar. If it inspires the next Horowitz or Sachar, Christopher Edge has done a really great job. You can purchase it from Amazon on the sidebar, or from Waterstones here

With thanks to OUP for my review copy.