Tag Archive for Reed Nathan

Sam Wu: A Conversation

Sam WuSometimes the best ideas come from collaboration. The junior fiction Sam Wu series is a lively and fun introduction to chapter book fiction for newly emergent readers. Featuring a truly funny main character in Sam Wu, with a loveable and realistic family including younger, and more confident, little sister Lucy, and wise grandma NaNa, this depiction of a Chinese family is refreshing and comes from author experience. Katie and Kevin Tsang have developed their winning main character and his group of friends in three books now, as Sam and companions lurch from adventure to adventure.  In Sam Wu is Not Afraid of the Dark by Katie and Kevin Tsang, illustrated by Nathan Reed, Sam and his friends take a camping trip away from Lucy and NaNa, but the book roots itself firmly within Sam’s tight friendship group. The Tsang author team showcase the magnificence of children’s imaginations, as more often than not Sam and his friends make their own adventures by imagining the scarier elements of life, all the time remaining within the safe sphere of their childhoods. With dynamic type and graphics, illustrations on almost every page, and lots of jokes, this is a great little series to enthuse young readers for chapter books.

A camping trip is a marvellous way to explore the bridge between childhood security and their growing independence, and as with Pamela Butchart’s There’s a Werewolf in my Tent, Sam and his friends imagine all the horrors that might come up to their tent in the dark. They also take a brave trip to a cave, and attempt to stay awake all night around the campfire in order to see off any nasty creatures or aliens that might share the woods with them. In the end, of course, all creepy noises are easily explained, and Sam Wu lives to breathe another day. Here, Katie and Kevin interview each other to explore the enjoyable elements of Sam Wu, their enthusiastic banter indicative of the fun, energy-filled dialogue within the book:

Photographer: Chris Close

KATIE AND KEVIN INTERVIEW 

Katie: I’m excited to interview each other!

Kevin: Me too!

Katie: I’ll go first. What are you most afraid of?’

Kevin: Sharks!! Researching for SAM WU IS NOT AFRAID OF SHARKS was very scary. But I also think sharks are awesome!

Katie: You really are very afraid of sharks.

Kevin: Okay, my turn. In SAM WU IS NOT AFRAID OF GHOSTS, Sam serves his friends Chinese food. What Chinese dish would you serve your friends?

Katie: I wish I was better at cooking Chinese food! I would probably take them to a Chinese restaurant. We’d either go out for dim sum (one of my favourites!) or to Sichuan (super spicy!) or for Peking duck. Like Sam, I love roast duck!

Katie: I’m stealing your excellent question that you asked me about what Chinese food I’d serve my friends. What would you serve?

Kevin: I’d take them for Peking Duck, like Sam! And I’d also make them try turnip cake.

Katie: I don’t believe that you’d make them try turnip cake

Kevin: That is just because you don’t like it.

Katie: Sometimes I do! It just isn’t my favourite.

Kevin: Speaking of favourites, who is your favourite character in Sam Wu?

Katie: Lucy is my secret favourite. I love how brave and bold she is. It was important that we portrayed positive sibling relationships. I also love NaNa.

Kevin: I have to admit, my favourite character is SAM.

Katie: Well, what is your favourite part about writing Sam Wu?

Kevin: Working with you!

Katie: Other than that, because that is obvious.

Kevin: I love seeing Nathan’s illustrations! He’s SO good. And the design team at Egmont is amazing too.

To buy a copy of Sam Wu is Not Afraid of the Dark, click here.

Books for Younger Readers

I’m constantly blown away by the quality of books for younger readers, otherwise known as newly independent readers. This, of course, is how it should be. It’s a crucial time to create that love of reading for pleasure. If they actively want to spend time reading at this age and it becomes habit, then their transition to reading longer texts will follow. Here is my round-up of recent texts for newly independents – about age 6-7 years onwards (although each child reads at their own pace and shouldn’t be rushed).

Sam Wu
Sam Wu is Not Afraid of Ghosts by Katie and Kevin Tsang illustrated by Nathan Reed
Sam Wu is afraid of many things, but no one likes to admit being a scaredy-cat. After an incident during a school trip to the science museum, everyone, especially the school bully, figures out that Sam Wu is quite scared. To prove his bravery, Sam opts to keep a pet snake. The only problem is that he’s scared of snakes.

This is a new series by husband and wife team and their compatibility obviously pays off in the writing. Never a dull moment, and packed full of laughs, this is an endearing look at different cultures, friendships, and how to be brave. There are particular stellar characters, including a grandmother and a little sister, who delightfully is not stereotypically annoying, but actually a great help to Sam. There’s a fun layout with large typeface, capital letters to emphasise embarrassing and scary moments, and lots of fantastic illustrations from Nathan Reed. A great introduction to chapter books. You can buy it here.

great telephone mix up
The Great Telephone Mix-Up by Sally Nicholls, illustrated by Sheena Dempsey
An absolutely charming tale about the importance of community, helping your neighbours and reaping the surprising benefits. When the phone wires in a sleepy little village get mixed up, the neighbours start to discover things about each other as they receive the wrong phone calls, and then have to pass on the messages.

It turns out that meeting each other face to face not only brings new friendships, but brings awareness of who in the town is struggling, needs help or may need to find love. Nicholls carefully gets over the problem of mobile phones by explaining there is no signal in the town (a message not entirely lost on rural communities), and so everyone relies on their home phone.

The story is simple, the text well-spaced, and illustrations by Sheena Dempsey positively charming. Each character is well delineated and there’s a diverse mix. A lovely addition to the Little Gems selection. You can buy it here.

noah scape
Noah Scape Can’t Stop Repeating Himself by Guy Bass, illustrated by Steve May
An altogether more nightmarish story from Guy Bass, in which the protagonist can’t get what he wants. Noah decides that if everyone in the world were like him, then that would solve the problem- after all the majority rules, right? It starts, as all school problems do, in the school canteen when Noah is served meat pie instead of spaghetti with tomato sauce.

When Noah wakes the next morning and goes to school, he finds himself already sitting in his seat – there are two of him. And each day the number of Noahs double until finally they get what they want. They also share the same opinions like a modern day echo chamber.

Or do they?

When the original Noah is outvoted by his 63 copies, Noah realises he still isn’t getting his own way. This is a brilliant examination of how to get along with others, as well as a great representation of coping in school when a child is having to manage a mental health issue such as OCD, which dictates that routine is of paramount importance to the day. Of course, there’s the numerical element too. Bass hasn’t quite tied up all the loose ends of the story either, so there’s plenty of room for speculation after reading. A fun, and also highly accessible read. You can buy it here.

happyville high
Happyville High: Geek Tragedy by Tom McLaughlin
One of the most hilarious young fiction titles I have read in a long time, I couldn’t stop sniggering, which of course made all the children near me want to read this too. Tyler is too smart for school and has been homeschooled for much of her life. But when she and her Dad move to Happyville, he enrols her in the local school.

This is no ordinary school though, and Tyler realises there’s something inherently wrong, especially when she reads the motto: “The more popular you are, the happier you become!” Being a bit of a nerd means that Tyler definitely isn’t popular, but she does make two friends in the library, who are equally ‘geeky’. Tyler is enthralled when she discovers that one of them has developed an algorithm to decipher which candy bar is best, with the results laid out on a spreadsheet. (Tyler’s excitement at being invited over to see this knows no limits.)

When the popular kids are struck with an affliction – their right arms elongate to enable them to take better selfies – the three new friends have to use their brains to rid the town of this vain disorder. There is much slapstick and silly humour but also a biting satirical look at the way our society ranks people and behaves. Fabulously funny in many ways and incredibly readable. For slightly older readers than the other books on this blog. Self-illustrated too. You can buy it here.

magical kingdom of birds
Magical Kingdom of Birds: The Sleepy Hummingbirds by Anne Booth, illustrated by Rosie Butcher
A gentler start to a series in this book about magical escapism – something we all might need from the world of selfie-sticks and cool school heroes. When Maya colours in the pages of her colouring book, she is whisked into a magical kingdom filled with the most enchanting colourful birds and their small fairy friends.

But, as with all idylls, trouble is brewing, and the evil Lord Astor has a plan to capture the tiniest, most vulnerable residents and put them into cages. Maya has the privilege and great responsibility of being Keeper of the Book, and she must protect the kingdom and its birds at all costs.

An early introduction to the beauty of the natural world, with each book in the series showcasing a different species, this is a wonderful start to early reading. The pages are exquisitely illustrated in black and white by Rosie Butcher, the text in many cases framed by a leafy border, encapsulating the words and the story in this natural landscape. Beautiful descriptions bring the birds and their habitat to life, and Booth hasn’t been afraid to introduce more difficult vocabulary, explaining words such as torpor, tubular and prophesy. You can buy it here.

unicorn academymuddle the magical puppythe spiderwick chroniclesA quick mention to three other series. Unicorn Academy by Julie Sykes, illustrated by Lucy Truman has hitchhiked perfectly onto the current zeitgeist for all things unicorn. With its sparkly covers and more grown-up illustrations, these reminded me of my adoration and loyalty to all things My Little Pony when I was a child. The Unicorn Academy adventures are school stories in which the girls each have their own unicorn, and each book introduces themes such as friendship, loyalty, and independence. The first in the series, Sophia and the Rainbow, introduces ten-year-old Sophia who finds out that each unicorn has its own special powers. The stories are simple, chapters short, but the series has the magical potential to turn reading into a habit. Likewise with Muddle the Magic Puppy and Cuddle the Magic Kitten series by Hayley Daze. Cute illustrations adorn the front and continue inside, with big eyes as a feature. In Muddle the Magic Puppy: The Magic Carpet, Muddle goes on a flying carpet adventure in Arabia. A long-established children’s writer has penned these, and the story is straightforward. Large typography and short chapters make comprehension easy. Lastly, for more advanced readers, the publisher Simon and Schuster have republished The Spiderwick Chronicles by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black in beautifully illustrated hardback editions. This gothic fantasy series is a great choice for fluent readers who want to expand their literary landscape – with a richly imagined world of dark fairies. The Grace children move into the Spiderwick Estate and through secret passageways and hidden doors, they discover that they are not alone in the new house. First published in 2003, with a 2008 movie, the series is well-worth revisiting for a new young audience.

 

 

All the Fun of the Fair, and Circus too

Bright and loud, brash and fun, circuses and funfairs are excellent places to set a children’s book.

samson-the-mighty-flea
Samson the Mighty Flea! By Angela McAllister and Nathan Reed

Flea circuses started in the early 19th century, when an Italian impresario advertised an ‘extraordinary exhibition of industrious fleas’.

Samson is quite possibly the most extraordinary, but also warmest and friendliest looking flea we have ever seen. He is the big star of Fleabag’s Circus and shows his prowess to the somewhat strange crowd of colourful insects by lifting such heavy items as peas and matches, as well as hoisting his colleague, Amelie. But this smallest strongman dreams of being an even bigger star and sets off to make his fortune.

When Samson leaves his circus to join the big wide world, he finds out just how big it is. (Perception is everything.) When he joins The Circus of Dreams, he performs his act aloft the head of the Mighty Moustachio, to rapturous applause – deluding himself that the adulation is for him.

Combining a touching flea love story (don’t start scratching) with a message about being happy with what you have, and understanding that being a big star is all about your audience, this is a book that bursts with colour, enthusiasm and humour.

Told in rhyming verse that’s slightly reminiscent of the Ugly Bug Ball, this is a book with a heart. The story contains a plethora of insects and a zingy rhyme, as well as occasional moments of pathos.

The illustrations merge a circus with the insect world brilliantly – the insects’ antennae portrayed as bobbling dress-up hairbands, our protagonist flea wearing armbands to match his shorts, while his girlfriend Amelie wears a pink ra-ra skirt, pink glasses, and shows off her pink hair fuzz.

This is a vibrant picture book that is a joy to read aloud, and contains much within for discussion. A heart-warming tale about keeping perspective and seeing how your friends perceive you. We particularly loved the bravery of the lady flea left behind. Most tellingly, in a house fit to bursting with new picture books, this one has been declared a new favourite. A showstopper indeed. For ages 5+ years. You can buy it here.

jinks-and-ohare

Jinks and O’Hare Funfair Repair by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre

Another successful collaboration from Reeve and McIntyre, following Cakes in Space, Oliver and the Seawigs, and Pugs of the Frozen North. This one allows Reeve to go even further in his excellent world-building, fabricating a universe filled with planets, such as Funfair Moon, in which the book’s action is set, and OfficeWorld with its Water Cooler Flume Ride, opening hours 9-5 of course.

Emily is a girl engineer, who hangs out with the funfair fixers – Jinks and O’Hare – for enjoyment, and in the hope of becoming their apprentice. Jinks and O’Hare are excellent at their job, but when a safety inspector turns up, there is a horrible coincidental breakdown of rides resulting in terrible catastrophes, ranging from a fudgeplosion to a serious gravity inversion on the helter-skelter.

Emily is on the case to solve the mystery of why the rides keep breaking down, and what the strange ‘rustlers’ are doing in the funfair.

This is zany storytelling at its very best. Inventive, witty and engaging, Reeve and McIntyre work together like rhubarb and custard. There are Miss Haversham-esque dining table allusions in the ghost train, Star Wars and Alien witticisms throughout – both in text and illustration.

The observant reader will spot many hilarious incidents, and much attention to detail, from the illustrations of a mermaid with coffee cup and mobile phone to the self-referential newspaper, the innovative vocabulary, and the allusions to prior books (pugs).

But even if the reader isn’t aware of the allusions, the book remains a fun, madcap caper with loads to look at, with a great adventure and a stellar example of how to let loose with the imagination. An absurd treat of a rollercoaster ride. For ages 7+ years. You can purchase this here.

the-girl-who-walked-on-air

The Girl Who Walked on Air by Emma Carroll

Inspired by history, Emma Carroll’s circus tale is set in the world of Victorian circuses. Another girl protagonist, this time Louie, who sells tickets at Chipchase’s circus. But she dreams of being a funambulist, training in secret before anyone else is awake.

There are other people keeping secrets though, including Mr Chipchase, and before long Louie is unravelling the mystery surrounding her absent parents, and her phenomenal talent for tightrope walking.

The structure of the book is purposefully like a show – with the first act at Chipchases, an interval in which Louis traverses the Atlantic, and the second act in which she defies death and crosses Niagara on a tightrope (inspired by the true story of Jean-Francois Gravelet, known as Blondin’ for his blonde hair).

Enthralling and riveting for its circus content, Carroll draws on a number of well-played tropes to establish her novel, from a red-haired extrovert orphan protagonist searching for a mother, to a Titanic-esque style sea-crossing (without the iceberg crash), and maltreatment of children/employees. However, Carroll has drawn from history, and the truth behind the stories she tells of daring stunts with wheelbarrows and all manner of props on a tight-rope make this story for children absolutely breath-taking.

It’s a gripping adventure mystery, mainly due to Carroll’s excellently tight plotting and her winning style, which carries the reader along with ease and grace. Bound up within the story is the determination of the heroine, and the life lessons of trust and bravery – two key skills from tightrope walking that can be transferred to real life.

This is a thrilling tale of circuses and self-discovery which leaves the reader satisfied. Another testament to a good book – every child I’ve met who has read this story has loved it. For age 9+ years. Buy yours here.

the-greatest-show

The Greatest Show of All by Jane Eagland

This rather easy yet compelling story by Jane Eagland retells the story of Twelfth Night in a dyslexia friendly print for a reading age of eight, yet with a teen audience in mind. It transposes the hidden identities, misplaced romance and fun world of Shakespeare’s play into the world of the circus.

Kitty follows her brother in running away from her family farm and joins a circus. But to work with the horses there, she has to disguise herself as a boy, which she does, successfully. Kit works with horse performer Jack and falls in love with him, but he in turn is in love with the tight-rope walker, Sarah. And Sarah is further tied into the love triangle.

With escaping lions, evil clowns, daredevil performances, this is a whirlwind of a book, but at no time too challenging to understand the plot twists, identities and emotions. Our protagonist Kitty is more than likeable – she is empathetic herself, kind and generous, and its lovely to see a story where good triumphs over bad and there’s a happy ending.

A great re-telling, perfect for its audience. Check it out here.

poppy-pymthe-war-next-door

Other great circus reads include Poppy Pym and the Pharaoh’s Curse by Laura Wood, and The War Next Door by Phil Earle, illustrated by Sara Ogilvie. Poppy Pym is about a girl who grows up in the circus, but when she turns eleven, the circus decide to send her to a proper school. The book turns into a mystery, after an incident with an exhibition of Ancient Egyptian artefacts at Poppy’s new school, but Poppy discovers she needs her circus family to help her solve the crime. The first in the series, this is a great adventure for readers aged 9+ with another feisty heroine. Buy it here.

Phil Earle’s book, The War Next Door, is the third in his series about Storey Street. The plot pivots on a turf war over a houseless patch of land in the middle of a row of terraces. The tussle over space and ownership and the reaction to the circus family who pitch up one day holds a dark side that contrasts nicely with this series’ generally upbeat and funny tone and self-referential author jokes. As in the first in the series, Demolition Dad, in which the father’s tendency to depression was tested, this too provides a good story with a deeper moral angle behind it, in this case, how one treats neighbours and ‘outsiders’. The circus performers are particularly brought to life by talented illustrator Sara Ogilvie. You can buy it here.