Volunteering for the Summer Reading Challenge


Yesterday I cycled into Bradford on Avon and I was inducted into the finer details of the awesome 2014 Summer Reading Challenge, Sarah McIntyre’s Mythical Maze.   This means that I am no longer an observing parent but an official volunteer at the library and can find out, face to face what children between 4 and 11 like to read and help them choose the next book in the challenge.

I know I meet children all the time in schools, but this is different.  This isn’t about suggesting my books, it’s about suggesting all books and hopefully because I read so many children’s books I can recommend books that they’ll like and they can come back and tell me about them later on in the summer.

So I’m really looking forward to it.  It’s a little like bookselling – another thing I totally love.


Since yesterday I know that:

Children under 4 don’t do it, but they can do the Booktrust Bookstart Bear Club.

I know that there are scratch and sniff cards in the librarians’ box of rewards

I know that there’s an app that parents can download and that the children can then get extra little stories from special posters dotted around the library.

I know that there’s a special wristband reward for reading 4 books

I know that if you go on holiday you can visit a different library and get the books signed off but you have to go back to your own library so that they can officially enter your achievements in the register.

I know that the medals for six books are pretty awesome.

I also know that loads of children have already signed up, but that there’s plenty of room for more.

And that’s just for starters.


As I cycled home, I wondered if any other children’s authors or editors had volunteered for the Challenge, because if you’d be even remotely interested, you may find your local library still has gaps in the schedule, and they’ll probably welcome you with open arms.

Or, there’s always next year.




NOT Birmingham New St Station again?

I’ve been lucky enough to be shortlisted for a few book awards recently. SHRUNK! was up for the Heart of Hawick, debut award. Dear Scarlett made it to the finals of the James Reckitt Award in Hull (you can find out about it here on Liz’s blog) and also to the last 5 of the books put forward for Our Best Book Award in Leicester.

Sadly none of these places are very near Bath.  In fact, Hull is a snappy 5 and a half hours train ride away, so I had plenty of time for thinking in both directions.

On the way up, I mostly thought, why am I doing this?  Am I mad? Someone else will win?  (which they did in all cases, congratulations to Rob Lloyd Jones, Rachel Carter and Tom Palmer) But on the way back I thought about what a totally dedicated bunch librarians are because in every case they were charming, helpful, hospitable, soothing, enthusiastic, hard working, going far beyond the call of duty, and they were passionate about books and reading.

I asked how the awards were put together and I discovered that at Hull and in Leicester, huge piles of books are being read through the year ready for the longlist. Reviews are combed, blogs are read, covers examined.  Age ranges carefully considered  – books included or rejected.  It takes most of the year so between that and the Summer Reading Challenge it’s fairly full on.  And then, in addition to that, they have to organise the actual ceremony.  Persuading us authors to come, hiring buildings putting together activities for children liasing with schools.

All this is in response to a potential or actual drop in reading or achievement locally. The idea is to get the children to vote themselves – give them some power over us, the authors – get the authors up to meet them, engender passion and excitement about reading in the children.  Increase attainment, lifelong love of learning and reading.

At Hull there were 400 children, in Leicester 300 but they’re only the tip of the iceberg because each school could only send a few children – back there, out of sight were masses of children who couldn’t come to the award ceremony, but who, as a result of the awards, had a strong sense of ownership.

It was great.  And even as I passed through Birmingham New Street Station for the fourth time in a fortnight, I gave thanks for librarians, for libraries and for award ceremonies and all those who work so hard to put them together.

You’re all pretty incredible.


Half way through…

Phew – well today’s Story Adventure Speedy Story almost made the posting time of 6pm – but actually ended up making it out at 6.19 which was ALL MY FAULT!

It’s not entirely my fault – actually, the children suggested such wild and varied things it was A BIT OF A CHALLENGE to get it done in time.

We had robots, the Cold War, the battle of Hastings, mediaeval peasants, the future, the past – and a whole bunch of character suggestions.

You’ll be able to read the whole book by the end of the week – but there are still opportunities to contribute – join up here The Story Adventure

Speedy, teeny tiny Story Adventure

To mark Children’s Book Week next week (I know it’s Independent booksellers too, but they aren’t mutually exclusive) – we’re running a teeny tiny , super speedy story adventure, based on a single episode from the Yoghurt Plot.

If you have any children who might like to join the story adventure, but can’t do week after week, then this is for them. The book at the end will be totally FREE and downloadable.  So do sign up. 


Here’s a taster….


Chapter 1

 It was entirely by accident.  I didn’t mean to do it.

It was six o’clock. I opened the fridge, and took out a yoghurt.  It was in a glass jar, it had a paper lid, I should have stopped right then, but I was hungry…

That’s all I’m going to give you – you’ll have to go over to the Story Adventure to find out more – but I can tell you that  it will feature Bugg, Dilan and Lorna on another adventure –  with more time travel, more yoghurt – and maybe more gerbils?


Featured Image -- 659

The Yoghurt Plot – Fleur Hitchcock Q&A

Fleur Hitchcock:

Here is Jake’s lovely interview that we did – a small exploration of sci-fi and seaside towns.

Originally posted on tygertale:

‘Even if Einstein thought it was theoretically possible to travel in time, he never proved it, and if all the minds at the great universities haven’t managed to do it yet, then the likelihood of a 1920’s bungalow managing to invent a time machine, unaided, is very, very small. Time travel is far too complicated and unlikely to have been invented by a fridge.’

The Yoghurt Plot is just my sort of book. It features time travel, the seaside, a pain-in-the neck child called Lorna and a lot of yoghurt. Fleur Hitchcock has written a run of funny stories in the mode of classic children’s books from the 60s-80s (tailor made for Jackanory), told with an outlandish sci-fi twist. I asked her some questions.

Why use a fridge with time travel inducing yoghurt as your time machine?

The idea of sell by dates has been knocking around in my…

View original 890 more words

I’m no cruciverbalist –

I’m no cruciverbalist, but I like nothing better than a random selection of letters – not 7 like scrabble, more like 12, with a smattering of numbers that can be made to be numbers or letters.

We have just such a pile of left overs that live on the door of our fridge.

Daily, someone tries to make sense of them


Daily no-one can.

So they found their way into The Yoghurt Plot

the yoghurt plot

You’ll have to read it to find out how.

Sounds that trigger a memory.

On Sunday morning, early, before the true heat of the day I was skimming flies and leaves from the top of the splash pool. It’s like a big paddling pool or a Barbie sized Olympic swimming pool.

In the woods, two wood pigeons were chatting in that warm throaty way that they do in the early morning in summer, their voices floating over the gardens.  I swept the sieve through the water, and listened to the sound of it drip, and swoosh and echo like it does only in a swimming pool and never in the washing up.

It took me out of the garden and back to the 1970s.

I was somewhere between 10 and 14. It was early, maybe 6 am on a day in July or August, and it promised to be ferociously hot.

It had been ferociously hot for some days, and although I lived on the river Itchen, and I’d been forced to swim in it every day, I longed for this



The sparkling blue of a swimming pool.

So I climbed on my bike and cycled a few miles up the road to a house where I knew there was a pool, a beautiful circular huge swimming pool in a walled garden surrounded by roses and fruit trees.

I sort of knew the family that lived there, but not very well.

I hid my bike in the hedge and crept up the drive and through the creaky gate of the walled garden.

There was the pool, but to my disappointment, it was spotted with flies and leaves.  It wasn’t as perfect as I had imagined it.

I changed in a damp hut that smelled of rubber and chlorine, and stood ankle deep on the first step of the pool.

The water was cold, but there were no fish, no weed, no crayfish – and I had cycled quite a long way.  So I launched myself in, twisting over and over and pretending to have a good time, but all the while a little anxious, a little disappointed.

I dipped in and out, diving as silently as I could from the board into the centre of the pool before climbing out to listen to the water running back into the pool. There was just me and the slop slop of the ripples hitting the side and bouncing back on themselves.  I sat and hugged my goosepimpled legs, watched only by the wood pigeons calling in the copper beech trees over head.  And then, as the clock struck in the village, I slipped out of my costume, snuck back through the bushes and cycled home.

I never did it again.