Monday, 21 May 2012

New Blog

Armadillo Blog now has a new name and a new look, if you follow me, and I hope you do, please visit
to see the new look... enjoy!

I look forward to seeing you all there and as always welcome any comments.

Louise, Armadillo Edior-in-Chief

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Fortune Tellers...

Three very different and very interesting books insightfully reviewed for the Blog by Bridget Carrington

We begin with an excellent independently published book. Alfie Jones and a Change of Fortune by David Fuller (RDF Publishing 2011).
A winner! As we’ve discovered before, books from independent publishers and those which are self-published are a very mixed bag, and those publishers can get very aerated if their product is adversely criticised! David Fuller’s Alfie Jones and a Change of Fortune shows just how good independently published books can be.

Alfie is nine years old and his passion is football. He has always loved playing for Kingsway Colts, where he is one of their stars, but when their elderly coach is taken ill, his replacement is only interested in promoting his own son, Jasper. Jasper and his father are bullies, and Alfie is, quite literally, sidelined for every match. Luckily, he meets a mysterious fortune-teller, Madame Zola, who helps him beat the bullies.

This book is great fun, with plenty of excitement and humour, ably assisted by Rob Smyth’s illustrations. But it has very serious undertones, showing how adults as well as peers can bully children, and the effect this can have on the object of this bullying. Although Alfie is supported by his friends, he isn’t by his parents who, although they are not unkind, have no interest in Alfie’s passion for and skill in football. Instead they support Alfie’s sister’s passion for dancing. There are also positive elderly characters: Jimmy Grimshaw, the old coach, and Madame Zola, untidy, scatty, but the catalyst which empowers Alfie to outwit the bullies.

This is an excellent chapter book for primary school readers, to which boys will relate, and we look forward to reading many more of Alfie’s adventures.

Moving on to a retelling from an established and popular author Bridget read Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings, retold by Elizabeth Laird, illustrated by Shirin Adl (Frances Lincoln 2012).
Elizabeth Laird is passionate about bringing young Western audiences an understanding of the people, customs and culture of the Middle East and beyond. Shanameh is an epic poem written more than a thousand years ago, which relates the myths and legends which tell of the beginning of Persia – modern-day Iran – and which have formed an oral tradition in those lands.

The stories tell of the lives, loves and adventures of the kings, heroes, princesses, magical animals and demons.

Laird has retold them perfectly, retaining the poetic lilt within a translation which will engage young readers. Shirin Adl’s illustrations accompany the text perfectly, with full page modern, slightly quirky, representations of typical Persian art, and every page bordered by flowers and creatures which echo the atmosphere and ethos of the stories. This is a beautiful book, in content and in presentation.

Finally Bridget shares her thoughts about a book translated into English by Anthea Bell but originally from the pen and imagination of the hugely talented Kai Meyer, Arcadia Awakens (Templar 2012).
A curiously mixed set of genres are found in Meyer’s YA novel, where Rosa, an American teenager recovering from an abortion resulting from a gang rape, returns to her Mafia family roots in Sicily. Here she reluctantly falls in love with the son of a rival clan, and discovers that, in common with the rest of each family, they can shape-shift into a snake (Rosa) and a tiger (Alessandro), a legacy from their Arcadian ancestry. Thereafter they battle various odds, human and supernatural.

Meyer paints a competent picture of the Sicilian landscape – though that may owe something to my currently watching Montalbano – but the characterisation is less convincing. Myth – the Arcadian element – legend and Bond-style thriller combine in the first novel of a projected trilogy which will undoubtedly captivate a teenage audience which enjoys fast-paced adventure, fantasy, romance and angst.

We hope you will find the time to enjoy one or more of these titles for yourself.

Monday, 30 April 2012

Retro Books

In Friday's post I recieved an advance copy of 'Leopard Adventure'.  This may sound like a Willard Price adventure but the award-winning Anthony McGowan has written this story, to be published by Puffin in July, inspired by Willard Price and to clebrate the 125th anniversary of his birhtday!  Retro stories are very popular, classic adventure stories are ocming back into vouge and it is with this in mind that Armadillo reviewer Bridget Carrington posts her thoughts on another book, this one from an independent publisher, with a retro feel.

The strapline promises ‘Beasts, Baddies and Bombs’, which is spot on, but we should also add Biggles into this mix. In The Bother in Burmeon by S.P. Moss (Circaidy Gregory Press 2012) the author has created a twenty-first-century retro adventure story very much in the Biggles style, in which the RAF and flying, danger and heroism feature big time. The difference is that Susan Moss has added a timeslip element in which Billy travels back to 1962 and meets his dead grandfather, then an RAF pilot on a secret mission to the imaginary country of Burmeon.

Billy is a fairly lonely boy in his twenty-first-century life, bullied at school and an only child with parents who are absent for much of the time. As a result he spends holidays with his Gran, and it’s then that he is transported back to his Grandpop’s exciting life fifty years before. We see what England was like then (and Moss has images of many of the things from then that inspired her story at, and we experience an old-fashioned adventure in which Billy’s twenty-first-century knowledge and possessions can cause the occasional problem!

Readers may question the portrayal of ‘Radar’, the son of Flight Sergeant Singh, Grandpop’s right-hand man. Radar’s characterization fits well with the Biggles era but less comfortably in a novel written now. Nevertheless Billy’s final discovery about this brave, loyal friend he made in Grandpop’s time is a nice touch. Altogether, although Moss’s story would have benefitted from tighter editing, it could make a welcome modern addition for fans of the classic children’s adventure story.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Books for Easter

Books for Easter Reading is the title of my school suggested reading list at this time of year. We have now broken up for Easter and parents are always keen to find some books to keep the children entertained as well as to stretch them. It is the point of the academic year when reading habits begin to wane - the weather is the main reason - children love to play outside and often have many sporting commitments. However there are so many great books to be read why not listen to the weather men. We are told by these purveyors of weather news that in 2012 the Easter weekend is going to be a wet one, so I for one will have a pile of books at the ready. They don't all require me to sit and read quietly, some are for reading aloud and sharing, others are for craft fun.

Let's start with a selection of books for the youngest readers, or rather listeners. if you have some small children surrounding you this Easter, clamouring for entertainment then these books will be the perfect choice.

A new series, My First Picture Book, published by Random House features four different titles, I have been lucky enough to review three of them. Starting with Bigger Digger by Steve Webb and Ben Mantle in which a big quarry lorry gets rather stuck and so begins a disastrous day in which a lorry, truck and digger each get stuck trying to help one another. Add to this some fabulous rhythm and rhyme in the form of the story text, vibrant pictures and wonderful sounds to be made and you have a recipe for fun. Not a fan of diggers or need another theme? Try A Quiet Day in the Jungle by Andrew Weale & Britta Teckentrup, a clam and peaceful day is being enjoyed by all the animals until a very cheeky monkey unleashes clamour and chaos, can you guess what he did before it is revealed? Boo Boo Baby and the Giraffe by Eileen Browne and Emily Bolam tells the story of a little baby setting off into a dreamy journey of excitement at bedtime, all the animals make a sound but are they all soothing and where have they come from? Find out for yourself in this charming story perfect for bedtime after a long day of Easter egg hunts!

Of course on Easter Day what better activity to indulge in than a traditional Easter Egg hunt which is just what happens in Dawn Richards and Heidi D'hamers Duck's Easter Egg Hunt. Children will love the tile and the glittery pile of eggs on the front cover as much as they will the charming story. Duck is so excited when she organises the village Easter egg hunt that she accidentally hides her own egg! Join Duck, the three bunnies Hoppy, Poppy and Floppy and a host of other characters as they all enjoy the most important Easter egg hunt ever ... can they find the missing egg? Children, you will have to help and see how many eggs you can spot hidden throughout this gorgeous story.

Easter egg hunts are of course just one of the many activities keeping children busy on Easter Day but when they have finished that are are clamouring for more try giving them a copy of My Carry Along Easter, an activity book with stickers from Lion Hudson with crafts by Jocelyn Miller. This book features 15 different activities for children from a spot the difference puzzle to Easter card making and fluffy chick cakes. There is plenty here to keep both adults and children amused and the charming 'carry along' handle means the book is incredibly portable too! If its raining and you are stuck indoors then why not try My Very First Easter Playtime and activity book with stickers, from Lion Publishing, to keep them amused.

A story is required and one that fits the Easter theme? Jez Alborough's Six Little Chicks combines counting experience and a charming story perfectly themed to the time of year. Croc and Bird by Alexis Deacon, published by Random House, is an absolute delight featuring two eggs which hatch into a bird and a croc following their unusual growing up and discovering that a true family is not always what you might expect it to be. Finally for the young children there is Penguin's Hidden Talents by Alex Latimer, published by Corgi, in which a talent show - perhaps another great Easter activity - reveals to Penguin and his friends that talents may certainly be hidden but a little effort will soon bring them out.

All in all a charming selection of stories, some with an Easter theme, others perfect for the time of year, to entertain little ones.

What if you have or are an older child? Well you may not want a vast selection of books to choose from so here are just a couple to tempt you ...

For anyone who finds reading a challenge or just wants a book to make them laugh the new Barrington Stoke title from Jeremy Strong should fit the bill. The Ghost in the Bath is a wet and soggy ghost story with a twist of history for good measure! Luke is in trouble - he hasn't done his history project for Mrs Rubble, he cannot find any inspiration. How does a ghost in his bath connect? Ellie is the ghost if a girl who drowned when the Titanic sunk. Her wish to find her one true loves sends Luke on a mission and inspires his history homework too but will it be enough for Mrs Rubble?

Continuing on a semi-historical theme readers might be interested in Richard Knight's The Court Painter's Apprentice published by Catnip. Almost a version of A Picture of Dorian Grey for children this is the story of Johann, an apprentice painter who finds that his master's advice - to paint what he sees not what he thinks he sees gives him the power to paint a person's soul and even alter it. Talent is not something Johann is short of but his new skill can be both a blessing and a curse. Find out where it takes him and what he learns in this engaging and thought-provoking novel.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Are you feeling Alienated?

A guest blog spot from an author this week, talking about Aliens and books Jeff Norton is also unveiling a new concept in children's books, allowing them to input their thoughts into how the book should develop and progress. Read his Blog entry here and then visit the website at to find out more.


There’s something about Aliens.
I’ve always loved the idea of aliens. I can still remember being six years old and studying space in school when the first Columbia shuttle lifted off. What a way to capture a young boy’s imagination; all of those planets, a huge universe, the possibility of life on other worlds! Of course, I was a child of Star Wars, and later Star Trek and in between I devoured seminal movies like E.T. and Close Encounters, and influential books like Ender’s Game and Asimov, and as an adult, upon moving to my adopted home of the UK, came to fully embrace the alien hegemony of Doctor Who.
Aliens are invading our pop culture.

Looking ahead at the upcoming Hollywood summer blockbusters, I count five major films featuring aliens: John Carter, Men In Black 3, The Avengers, Prometheus, and Battleship. Cumulatively, that’s well over half a billion dollars being spent to bring us alien-themed stories this summer.
Does the existence of extra-terrestrial life make us feel less alone in a vast universe? Are aliens the modern day (post 1950’s) answer to ancient Greek mythology, a way of understanding the human condition through the non-human? Aliens seem to provide a shared language for understanding and dealing with Earthbound issues through the lens of the ultimate foreigner. Whilst Verne, Wells, and Swift certainly dealt with the otherworldly in their writings, mass science fiction truly took off in the post-war years. Perhaps each of us feels out of place, or alienated, in a big, busy, and confusing world; insert cold war, oil shocks, Reaganism/Thatcherism, or terrorism to suit your decade. Do we view aliens as metaphors for us, or as explanation of other?

Alien pop mythology can be roughly cut in half, separating benign visitors (E.T.) and deadly invaders (Independence Day), and of course, both of those vectors can be flipped around where we humans become the visitors/explorers, benign or otherwise.

If good storytelling reveals truths about the human experience, what do stories involving non-humans reveal? That we have the capacity for kindness? Or, in the case of an invasion, the capacity for ultimate heroics where, despite our differences, the human race can band together to defeat a common enemy? The book Ender’s Game (currently in production as a big budget film) teaches us vastly more about what it means to be human than what it means to be alien.

Today’s young readers were literally raised by aliens. The hugely popular Aliens Love Underpants was first published in 2007 and those picture book readers are becoming today’s middle grade readers. Clone Wars and Ben 10 dominate Cartoon Network. And CBBC is mounting a new Russell T. Davies show called Aliens vs. Wizards, which begs the question, in the post-Harry Potter age, are aliens the next wizards?

In the lead up to the Bologna Book Fair, publishers will be asking themselves what’s the next big trend. We’ve been through wizards, vampires, angels, fairies, and are currently riding the dystopian wave. What’s next?

I believe aliens are the next big trend that has never gone away. So embedded in our cultural psyche, now from picture-book age, aliens will grow into a mass mythos for a connected, but complicated, world.

I suppose it’s just lucky that I was slipped the classified but unredacted memoirs of the only human boy at the high school for aliens at Area 51. Matt Knight and myself have been busy uncovering the truth, turning Sherman’s Capote’s diary entries into a book that will reveal the exciting (and very funny) truth about the aliens at Area 51. Codenamed Alienated, I’m sure it’ll join the great canon of modern alien mythology.

Jeff Norton is the author of MetaWars and founder of Awesome, a London based creative incubator.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Lunch with a PhoenixPhoenix Yard Literary Lunch I was delighted to be able to accept the invitation to this occasion last week on behalf of Armadillo

Phoenix Yard Literary Lunch

I was delighted to be able to accept the invitation to this occasion on behalf of Armadillo and I wasn’t disappointed. This very young Publishing House is situated in a small yard just off King’s Cross Road in London and shares the fascinating old building with a team of Architects – who I gather are very useful for impromptu book reviews!

Emma Langley , Editor, Andrea Reece, Publicist, and Ellie were very enthusiastic to share their new list of books - all very varied and distinctive and it was fun to sit round a large table with Nicolette Jones, Nick Tucker, Ferelith Horden, Ann Lazim (IBBY) , Meg from Booktrust and Pip and Lesley from Bounce! to discuss their merits.

Here is a link to their latest list

Happiness is a Watermelon on Your Head by Daniel Hahn and Stella Dreis immediately caught my eye with its wonderful bright, colourful and zany cover. The continuing pages are just as fun as the rhyming text tells of three grumpy ladies (Miss Whimper, Miss Grouch and Miss Stern) who try to discover why their friend Miss Jolly is so happy all the time. Their antics, as they try everything from wearing fruit as hats to climbing trees and having exotic pets, are very amusing and the final pages are a riot of colour and shapes as Miss Jolly manages to make them laugh. The pages have wonderful detail to keep you amused for ages.

As a contrast, Freight Train by Donald Crews has the gentle simplicity of blocks of solid colour but is no less effective. An introduction to colour, this short book celebrates the grandeur and strength of the train as it moves through the pages. This picture book has the indefinable hall marks of a classic.

Colour, or rather the limitations of just the white of the page and red and black, is the signature of Little Red Hood by Marjoliane Leray (translated by Sarah Ardizonne) Here we have the well known Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf but beautifully pared down to a simple conversation and illustrations which convey mood and character and attitude in scribbles of colour. This book is very entertaining and deceptive in its apparent simplicity. Great fun!

As I move on to describe Monacello The Little Monk by Geraldine McCaughrean, illustrated by Jana Diemberger, I realise that Phoenix Yard Books like to use every shade and colour palette available to them! This is a short story illustrated in muted hues on wonderful soft brown pages which are perfect for the story of the strange orphaned child, dressed in the dark brown cloak and hood of a monk. Monacello roams the streets of Naples creating a mixed reaction in everyone he meets – except for the cats who are his friends. His background is a mystery as is the aura of both good and bad luck he seems to create. This is the first of a trilogy as Monacello searches for his Mother and is a haunting tale beautifully recounted by Geraldine McCaughrean in her typically skilful style. The accompanying art work is moody and haunting.

Finally, Phoenix Yard has published Coping with Chloe by Rosalie Warren which is aimed at top Juniors, early teens. Anna’s twin Chloe died in an accident, her parents have split up and her Mother isn’t coping. But Anna knows that Chloe hasn’t gone for ever, she is sharing Anna’s body and living with her. This intriguing story tells of Anna’s struggles at home and at school, her friendship with Joe, the new boy at school and the ups and downs of sharing your body with your twin sister…who might have different ideas from you at times.

So overall, Phoenix Yard Books has an unusual and fascinating list. Many of the books have been translated and have stories of their own behind the publication and I recommend keeping a look out for the books they publish in the future.

Louise Stothard 31st January 2012

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Sara Grant on Best Friends

Guest post by Sara Grant, author of Dark Parties

BFFs 4 Evva

Dark Parties is a love story. Sure there’s a sexy, mysterious leading man and forbidden romance. But in many ways the central love story is between two best friends – Neva and Sanna. If you are lucky enough to have a best friend, you know the importance of this relationship and that they save your life in big and small ways all the time.

When I was Neva’s age, boyfriends came and went but girlfriends endured. I wanted to write a story with friendship at its heart. Maybe that’s strange for a book titled Dark Parties. But this feminine camaraderie is the underlying pulse of the book. Neva and Sanna complete each other. They finish each other’s sentences. Neva grounds Sanna and serves as her surrogate family. Sanna provides Neva with a spark and an energy.

When the novel opens, Neva and Sanna have decided to rebel against the government. Each has different objectives. Sanna wants to make a splash. Neva wants to make a difference. Sanna has the ideas. Neva has the connections. They host a dark party – a party in the pitch black. Their hope is to entice their friends to join them in a secret rebellion. But when the lights go out, Neva accidently kisses someone. When the lights come back on, she realizes she’s kissed Sanna’s boyfriend. Now she’s falling for her best friend’s boyfriend and discovering secrets and lies that threaten her friendship, her family and her country. Ultimately Neva must risk everything to save her best friend.

Sanna reminds me of two of my best friends. She’s part my oldest and dearest friend Courtney. We met in college. She’s the one who understands me like no other – and likes me anyway. We have been friends for more than twenty years. We have grown up and weathered many trials and tribulations together. We are separated by a big ocean but no matter how long between our phone calls, it’s like we were never apart. She knows the right thing to say no matter what my conundrum.

Sanna is also part my newest and dearest friend. From the moment we met in 2005, we had an instant connection. We are both Americans named Sara who married Brits and now live in the UK – and have a deep love for Mexican food. She has boundless enthusiasm and is never at a loss for big ideas. She never ceases to amaze me. I can always count on her.

What’s the saying? A friend helps you move, your best friend helps you move a body. If one of my friends called with an emergency – no matter what the time, no matter where I was – I’d drop everything to help.

What would you do to save your best friend?

Have you been to a Dark Party?

Guest Post by Sara Grant, author of Dark Parties

Why Dystopian?

When I finished the first draft of Dark Parties in 2009, I had an agent tell me that she didn’t think dystopian novels would sell. How times and tastes have changed. I recently heard someone call ‘dystopia’ the new ‘paranormal romance’ of young adult fiction.

Hunger Games, Delirium, Matched, Divergent, Blood Red Road, XVI, Bumped, The Declaration. There’s definitely something in the zeitgeist. I’m sure someone out there with a Ph.D. can hypothesize about the current social and political climate that predisposes writers and readers to dystopian fiction. And maybe there’s another doctor-type who can explain something about a teenager’s brain chemistry that makes them particularly susceptible to dark, futuristic tales.

I read an article in The New Yorker where Scott Westerfeld compared the high school experience (secondary school/Sixth Form in the UK) to a dystopia. Maybe teens intuitively understand and appreciate this genre because they are living it?

But the reason I write dystopian fiction for young adults is far less lofty and scientific. I love the freedom – not only the freedom to imagine the future and make the rules, but also the freedom that I can afford my teen protagonist. Teenagers can save the world.

Dystopian stories offer a complete escape from everyday life. Practically it allows writers to rid teen protagonist of pesky parents, mobile phones and the internet, which make answers and rescue come far too swiftly – and boringly. A story void of competent parents and efficient technology allows for greater adventure and risks.

And dystopian novels allow readers and writers the freedom to explore themes in a way most contemporary teen fiction can’t. You can illuminate a particular aspect of society or human nature and whittle away the parts of the real world that don’t serve your story.

The idea for Dark Parties came shortly after I moved from Indianapolis, Indiana, to London, England. Debates on immigration were raging on both sides of the Atlantic – and still are. What does it mean to be American or British? How ‘open’ should countries’ borders be? I wanted to explore issues of national and personal identity so I created a country that had literally closed itself off from the rest of the world.

Another benefit of writing dystopian fiction is the ease with which it can cross borders and appeal to readers around the world. I intentionally didn’t identify the country in Dark Parties. In my mind, it’s a mixture of my two homelands – the US and UK, but it could also easily represent other countries. Dark Parties has sold to the US, UK, Germany, Poland, Turkey, China and Taiwan.

Now I’m completely hooked on dystopian fiction. I not only read every dystopian novel I can get my hands on but I’m already neck deep in writing another dark futurist tale – which will be published in 2013. So stay tuned for Half Lives – a race against time and a battle to save future generations. It’s about the nature of faith and power of miscommunication – and above all the strength of the human spirit to adapt and survive.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Authors Electric

Despite all the talk at the end of last year about the way in which the Kindle was set to overtake publishing and reduce the sales of paper books it seems that children's books continue to go from strength to strength in all formats.

However we at Armadillo have nothing against the Kindle, after all it has its own uses and so if your children are pestering you for a Kindle or other such device then here is an exciting new offering to consider...

Introducing Authors Electric: professional authors with decades of publishing experience, now producing fresh new books via a brand new blog,

Do Authors Dream of Electric Books?

bringing together a variety of published UK-based authors of fiction and non-fiction for adults, teens and children. Many of these writers are now bringing back their much-missed out-of-print books as ebooks, with others publishing new titles at affordable prices.

Susan Price, whose Carnegie-winner The Ghost Drum is now out for Kindle, says: “The Kindle has set authors free to publish independently and sell in a world-wide market. We want our blog to become a site that people will bookmark, and where they can go to find quality writing at great prices.”

Among the other authors for children and teenagers contributing to Authors Electric include Katherine Roberts, the first recipient of the Branford-Boase Award, Pauline Fisk, winner of the Smarties Prize, and Armadillo's very own Linda Newbery, winner of the Costa Children’s Prize.

The new site, which is already attracting numerous hits, not only has a great selection of ebooks for all the family but also brings you a daily blog by this team of professional authors, talking openly about all things to do with writing and what it is like to be an author in this digital age. Each month, the blog also hosts a guest author talking about their work.

Their website Do Authors Dream of Electric Books? can be visited at:

Launch yourself into the exciting world of electronic books and don't forget to keep us updated as to what you discover when you are there!

Sunday, 8 January 2012

A New Year Diet with a Difference!

Everywhere you look this last week there has been talk of diets and detox so it must be the year! I have a diet with a difference to offer you, a diet of books and for my first offering I would like to set you up with the books on the short list for the Red House Children's Book Award which from now on will be referred to as RHCBA.
In the school in which I work as a librarian, Downsend, in Leatherhead, we have set up a reading group or three for the different age groups, all these groups have been reading and sharing the books on the short list, discussing their relative merits and being candidly open and honest about how they feel.
The younger children have been enjoying the picture books, we read them together and they love exploring them in detail, something they don't always get the chance to do as they are pushed into chapter books too soon, I meet with one group again tomorrow so will report back on their progress. In the meantime however on Friday we met with the older group of children from Years 6 & 7 who have read a number of the books now between them and had some interesting thoughts to share. Today I'll start with the Tom Gates title which they enjoyed but felt that it was trying too ha to be an English Wimpy Kid. The book, they said was funny but coming after so many other books in a similar style they were slightly bored of the format and didn't find that giving it an English rather than American setting really made any difference, after all, they id, they are so exposed to American culture that the setting of a book makes little difference.
Another interesting comment was that the main character, Tom, is too good, there is too much focus on him and it takes away from the humour of the story.
For the adult members of the group, myself and an English teacher, the book is perhaps a 21st century version of The Secret Diary of Adrain Mole with which we grew up and have find memories of laughing at. It appears that this format is successful with every generation but it is how the characters are portrayed that really makes the difference between enjoyment and tedium as experienced by our group.
There ends our first instalment. The awards are voted for on 20th January and the winners announced on 11th February, a celebration we hope to attend so between now and then remember to check back here regularly for our updates.