Spot Under the Tree… a place for children’s books

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Old posts from 2013:

Christmas Wishlists

So, it’s coming up to Christmas and you’re not too sure about which book to buy that favourite niece or nephew of yours… Well, I just came across this list of recommendations from Booktrust, which includes some truly fantastic gift ideas.

The Day the Crayons QuitTake The Day the Crayons Quit as an example – when I came across this in a bookstore the other day, I just couldn’t put it down! It’s now on my own Christmas wishlist – and won’t even make it to my niece’s stocking… Illustrated by the award-winning Oliver Jeffers, it’s a clever story about what happens when Duncan opens his box of crayons one day to find that they’ve all gone on strike. It’s a laugh-out-loud funny book, which is sure to entertain adults as well as kids. A book that truly transcends the years… read more

Because non-fiction matters, too

Guinness Book of Records 2013Last week, Warwick Davis, of Star Wars and Harry Potter fame, visited a primary school in Deptford as part of the Get London Reading Campaign. When talking with the children about reading, his main approach was to urge them to read absolutely anything they can get their hands on – whether fiction or non-fiction.

The fact that he highlighted non-fiction – or fact-based books – stood out to me as an approach that perhaps isn’t used regularly enough to entice kids to read. It’s not just books and stories we need to be getting them to read, after all, but absolutely anything that gets them responding to the power of words. If non-fiction texts are what capture their imagination, then fantastic.

Warwick mentioned that he wasn’t a fan of fiction as a child – something which I’m sure many children can relate to… read more

Risky Business – the ingredients for a ‘great’ picture book


Last week, I attended my first event with the Children’s Book Circle –  ‘Grand Designs: What Makes a Picture Book Great’.

It was a talk by a panel of four industry experts, namely: Alexis Deacon – one of Booktrust’s ten Best New Illustrators; David Mackintosh – author and illustrator of the Roald Dahl Funny Prize short-listed Marshall Armstrong is New to Our School; Kate Burns – publisher at Orchard Books; and Deirdre McDermott – Picture Book Publisher at Walker Books.

Of course, the main question throughout the discussion, was ‘Just what makes a picture book great?’. The overall consensus was that each and every book has its own recipe for ‘great’-ness – requiring a certain democratic effort on the part of the editor, illustrator, designer, author and publisher. A pretty basic point, yes, but I thought Deirdre summed it up well when she pointed it out that, at the end of the day, it all comes down to having an ‘integrity about cutting down trees’… read more

A Town of Books: Hay Festival 2013


I was lucky enough to get to spend a weekend at the Hay Festival of Literature this bank holiday, which has become something of an annual event for me and my family. In fact, it started with just myself and my partner, Rich, stumbling across it on a trip into the countryside.  Every year since, our group has grown and grown in size.

There’s something fantastic about the feeling of being at a festival of literature in a little village that is already adorned with streets and streets of quirky little bookshops. Having visited Hay-on-Wye outside of the festival season, I’ve seen how essential these bookshops are to this ‘town of books’ throughout the year (it’s especially entertaining to spot the… read more

Edible Books!

narniaWell, it’s been a a little while since my last post… and it certainly feels like it shows – as I must be out of the loop to have missed out on this year’s International Edible Book Festival!

Edible book festivals have been taking place around the world in April every year since 1999, where competitions are hosted in different countries but are judged by  But I’ve just come across this slightly more local online version of the event, hosted by blogger playingbythebook, which focuses more specifically on children’s books-themed entries. A pinterest page documents all the entries from the previous ‘festivals’ and is filled with tummy-teasing pictures of glorious cakes – all themed around books! I can’t think of anything better in the world than combining these two of my favourite things… read more

Missing the point: reading for the sheer pleasure of it

The other day, I was in the aisles of WH Smith’s book section when I overheard a conversation between a parent and her child, which went something like this:

‘Well, just pick one! We haven’t got much time, so what do you want?’

The little girl was looking up at the picture book shelves a little sheepishly. She responded, ‘I don’t know, there are so many…’

The parent then picked one off the shelf and gave it to her. ‘Here, this one will do, won’t it?’ …read more

Collectable memories of Pooh

Winnie the PoohOn a recent visit to my parents’ home in Wales, I found myself in my old room which, admittedly, given the lack of space in my current London flat, acts as a bit of a shrine to my childhood – filled to the brim with old keepsakes.

Amongst the pink drapes, wind-chimes, old sorry-looking bears and never-to-be-opened-again files of school notes, is a lone shelf that sums up what inspired me to read as a kid – my collection of Winnie the Pooh books. And I don’t mean the different types of Winnie the Pooh spin-offs that have been published over the years, such as I Love You Winnie the Pooh or The Trouble With Bees (although I did spot Eeyore’s Book of Gloom in there somewhere…) but simply the original tales in their many different packages.  There’s even a special edition copy that I found on a shelf in Singapore and lugged in my backpack through Australia, New Zealand, India and Nepal to get home. Yep – I have to admit it – I’m definitely a bibliophile when it comes to Pooh!

Looking at these all lined up on my shelf, I wondered why it is that I’m attracted to collecting these beautiful representations of my childhood. I suppose right there are two answers before I’ve even started… read more

A real treat of recent releases

The Disgusting SandwichI thought I’d wrote a quick post about some picture book titles that I’ve come across in the past fortnight and thought would be worth a shout-out. So, if you’re looking for an Easter present for this weekend that will last a little longer than ten seconds before it’s devoured, why not pick up one of these treats? … read more

Pop-up books: for better or worse?

During my last weekly-but-increasingly-frequent Waterstones visit, I spotted a title I’ve had my eye on for quite some time: Playbook Farm, published by Nosy Crow.

Playbook Farm, Nosy CrowIn case you haven’t heard of it before, it’s a ‘pop-up book and play mat in one’ that was published in September of last year. So, it essentially works in the same way as a board or picture book but also folds out into a 3D model that children can use to play with on the floor.

I’ve always been amazed by the intricacies of pop-up books. I remember trying my hand at making my own pop-up cards as a child (usually Blue Peter-style!) where the characters would all stand up in front of a painted background as you open the card, creating a little model. Even as adults, there’s no doubt that seeing something transform in front of your eyes is just as amazing as it is for children. The only difference is that us adults might tend to have a ‘wow’ moment and a secondary ‘how did they do that?!’ moment, whereas children probably hold on to that ‘wow’ moment for that little bit longer… read more

Themes and dragons

Just a quick post to mention that the Reading Agency have decided on their theme for this year’s Summer Reading Challenge – ‘Creepy House’, with illustrations by the well-known author Chris Riddell.

As with each and every Reading Challenge, there will be various levels to explore – this time The Awful Upstairs, The Gruesome Ground Floor and The Spine-tingling Cellar…

I never fail to be impressed by the theme ideas that The Reading Agency come up with year-on-year – from Circus Stars to The Reading Mission, to Space Hop and many more since 1999. As they say – they always ensure that they suit both genders… read more

World Book Day… and a Womble

So, today was World Book Day in the UK and Ireland – a UNESCO-organised day to promote reading, publishing and copyright around the world…

World Book DayAs part of the many events organised for it around the country, thousands of children were expected to tune in to ‘The Biggest Book Show on Earth’ this morning to watch some of their favourite authors and illustrators celebrate reading. It was a live event in London streamed to 40 cinemas in the UK, with such popular figures as Tony Robinson, Anthony Horowitz and Shirley Hughes taking part. The hour-long event was also made available online to watch at home or in schools – and if you missed it, you can watch it again here from tomorrow… read more

And the winners are…

The winners of the Red House Children’s Book Awards for 2013 were announced last night at an awards ceremony at London’s Southbank Centre. And the winners are… read more

This Saturday: The Red House Children’s Book Award

YAT2This Saturday, we find out who the winner of the Red House Children’s Book Award of 2013 will be! Authors, publishers, illustrators and readers will all get together for the award ceremony to find out who young readers have voted for out of the shortlisted entries.

The award, originally called ‘The Children’s Book Award’, was founded in 1980 and was renamed in 2001 after being sponsored by Red House. There are 3 categories for the… read more

Good news for children’s library loans

librFirst of all, Happy National Libraries Day everyone! And what better way to celebrate than with some good library-related news…

Recent data provided by the Public Lending Right (PLR) has demonstrated an increase in the borrowing of children’s books from UK libraries, according to a Bookseller report on Friday.

The PLR data is based on a sample of UK book loans between July 2011 and June 2012 which, although showing a trend towards a decline in adult book loans, shows that children’s book loans are marginally increasing… read more

Keepsake children’s classics from Puffin… if you can find them


Whilst passing through the corridors of Penguin’s children’s division the other day, I came across these gorgeous clothbound versions of some children’s classics on display, including Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden, The Wind in the Willows and Black Beauty.

I’m sure that, by now, most people will have seen Penguin’s range of clothbound classics (e.g. Charles Dickens’ titles) lining the shelves of high street book stores, with a surge of other publishers producing equally fancy editions of old favourites. It seems a profitable way… read more

The new Scholastic research results: a flashback to my dissertation

file0001072557179Earlier today, the Bookseller  reported on the findings of the new Scholastic Kids and Family Reading Report (4th edition). It’s a report that’s been conducted since 2006, based on a survey of adults and children in the US (1,074 children between 6 and 17 in this one), giving useful insight into reading habits and trends.

The results didn’t really come as a surprise to me… read more

National Libraries Day: a record attempt

National Libraries Day takes place on Saturday the 9th of February this year, and it’s just been announced that school libraries around the country will be marking the event by attempting a Guinness World Record.

Parallel Universes, as the project has been called, will involve over 50 schools attempting to create a record for the world’s largest simultaneous story writing workshop… read more

Quentin Blake is knighted

I was thrilled to hear that Quentin Blake has been knighted in the New Year honours list.

Known perhaps most widely for his illustrations for Roald Dahl’s stories and his drawings during episodes of Jackanory in the 1970s, as well as his support for hospitals and health centres around the country, Blake has apparently referred to the honour as ‘quite a nice 80th birthday present’… read more

The Where’s Wally? fun run


I’m about to sign up to do the Where’s Wally? fun run, which takes place on March 23rd, 2013. It’s a 5k or 10k run (depending on how fit you feel) to raise money for the National Literacy Trust. With such shocking revelations as the fact that one in six people in the UK have poor literacy, it’s a worthy cause.

The NLT run community projects; provide support to schools and practitioners and fund extensive research projects to do with literacy… read more

It’s the little things…

IMG_20160614_160105I came across a collection of Shirley Hughes’ Alfie books in Waterstones the other day, which brought a smile to my face – as they manage to do every time I see them. Seeing the classics there on the shelf next to The Wind and the Willows and beautifully bound copies of Peter Pan made me wonder about what made these books so successful.

I remember being so captivated by Alfie Gets in First as a child, and to this day have held on to my copy of Alfie’s Feet and another of Shirley Hughes’ titles – Lucy and Tom’s Christmas – which still sit proudly on my bookshelf. But the success of a book wasn’t something… read more

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