Return to Wonderland

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I’m delighted to share the very exciting news that Macmillan is publishing Return to Wonderland, a selection of stories for middle grade readers, each written by a different children’s author and one of those authors is ME!

More than 150 years since Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was first published, readers will get to revisit Carroll’s wonderful characters and I can’t tell you how chuffed I am to be in the company of Peter Bunzl, Pamela Butchart, Maz Evans, Patrice Lawrence, Chris Smith, Robin Stevens, Lauren St John, Lisa Thompson, Piers Torday and Amy Wilson, all of whom are writing champions.

Return to Wonderland is illustrated by the mega-talented Laura Barrett and publishes in hardback on 27th June 2019 in time for Alice Day on 4th July.

Take a look at Laura’s beautiful cover:

Gorgeous proofs are arriving in letterboxes and down rabbit holes right at this very moment and I can’t wait for you all to read my story ‘The Missing Book‘ this June.

The reviews for Little Rabbit’s Big Surprise are in…

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Now that Little Rabbit’s Big Surprise is officially out in the world, the reviews are coming in and Little Rabbit appears to be going down a treat with readers.

Bookwagon describes the book as ‘a truly satisfying book’ in their latest book review round up:

And we also have wonderful reviews from North Somerset Teachers’ Book Award, The Lancashire Post, Story Snug and Red Reading Hub.

Thank you so much to everyone who has read and reviewed Little Rabbit’s Big Surprise. I’m so pleased to hear you’ve enjoyed her story.

Dave Pigeon (Royal Coo!): sneak peek alert!

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For those of you who can’t wait until March to get your hands on the next Dave Pigeon book in the series, Dave Pigeon (Royal Coo!), the technical wizards at Faber & Faber are giving you a sneak peek at the entire first chapter!

Have a read here of the beginning of Dave and Skipper’s brand new adventure. This pigeon duo are about to peck their way into their most catbrainned scheme yet…

Happy Reading!

Summer Holidays in January

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Earlier this week we returned from an amazing trip to the north of the South Island. We had a wonderful first Christmas here in New Zealand and with January now being the summer that meant SUMMER HOLIDAYS!

We travelled up to the gorgeous and peaceful Nelson Lakes…

And then on to Golden Bay where we camped at Pohara Beach.

The beaches of Golden Bay are absolutely stunning and seals often wander out of the water and up on to beach to relax.

The forest terrain of Golden Bay and Abel Tasman is much more tropical than the southern alpine-esque forest and for a moment it almost feels like you are in the tropics of southern Asia.

I absolutely loved kayaking off the coast near Tata Beach. We saw wild seals and the water was so clear we could see down for miles.

It was a magical trip and we spent most of the time in awe that we now live on this incredible island.

We are starting to make firm friends here in New Zealand which made it all the more special when we ran into them on holiday and caught up for a pizza and a natter.

Meet Alison Friend

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Alison is the illustrator of our latest book ‘Little Rabbit’s Big Surprise‘, published by Stripes. Her illustrations are utterly gorgeous and you will recognise her work from many books including ‘The Twinkly Twinkly Christmas Tree’ with Sam Taplin, ‘Bear’s Story’ with Claire Freedman, ‘That Bear Can’t Babysit’ with Ruth Quayle and ‘My Hand to Hold’ with Smriti Prasadam-Halls.

Alison lives in the beautiful Lake District with her husband Mike, her son Cal and Border Collie, Blue. In her spare time she enjoys walking Blue in the fells, swimming in the lakes (when it’s warm!) and falling asleep during really good films.

When I was told I would be working with Alison, I was beyond excited. Little Rabbit’s story is a gentle one and I knew Alison’s wonderful illustrative style would compliment the story perfectly.

S: Hello, Alison! Thank you so much for joining me here on my blog.

A: Hi Swapna! Thanks for interviewing me!

S: Tell us a bit about how you got into children’s book illustration?

A: I took quite a long route to illustrating children’s books. It’s something I always wanted to do but didn’t think it was possible.  I did a fine art degree at Nottingham Trent University not really knowing how I’d make money from being an artist. I got a job behind a bar when I left uni – which I loved! 

While working the bar job I applied for a position as an apprentice stonemason for Nottingham City Council and got the job!! It promised to be as close to an arty job as I could get. I went to college in Weymouth to study stone carving and when I wasn’t at college, worked on Nottingham’s historic buildings. It was quite an experience. Good and bad! 

While I was doing this job I met my husband Mike and just over a year after meeting we moved to Seattle for his job. It was while I was in Seattle I got the opportunity to build my portfolio and thanks to Mike, pursue my dream of being an illustrator. 

I regularly sent postcards of my work to publishers and attended a few SCBWI conferences to try and network a bit. I got an offer out of the blue from Candlewick Press for a manuscript called ‘What Colour is Caesar?’, a reprint of a 1960’s story by Maxine Kumin about a spotty dog with an identity crisis! 

From there it was slow going getting more work but getting an agent helped a lot and for the last few years I’ve been able to illustrate full time. 

S: How did you get involved in the Little Rabbit’s Big Surprise project?

A: Stripes Publishing got in touch with my agent and I read the manuscript written by a very talented author and fell for that little bunny!! It was such a lovely project to do and I was excited about the format, which, now I have the book in my hand, looks brilliant. Like a proper old fashioned little treasure of a storybook. 

S: It really is! The production is incredible and your illustrations are divine. What do you love illustrating the most?

A: Animals. Animals. Animals. I’m a real dog person so they are a favourite thing to draw! When I was a kid I used to pore over animal encyclopaedias and draw the animals and write the facts about them. 

If I had the brains I would have loved to have been a zoologist or a naturalist (is that right? I always want to say naturist…not naturist!!!)

S: On the subject of the naturalist/naturist confusion, fifteen years ago, my husband (then boyfriend) got the two confused when he booked us on to a boat trip of the Marlborough Sounds in New Zealand. Needless to say, we spent two days on a nudist boat.

A: That’s hilarious!!!! Did you join in?

S: We chickened out at the last minute; it was a bit chilly to have our bits out but I’m sure it will make good fodder for a story one day! Speaking of new projects, what’s coming next from Alison Friend?

A: A book with Nosy Crow about a Tiger who works in the city and wears a snappy pin stripe suit. A book about animals having crazy times in a zoo!!! That’s for Usborne UK. A book for Zonder Kids about a Rabbit, (yay, another rabbit), who wants to go to space. 

S: So excited to check all these new books. As an illustrator who has worked with many writers, do you have any advice for writers working with illustrators? 

A: Oooh this is hard, Swapna! I can only say what as an illustrator I appreciate from an author or in a manuscript: I think the big thing is to trust the illustrator to do their thing. Also trust the publisher to work with the illustrator and get the best from them. It totally depends what kind of book it is too. I mean picture books are all about that partnership between words and pictures and a good writer will leave room in the text for the illustrator to get creative. Sometimes fewer words are better and let the pictures bring a greater level of detail to the story. Sometimes illustrations can contradict the text, which can be really funny! Chapter books are a little different I guess – more detail and description in the story and less illustration.

Thank you so much to Alison for chatting with me. It’s been an utter joy working on Little Rabbit’s Big Surprise and the final books are gorgeous. I can’t wait to see our Little Rabbit hopping on to shelves next month.

Patron of Reading at Halswell School

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I’m honoured to have been asked to be Halswell School‘s Patron of Reading this year. Of course, I jumped at the chance, having met the brilliant school librarian Zac McCallum and learning how passionate the staff and pupils are about celebrating the joy of reading.

I have lots of fun things planned for the year and can’t wait to share my adventures at Halswell School with you all.