With lashings of ginger beer*

It is difficult not to reveal one’s age when discussing anything you may have read or watched in your childhood but I loved watching the Famous Five on TV.

I was an Enid Blyton reader during my childhood but my oeuvre during my younger years had been more along the lines of the Magic Faraway Tree and the dubiously titled “Mr Pink Whistle Interferes.” So whenever I picture the Famous Five they will always be the TV versions.

As I got older mystery and adventure books drew me in and I started reading the Five’s adventures plus I also discovered Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew…who doesn’t love a story with secret passageways, torches, penknives, trapdoors, panelling that moved to reveal hiding places, treasure maps, spooky castles and adults whose dastardly plans were foiled by children (and a dog) – clearly I was an Agatha Christie reader in development.

The Famous Five were brothers Julian and Dick, their sister Anne, cousin George (Georgina) and Timmy her dog. They seemed to never age – which was sort of true as Blyton hadn’t planned on writing so many (she planned 6 but wrote 21) – and so Five seem to go into a time vortex and remain perpetually pre-teens! Either that or they never went to school and are on never-ending school holidays!

I imagine everyone had a favourite in the group. Julian was the self-assured older brother, while Dick was the more laid-back and famished second child, and the youngest sibling was Anne (who always seemed to be turning her ankle). But it was cousin George that I think most readers probably wanted to be – mainly because Timmy was her dog!

This year in September the Famous Five are turning 75 – hoorah! – as ‘Five on a Treasure Island’ was first published in 1942.

Cover of Five on a treasure island  Cover of Five on a treasure island  Cover of Five on a treasure island  Cover of Five on a treasure island  cover of Five on a treasure island

As a grown-up you realise that all was not well in Blyton land – she had a troubled personal life – and her books can seem anachronistic and politically incorrect in 21st century terms. But her books still endure today and are still heavily read by children (and adults). She was extraordinarily prolific and wrote hundreds of books for children of all ages – including Noddy, The Secret Seven, Mallory Towers and St Clare’s school stories, and the aforementioned Magic Faraway Tree books.

But it is the Five that are perennial favourites with lots of readers.

I suspect it has a lot to do with children getting the upper hand on adults, and the endless eating – ice cream, scones, sticky buns and cakes, hard bolied eggs, apple pies, etc.

In fact I’m off to have a cup of tea and a slice of ginger cake now…

Cheerio!

Five forget mother's day

*Note: With lashings of ginger beer never appeared in an EB book but rather was coined by the writers of the Comic Strip Presents in their parody Five Go Mad in Dorset.

Of marmalade, memories, and me: A tribute to Paddington Bear

I’ve always been interested in old-fashioned toys, and find it really interesting learning what toys have been popular at different times. There have been some fascinating playthings through the years – no, fidget spinners, I don’t mean you! – but of all the toys I’ve seen, it’s always been the humble teddy bear which held a special place in my heart.

With a history dating back to just the start of the 20th century, I found the story of these furry creatures fascinating, and there was something about their personality and stature that just clicked in my little brain. As far as I was concerned, the teddy bear was my ‘spirit animal’, and quite definitely ‘the’ thing to collect. Toys, ornaments, mugs, books – if it had a teddy bear on it, I wanted it. When I got a membership to Victoria Street’s original ‘Not Just Bears’ shop for my 10th birthday, I was in teddy bear heaven.

I don’t collect teddy bears anymore, but with a background like this, you could guess how I felt when I heard that Michael Bond, creator of one of the most famous literary teddy bears of all, had died. I felt like I had lost a friend, and it was as if a little bit of my childhood had gone with him.

Cover of A bear called PaddingtonPaddington Bear. He of duffle coats, marmalade sandwiches, and a never-ending sense of mischief. The bear from deepest, darkest, Peru, who finds his English family on the platform of London’s Paddington Station. A bear who had been there through the many different stages of my life. A bear I had grown up with, and who I feel is just as important now as he was when I first met him.

My parents have a photograph of me in a costume parade back in my first year of primary school. There I am, dressed up as a nursery rhyme (more specifically, Mary from ‘Mary, Mary quite contrary’ with a garden growing out of my hat), and I am holding hands with my friend Katie. Gumboots, duffle coat and luggage tag, floppy hat, and a smudge of a black bear nose – she was a perfect Paddington. I remember listening to Paddington stories as books on tape as Katie and I played together at her house – we loved hearing about his mishaps, and pretending it was us getting in to all that mischief. When we were expected to be well-behaved and stay out of trouble, Paddington could do what he wanted.

As I got older and was able to read the books myself, I was kind of jealous of how independent this bear was. There are lots of different Paddington stories, and I love the fact that in all of them Paddington sees something that needs doing, and does it. Things don’t always go the way he plans, and he might end up needing the Brown family’s help to achieve what he sets out to do, but he always gives things a go, and it is always him at the centre of the action. Everyone else is just a supporting part. When I was wanting to be more independent and getting frustrated that I couldn’t go down to the park unless I was with my friends and home by teatime, Paddington was off on his own, exploring and doing what he wanted.

Fast-forward a couple of decades, and I am working at a children’s bookshop when a Paddington Bear treasury comes in. A beautifully-illustrated hardcover book, this brought back a rush of memories for me. It instantly became one of my go-to recommendations for people looking for books for young children, but with so many Paddington Bear fans out there already, I didn’t really have to work too hard to recommend it – that bear really did sell himself. I loved seeing the looks on customers’ faces when they realised they could relive their childhood joy, and share these stories with their children. I had loved Paddington when I was little, and now I could introduce him to a whole new generation of fans.

Moving on to Christmas 2014, and I am mentoring a young child through Big Brother Big Sister. This was a child who had heaps of stuff going on in their life, without the opportunities to do so many of the activities many of us take for granted. As a special treat I suggested the two of us go to see a movie, something the kiddo hadn’t done before, and Paddington was the movie of choice. I’m not mentoring this young person anymore, so I don’t know if they still remember the movie’s plot, or if they’ve read any of the books that the movie was based on, but that really doesn’t matter. For me, the best part of going to see this movie was looking over at the seat beside me, seeing a child totally engrossed in a new experience, and knowing that regardless of what happens to them in the future, they will have a memory of doing something new and fun with someone who cares about them at this moment. Sharing books and stories is as much about making memories as it is about actually reading, and now Paddington Bear is makes me think fondly of being with a particular person at a particular time of my life. Hopefully it does the same for them, too.

Cover of Paddington's finest hour Cover of Paddington helps out Cover of Paddington and the grand tour Cover of Paddington at large

And here we are in 2017. When I think of Paddington now, I see him like a child who has ended up in care for reasons outside of their control. Sent away, to live in a different environment with a new whānau that he doesn’t know… in other words, some of the same challenges New Zealand children might face if they can’t stay in their own homes. Paddington manages to thrive in his new home, despite the difficulties he faces, and in this way he shows our kiwi tamariki that they too can get through these difficult times. It is really important for children to be able to see characters like themselves in books, and if children can look at Paddington as a role model during challenging times in their life, then I think this bear is just as relevant now as he was when Mr Bond first introduced him to us in 1958.

Cover of Paddington's cookery bookSo join me in celebrating the life of Mr. Bond, and the wonderful, colourful, character which he has left us.

Check out the Paddington books we have available, and share his stories with your own friends and family over a nice cup of tea, a marmalade sandwich, and some of Aunt Lucy’s Sweet Potato Mash. Apparently it’s a hit with the bears in the Home for Retired Bears back in Lima, Peru.

Harry Potter: a personal history

Cover of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's StoneWhen I was 7, a substitute teacher read the class the first two chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I thought it was a bit rubbish and told my mother so when I got home. “I think I’ve heard about it on the radio,” she said. “It’s meant to be quite good.” Oh. I gave it another try, this time borrowing it from the library. I read it so compulsively that I finished it on a family visit to a friend’s for dinner, surfacing at the end to ask if there was a sequel. I was hooked.

That was in 1997. Over the next few years the world caught up in the same kind of madness, and I slowly caught up to Harry in age. By the time Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (the seventh and final volume) was published I was a teenager on a gap year — I still have a photo of myself in a bookshop in France on the day it was released. Like a lot of people, Harry Potter was my first experience of fandom, sharing my fiction affliction with millions of others around the world. There are a thousand stories like mine.

My relationship with the books is a lot more complicated now than it was in the beginning, but they shaped so much of my growing up that I still love them anyway. From making Harry Potter paper dolls with my best friend to writing a fan letter to J. K. Rowling (and getting a reply!), buying my first merch (Hedwig sweatshirt) in Germany in 1998, getting spoiled for who died in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix because for once I didn’t read fast enough, dressing up for a launch event at the local bookshop in 2005…

Somehow, as of today, it has been 20 years since Harry Potter was first published. Time for a re-read and a chocolate frog, I think.

Celebrating 20 years of Harry Potter

“Happee Birthdae Harry” as Rubeus Hagrid so aptly said twenty years ago.

Yes, its hard to believe, but this year, ‘Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone’ celebrates the twentieth anniversary of its first publication, and my generation of twenty-somethings can now, finally, feel old.

Together we and Harry Potter went through school (admittedly with less owls and enchanted halls on our end), and gradually ‘grew up’ through both good and bad experiences (though again, less trolls and horcruxes’ were involved), losses, and gains. Harry Potter really was the story of our generation. I remember my father bringing home the first Harry Potter book with a casual ‘the woman in the shop said this was quite good’ (yes – they hadn’t quite taken off at that stage).

From then on, as each book in the series was released, there would be a flurried, exciting day where me and my two sisters would charge down to our nearest bookstore and buy a copy each (the only way to avoid an ugly scene). We would then spend the next day (and night) with our noses buried in its pages, never emerging until the very last sentence had been read. One year we were so immersed in the latest installment we let our log fire go out three times, and forgot to eat any food until dinner time (a very monumental thing for us).

Twenty years on from our first introduction to Rowling’s incredible world, I not only feel old, I also feel oddly proud that ‘Harry Potter and Philosophers Stone’ is every bit as good to me as  when I first read it all those years ago. Reason enough, I think, to break out the butterbeer and cauldron cakes.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

As a young girl I loved magic books (what kid doesn’t) particularly E Nesbit’s ‘Phoenix and the Carpet‘ and CS Lewis’ Narnia. I also loved boarding school stories like Enid Blyton’s ‘St Clare’s’ series and Anthony Buckeridge’s ‘Jennings’, so finding an author who so beautifully married together boarding schools and magic was simply the best thing ever.

Not only that but Rowling was also incredibly funny. There are passages which still make me gwarff out loud like Lee Jordan’s ‘impartial’ quidditch commentary:

“So-after that obvious and disgusting bit of cheating-“
“Jordan!” growled Professor McGonagall.
“I mean, after that open and revolting foul-“
“Jordan, I’m warning you-“
“All right, all right. Flint nearly kills the Gryffindor Seeker, which could happen to anyone I’m sure…”   .

And Ron’s pragmatic reply to Harry’s question:

“what if I wave my wand and nothing happens?”
Ron: “Throw it away and punch him on the nose.’

Some comic relief and cosy moments at the Burrow actually manage to transform these books into go-to comfort reading for me (except for the last book I guess- and the end of the fourth and the sixth and, well, a few other moments…).

Cover of The phoenix and the carpet  Cover of The chronicles of Narnia: Complete collection

And of course the stories are damn good. Who doesn’t love a story which features the underdog (in this case an unloved orphan) transforming into a honourable hero with the skills and courage to save the (wizarding) world. In addition, as the story grew both in intricacy and character development, so did Rowling’s first generation of readers. The stories’ growth really couldn’t have been better timed. There were always strong themes of sacrifice and loss running through Harry Potters story but, somehow, Rowling managed to introduce more intricate, often darker ideas like Horcruxes, the death of Dumbledore, Snapes’ heartbreaking love for Lily, and the supremely evil professor Umbridge’s ‘takeover’ of Hogwarts, just as her audiences were growing in reading level and maturity.

Rowling always celebrated important character traits too such as loyalty and knowledge, themes which will make her stories timeless. Ron and Hermione sacrifice a happy, normal life to follow Harry on his quest; Snape sacrifices his own name and safety to avenge Lily and keep the mission going and, in the end, Harry makes the ultimate sacrifice, his own life, to rid the world of Voldemort.

Knowledge is celebrated through Hermione, the cleverest witch of her time and Dumbledore the epitome of wisdom. It is doubtful if Harry’s quest would have progressed as successfully had it not been for Hermione swotting up on virtually every wizarding book under the sun including material on horcruxes, and had it not been for Dumbledore’s private lessons with Harry in which they discussed Voldemort’s past.

Cover of Harry Potter and the chamber of secretsCover of Harry Potter and the goblet of fireCover of Harry Potter and the prisoner of AzkabanCover of Harry Potter and the Order of the phoenixCover of Harry Potter and the Half-blood princeCover of Harry Potter and the deathly hallows

And who couldn’t love the world Rowling managed to create? An amazing world of Quidditch, pet owls, wizarding schools, and so so much more. Somehow, Rowling still managed to also ‘keep it real’ by having very real themes of love (in many forms), and painful loss. Perhaps this is part of Harry Potters huge appeal – that perfect mix of magic and reality.

Rowling also includes some great hat tips to ancient mythology. Like St Patrick or Herakles, Harry Potter has power over serpents (though admittedly Harry takes a somewhat more passive approach to Herakles and has a reasoned chat to his snakes rather than killing them in either hand from his infancy). Cerberus, the 3 headed dog like guard of the underworld, even makes an appearance as Hagrid’s beloved pet ‘Fluffy’, and there are frequent references to Rowling’s own personal favourite of mythical creatures – the phoenix, the ultimate symbol of renewal celebrated in Greek, Roman and many other mythologies. Also, like all mythological heroes, Harry is on a ‘quest’ which only he can achieve. Wise as Dumbledore is, and loyal as Hermione and Ron remain to the bitter end, Harry still must go on his own and leave his companions to confront the essential menace and conquer the root of all the evil.

Cover of The tales of the beedle bardCover of Quidditch through the agesCover of Fantastic beasts and where to find themCover of Harry Potter and the cursed child

I also love Rowling’s clever use of latin within spells and potions (For a start, ‘accio’ sounds so much more impressive than ‘fetch’ and ‘felix felicitis’ far more meaningful than ‘lucky day’), and one has to admire the hidden meanings dedicated Potter fans manage to unearth behind seemingly innocent phrases. Take Snape’s first question to Harry:

“Potter! What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?”
Some dedicated Potter fans insist that what this really means is ‘I bitterly regret Lily’s death’, because, according to Victorian Flower Language, asphodel is a type of lily while wormwood means ‘absence’ and symbolizes bitter sorrow. Just as rabbis take a passage in the Torah and discuss its complexities and multiple meanings for many days, so it seems, do Potter fans for a snarky question from Severus Snape. There exists a sort of Harry Potter midrash. Who knew?

With a gripping, intricate story, quite literally magical setting, strong characters, and great humour, there is so much to love and celebrate about this incredible series. Rowling has helped to inspire a whole generation of bookworms and after twenty years, more beautiful reprints, and more spin off movies, it looks as though she will continue to work her magic for new generations to come.

Further reading

Helen
Central Library Peterborough

Win an interview, VIP afternoon tea with Andy Griffiths, & two tickets to his show!

Christchurch kids, you can win the chance to interview Andy Griffiths and share a VIP afternoon tea in town with him – as well as two tickets to see his show – thanks to WORD Christchurch and Macmillan!

Have you read all of Andy Griffiths’ books? Do you know all the floors in the 78-storey Treehouse? Have you read The Bad Book over and over? If you answered yes to all these questions we have the most amazing chance for you!

Andy Griffiths, the author of the Treehouse series, the ‘Just’ series and The Bad Book, is coming to Christchurch on Friday 16 September for a special presentation by WORD Christchurch. Andy is going to be talking at a SOLD OUT session on the Friday night, as well as a morning session at Te Hāpua: Halswell Centre on Saturday 17 September.

But wait, there’s more! You can win the chance to interview Andy Griffiths while having a VIP afternoon tea with him. All you have to do is email competition@ccc.govt.nz and tell us the one question that you would ask Andy if you had the chance to interview him. Make sure to include your name, phone number and address so that we can contact you if you win.

This prize includes afternoon tea with Andy Griffiths for you and a caregiver at 3:30pm on Friday 16 September, and tickets for two to his show at Te Hāpua: Halswell Centre on Saturday 17 September.

Competition closed Wednesday 7 September. The winner was Jorja.

Thanks to publishers Macmillan and WORD Christchurch for bringing Andy to town! The WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival kicks off today (Wednesday 24 August) and includes cool events for the whole whānau.

Terms and conditions

  • To enter this competition you must be between 8 and 13 years old and live in Christchurch. We may ask for proof of your address and your age.
  • If you are a winner, you consent to your name, photograph, entry and/or interview being used for reasonable publicity purposes by Christchurch City Libraries.
  • The winner must be available to come to the afternoon tea at 3:30pm on Friday 16 September.
  • The winner must bring a caregiver to the afternoon tea with Andy Griffiths.
  • Staff of Christchurch City Libraries and their immediate families are not able to enter.
  • The competition ends on Wednesday 7 September at 6pm.
  • We will notify the winner by telephone and/or email on Friday 9 September.
  • The judge’s decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.
  • Prizes are as stated and are not transferable.
Image supplied.
Andy Griffiths. Image supplied.

Science Snippets – Turtle or Tortoise?

Each week during term time (except the first and last week) the team from Science Alive bring their Science Snippets sessions into our libraries. Excellent Science Alive educators lead children through interactive activities to stimulate their interest in science, and there is something to take home every week! There is a different theme for each session and this coming week from Monday 13 June it’s Turtle or Tortoise?
You are sure to learn all about the difference between turtles and tortoises. Here are some great nonfiction books that we have in the library if you want to learn more about turtles and tortoises:

Here are some stories about turtles and tortoises to read too:

We also have some fantastic eResources with heaps of information about turtles and tortoises. Check these out:

  • National Geographic Kids – searches for ‘turtle’ and ‘tortoise’ gives you some great information from the National Geographic Kids magazine as well as access to several eBooks about turtles and tortoises.
  • Britannica Library Kids – searches for ‘turtle’ and ‘tortoise’ gives you information about each of these topics, with different levels of information for different ages.
  • World Book Kids – a search for ‘turtle’ and ‘tortoise’ gives you some basic information about each of the topics, along with some suggestions for other topics you might like to look at for more information.

For more information about Science Alive’s Science Snippets check out Science Alive on our website.

Zac’s Favourite Kids Books – June 2016

I have one of the coolest jobs in the world! As an Outreach Librarian I visit primary, intermediate and secondary schools all over Christchurch to promote the library and spread a love of books.  It’s my job to get kids enthusiastic about books and reading, and I take a heap of books out to schools to share with kids.

Here are just a few of the books that I’ll be raving about in June:

Gorilla Loves Vanilla by Chae Strathie, illustrated by Nicola O’Byrne

Little Sam Sundae runs the best icecream shop around. People come from all over to have one of his icecreams. One day he gets some different customers who want some very strange icecream creations. Mouse wants a blue cheese sundae and Hen wants a worm cone, but then Gorilla comes in wanting just vanilla icecream. This is a very funny story that bounces along and the illustrations are bursting with colour and icecream of all sorts.

Fuzzy Doodle by Melinda Szymanik, illustrated by Donovan Bixley

Fuzzy Doodle follows a scribble on a page as it starts to eat the ink, then nibbles letters and words, until it moves on to gobbling pictures full of colour.  When it is full to bursting it makes a cocoon and unfolds and emerges as a dazzling book. This is a stunning book from two very talented local creators of books for young people. It’s the sort of book that will be enjoyed by young and old alike.

Flying Furballs: Dogfight by Donovan Bixley

Flying Furballs is the hilarious, action-packed new series from Donovan Bixley, the illustrator behind the Dinosaur Rescue series and Dragon Knight series. This is World War One like you’ve never seen it before. It’s the CATs vs. the DOGZ, with the CATs trying to stop the DOGZ from taking over Europe.  In the first book, Dogfight, Major Ginger Tom gets taken prisoner and it’s up to young Claude D’Bonair to fly in and rescue him from the DOGZ castle headquarters. Packed full of cat and dog puns, great characters and fun illustrations this is the perfect series for young readers.

Pax by Sara Pennypacker

Pax is a beautiful, heart-breaking story about the bond between a boy and his pet fox. The story starts with Peter having to leave his fox Pax in the woods at the side of a road and driving off. Peter’s father is going off to war and so Peter has to go and stay with his grandfather and can’t take Pax with him. Peter found Pax clinging to life as a kit, not long after his own mother had died, so Pax became his friend when he needed one the most. Peter and Pax have a very strong bond and so, even though they are hundreds of miles apart, they set out to find each other. The story tugs at your heart right from the start and you have to keep reading to find out if they will both survive to see each other again. Pax is a truly memorable story.

The Turners by Mick Elliott

Leo gets the worst present ever for his 13th birthday. One minute he’s just standing around in the school library and the next minute he’s growing a tail and turning into a komodo dragon.  When he goes home that night his sister and father tell him that he is a Turner just like them, someone who can turn into different animals. Usually a turn happens at night but for some strange reason Leo can turn in the daytime. Leo’s dad sets off in search of answers and tells them that he’ll be back the next day. When their dad doesn’t arrive home and they are attacked in their home by lizard men, Leo and Abbie go off in search of answers. The Turners is a very funny read, with lots of action and a dash of magic.

Time Travelling with a Hamster by Ross Welford

I love a good time travel story and this is one of the best for kids. It has one of the best opening paragraphs too: ‘My dad died twice. Once when he was thirty-nine, and again four years later when he was twelve. (He’s going to die a third time as well, which seems a bit rough on him, but I can’t help that.).’ When Al’s dad dies he gets a letter from him explaining that it is possible to travel in time and that he has built a time machine.  When his dad was a kid he had an accident that left a small piece of metal lodged in his brain which, over time, killed him. He asks Al to go back in time to stop the accident from happening and save him. Al doesn’t hesitate. He takes his hamster, Alan Shearer, jumps in the time machine and goes off to save his dad. As with all time travel stories, nothing goes entirely to plan. A funny story about a boy who just wants to get his dad back.

For more of my favourite kids books for June check out my booklist – Zac’s June 2016 Hot Picks

Super sneak preview of next Johnny Danger mission

New Zealand author Peter Millett is the creator of the action-packed secret agent series for kids, Johnny Danger. This very funny series follows Jonathon Dangerfield, a boy who has fooled MI6 into believing he’s super spy Johnny Danger. So far there are two books in the series but the third book, Spy Borg, is due to be released in September.

We are super lucky to have a sneak preview of the cover and a little bit about the book from the author himself:

Cover of Johnny Danger: Spy Borg

‘Right now we are in the middle of creating Johnny Danger 3. It’s not coming out until September but I’ve been given the okay to show you a sneak peek of the book’s cover. I can’t give away too much about the storyline yet – but I can say that it involves a Siberian madman named Yuri who has developed a a series of killer terminator style robots that hunt down Johnny Danger. Using his wits and weapons Johnny must stop the world being flooded by evil Yuri-Nators!

If I told you any more I’d have to put you into a witness protection scheme! My lips are sealed now.’

While you wait for Johnny Danger: Spy Borg read the first two books in the series, D.I.Y. Spy and Lie Another Day.

We also have an interview with Peter Millett in our Kids section of the website. You can find out about his most embarrassing moment, who his favourite author is and what he thinks is the best thing about writing.

Interview with M.G. Leonard about Beetle Boy

M.G. LeonardM.G. Leonard is the author of the new ‘quirky, humorous adventure’ for kids, Beetle Boy. I blogged about Beetle Boy recently and my newfound interest in beetles from reading this fantastic book. Beetle Boy is one of those books that I can’t stop thinking about. I miss the characters and I really need to know what happens next.

I had some questions that I wanted to ask M.G. Leonard and she has very kindly answered them for me. Read on to find out what inspired her to write Beetle Boy, her favourite beetle, which beetle ability she would love to have, and why she loves writing for young people and the young at heart.

What inspired you to write Beetle Boy?

Growing up I was frightened of insects, and consequentially never knew much about them. One day I was trying to write a story and I wanted to describe creepy crawlies accurately, so I typed the word ‘beetle’ into Wikipedia, and was flabbergasted by what I discovered. I didn’t know that beetles flew, I didn’t know how good they were for the environment, how beautiful they can be, how they come in all shapes and sizes, and that they are actually the most successful creatures on the planet. All these revelations really sparked my imagination, and that was the inspiration for Beetle Boy.

What three words would you use to describe your story?

The first word would be ‘adventure’; the second would be ‘humorous’ and the third – ‘quirky’ – a quirky, humorous adventure!

What is your favourite type of beetle?

It’s hard to have a favourite beetle when there are over 350,000 known species. I have a very big soft spot for the Rhinoceros Beetle, because it’s such a cool, awesome friendly, wonderful creature. However, if I was to choose a pet beetle, I think I would pick a Rainbow Stag Beetle. Rainbow Stag Beetles are a perfect combination of beautiful and impressively strong.

If you could have one beetle-ability, what would you choose?

I think I would probably pick the ability of a Firefly. I would like to have a bioluminescence body that I could switch on and off, and control and flicker, and flash – I think that would be pretty cool, especially at a party!

Lucretia Cutter is one of the best, most evil villains I’ve come across in a children’s book – who is your favourite fictional villain?

There are so many great villains, but I have always been in awe of Jadis the White Witch from The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S Lewis. She is mesmerizing, fascinating and utterly terrifying.

I love the names of your characters. Craven and Dankish are great henchmen names. How do you cone up with character names?

There are lots of different ways I come up with character names. Whenever I’m passing through a graveyard I write down any unusual names that suggest a character to me. Novak is named after an Alexander McQueen handbag, which was named after Kim Novak the actress from The Birds. Virginia was named after Virginia Woolf, and her surname is Wallace, after Alfred Russell Wallace the celebrated British Naturalist. Bertolt is named after Bertolt Brecht, one of my favourite playwrights, and Darkus is named after the civil liberties campaigner and broadcaster Darcus Howe. I chose his surname ‘Cuttle’ because ‘Darkus’ and ‘Cuttle’ together, ‘Darkus Cuttle’, sounds like a beetle’s movement. Craven and Dankish are words that suggest villainous behavior; dark, maleficent and generally bad news!

What is the best part about writing for young people and the young at heart?

The best bit about writing is when I’m writing a scene that is particularly funny and I know it will make the reader laugh, or I’m describing something that they have never imagined before, or I’m taking them from something familiar into something completely new, or I’m making them catch their breath – really, the whole process of writing is pleasurable. Even though your reader isn’t present when you write, they are always in your mind, and everything you do is for them. The best part about writing Beetle Boy, has been young people’s responses to the story, and their newfound interest and passion for entomology and the natural world.

When you are not writing, what do you enjoy doing?

I love spending time with my family. I’m really into watching great films, reading books, sewing, walking along the seafront and gardening. But at the moment, I’m spending most of my time writing.

Thanks for joining us M.G.!  Now everyone needs to rush to the library and grab a copy of Beetle Boy. Check out my previous blog post, Beetle Boy – A mystery to really bug you, to read all about Beetle Boy and find some great books and eResources about beetles.

Beetle Boy – A mystery that will really bug you

Cover of Beetle boyOne of the best books I’ve read recently is all about beetles. Beetle Boy by M.G. Leonard is about a boy called Darkus, whose dad has mysteriously disappeared from a locked room in a museum.  Darkus has been sent to stay with his Uncle Max while the police look into his dad’s disappearance. While staying with his uncle, Darkus finds out some things about his dad that he never knew, which all add to the mystery. With the help of his new friends Bertolt and Virginia, and a rhinoceros beetle called Baxter, Darkus sets out to uncover the truth of his father’s disappearance.

Beetle Boy is an action-packed mystery story, chock full of beetles of all kinds and some crazy characters. The villain of the story, Lucretia Cutter, is one of my favourite book villains because she is so evil and horrible. If you want a book that will really grab you read Beetle Boy. It’s the first book in a trilogy and I really can’t wait to read the next book!

You’ll discover all sorts of beetles in this story, from horned rhinoceros and stag beetles to the bombardier and blister beetles that shoot acid. Beetle Boy got me really interested in beetles and I wanted to find out more about them. What better place to find information about beetles than the library!

Here are some great books and resources about beetles that I found in the library:

  • Cover of Ultimate Bug-opediaThe Beetle Book by Steve Jenkins has some basic information about beetles alongside Steve Jenkins’ distinctive collage illustrations.  An interesting fact from this book – ‘Line up every kind of plant and animal on Earth and one of every four will be a beetle.’
  • Ultimate Bug-opedia: The Most Complete Bug Reference Ever by Darlyne Murawski and Nancy Honovich is bursting with bugs of all shapes and kinds.  There is introductory information about bugs (What is a Bug?) and more detailed information about the different insect orders. There are heaps of amazing close-up photos of bugs in this book too. An interesting fact from this book – The scientific name for beetles is Coleoptera.
  • The Book of Beetles, edited by Patrice Bouchard is the go-to guide for anyone who is bug mad!  If you want detailed information about almost all the beetles on the earth, including where they live and what they eat, this book is for you. An interesting fact from this book – scientists study beetles to develop new products and materials like adhesive-free tape and domes to help clear fog from airport runways.
  • Our Britannica Library Kids eResource is a great place to find some more information on beetles. You can choose whether you want basic information or more advanced and they have some great photos and diagrams as well.
  • Search for more books about beetles for kids