The alternative half-term reading list – fantastic kids’ books from self-published authors

You may be aware of the growing movement of ‘independent authors’, taking advantage of changes in technology to self-publish their work. Famous examples include E.L. James (Fifty Shades of Grey) and Andy Weir (The Martian), but there are also a number of children’s authors getting in on the act too. Here I share five of the best children’s books from my fellow independent authors.

Diary of a Sixth Grade Ninja - Marcus Emerson

Well, this one’s actually a series (10 of them so far). These adventures follow Chase Cooper, the uncool new kid in school, whose situation changes drastically when he is recruited into a ninja clan. Chase chronicles the crazy adventures that ensue in the hope of warning other kids against becoming a ninja themselves.

Shadow Jumper - J.M. Forster

This debut book won the Wishing Shelf Awards for independently published children’s books in 2014. The hero, Jack, has an allergy to sunshine which keeps him confined indoors by day. But at night, Jack takes to the roofs to ‘shadow jump’. As Jack’s condition worsens, his scientist father, the only person who can help, suddenly disappears. But can Jack find him?

Eeek! The Runaway Alien - Karen Inglis

Karen is a highly recommended author to get reluctant boys reading and Eeek! is a case in point. Charlie Spruit is surprised to find an alien on his doorstep one morning. He is even more surprised when he finds out the reason why - this football-mad alien has come to watch the World Cup. Though Charlie tries to keep ‘Eeek’s’ presence secret, his obnoxious neighbour soon finds out. And he has plans for Eeek. Highly accessible language and a fast pace will keep even the biggest book-phobes reading to the end.

The Monster That Ate My Socks - A.J. Cosmo

Do your socks seem to keep disappearing? Mine too. In this book for younger readers, A.J. Cosmo may just have the answer to where they go. When a little boy gets tired of his mum accusing him of losing his socks and finds a half-chewed sock in the laundry basket, he decides it’s time to find out what’s really happening. He tries to trap the monster and this is where things get interesting.

Nelson Beats the Odds - Ronnie Sidney II

Based on Ronnie’s own experiences as a child in special education in the US, this graphic novel stars a young boy who finds out he is to be removed from his mainstream class. Embarrassed by his move into special education, Nelson tries to keep it from people. But he soon realises this is not the way to deal with it and that he has far greater potential than he thought.

Have you read any of the above? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

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5 fantastic Christmas book gifts for kids 7-plus

Following my earlier post on great picture books for Christmas, I now turn my attention to older readers. I have purposely avoided the obvious bestsellers, like David Walliams, Wimpy Kid and Tom Gates as, although they are good, you don’t need me to tell you about them. Instead, I’ve picked out a range of books from the very silly to the thought-provoking. You should be able to find something for every kind of reader aged 7-12 here.

The Wild Robot, by Peter Brown

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Image Copyright: Little, Brown Books

This book is the first chapter book from picture book creator, Peter Brown. It tells the story of robot Roz who finds herself stranded on an island and learns to adapt to its surroundings. A heart-warming adventure that also raises questions about the role of technology in our society.

Murder Most Unladylike: Mistletoe and Murder, by Robin Stevens

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Image Copyright: Puffin Books

The latest adventure in this series sees heroines Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong spending Christmas in Cambridge. Their cosy holiday is interrupted when there is a fatal accident at Maudlin College…or is it an accident? The Murder Most Unladylike series is great for those who love old-fashioned boarding school books with a bloodthirsty edge.

Doodle Adventures: The Search for the Slimy Space Slugs!, by Mike Lowery

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Image Copyright: Little, Brown Books

In this rather novel adventure you get to fill in the blanks helpfully left by author Mike Lowery, including drawing your very own hero. It is your job to help Jim the Duck recover an important artefact that has been stolen from the headquarters of a secret society of explorers. Fantastic for reluctant readers who can’t sit still long enough to read a traditional book.

The War that Saved my Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

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Image Copyright: Text Publishing Company

From the silly fun of Doodle Adventures to a heart-wrenching wartime adventure. The War that Saved my Life tells the story of disabled nine-year-old Ada who has never left her tiny flat in the East End of London. When Ada’s brother Jamie is evacuated, her cruel mother decides it isn’t worth sending Ada, with her twisted foot, to join him. But Ada has other ideas and sneaks out to join her brother. Arrived in the country and taken in by Susan, Ada enjoys a freedom she never knew at home, but will it last?

Pete’s Time-travelling Underpants, by Barford Fitzgerald

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Image Copyright: Cocoa Bean Press

Of course, no list of great books for those aged 7-plus would be complete without one of my own books. In fact, here’s two of them. Pete’s Time-travelling Underpants is an historical comedy series which is great for lovers of Horrible Histories. In book 1 (‘Rule Britannia’), schoolboy Pete Tollywash receives a very strange birthday present and soon finds himself transported back to Roman East Anglia. Falling foul of the local Roman prefect, Pete is sold into slavery and meets fellow slave-boy Julius, who has a big family secret. But can Pete save the two of them from slavery? And what is Julius’ secret? The follow-up, Tudor Trouble, has also just been released, and sees Pete taking on a bloodthirsty King Henry the Eighth.

So there you have it. My book picks for Christmas. What books would you include on a list of great book gifts for Christmas? Let me know in the comments below.

5 fantastic, fun and inspirational picture books for Christmas

Christmas is coming, in case you weren’t aware, and there’s no better gift than a book, especially for the very little ones. Here’s my pick of the best picture books from the last twelve months to amuse and inspire younger readers and keep the adults entertained too!

Barford's pick of 2016 - Picture books

Ada Twist, Scientist - by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts

Image copyright: Abrams Books
Image copyright: Abrams Books

The third in a series of picture books about ambitious kids (Rosie Revere, Engineer and Iggy Peck, Architect being the other two), 'Ada Twist, Scientist’ is a well-written and fun adventure. It follows the insatiably curious Ada, who is always seeking the causes of things, as she conducts experiments to find the source of the strange smell that has invaded her home.

Pass it on - by Sophy Henn

Image copyright: Penguin Books
Image copyright: Penguin Books

A beautifully illustrated story about finding happiness in the smallest things and least likely places. And, as the title suggests, it’s also about sharing that joy with others. Great for pre-schoolers. Uplifting for the 'bigger kids' who may be reading it to them.

Dave’s Cave - by Frann Preston Gannon

Image copyright: Nosy Crow
Image copyright: Nosy Crow

Caveman Dave has a pretty comfy cave, but he has that nagging feeling that there may be better out there. Dave’s simplistic caveman speak and the illustrations are very amusing in itself, but the book has soul and a message too. Under-fours will particularly love listening to the caveman speak!

Christmas for Greta and Gracie - by Yasmeen Ismail

Image copyright: Nosy Crow
Image copyright: Nosy Crow

Not strictly a book of 2016 (it came out in October 2015) but perfect for this time of year and great for younger siblings too. In this story, younger sister Gracie finally silences her bigger, bossier sister, Greta, when she discovers a Christmas surprise all on her own. As I say, younger siblings with rather over-confident bigger siblings will relate to this one very well.

Du iz tak - by Carson Ellis

Image copyright: Walker Books
Image copyright: Walker Books

This is one of the more unconventional picture books you will see this year. ‘Du Iz Tak’ is not written in a foreign language, but rather a made-up language, and half the fun is in deciphering it. ‘Du Iz Tak’ (which seems to mean ‘What is that?’) takes us into the inner life of a back garden where we meet the plants and bugs that live just outside our windows and follow them over the course of a year. The story itself may be better for children 4-plus, but the beautiful artwork will mesmerise younger children too.

Have you read any of the books above? What did you think? Or do you think I’ve missed off a truly fantastic book that came out this year? Let me know in the comments below.

Top children’s books with a female lead

What makes a book memorable for you? For me, it is usually an engaging lead character. This is definitely the case for most of the books I remember fondly from my childhood. So, to celebrate the release of my new book, 'Holly Watson and the furry thieves' (which stars a ten-year-old girl), I decided to look at other children’s books with a highly engaging female lead. My choices cover a range of reading abilities from picture books to full-length novels, but they have a couple of things in common: they all have a great female star and are brilliant for boys as well as girls. Read on to find what made my list.

Six of the best children's books with an engaging female lead

1. The Paper Bag Princess - by Robert Munsch

Copyright: Annick Press
Copyright: Annick Press
This is a great picture book for young girls AND boys. It is a fun inversion of the usual fairytale of the princess imprisoned by the dragon. When a dragon destroy's Princess Elizabeth’s castle and kidnaps her fiancé, Prince Ronald, she sets out to rescue him in the only clothing she has left - a paper bag. Our courageous and highly intelligent heroine's adventure teaches her some important lessons about herself and some unpleasant truths about her husband-to-be.

2. Pippi Longstocking - by Astrid Lindgren

Pippi Longstocking is the quirky and mysterious girl who moves in next door to Tommy and Annika. She has a monkey and a horse, but, it would seem, no parents. Having been brought up at sea on her now-missing father’s ship, Pippi lacks an understanding of the conventions of urban life, a trait which makes her all the more endearing. Her wild imagination and complete lack of understanding of 'how she should behave' lead Pippi and her new neighbours into a series of outrageous and comical escapades.

3. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - by C.S. Lewis

Copyright: Geoffrey Bles
Copyright: Geoffrey Bles
Though she is one of four siblings, Lucy Pevensie is the obvious star of ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’, the first book in the classic 'Narnia' fantasy series. It is Lucy that first enters the world of Narnia through the wardrobe and it is Lucy who then leads her three siblings into this fantastical world.  Finally, it is Lucy’s faith that wins through. For me, she is by far the most likeable of the Pevensie children as she lacks the cynicism of her brothers and demonstrates a huge generosity of spirit and a very strong will.

4. Matilda - by Roald Dahl

'Matilda' is one of the best of Roald Dahl’s books (which is saying something) and a character still loved almost thirty years after her creation. She is a prodigiously intelligent girl who, incredibly, is also very popular with her classmates due to her patient and kind character. However, her obnoxious parents and her terrifying headmistress, Miss Trunchball, fail to see Matilda’s gifts and treat her with the utmost disdain. When her teacher, Miss Honey, attempts and fails to get Matilda’s parents and Miss Trunchball to see our heroine’s gifts, Matilda discovers another gift - an aptitude for revenge.

5. Anne of Green Gables - by L.M. Montgomery

Orphan Anne Shirley is intelligent, imaginative and eager to please. Due to a misunderstanding at her orphanage, she is sent to work on a farm in the wilds of Nova Scotia. The farm’s owners, brother and sister Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, are expecting a boy to be sent to them, but Anne’s good nature and willingness to help soon dispel their disappointment. Her chattiness and imagination, though, bring her into conflict with Marilla and she also finds her red hair makes her the object of teasing from some of her new classmates. The beauty of this book is that we get to watch Anne grow and we see her flaws as well as her many qualities.

6. Holly Watson and the furry thieves - by Barford Fitzgerald

Copyright: Barford Fitzgerald I cannot finish my list of top children’s books with a female lead without a mention of the heroine of my new book, ten-year-old schoolgirl Holly Watson. Holly is highly intelligent, loyal and perhaps a little too sure of herself.  When her best friend Charlie is accused of stealing a mobile phone in the local park, Holly decides she is the only person who can solve the mystery. Very soon, though, she finds herself in over her head and realises that she cannot do it all alone.

Over to you

So, what are your favourite children's books with an engaging female lead and why? Please let me know by leaving a comment below. My latest book, 'Holly Watson and the furry thieves', is available now on Amazon.

Six of the best: favourite reads from my childhood (and today)

Childhood books stay with you

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Do you remember your favourite books when you were a child? Do you find that those books have stayed with you much more than books you've read in later life? Working on my first two children's books (which will be published shortly - see here for more information) has made me reflect on my own favourite children’s books a great deal. It has also made me realise the extent to which they have influenced me (mostly unconsciously). When I considered the question of what my favourite children's books were, I found it very hard to pick 6 above the others. So here are 6 from among my favourites.

Six of my favourites

1. The Twits by Roald Dahl

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Copyright: Puffin Books
It was hard to single out only one of Roald Dahl's books. He is a colossus of children's literature. I almost chose the Witches, a book whose downright ghoulishness still haunts me to this day (in a good way). When I think of Mr. and Mrs. Twit, two of the vilest human beings ever committed to the page, I can’t stop a huge smile spreading across my face, so it had to be them. This tale of a couple who take pleasure in making each other miserable and torturing their pet monkeys and the local birds is filled with Dahl's clear misanthropic tendencies. But it is still incredibly funny and a joy to read. I still laugh at the memory of the pranks these two awful people play on each other.

2. Funny Bones by Allan and Janet Ahlberg

Allan and Janet Ahlberg are the king and queen of picture books and have dozens of titles to their names (a good number of which I owned as a child), but Funny Bones remains supreme amongst them. "In a dark, dark town, there was a dark, dark street and in the dark, dark street, there was a dark, dark house...". These opening lines will be familiar to thousands of parents and children alike. In spite of this rather spooky opening, this is a hugely entertaining and fun book, perfect for bedtime reading to even very small ones.

3. The Deptford Mice Trilogy by Robin Jarvis

I suppose this is a cheat as it's three books rather than one, but, oh well. I picked up the first of these books, The Dark Portal, at a book fair at my primary school. I was hooked from the beginning to this tale of the Deptford mice’s struggles against the evil and shadowy Jupiter, a sort of feline Darth Vader as he seemed to my young imagination. These books are scary, action-packed and highly evocative of the underground world which they describe. Great fun.

4. Fred by Posy Simmonds

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Copyright: Andersen Press
  You probably think of cartoons for adults, or graphic novels as I guess they are these days, such as Gemma Bovery, when you think of Posy Simmonds. I fondly think of her as the author of the fantastic children’s book Fred, which is a heart-warming story of two children whose cat, Fred, dies. They both loved Fred and are obviously sad to lose him, but they’d always thought he was a rather boring and lazy cat. How little they knew. After Fred’s death, they discover that they had him all wrong and that in actual fact he had been a megastar of the feline world who catkind now bitterly mourns. I now realise that Fred unconsciously influenced the cat character in my own upcoming book (click here for more information on this book). Fred is a brilliant creation.

5. Alfie gets in first by Shirley Williams

The Alfie books in general are great fun, always have a good moral and they have fantastic pictures. I’d recommend any of them. The characters are apparently based on Shirley Hughes’ own daughter and grandchildren and this comes through in the genuineness of the characters and the affection with which Hughes so clearly writes of them. In this particular tale, poor Alfie manages to get himself trapped in the house while his mum and little sister are stuck out on the doorstep (following a mishap as Alfie’s mum was struggling with Alfie’s little sister’s pushchair - a pain familiar to many parents, I am sure). All the neighbours club together on the doorstep to free young Alfie, while on the inside our young hero hatches his own scheme.

6. Mr. Stink by David Walliams

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Copyright: Harper Collins Children's Books
I thought I would include a modern title for my final recommendation. David Walliams’ Mr. Stink, though fairly recent, is still a timeless tale that teaches us that there is more than meets the eye to all human beings. Our young heroine, Chloe, befriends a homeless man, Mr. Stink, with an interesting history and a very sad story of how he came to be homeless. This is a humorous tale which still manages to deal sensitively and not at all ‘childishly’ with some relatively grown-up themes.

Over to you

What children’s books would you have on your 'favourites list' and why? Leave me a comment below to let me know. If you’ve enjoyed this post and found it useful, please do share it with your friends through Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or any other networks you use (you’ll find shortcut buttons for doing so below).

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You can find out about the two books on which I am currently working here. I hope to publish the first of these in Spring 2016.