How to get your reluctant readers into books

Any kid can enjoy reading…you just have to find what’s right for them.

Image credit: Ben Smith via unsplash.com

So many parents I meet despair at how little their children read. They’ve tried all kinds of things, but the draw of the tablet, games console or TV or anything that just isn’t reading is just too great. Yet we know what a critical skill reading is and many studies tell us that people who enjoy reading are much more likely to have well-paid jobs than those that don’t. Practical and financial considerations aside, getting lost in a good book is one of life’s great pleasures and a considerable boost to mental wellbeing. But how do you get them to read?

Don’t get hung up on ‘quality’

I’ve heard so many times over the years mums and dads lamenting that they can only get their boys to read football books. What’s wrong with that? Assuming the book is written in correct English, this is something to promote. Don’t make your kids feel that certain books are beneath them and they have to read certain other books. For any of you who studied literature at school, how many of the books you read did you genuinely enjoy? Almost certainly you built up a mental barrier to enjoyment because they were compulsory and ‘worthy’. ‘Quality’ is and always has been a subjective thing. If the book is written in correct English and it gets your kid’s attention, it’s a good book.

Make reading an ‘act-ivity’

The best books prompt something inside you, whether it’s a wish for the book never to end, inspiration to try something out, or just a desire to tell others about it. Talk to your kids about the book they are reading. Ask them what they like about it and what could be better about it. Even better, get them to write their own story based on the characters in their book (even if it’s a factual football book!).

Start with the customer

You know your kids better than anyone else in the world, so you’re at an advantage here. Today’s businesses always talking about putting the customer first. This isn’t some airy-fairy stuff trying to make you feel warm and fuzzy about them (though it might do that as a by-product). This is all about increasing your likelihood of buying from them. Start thinking of your kid in this way (when it comes to books!) and you’ll start to find more appealing books for them. What are their interests? Do they have any special skills, like playing a musical instrument or something else? Do they have any medical issues or anything else they feel holds them back? Find books with characters that have these interests, skills or even issues. Once you’ve got them into these books, you can then start to suggest other books that are related (think of those emails you get from Amazon – ‘People who bought this also bought…’).

Schedule it!

Family life these days seems to be getting more and more hectic and often the luxury of sitting and reading, even for a few minutes, gets trumped by more pressing things. But, just as you schedule in the time your kids go to school and the time they go to their clubs or the doctor, you need to schedule in their reading time and treat it like it’s as immovable as these other appointments. This way, your kids will start to respect reading as just as important as the other things they need to do in their week. It may also help to keep a record of the minutes they spend reading in the week, following the principle ‘what gets measured gets done’. For boys in particular this can be helpful as it brings in the element of competition (whether it’s beating their time for the previous week or its beating a sibling!).

I hope you find these tips helpful. Do you have any others for parents struggling to get their kids reading? Let me know in the comments below. If you want to find out more about me and my books, click here. You can also get your free ‘Pete’s Time-travelling Underpants’ ebook by signing up to my mailing list here.

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.

Want to find out more about my books? Then sign up to my mailing list to get your free ‘Pete’s Time-Travelling Underpants’ ebook.

Why and how to make a New Year’s Plan with your kids

Christmas and New Year are over and the kids are going back to school. By now you've probably broken any new year's resolutions hastily made at midnight on New year’s Eve (sorry, but the chances are phenomenally high that I am right). We adultsfullsizeoutput_5ad make (and break) new year's resolutions all the time. But things are generally easier to stick to (and more fun) if we do them with other people. This year, don't make new year's resolutions on your own that you won't keep. Instead make a fun New Year Plan with your kids. As I say, you’re more likely to stick to it with all of you involved. It also teaches the kids the importance of using their time intentionally. And finally, it just increases the likelihood of you spending time together. Who knows, it may also just mean you have your best year yet all together.

To do the plan, you just need to get together and answer five simple questions. Make sure someone's writing the answer's down! You’re going to need to place the list somewhere prominent so you can track how well you stick to the plan.

1. What will you do more of?

What did you want to do in 2016, but just didn't get round to? Did you try to have more dinners all together, but it just didn't pan out? Did you plan to cycle more, but time and the weather got the better of you? Commit to do one thing more this year as a family and decide how often it needs to be done (daily, weekly, monthly). Don’t pick more more than one - life's busy enough as it is and this will make failure much more likely. Now keep track of every time you do it.

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2. What will you do less of?

For many of us there's probably one obvious answer - spend time in front of a screen (whether it be a computer or your smartphone). But whatever it is, pick one thing that's getting in the way of you spending more time together as a family and commit to reduce it. So, taking screen time as an example, set yourselves a daily limit of perhaps two hours after school / work (that’s TV, tablet and smartphone by the way!). Again, you need to track it. The ones most likely to struggle with this one are the grown-ups.

3. What will you learn?

Learning is fun and learning together is even more fun. And these days it doesn't have to cost much, if anything. There are plenty of YouTube videos to help and even free or very low-cost classes offered locally. So pick a skill you’re going to learn this year as a family. It could be singing, sewing, playing the ukulele (actually scratch that one - the idea of a family ukulele band makes the blood run cold), learning a foreign language. It doesn’t matter. You just need to set a regular time to do it.

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4. Where will you go?

OK, here you can pick more than one thing. What are three places you've been meaning to go for ages now, but just haven't got round to it? It can be an attraction in your local town, a nearby city or, even another country. Just note them down and make sure that by 31st December you've been there.

5. Who will you see?

There's always those people that you regularly stop and say, "I haven't seen them in ages," but haven't done anything about yet (I'm always doing this). Pick three and make sure you see them at least once before 31st December. I’ve done this myself in the past and have been surprised to find it’s led to me seeing those people even more than just the once in the year.

So get a big piece of paper, write up your plan, stick it on the kitchen wall and get cracking!

Creative ways to deal with your Christmas rubbish

Love Christmas, but hate the waste it produces? If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll know I’m a big fan and advocate of creativity in whatever form it takes and not just writing. The aftermath of Christmas with its greetings cards, wrapping paper, packaging and leftover turkey is a perfect opportunity to flex your creative muscles. So, before you crack out the black bags and take it all to the landfill, have a look at these creative suggestions for dealing with your Christmas rubbish.

Turn your greetings cards into something you’ll want to keep

Christmas cards are perhaps the worst of all the Christmas waste. You somehow feel you can't simply chuck them as someone has taken the time to send them to you, but if you keep them they'll just sit in a box or drawer taking up space for years to come. However, Christmas cards are a fantastic source of card for some fantastic creative projects.

Image source: Hubpages
Image source: Hubpages

Turn your cards into attractive storage

http://hubpages.com/art/recycleholidaycards

Make some fun cat toys for your feline friend

http://www.deq.louisiana.gov/portal/tabid/2073/Default.aspx 

Turn your festive tipple into an ornament

You may have seen these funky ideas in a previous post of mine. Old bottle corks and beer bottle caps are a brilliant raw material to make lovely decorations for next Christmas. My favourites are the cork reindeers and bottle cap snowmen below.

Image credit: One Artsy Mama
Image credit: One Artsy Mama

Bottle Top Snowman Tree decorations

http://www.oneartsymama.com/2012/11/bottle-cap-snowman-ornaments.html

Cork reindeers

http://www.guidepatterns.com/diy-wine-cork-reindeer-ornaments-to-try-this-christmas.php

Turn old wrapping paper into an attractive feature

Wrapping paper seems like such a waste to me (sorry!). But at the same time, it is a source of some beautiful patterns. Before you get out the black bin bag, why not consider turning your wrapping paper into something useful or beautiful.

Image source: jewelsathome.com
Image source: jewelsathome.com

https://www.buzzfeed.com/alessiasantoro/reduce-reuse-recycle-that-wrapping-paper?utm_term=.fbEdMBkQn#.xfx2vGZQJ

Make the most of your leftovers

Forget the turkey curry (which is revolting by the way). Try this tasty recipe for a pie using all the best bits from Christmas lunch:

http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/roast-potato-turkey-sausage-stuffing-pie

I hope you find these ideas useful. Will you be doing anything creative with your Christmas rubbish? Let me know in the comment below.

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 5 fantastic and easy ideas for a creative, less consumerist Christmas

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you’ll know I think creativity is important for our health and happiness. It's something we should nurture in ourselves as well as our children. In this post I discuss some ways to make this Christmas the most creative yet.

Don’t you just love Christmas? Unfortunately it’s all too easy to get bogged down in the hectic activity and general ‘busyness’ that often comes with it. So how do you maintain that Christmas spirit in amongst the present buying, the family politics and getting everything done in time? With a bit of creativity. Here I share some great ideas for how you can stay creative amongst the chaos and have a less consumerist Christmas into the bargain.

Recycled Christmas tree decorations

Image credit: One Artsy Mama
Image credit: One Artsy Mama

This is a brilliant way to add some character to your tree and get crafty with the kids. There are loads of imaginative things you can do to turn stuff that would otherwise go in the bin into funky and attractive Christmas decorations. My favourites are below (where you see a highlighted link, just click on it to be taken to the relevant website for more info):

Cute DIY Penguin Light Bulb Bauble - These little guys look awesome and make a brilliant decoration out of a common item of rubbish.

Bottle Top Snowman Tree decorations - As you start to entertain, you may have one or two (or maybe a few more!) beer bottle caps to hand. These snowmen are a fantastic and cheap way to stop them going in the landfill. Cork reindeer are another brilliant way of recycling used drinks tops.

Toilet roll Santa Claus - This one’s great and so easy. On this site you’ll find a very simple method to turn toilet rolls into fantastic-looking Santa Claus baubles. The site is in Spanish, but the pictures explain all you need to know! 

Charity Shop Secret Santa

Secret Santa is always a bit of a headache. The pressure is on to look imaginative and interesting with your gift idea, all within a tight budget. What if you changed the focus back to the act of giving itself? Adding the rule that all presents have to be bought from a charity shop can do this. It provides income to that charity (a gift in itself) and it also takes the pressure off finding a perfect gift, as you are limited by what’s in the charity shop. It’s also fun to see what you end up with. You could take this one step further if you wish and make the rule that everyone donates to a charity that they think somehow links to the person they are buying for (a sport for disabled children charity for that football-mad bloke in IT or a charity to build schools in Africa for your stern, teacher-like boss!).

DIY Advent Calendar

Image credit: Stephanie Lynn
Image credit: Stephanie Lynn

This is another brilliant one to do with the kids. Making the calendar itself is pretty straightforward - just paint a piece of card in the colours you choose and stick 24 paper fasteners (the pins that split) through it (you can find a picture here to guide you). The fun is then creating the items that will hang from each of these pins. It could be a joke, an IOU for a hug, a short poem, a random act of kindness you need to perform that day, anything. It could even be a piece of chocolate. Just write the day of the month on one side of a piece of paper, the item of the day on the other and hang the paper from a pin.

Make your own Christmas tree!

Image credit: Tutti guardano le nuvole
Image credit: Tutti guardano le nuvole

I’ve seen some amazing suggestions for making your own Christmas tree from various household items, some more complicated than others. Here’s a couple of the less complex ones which would make a great table-top Christmas tree.

Bottle brush trees - This one’s very simple. You may not have bottle brushes lying around at home (I think they’re quite old-fashioned), but you can pick up a multipack for a couple of quid. 

Paper cake case Christmas tree - Another easy but great-looking one and another one in a foreign language (Italian this time). The pictures are really easy to follow though, so don’t panic if your Italian only stretches to ‘spaghetti bolognese’.

Gift someone your time

It sounds a bit hippyish, but our time is perhaps the most valuable thing we can give people. Why not give some of it to a loved one instead of a physical gift? Do you have a particular skill that that person wants to learn? Why not give them three hours (or however many you want) of your time to teach them? Does your partner love the Star Wars films, but you’ve had no interest in watching them? Why not gift them a film night hosted by you where you watch all three of the originals (don’t bother with the modern ones)?

Alternatively, does someone in your family love going to museums, but no one will go with them? Why not offer them two museum visits in the next six months? The possibilities are endless, so this is another chance to get creative.

So there you have it - 5 fantastic ways to get creative this Christmas. Which will you choose? Let me know in the comments below.

Five great ways to get creative with the kids this half-term

October half-term can be a tricky holiday. The warmer weather of summer is fading to a distant memory. The parties and other fun activities which fill the Christmas holidays are still to come. So what do you do when it’s probably raining and grey outside and the kids are saying they’re bored? It’s time to get creative (and get them away from the tablets and TV screens).

1. Write a picture book

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As a children’s author I’m always looking for ways to get kids interested in writing and reading. This is perhaps the best way I’ve found. This activity combines kids’ limitless imagination with writing and drawing. And what could be better than that? Kids may need a bit of prompting to get going with the storyline, but once they do get going this is an activity that can keep them busy for hours. When I do school visits I include some creative writing classes and kids are always disappointed when the lesson comes to an end. They always want to know when they can continue their stories. To get the kids started, just help them to pull together a storyline (you can use the prompts in my previous post on story development here) and give them plenty of paper and colour pens and stand back and watch!

2. Make a board game

In these days of tablets and online games a board game seems almost exotic to many kids. Making their own is a great way to develop their design skills and let their imagination run wild. It could be anything from a variant on snakes and ladders to a more ambitious role-playing game. As a kid I used to enjoy making role-playing board games with a bit of a story. I even made boxes for the games out of old chocolate boxes, covering them in paper and drawing on them. A basic game can be made just using paper, sellotape, some old buttons and some glue.

3. Make a pie out of apples you've picked yourself

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If you’re in Northern Europe or North America, it’s probably prime time to go and pick some apples. Many farms offer 'pick your own' in the UK and I’m sure they do in other countries too. Why not get out in the fresh air (you may need your scarf and extra-thick jumper) and have some fun gathering the ingredients for a tasty cake or pie? Making the mix for the sponge for an apple cake is loads of fun for kids (and there’s always the bowl and spoon to lick clean at the end).

4. Make story art from an old newspaper

Put those old Sunday papers to good use. Get your kids to look through and choose pictures for a story. This may need some supervision or help at the cutting out stage! Then they can have some collage fun gluing the pictures to paper and writing a caption for each part of the story. This activity will encourage your kids to think very laterally to create a story to fit the pictures they find. You may end up with complete nonsense, but that’s half the fun!

5. Create a photo journal of a walk through town

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This activity has two added benefits. It can turn a mundane trip to the shops into an exciting activity for your kids. It can also get them using IT creatively, if you choose to go the higher-tech route. Before you go out, tell the kids you want them to keep an eye out for anything interesting or unusual they notice as you go around town. Explain that this will be for an activity you want to do later. When they spot something, photograph it. This could be anything from an old building to a billboard advert. When you get home, their task is to write a journal saying where they saw the item and why they wanted to photograph it. For added challenge, get them to write a story using the pictures (as a variant on activity number 4 above). You could do this on the computer using MS PowerPoint or a package like that or print out the photos if you want them to do it on paper.
Do you do any of the activities above with your kids? Are there others we should know about? Share your great ideas with the rest of us by leaving a comment below.

An easy approach to develop your story

People often ask me how I turn my story ideas into a story. They probably believe that there is some special fairy magic that goes on behind the scenes. The truth is much more mundane than that, but in many ways more exciting too. I follow a simple approach that is available to anyone to use. You don’t need to be some colossus of literature to do it and it really opens up the possibilities for story development. So what is it? Today I’m going to talk you through this process and show how you can go from a blank page to a fully-fledged story idea really quickly.
 
 
Step one: The six plots
 
I begin by choosing my plot. Not making up, but choosing. Though there are more stories in the world than it is possible to count, I believe there is a limited number of different basic plots to choose from. In fact, a literary theorist named Christopher Booker believes there are seven, as he tells us in his aptly named book ‘The Seven Basic Plots’. Booker believes that all storylines are simply a variant on these basic seven. I’d go one step further and say there are six basic plots, as follows:
 
  1. Overcoming the monster - Many of the most popular books and films of all time fall into this category - Harry Potter, Star Wars, James Bond and most crime thrillers. Ultimately it covers any story where the main plot is about defeating an opposing force (whether it be an actual monster, other people or your own inner demons).
  2. Rags to riches - A particularly popular theme in fairytales such as Cinderella or Aladdin, but also in Dickens.
  3. The quest - Probably the most popular plot after ‘Overcoming the monster’ and used in stories from the Lord of the Rings to Indiana Jones. 
  4. The comedy - This is basically any story that simply narrates a series of comic events as its main focus. Examples in children’s books include the ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid' series.
  5. The tragedy - Though many of the other plot types can involve a fatally flawed hero or heroine, the consequences of this fatal flaw are the main focus of tragedies from 'Oedipus Rex' to 'Madame Bovary'.
  6. The change - Though particularly common in fairytales (e.g. the Frog Prince, Beauty and the Beast), this remains a popular plot type from ‘A Christmas Carol’ to 'Despicable Me’ where changes in character occur rather than physical changes.

Though I don’t agree with everything Booker says, I have found his theories a really helpful way to approach storytelling. Once you have picked your basic plot or plots (many quests are also about overcoming the monster and many ‘rags to riches’ tales are also comedies) then you’re ready for step two.
 
Step two: The six characters
 
Once I have my basic plot I need to decide who are the individuals who will carry the plot along. As with plots, I believe there are also a limited number of character types. As a student, I was particularly intrigued by theories of Vladimir Propp developed from his analysis of Russian fairytales. He concluded that every character in these fairytales falls into one of seven types. I’ve found these invaluable in my own story development and have adapted them to my own purposes and again narrowed these to six general types.
 
  1. The hero / heroine - The person (or sometimes persons) around whom the story revolves. They may be an anti-hero or anti-heroine, even, but without one you haven’t got much of a story. 
  2. The villain - Arguably not every plot type requires such a character, but some of my favourite characters from children’s books have been villains (Shere Khan, Cruella De Vil, Mr. Twit).
  3. The false hero - A classic character of fairytales whom we still meet in modern media with characters like Prince Charming in 'Shrek 2' and Zapp Brannigan in ‘Futurama’.
  4. The victim - This character type is a development from Propp’s own character type called the ‘Princess or prize’. I find it much more helpful to think of this character as the person to whom something unpleasant has happened which the hero or heroine needs to solve in the story rather than the hero’s goal.
  5. The helper - This character basically facilitates the story by providing some sort of help to the hero or heroine. Characters of this type include the Fairy Godmother in ‘Cinderella' and Short Round in 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom'.
  6. The fool - This character is not necessarily important to the development of the story, but provides comic relief, like Donkey in Shrek or Falstaff in Henry IV, part 1.
Armed with these simple ingredients it is very easy to go from no story idea to a story outline in minutes. It has helped me development my two books to date (find out more here) and I am using it currently for my next book.  Will you give it a go?

Why I wrote ‘Pete’s Time-travelling Underpants’

Rule- Britannia-3D-BookCover-transparent_backgroundLast week I released the first in my new series of children’s books entitled ‘Pete’s Time-travelling Underpants’. The first book, “Rule Britannia”, is set in Roman Britain in the first century AD. It’s a humorous story (you may have guessed so from the title) aimed at getting children interested in history and learning historical facts in an engaging way. I stopped the other day and asked myself why I wrote it and here is what I responded.

I love history

Anyone who knows me knows that saying ‘I love history’ is a ginormous understatement. I adore the stuff and have done ever since my visits to castles around the North West of England and North Wales in my plastic knights’ armour as a small child. Writing ‘Pete’s Time-travelling Underpants’ was therefore an indulgence of sorts. It allowed me to go back and explore one of my favourite periods of history - the Roman period. It was a great deal of fun as a result.

I never really stopped being a teacher

blackboard-1185042_960_720Many years ago I was a teacher and my favourite part of the job was sharing knowledge and seeing that moment when I really piqued a child’s interest. I still regularly go on to friends and family about interesting facts, theories and other things I find interesting with the hope that it stimulates their interest too (with mixed results). So, it seemed natural to me to write a children’s book that entertained while passing on lots of interesting and often gross facts about living in Roman Britain.

I was a fan of ‘Horrible Histories’ as a child

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Image copyright: Scholastic
Many of you will be aware of the highly-successful children’s non-fiction series ‘Horrible Histories’, which has even become a television programme. I loved these books as a kid for two main reasons:
 
  1. They were funny and disgusting.
  2. They were packed full of facts about a particular period - ‘Vile Victorians’, ‘Terrible Tudors’, etc.

 

These books made distant peoples seem more human than other history books that focussed on the grandeur of Ancient Rome or the industrial might of the Victorians. In short, they made you realise that the people in these times were essentially the same as us, which made them all the more interesting. I hope with ‘Pete’s Time-Travelling Underpants’ to create a similar understanding in young readers.

It gave me a chance to try out humorous writing

My first book, “Holly Watson and the furry thieves”, was a children’s detective mystery story. Although I included some humour in it, this was not the over-riding tone of the book. I’d always enjoyed trying to write more humorous stuff in my spare time (though rarely sharing it) and also reading humorous children’s books. It seemed natural to try out something humorous and ‘Pete’s Time-travelling Underpants’ was the result. 
 
From the response to the book so far, I realise it’s not only a good book for kids - adults are really enjoying it too. You can check it out now on Amazon in paperback and ebook.