Friday, December 20, 2013

3 4 Friday - Fabulous and Festive - Happy Christmas from Mostly Books

This will be our last 3 4 Friday - and it's three books we've particularly enjoyed having in the shop - and showing customers - over the last few weeks. They also represent three books with genuinely stunning covers and artwork, all for different reasons.

The Invisible Kingdom by Rob Ryan is a big book by all measures, and for those who love Ryan's papercut creations it's a must-have.

It's a story about a little Prince, and the kindness shown to him by one man, who gives him a pen with invisible ink, and a special torch that allows him to create a world only he can see.

A wonderful tale in its own right, a story that celebrates imagination, mystery and learning to know yourself.
Dragonology, Alienology and Wizardology - and now the latest from the Templar Team who bought you all this and more - Dinosaurology.

Written from the recently discovered writings of Percy Fawcett, friend of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the truth behind his book The Lost World, this is the until-now untold story of the hidden plateau in South America where dinosaurs still roam.

Finally, we're all big Harry Potter fans in the shop (particularly one staff member, who has a strong claim to be the world's biggest HP fan) and the revised and expanded version of Harry Potter Film Wizardry is a joy to read for those who are.

A wonderful, interactive celebration of the tricks, effects and gadgets behind the films, it's another high-quality production by the team behind the films. 

We'll be open until 3pm on Christmas Eve (including this Sunday) - and again from Friday 27 December. From all of us at Mostly Books, we wish you and your family a peaceful and relaxing Christmas.

We receive such amazing support from everyone at the shop all year round - thank you so much. We hope you manage to enjoy a good book (or two!) over the holidays.

(P.S. We have some recommendations on today's Book Are My Bag Advent Calendar - see what we recommended...)

Friday, December 13, 2013

3 4 Friday - Christmas crafting, but not what you think: Minecraft, McGough and Stopmotion Movies

If you are buying for children this Christmas, it’s fair to say that books face a lot of competition on Christmas morning. How can a book possibly compete with exciting toys and the latest gadgets, especially for a child who isn’t a keen reader?

Well, for today's 3-4-Friday #FridayReads here are three suggestions in which the book becomes the starting point of something special and creative – we hope it gives you a few ideas.
If you are a parent, you may already know far too much about Minecraft, but if you don't, it can best be described as part game, part online Lego set. Whether on PC, console or tablet, it’s a word-of-mouth phenomenon which allows kids to craft their own world, literally digging the raw materials out of the ground and shaping them into increasingly complex materials to make buildings and objects.

Egmont have joined forces with Mojang (the people behind Minecraft) to produce three fantastic books. There is a Beginner’s Handbook and a Minecraft Annual. But our pick for more experienced Minecrafters is ‘The Redstone Handbook’. Redstone is the ‘power and wiring’ in Minecraft that allows kids to build electrical circuits, mechanical devices and is jam-packed with gadgets, tips and traps. All three of these books are currently going through a hasty re-print, but we have a few copies of each of these books in the shop, so let us know if we can reserve one for you...

(If you want to know more about Minecraft from a parent's perspective, here's what Mark Ward the BBC's technical correspondent had to say a couple of months ago.)


Do you know a budding film director? Armed with a digital camera, kids can transform themselves into stop-motion movie experts with the brilliant Animation Studio by filmmaker Helen Piercy. She gives you tips and tricks to make stop-motion videos like a professional, including techniques with puppets, clay-modelling, morphing and pixilation. At £12.99, it contains a mini stage-set, props and a 32-page director's handbook.


Finally, books that can be shared with the whole family make particularly special gifts, and we can thoroughly recommend the treasure trove of favourite verse that is Poetry Please. It’s a collection of the most-requested poems taken from the archive of Radio 4's Poetry Please, since its inception in 1979. Curated by presenter Roger McGough, it’s perfect for dipping into and sharing your own favourites with young and old alike.

Mostly Books is open every day from now until 3pm on Christmas Eve (including Sundays from 11am - 2.30pm) – so do come in and ask for our advice and help...

P.S. Want to know what Mostly Books looks like in Minecraft? Take a tour with a young minecrafter...

Friday, December 06, 2013

3 4 Friday - Small Shop Saturday Surprises

At this time of the year, everyone at Mostly Books is fully 'prepped' to offer advice for any tricky gift-buying challenges you may have. Without pandering to naff gender sterotypes, it's fair to say that some people can be tricky to buy for. When we talk to customers, buying for men can sometimes be a challenge. Particularly if they enjoy reading, but don't have a great deal of time to read...

You want to get it right, don't you?

So today's 3-4-Friday #FridayReads are three books that we think might give you inspiration - but please, please do come in and set us the challenge if you have anyone tricky to buy for, male or female, young or old. We're definitely here to help.

First up is the Encyclopedia Paranoiaca by Henry Beard and Christopher Cerf. It's an authoritative, disturbingly comprehensive, and utterly debilitating inventory of things poised to harm, maim, or kill you - all based on actual research about the perils of everyday life. Drinking straws, flip-flops and flossing - all pose deadly threats and you'd do well to mug up. Easy to read all the way through, or can be dipped in at times of stress or anxiety. This is very funny, and cheaper than going on a health and safety course.

Signed copies always make a great book just that little bit more special, and at the moment we have books by Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Mo Farah, Pam Ayres and others signed and on the shelves. But today we've gone for As Luck Would Have It by acting legend Sir Derek Jacobi. This is everything you might expect from one of our most loved actors. Jacobi tells his story in a funny and warm-hearted way, from simple childhood in the East End to the height of fame on stage and screen - including becoming a founding member of Laurence Olivier's National Theatre. We have a small number of signed copies in stock, and they are perfect for fans.

(Talking of signed copies, the fabulous Tom Moorhouse paid us a surprise visit today - so we have signed copies of his book The River Singers - read a fabulous review of his book here)

Finally, we can definitely recommend The King's Grave: The Search for Richard III by Michael Jones and Philippa Langley. For anyone who watched spellbound during the Leicester news conference earlier this year, this book is the entire and definitive background story, and captures perfectly the mounting excitement and breakthrough discoveries of the Channel 4 documentary 'The King Under The Car Park'. Told in alternating chapters alongside Richard III's life and last days, this is as gripping as a spy thriller. Highly recommended.

If you want other recommends, catch Mark talking books in a silly hat on BBC Radio Oxford this week - or simply pop into the shop (no silly hat required) and ask.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Letters of Note, Bookish Cures and a Santa Hat - the BBC Radio Oxford Afternoon Bookclub

The BBC Radio Oxford Afternoon Bookclub is always a lot of fun, but today's was more fun than usual. Perhaps it was the distinctly festive air (this is the last show we'll do this year after all), perhaps it was the selection of books, but it could have just been the general pantomime atmosphere...and a santa hat or two:

Together with Kat and Nigel of Coles Bookstore, you can might have spotted 'The Goldfinch' there (easily one of our favourite books of the year), and also 'Maps' by the wonderful Aleksandra and Daniel MizieliƄski. But we also discussed Shaun Usher's sublime collection of 'Letters of Note', guitar-strumming astronaut-hero Chris Hadfield's 'An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth', and some 'Ant and Bee'.

But we kicked off with Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin's 'A Novel Cure'. This is a masterfully put together list of bookish cures for a whole range of ailments. From being 'too busy' to suffering from man-flu, listen in to what therapeutic reading the authors have on offer...

The BBC Radio Oxford Afternoon Bookclub - fast-forward to 1 hour 9 minutes for bookish inspiration for Christmas...

Friday, November 29, 2013

3 4 Friday - A riddle, wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma...stuck in a book

If this Saturday is the day you start your Christmas shopping, then today's 3-4-Friday #Fridayreads represent three very different yet beautifully-produced books that have real wow-factor when unwrapped.

(And if you are coming into Abingdon this Saturday there is plenty going on for the Extravaganza)
Letters of Note by Shaun Usher is a collection of the world’s most inspiring and unusual letters. It's a collection lovingly curated with a real eye for the dramatic, the poignant - and the sometimes just plain wacky, There's a job application from Leonardo da Vinci, a very touching letter by Iggy Pop to a troubled fan - or (my personal favourite) a letter scribbled by Elvis Presley during a flight to meet President Nixon asking to be made into a federal agent. Endlessly fascinating - and made more poignant in an age when letter-writing is a dying art.

If you enjoyed the breathtaking stop-motion visuals of The Great British Year on telly earlier this Autumn, then the BBC have pulled all the stops out to produce a book which - in its own way - is as breathtaking and inspiring as the television series. With award-winning photography, eye-opening page spreads and tons of behind the scenes material, this is one of those books that showcase all that is best about a physical book. There are also loads of resources and suggestions about how you can get out and enjoy the British countryside - whatever the season or the weather.

And finally, a true love-letter to the physical book by 'Star Trek' director and 'Lost' creator J.J. Abrams working with novelist Doug Dorst. At the heart of the mysterious book S is a regular book, but wrapped around this is annotations by two readers, together with items they have swapped whilst trying to work out the enigma that lies at the heart of what happened to the author.
The book is just the start...
Thanks to Gaskella who handily photographed the treasure-trove of items, ephemera and clues that lie within (see the picture in all its glory on the blog). This is a treat for any Abrams fan - or just anyone who wants to get (genuinely) 'lost' in a good book...

Friday, November 22, 2013

3 4 Friday - Excitement, Extravaganza and Exposing a Mystery Guest

No, no clues. You'll have to see for yourself!
Someone unexpected has appeared in our window.

At first glance, it looks very much like Father Christmas; the beard, the red clothes dusted with snow. A big fat tummy.

But we are fairly sure it is someone in disguise. If you think you can identify our mystery visitor you might win him! We have entry forms in store - all you need to do is to let us know who you think is disguised as Father Christmas. Come on down and take a look...

We think it's all to do with the annual Abingdon Extravaganza on Saturday 30 November. It’s a day-long celebration featuring a parade at 11.45am, fun in the market square all afternoon (including reindeer!) with the big Christmas lights switch-on at 5.30pm followed by a grand firework display.

All day at Mostly Books, we’re inviting you to enter our competition to win £30 of Usborne books – simply come into the shop and take part in our Christmas colouring competition. You will also be able to make a Christmas decoration that you can take home – and grab a free Usborne goodie bag whilst stocks last.

Finally, there’s a fab Christmas competition running all around town this December – the Abingdon Independent Christmas. Collect your special Christmas tree from any of the 20 shops taking part (including Mostly Books) and every time you visit one of them, you’ll get a star to stick on your Christmas tree. Collect ten stars from ten different shops – and enter a competition to win a £20 voucher from one of the shops.

So there we are – three ways to win this Christmas. And if you need some ideas, take a look at our special Christmas recommends newsletter that should have arrived last week. If gremlins or overzealous spam filters stopped you receiving it last week, you can view an online version here.

Friday, November 15, 2013

3 4 Friday - Eloquence and Englishness...and Elves

Once a year (about now), we send out a special Bumper Christmas recommends newsletter, jam-packed full of recommendations for young and old of all the best (in our humble opinion) books available for Christmas.

Believe it or not, planning for this marathon recommend-a-thon starts in July (you gotta love retail) when we try to spot some early favourites. Then in August, when everyone else is enjoying a well-earned Summer break, we draw up the 'longlist' and start the process of writing reviews.

No, no, that's not a snowman. move along...
Come September, as books start coming in, and there are 'oohs' and 'aahhs' from staff, we throw half of what we've written out, and then engage in bouts of grown-up discussions and measured debate about what should stay in.

This lasts for about 10 minutes, and then we resort to lot-drawing or arm-wrestling to resolve differences of opinion. Egos need to be smoothed. Sometimes cash changes hands.

October and November is then a mad whirlwind of reading, review-writing and getting the formatting to work. (I'm also notorious for slipping in something at the last minute without telling anyone. This doesn't help anyone's stress levels, I can tell you).

Anyway, we hope you like it. Something for everyone, including the tricky 'gift for someone who doesn't like books'...

Copies are now available in the shop to pick up - but a PDF copy is available here to download, or alternatively take a look at all our recommends on one big web page here.

In the meantime, as part of our 3-4-Friday 'FridayReads, here are three books taken from the selection.

First up is Mark Forsyth's sublime work of genius that is The Elements of Eloquence. Having unexpectedly topped the Christmas bestseller charts for the last two years with The Etymologicon and The Horologicon, Mark is back with a book on the rules of rhetoric.

Or as he cheerfully writes 'In an age unhealthily obsessed with substance, this is a book on the importance of pure style".

Rhetoric is a huge subject, and strictly speaking Mark reveals the forgotten ‘figures of rhetoric’, the hidden tricks of writing to make phrases powerful and memorable. Along the way, in his own whimsical but deliciously subversive style, he reveals why Shakespeare was not a genius, why Yoda is the master of the Anadiplosis - and the real reason why ‘The name's Bond...James Bond’ sticks in the mind (why didn't he just say ''My name is James Bond"?)

Mark visited Abingdon School the week before last, and spoke to the boys there about rhetoric and the art of turning the perfect English phrase.

One of the worries from the audience was that, if the book sells well, there is a risk of everyone suddenly injecting a bit of hyperbaton or diacope into their writing.

Will that happen? Will that happen? We'll just have to see if it does.

In the meantime, if you would like to listen to an extract from the book, we discussed it on this week's BBC Oxford Afternoon Bookclub. If you are listening before Nov 19, simply click on the link and fast-forward to approximately 1 hour 19 minutes to learn more...

With his dapper appearance and huge collection of dictionaries lining bookshelves, Mark would probably be just the man to appear in The English Room.

It's a celebration of the favourite spaces, public or private, of many beloved personalities, and these represent a truly opulent collection. Personal insights as well as beautiful photography make this a book to dip into and to share with others.

With contributions from Stephen Fry, PD James and, yes, the dashing Mr Cumberbatch, this might be a guilty pleasure for many over the festive period. Not to mention providing a few interior design tips...

Finally (and also discussed on the show on Monday) we have the wonderful Winter's Child by Angela McAllister and illustrator Grahame Baker Smith. His artwork for the book FArTHER (which won the Kate Greenaway Medal in 2011) is a combination illustration and photographic montage, and is both striking and memorable.

In Winter's Child, when Tom wishes winter would never end, he meets another boy who shares his love of snow and ice. Playing together every day, Tom hardly notices that spring doesn't come - until he realises the terrible effect the delay is having on the countryside and his sick grandma. His friend is Winter's child, and for the seasons to go on the friends must say goodbye until next year.

This is a heartwarming story with the most amazing illustrations. A perfect gift for boy or girl this Christmas.

In the mood for more Christmas recommends? Then click here...

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Really, Really Big Event: Five Questions with Anne-Marie Conway and the Oxfordshire Book Awards 2013

The Oxfordshire Book Awards is one of the highlights of our year - in terms of the sheer exhuberance of everyone that attends, there really isn't another event like it. It's a fantastic mash-up of authors and illustrators, readers and book lovers - and there's a whole heap of passion and excitement in the air...

So what exactly are the key elements make it such a success?

How about authors signing and meeting children? Check.
Richard Byrne

Opportunities for photographs with favourite authors? Check.


The winning books made out of cake? Check, check, check...
Crack bookselling team and extremely long book stall? Defo check.



All you need now is to let loose approximately 360 children and a critical number of librarians in the hall, and the result is intense, frantic - and rather wonderful.

This year's winners included Richard Byrne for The Really, Really Big Dinosaur. We'd obviously sold out of that book early on in proceedings (ug), but here he poses with his latest book The Great Moon Confusion. Given my love of space-themed books, this is already a favourite (I mean, the racoon is called Aldrin...how cool is that?)
There were special guests as well - Piers Ibbotson, son of the late Eva Ibbotson, talked about his mother's last book 'The Abominables' (published posthumously), and there was also a guest appearances by author Jo Cotterill.
Jo Cotterill
As well as 'Wonder' by RJ Palacio, the other winner was the brilliant Anne-Marie Conway, with her story of relationships and secrets set in a tiny English village, Butterfly Summer.


In between mouthfuls of cake, we asked a Anne-Marie a few questions about how she writes...

Five Questions with...Anne Marie Conway's Writing Life

1.    What are you working on at the moment?

It's a book called 'Purple Ribbon' due on next May. It's almost finished!

2.    What is the best writing tip you’ve ever been given?

Never send your work our early, by which I mean - when it isn't the best it can be. I know you need to set deadlines, but you sometimes only get one chance to impress a publisher or agent, and it needs to be the very best it can be.

3.    What’s the best thing and the worst thing about being a children’s writer?

I get very nervous about public speaking, so speaking to a large group isn't something I enjoy. I much prefer, at events like this, to talk individually to children. And that's the best thing about being a child's writer - talking one-to-one with children who've read and enjoyed your book!

4.    Do you have a writer’s survival kit, eg a place, thing of snack essential before you can start work?

I have a collection of stones from Brighton Beach which are on my desk. Sometimes I write the names of characters on them in pencil - but then rub them off! I hope that doesn't sound too weird...

5.    What was your biggest breakthrough?

I was shortlisted for the Times / Chicken House award. Up until then I really hadn't had a great deal of success, but afterwards publishers started asking me for my work.

(Thanks so much to the organisers for our invitation, and to sterling support from Julia, Sally and Jo on the bookstall. I promise I'll get some cake for you soon. For some other takes on the award ceremony, see Jo Cotterill's write-up here, and OUP also covered the event here)

Friday, November 08, 2013

3 4 Friday - young love can seem earth-shattering (literally and figuratively) with these top teen reads

Is there any area of publishing hotter than teen fiction? It's a few years since Twilight and The Hunger Games, so who are the current names to watch that keep teens hooked on books?

For today’s 3-4-Friday – three of our current favourite teen reads...

Soulmates’ by British author Holly Bourne has an original and extremely clever concept at its heart – we all know young-love is earth-shattering, but what if it were so...literally?

When Poppy and Noah meet, they have no idea what they are. But when they fall in love, thunderstorms, lightning strikes and lashings of rain are only the beginning of their problems as the world around them falls more and more into disrepair, and the chase is on – led by a shadowy international agency – to stop them before they accidentally destroy the world...witty, intelligent and crackling with energy.

If you like something grittier and set in the real world, then we can definitely recommend ‘Split Second’ from top Brit teen thriller writer Sophie McKenzie.

After a terrorist attack on a London market, two teens are bound together by what happened. Thinking at first they are very much alike, as the story goes on it begins to seem that one knows more about the attack than first thought. This is a tight and tautly-written book, that shows what can happen when courage and loyalties are tested...

Finally, a US pick by Imogen, who was persuaded out of reading dystopian fiction by the lure of John Green. He hit the big time with ‘The Fault In Our Stars’ and has teamed up with two other teen writers (Maureen Johnson and the unlikely sounding Lauren Myracle) to bring some festive fayre in 'Let It Snow'.

Through three intertwining short stories, we follow Jubilee, on Christmas eve, as she gets stuck in Gracetown after the train has to stop, Tobin, when his friends go to meet the cheerleaders from that train, and finally, Addie, who is still smarting from her week-old break up. Heartwarming, funny with a unashamedly festive theme, it’s enough to put a smile on your face while waiting for Christmas Day to come...

Friday, November 01, 2013

3 4 Friday - weaving tales of the weird and the wonderful with words - Tartt, Trollope, Faulks and Forsyth

In celebration of Mark Forsyth's return to Abingdon next week (more below) today's '3-4-Friday' #FridayReads celebrates three authors who certainly know about the power of language to write a great book.

The finely-drawn story of Theo Decker, struggling to navigate how to live his life after being cast adrift by the death of his mother, is the subject of one of the biggest novels published this year - Donna Tartt’s ‘The Goldfinch’, her first book in ten years.

Theo’s journey through the dinner parties of rick New Yorkers, the brash of Las Vegas, all the while remaining always on the outside, is a masterpiece of multi-layered storytelling that grips right from the start and brings to mind Pip from ‘Great Expectations’.

Full of acute observational writing, enough twists to keep the pages turning and an ending that turns up the tension to thriller territory, ‘The Goldfinch’ rewards putting aside some serious time for some seriously indulgent enjoyment. A good wallow about life, death and art to immerse yourself in. Definitely Nicki’s top ‘must-read’ of the year.

PG Wodehouse should definitely feature in anyone’s list of great English writers, and next week sees publication of a book we’ve been immensely looking forwards to  - ‘Jeeves and the Wedding Bells’. This is Sebastian Faulks’ recreation of PG Wodehouse’s beloved characters of Jeeves and Wooster and plunging them into another brilliantly-farcical, totally new story. All the hallmarks are there – a country house in monetary trouble, marriages on the line, unlikely plot twists and ridiculous set-ups. We can’t wait.

But if we line up a list of the greatest English writers, *very* near the top (hovering just behind Shakespeare) would have to be Jane Austen. The Austen Project is an audacious attempt by some of our greatest contemporary writers to update all of Jane Austen’s book and place them in a modern setting – starting with Joanna Trollope’s ‘Sense and Sensibility’.

Sisters Elinor and Marianne are forced out of their home by their brother and his new wife when their father dies. They move to Devon when they are offered a cottage by Sir John Middleton, but they all have to leave behind something that they care about.

Keeping both characters cleverly near the originals, but with added help from the internet and modern technology (love that iPod-style cover), this is a wonderful retelling of a coming of age book.

And so to the event next Wednesday (Nov 6)...

But how on earth do you go about putting one together for yourself?

If you decided you fancied yourself as a writer - whether it be for songs, radio plays, speeches or just more powerful emails - then you might want to ask Mark Forsyth for help. For the last two years, he’s been an unlikely figure at the top of the bestseller lists with his books ‘Etymologicon’ and ‘The Horologicon’. Exploring the unexpected and remarkable connections between words and how they evolve, Mark has now turned his attention to ‘The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase’ – his latest book published next week.

An eloquent speaker, Mark appeared at The Guildhall last Christmas - and returns next Wednesday (Nov 6) to talk about his latest book at Abingdon School. He’ll be examining the language of the great poets, orators, song writers and religious texts to understand how to say something well – even if you have nothing to say...

The event is an early-afternoon affair (1.30pm on Wednesday, Nov 6) at the Amey Theatre, Abingdon School. You are cordially invited and the event is free – but you’ll need to let us know you are coming.

And if you cannot attend, we would be very happy to arrange a signed copy of ‘The Elements of Eloquence’ for you – Icon Books have published it as another beautifully produced hardback at £12.99 – please email us to reserve a signed copy...

Friday, October 25, 2013

3 4 Friday - Views from a life spent writing, baking...and looking down on Earth

"History will be kind to me for I intend to write it." - Winston Churchill

We all love a good memoir – thoughtful, insightful, well-written – they can be amongst some of our most cherished and important literature. Or it can just be a peep behind the curtain of a famous sports person, pop star or actor.

At this time of year, amongst the ex-football managers and pop stars grabbing the headlines, we've tried to pick three of our favourite autobiographies for today's 3-4-Friday #FridayReads.

In 'Ammonites and Leaping Fish' author Penelope Lively looks back on her own life in this utterly beguiling and surprising not-quite-memoir. Penelope addresses the realities of ageing, memory, time, and a life lived in the 20th century. As she says: “One of the few advantages of age is that you can report on it with a certain authority”.

Erudite, elegant, moving and deeply enjoyable, it talks about tricks of memory, the objects accumulated on the journey - and a life spent reading and writing. A beautifully designed hardback, and an original memoir by one of our leading writers.

Britain seems to be baking-mad at the moment, and few television presenters spark as much genuine warmth and affection than Mary Berry. Her autobiography ‘Recipe for Life’ is a wonderfully honest and at times unexpected memoir of the life of the ‘Great British Bake Off’ judge – someone who, born in 1935, has spent over half a century teaching Britain how to cook.

Packed full of beautiful colour photos, and interspersed with recipes from a very British childhood, Berry shares her life story and proves that you can still be a style icon and at the pinnacle of your career in your 70s.

For us, Chris Hadfield is one of the biggest stars of 2013. Not since the Apollo missions has an astronaut captured the popular imagination and turned people on to space and science, whether young or old. Remember *that* version of David Bowie’s 'Space Oddity' broadcast from the International Space Station?

Well, Chris has spent an awful lot of time in space, and in his book 'An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth' he looks at his training, experiences and the reasons why he has enjoyed every minute of it. A natural storyteller, his eye-opening, entertaining stories are filled with the adrenaline of launch, the mesmerizing wonder of spacewalks and the measured, calm responses mandated by crises. From his perspective on top of the world, he explains how conventional wisdom can get in the way of achievement -- and happiness. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

3 4 Friday - Maps, Migrations and Moving Islands

Having been inspired by authors and publishers alike last Saturday at the 'Ways Into Reading' conference, today's 3 4 Friday #fridayreads feature some of our current favourite children's books, to get kids excited and losing themselves in a new book.

We’ll start with one of our absolute favourites this Autumn: ‘Maps’ by Aleksandra and Daniel Mizielinski. I think it’s fair to say we’ve all fallen in love with the Mizielinskis and their quirky, brilliant illustrated take on the world.

This book of maps is truly a visual feast for readers of all ages. With lavishly drawn illustrations in an over-sized book, maps show not only country borders, cities and rivers, but squeeze in places of historical interest, eminent personalities, iconic animals and plants and fascinating facts. It is a book to dip into and go back to again and again - one of those books you just have to pick up and then get lost in...

We do love a good pop-up in the shop, and Templar’s award-winning How It Works series by Christiane Dorion and Beverley Young have produced bold and imaginative pop-ups on how the weather and the world works.

How Animals Live’ is the latest in the series, and is a pop-up tour through all the environments on Earth. It shows how, from rainforests to the poles, animals have cleverly adapted to life. With pop-ups flaps, pull-outs and other fun features children can explores the extraordinary diversity of animal life. Perfect for anyone with a curiosity about animals and the world around them, and suitable for a wide age-range.

Finally, we are really enjoying the wacky world of ‘Oliver and the Seawigs’ by the dream-team of Mortal Engines author Philip Reeve and You Can’t Eat a Princess illustrator Sarah McIntyre. The story is bonkers, the two-colour illustrations even more so. But it’s FUN. An unforgettably fun, frolicsome adventure full of mad happenings and even crazier illustrations.

Oliver must rescue his parents and teams up with a moving island and a mermaid, but has to beware of the pesky sea monkeys and the sarcastic seaweed. Brilliantly funny and gorgeously illustrated book that is great to read out loud.

As always, we are here to offer our own unique brand of advice to get kids into reading – come and ask us. And find out more about the authors we met last Saturday (including some top tips on writing from Tracey Corderoy and Andy Mulligan)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Shifty and Dangerous: Tracey Corderoy, Andy Mulligan and 'Ways Into Reading' with the OCBG


How many ways into reading? Well, let me count the ways... 

Last Saturday, Mostly Books were proud to be supporting the Oxford Children's Book Group for their annual day conference 'Ways Into Reading'.

An imaginative and illuminating programme of speakers took to the stage at Oxford University Press (in the same building as the OUP Museum) with the focus being on the myriad of ways that are available to develop a deep and abiding love of reading amongst children.

The audience consisted of librarians, teachers, educational professionals, children's publishers, authors and readers - and subjects ranged from the magic of reading aloud and story sacks to the changing role of children's written language, and the importance of 'dangerous' books...


Victor Watson - author of the Paradise Barn series - kicked off with a look at the power and allure of series fiction.

Series fiction is often dismissed critically, but Victor recounted how one small boy described reading a new book as entering a room full of strangers, but that series fiction was like 'a room full of friends'.

He described his own journey into books with Malcolm Saville's 'Seven White Gates' and the dawning realisation that there were other books in the series, and that Malcolm was still writing them...


Because the most important books that children read are the ones that they read on their own, series fiction which hooks the reader - whether a successive or progressive series - are a powerful way of fostering a love of independent reading, in Malcolm's words of 'being on edge for that first page', of walking into that familiar room.

It's a theme which parallel's Neil Gaiman's comments this week that fostering a love of reading, at its simplest, is "finding books that they enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read them".

A good series seems a fantastic way of achieving this.

The team behind the The Phoenix Comic (Caro and Tom Fickling) gave a passionate plea for comics (and comics as opposed to graphic novels) as a way for children to develop a love of reading.

(And as someone who grew up reading almost nothing but The Beano, Tornado and 2000AD in my younger years, I wholeheartedly agree)

The Phoenix Comic - successor to the early DFC - is possibly the most important comic currently being published, given its commitment to the highest quality writing and artwork. Caro and Tom shared experiences of the comic so far, the humbling feedback which flows in from readers and parents - and shared plans for the future direction under the auspices of its publisher, the newly-independent David Fickling Books.


Tracey Corderoy is a big favourite at Mostly Books, with books such as Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam, The Very Messy Mermaid and The Little White Owl being some of our bestselling children's books in recent years.

Tracey grew up in Port Talbot, in a house with no books, and told a tale of a girl being transformed into a reading machine by the multi-sensory magic of seeing books brought to life through all kinds of creative ways - something she does with her own books, with story sacks, dressing up, theatrical performances - and even live ducks in bookshops!


Author Susie Day meeting Tracey Corderoy
Intrigued to discover more, in between signing books afterwards, we wanted to find out more about Tracey's writing life...

Five Questions With...Tracey Corderoy's Writing Life

1. What are you working on at the moment?
I'm working on Hubble Bubble young fiction #2 and #3 (a follow-up to Hubble Bubble: Glorious Granny Bake-off). I’m also working on a sequel to Shifty McGrifty.

2. What is the best writing tip you’ve ever been given?
The best tip I was ever given was to ‘just tell the story’. Don’t worry about all the pieces being in place.

3. What’s the best thing and the worst thing about being a children’s writer?
The best is the immediate feedback you are able to get from children, I love that. The worst is deadlines, which I think must be quite common. I find them very constraining.

4. Do you have a writer’s survival kit, eg a place, thing or snack essential before you can start work?
(Thinks for a moment). Mmm, not really. I think it’s important *not* to give yourself ‘kit’ actually. Otherwise, if you don’t have it, it gives you an excuse not to write. I will write anywhere, on anything – even if I don’t feel like it.

5. What was your biggest breakthrough?
It has to be the day, after three years or so of rejections, when someone got in touch to say they really liked 'Grunt and Grouch', and could I come in and have a chat about producing a book with them, as characters. That was very special.

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The conference featured a talk by the team behind Project X at OUP, and also Vineeta Gupta publisher of Children’s Dictionaries at OUP looking at the changing nature of children's language, particular some of the work they've done analysis the language patterns in the 40 million words from 90,000 short story entries in the Radio 2 short story competition. From children's favourite character names (Lucy and Jack) to the most popular 'new' word (Gangnam!) the '500 words' project is well worth discovering more about (and the BBC did a feature on this back in May).
Finally, Andy Mulligan - author of 'Trash' and the Ribblestrop books - gave a talk about dangerous books. Andy's own brush with danger (experiencing the reality of daily gun-battles whilst on the set of the film of 'Trash') Andy talked about the power of prose, and a different take on finding books that children *want* to read. And providing an extreme example of his own experiment in opening the door to a group of reluctant teen readers (it involved the book American Psycho and a not inconsiderable amount of flack from parents).


Andy's latest book 'The Boy With Two Heads' is about a mild-mannered, delightful 10 year old boy who suddenly grows another head. Cue confusion in dealing with an alter ego who is rude, arrogant and occasionally downright nasty. Anyone with teenagers might just get where Andy is coming from - and where he goes with this delightfully literal take on the adolescent and the emergence of a different persona...

We were also lucky to be able to chat with Andy, and ask him some questions as well...

Five Questions With...Andy Mulligan's Writing Life

1.  What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on a book about the first world war, to be published next year. It’s about a 14 year old boy in this age, who becomes obsessed about a 14 year old boy who goes to war in 1914.

2. What is the best writing tip you’ve ever been given?
Get to the end. I don’t mean to sound smug, but it’s very easy to start something, in a burst of enthusiasm, but you’ve got to get to the finish line, even if you finish badly.

3. What’s the best thing and the worst thing about being a children’s writer?
The best is spending time with children, as characters, because as a children’s writer your characters will often be children. The worst (thinks very hard). Mmm, nope, I really can’t think of anything – what have other writers said?!


4.  Do you have a writer’s survival kit, eg a place, thing or snack essential before you can start work?
Mmm. A laptop (that sounds a bit dull, doesn’t it?). I have to say that, although not an essential, I love writing on a train, it’s the rhythm of the train that just seems to help with the writing process.
5. What was your biggest breakthrough?
I think – for me – it was the when I realised what the ending was going to be for ‘Trash’. There was this moment, I was in Manilla, a typhoon was approaching, I was walking around and the heaven’s opened. I just thought “this is how it’s going to end”. It was very biblical, you could see the trash coming out of the bins, everywhere, and rushing down the street...

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Thank to all the authors for making it a wonderful day, and the Oxford Children's Book Group for inviting us along. It's a fantastic group, passionate about making a difference to children love of reading locally, so why not become a member?

(For another take on the conference, read the brilliant ChildLedChaos's perspective over on her blog - and Griselda Heppel's has also done a great take on the conference from an author's perspective as well)