Guest Columns

Jay Jay Burridge on Dinos, Darth Vader and Dr Seuss

Jay Jay Burridge, author and creative, is bringing dinosaurs back to life. His epic six part book series, ‘Supersaurs’, (books 1 and 2 are out now) tells the tale of what would happen if dinosaurs were still walking the earth. They have an augmented reality aspect and come complete with illustrations that will burst to life with the use of the Supersaur app. Intrigued? So were we, which is why we have invited him along to Barnes to talk more about his passion for dinosaurs, how they were first discovered and what they might be like if they really had survived and evolved.


Jay Jay Burridge with the first book in his epic six part series


Barnes Children’s Literature Festival: What did you want to be when you were growing up?

Jay Jay Burridge: I’ve always wanted to be an artist for as long as I can remember.


BCLF: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

JJB: “Never underestimate the power of the force” – Darth Vader.


BCLF: And the worst?

JJB: “Trust me”.


BCLF: My favourite word is:

JJB: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. It’s the place with the longest name in Britain and for some reason I can say it perfectly!


BCLF: My greatest fear is:

JJB: Climate change.


BCLF: My hidden talent is:

JJB: I can make over 100 things out of a paper plate.


BCLF: Favourite book as a child?

JJB: Am I allowed to say all the Tintin adventures?


BCLF: Who is your favourite literary villain?

JJB: ‘The Grinch’ by Dr Seuss


BCLF: Tell us a joke

JJB: Why did the T.Rex cross the road? Because chickens hadn’t evolved yet.

Andy Stanton on yellow snow and prehistoric sharks

Looking for belly laughs from your Barnes Kids Lit Fest experience? Andy Stanton’s your man. The massively successful author, who wrote his first book in several hours one Christmas Eve as a festive present for his family, will be talking about his wickedly funny Mr Gum series. He will also be talking about his latest one-off book of hysterical/historical stories, Natboff! One Million Years of Stupidity, which lives up to the fantastically surreal promise of its title. We can’t wait for this one – see you there!


Barnes Children’s Literature Festival: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Andy Stanton: ‘Watch out where the huskies go and don’t you eat the yellow snow’ – Frank Zappa


BCLF: And the worst?

AS: I don’t remember bad advice. Once I’ve turned it over in my squishy little brains and decided it’s not for me, I invariably forget all about it.


BCLF: My favourite word is…

AS: Cromulent.


BCLF: My greatest fear is…

AS: That an absolutely enormous prehistoric shark, probably a Megalodon, is zooming up towards me from a vast underground ocean beneath wherever I happen to be situated at any given moment and that it will burst through the floor and the last thing I’ll see is this huge open mouth lined with six-inch-long serrated triangular teeth.


BCLF: My hidden talent is… 

AS: I can waggle the tendon in my left ankle just by thinking about it. It’s horrible.


BCLF: Favourite book as a child?

AS: ‘The Eighteenth Emergency’ by Betsy Byars


BCLF: Who is your favourite literary villain?

AS: Randall Flagg or Pennywise – both Steven King creations so not recommended for my general readership just yet.


BCLF: Tell us a joke…

AS: A man walks into a pub. Ouch! It was an iron pub.

Bloom in Barnes!


He’s best known as CBeebies Mr Bloom, but did you know that Ben Faulks, the man behind every kid’s favourite allotment, is also a children’s author? Good news alert – he’s coming to Barnes! He’ll be here on Saturday 12th May to talk about two books – ‘Watch Out for Muddy Puddles’ with Ben Cort, and ‘What Makes Me a Me?’ with David Tazzyman. His workshop is ideal for ‘tiddlers’ (3 and up) and will be an entertaining adventure about what makes us unique and how to get prepared for fantastical puddle jumping excursion! Just don’t get him started on eggs, OK?

Barnes Children’s Literature Festival: What did you want to be when you were growing up?

Ben Faulks: A space man.


BCLF: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

BF: Go to work on an egg.


BCLF: And the worst?

BF: Those that ask, don’t get.


BCLF: My favourite word is…

BF: Jumbo.


BCLF: My greatest fear is…

BF: The power of social media.


BCLF: My hidden talent is…

BF: Being an egg chef.


BCLF: Favourite book as a child?

BF: ‘In the Night Kitchen’ by Maurice Sendak.


BCLF: Who is your favourite literary villain?

BF: Randall Flagg (the character from the Stephen King books).


BCLF: Tell us a joke…

BF: What is brown and sticky? A stick (Ka Boom Ching!)


A Family Sing Song with Nick Cope

Monkeys, bears, socks and mud – this man sings about all the things children love! If you haven’t seen singer/songwriter/illustrator/author/all-round kids entertainment guru, Nick Cope, in action yet, you’re missing out. But fret not, he will be at the Barnes Children’s Literature Festival! You can catch his Family Songbook Session on Saturday 12th May at 5.30pm, where he’ll be keeping the kids (and their grown-ups) singing and laughing with his acoustic folk-rock ditties inspired by the day-to-day of family life. For tickets, click here –

Nick had international success as the lead singer/songwriter in The Candyskins in the ’90s


Barnes Children’s Literature Festival: How would you describe what you do and what would you be doing if you weren’t doing it?

Nick Cope:  I think of myself as a songwriter who does a bit of drawing and, with help from amazing people, I will be publishing some books! If I weren’t doing what I’m doing I would hope to still be involved in something creative – I enjoy animating my songs so maybe something in the animation/ film world.


BCLF: The best thing about what I do is…

NC: …when I perform a new song and the children ask me to sing it again straight away. That’s always a good indication that all the hard work has been worth it.


BCLF: My favourite word is ..

NC: …“little” – it’s a great word to add a few syllables and rhythm in a song.


BCLF: My greatest fear is…

NC: …balloons.


BCLF: My hidden talent is…

NC: I can skateboard a little bit.


BCLF: My superpower is…

NC: …stunning a crowd of people into silence with an old sock and a cardboard bowl of peas.


BCLF: Who is your favourite literary villain?

NC: Katie Hopkins.


BCLF: If you could ask another author a question, who would you ask and what would the question be?

NC: Though no longer with us, Charles M Schulz. I’d ask him, what he thinks of the CGI Peanuts movie.


BCLF: You’re the fantasy festival programmer. Who would you love to see come to Barnes? 

NC: My dog Norman as I don’t think we have anyone to look after him on that day!

Polly Faber: Children’s Author, Pet Picker and Tortoise Impersonator


2018 is a busy year for children’s writer Polly Faber. The author of the ‘Mango and Bambang’ series (about the adventures of a girl and her tapir best friend), has penned another three books! Each guaranteed to be heading to a kid’s bookshelf near you this Spring. Picture book ‘Grab That Rabbit’, ‘Pony on the Twelfth Floor’ for older kids and, the book that her and illustrator Clara Vulliamy are coming to Barnes for, ‘Picking Pickle’. Phew! ‘Picking Pickle’ is all about the painstaking process of picking the right dog for you, and their workshop at our festival will include an inventive reading of the witty book, followed by an opportunity to design your dream dog…



Barnes Children’s Literature Festival: What did you want to be when you were growing up?


Polly Faber: Everything! But in no particular order, some favourites were to be a cooker (‘gas or electric’ asked my big brothers…), a pony, a golden retriever, a private investigator, a naturalist, a fairy and a film star.




BCLF: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?


PF: It’s OK to feel sad sometimes because you can’t ever really know what happy feels like without it.



BCLF: And the worst?


PF: That all I had to do was follow the recipe and my gingerbread castle would come out fine.



BCLF: If you could ask another author a question, who would you ask and what would the question be?


PF: I’d ask Clara Vulliamy whether we could make another book together soon please? And what’s her favourite way to eat potatoes?


Polly in conversation with co-creator Clara Vulliamy



BCLF: My favourite word is …


PF: ‘Puggled’ is a good one. It’s from Yorkshire I think and it means very tired. I use it a lot.




BCLF: My greatest fear is…


PF: Plummeting. I don’t like tall buildings or planes much. I’m not verylikely to bungee jump or skydive. Or go across that glass bridge in China…




BCLF: My hidden talent is…


PF: I can do a good tortoise impression.




BCLF: Favourite book as a child?


PF: Depends on at what age but probably Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild. I was a very big Asterix fan too.




BCLF: Who is your favourite literary villain? 


PF: I scare easily, so I tend to only choose the setting ‘Very Mild Peril’. I used to sometimes skip past the baddies in books I knew well! Miss Slighcarp in Joan Aiken’s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is properly awful.



BCLF: Tell us a joke!

PF: What do you call a French man wearing sandals? Philippe Phlop (you need to say it with a terrible French accent)

Lisa Stickley: On Books and Blancmange


The lovely Lisa Stickley is an all round creative power house, bursting with beautiful design ideas (she is creating the Barnes Literature Bookshop window for the festival in May) and writing and illustrating the cutest children’s books (Handstand, My New Room, Dress Like Mummy and her latest offering, The New Baby). We couldn’t wait until Barnes Kids Lit Fest in May to to see her unique brand of magic in action, so we caught up with her to chat about books, blancmange and everything in between (just don’t mention FROGS!)

Barnes Children’s Literature Festival: What did you want to be when you were growing up?

Lisa Stickley: A hairdresser. We had such a lovely hairdresser and I think I just wanted to be her!  Plus, it was fun to practise. I remember trying to put my younger sister’s hair in rollers, but discovering we had none, so instead I collected all the combs in the house and I ‘rolled’ her hair up in those. It was fun until they didn’t unroll! I wasn’t very popular after that…. Honestly though,  I feel very lucky with my career. Really, I always just wanted to create and I love what I do now.


BCLF: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

LS: Don’t dwell on the past. Keep moving forward.


BCLF: Who is your favourite children’s writer? 

LS: Roald Dahl. I am a bit obsessed with him at the moment, and keep looking for podcasts and documentaries with more information about him. I am particularly fascinated by the writing shed he used to work in.


BCLF: And who’s your favourite literary villain?

LS: Mr and Mrs Twit. They are quite repulsive but also very funny. The tricks they play on each are hilariously vile. I mean, the bit where they are stuck on the ceiling at the end. Everyone remembers that!


BCLF: What would your superpower be?

LS:  Well, I’m not sure what mine would be, but when I was a a kid I loved Hong Kong Phooey (a dog with martial arts superpowers). I named my goldfish after him and he lived for 11 years. So I think the superpowers transferred to him!


BCLF: What’s your greatest fear?

LS: Those green things in the garden that hop around…. I can’t even say the word! It’s a genuine fully-blown phobia. My husband was very impressed because I drew one the other day (albeit in a rather abstract way!) I’m not sure where it stems from, perhaps from when I fell in the pond at home once? It’s their actions and their unpredictability that really gets me.


BCLF: What’s your favourite word?

LS: Blancmange. I mean, what’s not to like? It’s good to say and even better to eat.

Writing Tips and School Assembly Slips by Lisa Thompson

Lisa Thompson is one of those rare authors that seemed to burst into children’s literature to instant and spectacular success. Her first book, ‘The Goldfish Boy’ was published in 2017 and quickly became a bestseller that was published all around the world and nominated for a raft of awards including the Carnegie Medal. Her second novel, ‘The Light Jar’ was published this year to similar acclaim. Read on for her advice on getting started with writing and what she’d be doing if she weren’t wowing kids around the world with her thought-provoking yet deeply entertaining reads. Clue: It’s not singing.



Barnes Children’s Literature Festival: What did you want to be when you were growing up?

Lisa Thompson: I wrote the start of a book when I was around 10 (about a girl who rescues horses) and found I loved being lost in a world that I was in control of creating – so the first thing I ever wanted to be was an author.  In my teens I wanted to work in film production, something behind the scenes… and then I had a spell of wanting to be a singer (before I realised I wasn’t good enough) but being an author was always niggling away in the back of my mind.


BCLF: What would you be doing if you weren’t an amazing author?

LT: I worked in radio production for many years and I loved it. I’d still be doing that I think.



BCLF: The best thing about what I do is…

LT: …when you get an emotional reaction from a reader. It sounds a bit wrong but when a reader says they’ve cried over one of my books I do a little punch in the air…



BCLF: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

LT: You don’t have to know the ending before you start (or the middle or much of the beginning).



BCLF: And the worst?

LT: Write every day. It feels too much like homework if I do that.


BCLF: My favourite word is …

LT: Perpendicular.


BCLF: My greatest fear is…

LT: Doing a school assembly and my Powerpoint presentation not working.


BCLF: My hidden talent is…

LT: Singing. (Badly. See above answer.)


BCLF: My superpower is…

LT: I have hypermobility so my arms bend round more than they should…



BCLF: Who is your favourite literary villain? 

LT: The aunts Spiker and Sponge in ‘James and the Giant Peach’ are deliciously rotten.


In conversation with Nick Ostler and Mark Huckerby

Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler are the Emmy-winning and Bafta-nominated writing partnership behind most of your kids favourite TV shows – Peter Rabbit, Danger Mouse and Shaun The Sheep, to name but a few. Excitingly, they are also currently scripting a new TV show of some of our all time favourite kids lit characters, The Moomins. We can hardly wait! Not happy with conquering the world of TV, this eye-wateringly busy writing duo are a force to be reckoned with in the world of kids books too. If your kids haven’t tried their fantastic adventure series, ‘Defender of the Realm’, we highly recommend it. The third book in the series ‘Defender of the Realm: King’s Army’, is due to be published just after their visit to Barnes Children’s Literature Festival, so book your tickets now and get the low down on what’s in store in the latest instalment.


Barnes Children’s Literature Festival: What did you want to be when you were growing up?

Nick Ostler: Apparently my parents thought I should be a bank manager,
because I liked counting my pocket money! But once I had a say in it I
thought I’d prefer to be the next Gerald Durrell or David Attenborough
– but although I’ve kept my interest in the Natural World I was never
good enough at science to do it for a living, sadly.

Mark Huckerby: An actor. It was the only thing I thought I was remotely good
at. I went as far as looking at drama schools but ended up diverting
to the University of Nottingham where I mostly messed around acting
even though it wasn’t my degree.


BCLF: What would you be doing if you weren’t an amazing author/illustrator?

Nick: Just before we decided to give scriptwriting full time a go, I
was applying for Journalism courses (my degree was Politics) and I
think I would have enjoyed that too – it would certainly be an
interesting job to be doing right now!

Mark: Failing as an actor.


BCLF: The best thing about what I do is…

Nick: I could say the wonder of creating stories from my head every
day, but I think I’ll go with a five minute commute with a view of the
South Downs and no boss.

Mark: Getting paid to day dream. I mean, there’s more to writing than
that of course but in a nutshell, that’s what I’m doing. The idea that
my ideas and thoughts have an actual value blows my tiny mind.


BCLF: My favourite word is …

Nick: The End.

Mark: Coffee.


BCLF: My greatest fear is…

Nick: Planes.

Mark: Spiders.


BCLF: My hidden talent is…

Nick: Bird identification.

Mark: Cooking. I make excellent Turkish flat breads.


BCLF: My superpower is…

Nick: Redrafting.

Mark: Procrastination.


BCLF: Who is your favourite literary villain?

Nick: I have a new one – The Gorm in Kieran Larwood’s brilliant ‘Podkin’
series – creepy, dark, they really get under your skin – perfect kids’
fantasy villains.

Mark: Mr Victor Hazell from ‘Danny the Champion of the World’ was the
first villain I recall. I distintctly remember being aged eight,
sitting cross-legged in front of my teacher as she read the book and
feeling really angry about him.


BCLF: If you could ask another author a question, who would you ask and what would the question be?

Nick: I’d ask Douglas Adams if he hid any unknown manuscripts anywhere
as I’d love to read them.

Mark: Not a question, but I sincerely wish I could have said a
heartfelt thank you to Sheila K McCullagh for helping me learn to
read. I was a (very) late starter but her Tim and the Hidden People
reading scheme not only taught me to read but instilled in me a
life-long love of the fantasy genre and ghost stories.


BCLF: You’re the fantasy festival programmer. Who would you love to see come to Barnes?

Nick: For entertainment value, May Evans (‘Who Let The Gods Out?’), for
inspiration and to make us all better writers, Phillip Pullman and
because I haven’t met him yet and would love to tell him how much I
love his books Kieran Larwood. Maybe they’re coming already, I
don’t know!

Mark: Sarah Waters, Phillip Pullman, Don Winslow…


BCLF: I’m reading…

Nick: Have finally got to ‘Book of Dust’ by Philip Pullman – great so far!

Mark: ‘The Light Jar’ by Lisa Thompson.  It’s excellent.

Paper bags and potholes by Clara Vulliamy

Clara Vulliamy is an author and illustrator who has children’s books running through her blood. As it turns out even her jokes have a literary twist. The daughter of Shirley Hughes (who doesn’t own Dogger or an Alfie book?) Clara chose to follow in her family’s footsteps with a career in illustrating and writing children’s books. Hugely successful, she has trodden her own distinctive path. You will know her as the illustrator and writer of many well-loved book series including Dotty the Detective, Mango and Bambang, and Martha and the Bunny Brothers books. Just don’t ask her to go potholing (or look in a paper bag), OK?

Barnes Children’s Literature Festival: What did you want to be when you were growing up?

Clara Vulliamy: I only ever wanted to be an illustrator, possibly running a kitten sanctuary on the side.

BCLF: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

CV: I’m not sure it’s the best but it’s the strangest: my mum told me never to look in a paper bag, and that her mum had told her the same. But WHY?! I love paper bags, and they often have good things in them.

BCLF: And the worst?

CV: ‘Don’t marry an artist.’ This advice was given to me by an artist, actually. Well, I did, and 30 years later I have no regrets. Plus if you run out of Cerulean Blue in the middle of the night there’s always someone to borrow from.

BCLF: Favourite book as a child?

CV: My favourite books were the Mary Plain stories by Gwynedd Rae, and I’ve loved them ever since. My dream came true last year when I re-illustrated them in a new edition.

BCLF: My favourite word is…

CV: Today it’s aposiopesis – suddenly falling silent as if unwilling to go on.

BCLF: My greatest fear is…

CV: Small spaces. Pot-holing would be my worst nightmare.

BCLF: My hidden talent is…

CV: Since Polly Faber taught me how, I can now imitate a sad tapir on the swannee whistle.

BCLF: Who is your favourite literary villain? 


Miss Slighcarp from The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken: brilliantly, unforgettably horrible. Anyone yet to discover this series is in for a huge treat.

BCLF: If you could ask another author a question, who would you ask and what would the question be?

CV: I was recently marveling at and wondering about William Nicholson’s Clever Bill, a sublimely perfect picture book. So I would go back to 1926 and ask, ‘Mr Nicholson, this book has so few words and these illustrations seem so swiftly made: did you put it all together very quickly? It’s been said that Clever Bill paved the way for the modern picture book – is that what you thought you were doing?’

BCLF: Tell us a joke…

CV: Oh dear I’m not very good at jokes! Okay, here goes…

The past, the present and the future walked into a bar. It was a bit tense.

Puppets, paints and superpowers with Polly Dunbar


When it comes to bedtime stories, they don’t get much better than the books of multi-award winning author and illustrator Polly Dunbar. Her ‘Tilly’ book series is so well-loved that it’s been turned into a BBC cartoon, the wonderful ‘Penguin’ is way up in our picture book hall of fame, and her latest offering ‘A Lion for a Lion’ has all the hallmarks of a classic in the making. Polly has that rare gift of making books and illustrations that kids want to look at over and over again, and that parents genuinely enjoy re-reading to their childrenAll this, and she has a superpower that means NO MORE TIDYING. Seriously, we’ll have whatever Polly’s having please.

Barnes Children’s Literature Festival: What would you be doing if you weren’t an amazing illustrator and author?

Polly Dunbar: My favourite thing to do, aside from illustrating, is making puppets and putting on shows. I think making things, whatever they are is good for the soul. If I could do something entirely different I’d like to sing and dance. I do both very badly I’m afraid. The characters in my book often dance, so maybe they’re doing it for me.


BCLF: What’s the best thing about what you do?

PD: I’m very lucky to make books as a job, here are some of the reasons:

I get to stay at home and draw all day, I could stay in my pyjamas if I wanted to.

I get to stare out of the window and think really hard (and call it work).

I get to invent characters and share them with children.

It’s the best feeling when a new book arrives in the post.


BCLF: What is your favourite word?

PD: Paint!


BCLF: What’s your greatest fear?

PD: I’m scared of heights. I recently visited a castle to do some research for an illustration. I walked all around the ramparts and was so scared I really wanted to slither along on my belly.


BCLF: What is your hidden talent?

PD: My thumb wiggles when I write, apparently I hold my pencil all wrong but I’ve learnt to live with that.


BCLF: What is your superpower?

PD: I’m able to find things in a big messy studio just by hovering my hands above the mess until I find what I need. It’s a very useful super power, it saves me tidying up.


BCLF: Who is your favourite literary villain?

PD: Am I allowed to choose my own character? I’ve just written a book about a rather devilish Lion, it’s called ‘A Lion is a Lion‘. He’s ever so polite (and very good at singing and dancing) but but don’t be fooled – he has very sharp teeth.


BCLF: You’re the fantasy festival programmer. Who would you love to see come to Barnes?

PD: Tolstoy and Doctor Seuss in Conversation, please.


The World of Norm… and Tractors by Jonathan Meres

He’s a best selling children’s author who is perhaps most famous for his hilarious World of Norm book series (if you haven’t read them, what have you been doing?), and we are delighted to announce that Jonathan Meres is going to joining us at the Barnes Children’s Literature Festival this May (hurrah!) Read on to find out more about the inner workings of this award-winning children’s writer, including his fondness for, err, agricultural machinery…

Barnes Children’s Literature Festival: What would you be doing if you weren’t an amazing author?

Jonathan Meres: Wishing I was an amazing author.

BCLF: What did you want to be when you were growing up?

JM: Footballer.
Bus driver.
Train driver.
Tractor driver.*
Rock star.

*Or, in other words, a farmer.

BCLF: The best thing about what I do is…

JM: Making stuff up.

BCLF: My favourite word is …

JM: Tractor.

BCLF: My greatest fear is…

JM: A world without tractors.

BCLF: My hidden talent is…

JM: …so well hidden, that even I don’t know what it is.

BCLF: My superpower is…

JM: Eating an entire packet of biscuits, in one go.

BCLF: Who is your favourite literary villain? 

JM: The farmer, in Farmer Duck.

BCLF: If you could ask another author a question, who would you ask and what would the question be?

JM: I’d ask Charles Dickens, where he got his ideas from.

BCLF: You’re the fantasy festival programmer. Who would you love to see come to Barnes?

JM: PG Wodehouse, Enid Blyton & whoever’s written a book, called Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Tractors.








Jonathan Stroud: 5 surprising things your kids will learn from being bored today

Jonathan Stroud is on a mission to unlock our children’s imaginations and natural creativity. How? “Give your child the time and space to start creating and there’s no limit to where they’ll go,” says the Lockwood & Co author. His Freedom To Think campaign, launched last year, calls for parents to ring-fence at least one period a week for unstructured thinking time. The result? A few minutes of boredom, a whole lot of play – and much, much more. Here, Jonathan explains…

Jonathan Stroud097

Today’s children seem to be under more pressure than ever before, with exams, homework, clubs and scheduled activities taking up more and more of their time. Many of these things are of course hugely positive and necessary, but it struck me (when considering my own kids) that there’s a danger that we neglect those equally vital quiet moments when children are free to drift, daydream and do what they like. It’s from these unstructured times that so much creativity develops. It’s also when many of us begin to discover who we are. Here are five surprising things that your child could learn from having freedom to think today…


  1. That boredom isn’t boring at all

Structured activities are fantastic in many ways, but when a child is left to his or her own devices, they gravitate naturally towards subjects/pastimes/skills that interest them deep down. To begin with there is boredom; boredom quickly leads to play; and out of play comes creativity. There’s a direct line between that first momentary emptiness of having ‘nothing to do’ and the inspiration that comes when you start to figure out ways of filling your free time.


  1. There’s fun to be had everywhere

Creative moments are often unexpected. When the mind wanders, surprising jumps are made, with outcomes that couldn’t have been predicted. Each period of ‘empty time’ varies – there might be new things lying around to play with; recent experiences are different too. The beauty of giving a child freedom to think is that there are no required outcomes. Whatever they end up doing is valid and a positive thing: this stimulates and encourages them.


  1. There’s no end to the possibilities

A stick found in a hedge might become: a sword, a magic wand, a witch’s broom, a dalek’s plunger, the leg of a fossil dinosaur, a conductor’s baton, part of a robber’s den in the woods, a pointer leading to pirate gold, the arm of a sundial – and that’s not even scratching the surface!


  1. From imaginative play comes self-belief

Following one’s own nose leads to greater self-confidence. As soon as you begin to devise your own stories, experiments, art, games or sports, you get a fantastic emotional kick-back. You’ve had a great time, and it’s come through your own efforts and your own imagination. That starts to instill a deep self-belief that should continue accruing through life.


  1. Less equals a lifetime of more

Left to my own devices as a kid, I wrote and drew and made stuff – stories, comics and games. Now, not entirely coincidentally, I’m an author, who is still doing pretty much the same sort of thing. I’m sure that many people in many fields would be able to show the link between those free-time activities they enjoyed when young, and who they’ve turned out to be.

Freedom To Think Logo FINAL

Follow the campaign on twitter at: @iamfree2think


Talking Point: Why children’s books are the most important books of all. By SF Said


I write children’s books because I believe they’re the most important books of all.

I remember reading Watership Down by Richard Adams when I was eight, and thinking it was the best book I’d ever read.  I re-read it when I was 35, and thought it was even better!  But where at eight I’d seen a thrilling adventure story about rabbits trying to survive in the wild, as an adult I saw a story about the big questions of human life.  Who are we?  Where do we come from?  Where do we belong?  How should we live?  And what really matters?


It was still thrilling – but now I realised it was full of politics, philosophy, mythology.  It dealt with the most profound themes imaginable.  But it did it in a totally accessible and page-turning way that I could easily grasp at eight.  I also realised how deeply it had shaped the way I see the world.  Because the books we love when we’re young stay with us forever, and make us who we are.

That was exactly the kind of book I wanted to write myself.  So I put everything I have, and everything I know, into writing children’s books.  I put years and years of work into making each of my books the best it can possibly be; making them as thrilling and page-turning as I can, but also filling them with the biggest questions and ideas that I have.


Varjak Paw is about a cat who learns a secret martial art known only to cats.

Phoenix is about a human boy with the power of a star, and an alien girl who is the most brilliant warrior in the galaxy.

But they’re also books about characters who are grappling with those big questions.  Who are we?  Where do we come from?  Where do we belong?  How should we live?  And what really matters?


So although my books are sold as children’s books, I think of them as books for everyone, really.  Books that anyone can read: boys, girls, men, women.  Whoever you are, however old you are, I hope you’ll find something of interest there, because those big questions matter to everyone.

I think children’s literature is more than capable of dealing with such questions.  The great stories that we’ve handed down from generation to generation – since our ancestors sat around campfires 70,000 years ago, which will still be handed down in space stations, 70,000 years in the future – these stories all embody ideas about what it means to be human and alive; about how we should live and treat each other; about what really matters.

I think you’ll find them in all good children’s books.  So that is why I write them – and why I believe they’re the most important books of all. @whatSFSaid



Hear SF Said talking about his journey from being a young reader to an award-winning writer at the Barnes Children’s Literature Festival on Sunday 15th May at 2.30pm. Tickets are available HERE.


Watch the Phoenix book trailer created by Dave McKean!


For more from SF Said, visit 







TALKING POINT: “I want books that show my daughter there isn’t only one way to be a girl.” Clare Furniss on feminism in YA fiction.

Clare Furniss

“Mum,” my soon-to-be-teenage daughter said to me recently. “Why do people think that anything teenage girls like is stupid?”

She’d summed up in one question the way that society so often makes teenage girls feel: silly, dismissed, unsure of who or what they are supposed to be.

In my latest book, How Not To Disappear, there are two teenage stories, one set in the 1950s, one set now. Things have changed so much for girls in that time, but with a daughter on the verge of adolescence, I’m feeling particularly aware of the mixed and often negative messages teenage girls are given about themselves and the women they are expected to emulate and grow into.

They are constantly set up to fail. You’ve got to be pretty; every woman you ever see on TV or in magazines shows you that you’ll be judged by your appearance. Yet girls who are interested in fashion and make-up can’t be taken seriously. You should be unfeasibly thin but healthy, clever but not too clever. Girls don’t get to be ‘authoritative’ or ‘natural leaders’, they get to be ‘bossy’. And there’s the sexual double standard, still going strong: don’t be frigid, don’t be a slut. The pressure to meet the impossible expectations of the ‘perfect’ girl isn’t new, but social media makes it harder to escape.

Books for young people are a really important space where these assumptions and expectations can be challenged. There are so many ways that this can happen and, wonderfully, is happening. Books showing girls who don’t fit the stereotypes – passive ‘good girls’ or one-dimensional ‘feisty girls’ – but can be something more complicated, something real. Books that value girls for more than their looks. Books that celebrate female friendship. Books where all a girl’s problems aren’t solved by a boy. Stories that don’t present romance as the only goal for a girl. Books that directly address issues that disproportionately affect girls such as self-harm and eating disorders. Books where girls are allowed to get things wrong. All of these are important ways to show their readers – male or female, old or young – that girls are worthy of their attention.

‘Feminist’ books don’t have to be about feminism. They can be fantasy, sci-fi, historical, dystopian, love stories. They don’t have to be serious, earnest books. They don’t have to be books written for girls. They don’t have to have kick-ass, tough female main characters. They don’t even have to have a female main character. They just have to take teenage girls seriously, to show girls as real people, complex, flawed, interesting, worthy of attention, central to their own story. I don’t write my stories with an agenda. I want to write funny, exciting, moving stories about characters who interest me.

Stories showing girls who are strong, unconventional, opinionated, is nothing new. I grew up loving Anne Shirley from Anne Of Green Gables, Jo March from Little Women, Lizzy Bennet from Pride And Prejudice. These were girls who knew their own minds, girls who made mistakes, girls I wanted to be.

Reading as a kid or a teen is different from reading as an adult. It shows you what’s possible. At its best, reading makes you ask questions: about the characters, about yourself, about other people, about the world. I want books that show my daughter there isn’t only one way to be a girl. I want her to be able to read about girls, real and imagined, of all cultures and backgrounds and personality types, who are so much more than their looks or the person they’re in love with, girls who aren’t perfect but who are valued. @ClareFurniss



Clare Furniss is appearing at the Barnes Children’s Literature Festival alongside fellow authors Holly Bourne, Lisa Williamson and Sarah Crossan. Hear them talk more about feminism in YA literature at 2pm on Saturday 14th May at the Barnes Methodist Church – Upstairs. Tickets are available HERE.

YA Panel – Sarah Crossan, Holly Bourne, Clare Furniss and Lisa Williamson with Katherine Woodfine


For more from Clare, the author of How Not To Disappear and The Year Of The Ratvisit

Talking Point: 10 reasons why Sean Taylor always reads to his children


Sean Taylor with his sons Joey (left) and Rafa (right), on the publication of his picture book ROBOMOP


As well as being an author of some books for children, I am the father of two boys under 10. Like many (most?) parents, I can sometimes feel regrets about the things I’ve not managed to do together with my children. We’ve never built a tree-house. I haven’t taken a half day off to sit down with them and make that model pirate ship they were once given. The campervan trip to Ireland hasn’t happened yet… But I have read to them. I have always read to them as much as I possibly can. And there are no regrets about that. These are ten reasons why:


In modern times, many parents have lost touch with what you could call ‘traditional children’s culture’. I’m thinking of the stories, games, songs, rhymes, traditions and rituals which would once have been passed from one generation to the next. Reading to your children can go some way to making up for that. If there were books you loved as a child, it’s easy to pass them on. I’ve had a fantastic time revisiting (by reading aloud) old favourites of mine like John Burningham’s Humbert, Winnie the Pooh, Moominsummer Madness, James and the Giant Peach and Treasure Island. And the fantastic-ness is doubled when it’s shared with a child.


Books offer language that goes beyond the range of everyday talk. And stories offer delights that ordinary conversations rarely do. So reading aloud to a child is a great way to help them become confident language users. This has been particularly important in my family. I’m British, but my wife is Brazilian. Our boys grew up in São Paulo. Their ‘mother tongue’ is (quite literally) Portuguese. I know the fact that they are both good English speakers today, owes a lot to all the books in English we’ve enjoyed together.


Inside good picture books you get characters that children love, page-turning stories, inventive, skilfully-crafted illustrations, flights of imagination, colour, humour, emotion and –  as if all that wasn’t enough –  endings which uplift, provoke, surprise (or do all three!) As far as I’m concerned, the picture book is up there as one of the best artistic forms to come out of the 20th century. (Along with the three-and-a-half-minute rhythm and blues song…) The wealth of picture books available is a treasure chest to share with any child. And it’s not just picture books that are special. Middle grade fiction is very much abuzz. So I’m not planning to stop reading to my boys any time soon!


Most children find learning to read and write a tough business. But if they’re being read good books they’ll be more motivated to succeed at it. They’ll be more at home in the landscape of words on pages. And you can give them bits of practice too – by pausing the flow of a story, and getting them to read out words. Our six-year-old doesn’t have much patience for practising his phonics and key-words. But if I give him reading challenges from a book that I’m reading aloud to him, he’s noticeably more motivated, calm and persistent.


Children’s questions are wonderful (wonder-filled) things. They are a marks of curiosity and the desire to learn. They contain hope. So I always listen carefully to them and give the best answers I can. (Even if the conversation goes: “Does everyone in the world die?” “Yes, it’s sad but everyone does.” “What about mermaids?”) Reading-time with children is a great space for these questions to come out – whether they’re old questions waiting to be asked, or new ones inspired by what’s being read. When you’re reading together, there’s time and space for reflection. Your child can ask you things. Or you can ask them.


Sometimes children need you to go with them on the journey into a book. Our 9-year-old likes to read a lot of things on his own, these days. But there are books he’d like to have read to him. This may be because the story looks challenging to him, in some way. Or it may be that it’s a book from a different era that he’d like an adult to help ‘interpret’. One way or another, if you offer yourself to a child as a book companion, you’ll broaden their reading horizons.


There is so much comedy in writing for children. And laughter (like most things) is best enjoyable when it’s shared. I did actually fall off the bed from laughing so much…when reading our oldest son Roald Dahl’s, The Twits.


It’s not just questions. There is other talk sparked during and after the reading. Good stories stay with us. My boys and I chat about books we have read days, weeks, months or years after we have finished them.


You can choose what direction to travel (towards adventure, humour, poetry, magic, or more besides.) You take a break from the busyness of things. You can do it every day, home or away. You find somewhere comfortable to sit yourselves down. There is calm. You journey into the imagination, together with a child. It’s a delight.


All around us as night draws in, parents start up the quiet rhythms of telling stories to children. It goes on right round the world. And there’s nothing new in the knowledge that a story is the best way to end the day’s excitement and settle down for sleep. It’s been going on for tens of thousands of years. They are bridges that lead from the real world into the world of our dreams. (And if the adult readers sometimes fall asleep too…well…it happens!)

These are ten reasons why I have spent hours and hours reading to my sons. On reflection, I suppose those hours have really been our tree house, our pirate ship and our campervan adventure across the sea… @seantstories 



Come and join Sean Taylor for riddles, rhymes and storytelling at 1.30pm on Saturday 14th May at St Osmund’s Primary School, Barnes. Tickets are available HERE.

For more from Sean, the award-winning author of Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise, A Brave Bear and over 30 more books for children, visit