Monday, 25 April 2016

#CoverKidsBooks – Big News!

When #CoverKidsBooks launched 12 weeks ago, we hoped to spark a conversation about children's books media coverage.  We didn't know if it would change anything, but we knew the conversation had to happen.  We've been delighted to see it take off in all sorts of places – and in the last week, we've seen two massive pieces of news that represent real breakthroughs. 

First, Andrew Holgate, literary editor of The Sunday Times, announced on Twitter that his newspaper will be giving brilliant critic Nicolette Jones a whole column every week in which to write about children's books.  

#CoverKidsBooks believes this is a historic step in the right direction.  We'd like to applaud Andrew Holgate and The Sunday Times, and we encourage anyone who cares about children's books to let them know how welcome it is!

We hope other newspapers will take note of the fact that The Sunday Times has decided to expand its children's coverage.  We have yet to hear a plausible reason why every newspaper cannot include at least one children's book review every week.  That would be the bare minimum acknowledgement that this form of literature exists, at a time when children's books account for 34% of the UK publishing market.

We also hope The Sunday Times will consider increasing its children's coverage still further.  Because while a column a week is great progress, The Sunday Times had 11 pages of books coverage this week.  Each page had 4 columns.  Children's books therefore received just 2.3% of the total space given to books.  If children's books were fairly represented and given 34% of space, there would be almost 4 full pages of children's books coverage. 

It may be hard to imagine a newspaper giving children's books such a share of coverage.  But there is one newspaper that does it regularly, and it's the number one bestselling newspaper in the UK: The Sun.  Their books editor and columnist Natasha Harding is a great supporter of children's literature, and recently tweeted:

In this week's Sun, of the 6 books reviewed, 2 were children's books (1 fiction; 1 non-fiction).  So The Sun gave 33% of its book review space to children's books: exactly in line with their market share.  Better still, the children's book reviews were exactly the same size, length and prominence as the other reviews.  The Sun treats them in the same way: not fenced off in a corner, but included in the discussion as books that might be of interest to anyone.  And this approach makes space for children's non-fiction as well as fiction: something all too often overlooked.

If Britain's bestselling newspaper can see sound reasons for consistently giving children's books this kind of coverage, why can't other media outlets?  There is a massive audience hungry for this material.  And there's no reason why children's book coverage can't be of interest to anyone who wants to read about the best in literature.  After all, children's books are often the ones that most deeply shape a culture; writers such as Salman Rushdie and Jeanette Winterson have spoken of their importance.  I wrote an article on this subject for the Guardian that has been shared over 40,000 times: more evidence of a readership that wants to see such material.

The other brilliant news is that CBBC have revamped and relaunched their Children's Book Club.  At last, children's books are back on TV in a regular way.  The response has already been fantastic, as you can see from all the activity online. 

So #CoverKidsBooks would like to applaud CBBC and Katie Thistleton for bringing children's books back to mainstream TV.  We hope that everyone will share this wonderful news and encourage all young readers to get involved!  We also cannot help wondering what else might be possible; many conversations are taking place behind the scenes, so keep watching this space.

We believe the crucial thing now is to continue the conversation and the campaign, and that is what we're planning to do.  We've already heard powerful testimony about why this issue matters in the booksellers', librarians' and teachers' blogs.  But there's much more to come.  Upcoming #CoverKidsBooks blogs will see parents, experts, authors and illustrators giving compelling reasons why there should be more children's books coverage.  We're also looking into commissioning more research, and planning a live event to discuss the issue.

If lasting change is to come about, it will only be because large numbers of people keep making it clear it's what they want.  So if you care about children's books, please keep talking about them and their coverage!  Keep blogging and tweeting!  Celebrate good practice where you see it; make media organisations know it's welcome.  And where you see children's books unfairly excluded – for example when a newspaper has not a single children's book review in a week – make it clear that this is not acceptable.  

Because if, in just 12 weeks, organisations like The Sunday Times and the BBC have decided to give children's books more space – then anything is possible!  So we'd like to say a massive thank you to everyone in the children's books community and beyond who has supported this campaign so brilliantly.  #CoverKidsBooks is about all of us who care about children's literature speaking up for it and saying that it matters enough to take seriously.  And if we just keep doing that – everyone, all together – who knows what we might achieve?

#CoverKidsBooks invites you to join in a public conversation about children's books.  Leave a comment, write a blog of your own, or tweet about it using the hashtag.  Tell us why children's books matter to you, and what you'd like to see the media do to #CoverKidsBooks!

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Robyn Silver: Chatting to the cover designer and illustrator

Robyn Silver: The Midnight Chimes will be published by Scholastic on 1st September and today I'm very proud to reveal the cover...

Life was very ordinary for ten-year-old Robyn Silver. The often-ignored middle child in a big family, the most excitement she had was the dash to the dinner table to reach the last slice of pizza. Until... she begins to see creepy creatures around her town - creatures that are invisible to everyone else. And when her school is forced to decamp to mysterious Grimdean House and she meets its equally mysterious owner, Mr Cryptorum, Robyn finds herself catapulted headfirst into an extraordinary adventure - with more excitement than she could possibly have imagined. Be careful what you wish for...

As an author, it's the best thing in the world to be given a book cover like this that clicks perfectly with your story. I love the bright colours and bold design, as well as the amazing work on the lettering and the brilliant characterisation of Robyn. You can tell from one look at her that she isn't a character that will take things lying down!

I've been curious about the cover design process for a long time and, with Robyn Silver, I knew that thoughts about the cover would just be the start as there will also be illustrations inside. Luckily, the fantastic designer, Jamie Gregory, and brilliant illustrator, Renée Kurilla, were happy to talk to me about it.

Hi Jamie, thanks for letting me ask you some questions. What were your first thoughts when designing the cover for Robyn Silver?

My first thoughts were of Robyn's character. She's such a strong female lead and it was important to all of us that we got her just right.

How important was the style of the lettering?

The style of the lettering is always important but for this particular book I really wanted the logo to use silver foil. I wanted the letters to be as monster themed as possible – I actually had to pare it back a bit. It had so many jagged edges at one point that it was affecting legibility!

What was it about Renée Kurilla's artwork that made her a fantastic choice as an illustrator?

We were trying to find this perfect style that was alluding us. The illustration needed to be punchy enough for a monster book but with soft line work to give it a feminine touch.
I saw Renée's work in a colleagues book (The Owl's of Blossom Wood) and although it was for a younger audience her line work was perfect. I contacted her and explained what we were looking for and she produced an amazing sample of Robyn and a Kobold – this convinced me that she should illustrate this series.

What will the artwork inside the book include? Are there any surprises in store?

The book includes a beautifully illustrated creature glossary with the monsters in frames. There are plenty of surprises but I wouldn't want to give them away!

Thanks Jamie, I can't wait to see the creature glossary - it sounds amazing! Next, a few questions for fabulous illustrator, Renée Kurilla.
Hi Renee, thanks for coming on Middle Grade Strikes Back! How easy was it to portray Robyn Silver and do you enjoy drawing her?

Robyn Silver is just about the coolest (fictional) ten year old I've ever had the pleasure of getting to know, so of course I enjoy drawing her! Like every project, it takes me a while to really get to know the characters I'm working with. In the beginning, I had to commit to a sketch that appealed to me and hope that everyone at Scholastic UK (and yourself) liked her as much as I did!

I feel lucky to have the opportunity and continue to get to know Robyn more and more with each drawing I make of her! (Side note: I wish my hair could always look as good as hers!)

How do you go about putting personality into a character?

For my initial sketches, I knew just a few major things about Robyn: She fights monsters (bravely) with a torch blade and she is ten years old. Now that I've read and reread her story, I've learned much more and can add proper emotion where needed. Using your manuscript as a guide makes it quite easy and fun!

For side characters like Aiden and Nora, I took notes while reading: Aiden is a talented engineer and Nora is incredibly book smart but skittish with a sword. Knowing these things helps inform things like posture and even hairstyle!

Can you tell us anything about the artwork that will go inside the book?

The interior artwork started as a series of very tiny penciled thumbnails that eventually ended up on the computer (I work in Photoshop). One thing I have learned about myself while working on Robyn Silver is that I love drawing ornate decorations such as picture frames, furniture, and rugs. You'll see a lot of that in Grimdean House! Here's a sneak peek at the thumbnails!

Thanks so much for this insight, Renée. I can't wait to see the pictures in more detail and I feel very lucky to have such talented people working on Robyn Silver!

Robyn Silver: The Midnight Chimes is out September 1st. Find out more about Paula Harrison on her website:

Friday, 15 April 2016

My 5 Favourite Darkmouth Legends By Shane Hegarty (Author the Darkmouth series)

Shane Hegarty is the author of the wonderful Darkmouth series, the third book of which, Chaos Descends, was published last week. Today Shane has very kindly topped by at MGSB to tell us about his Top 5 favourite Darkmouth Legends:

The Orthrus

When I saw a picture of a two-headed dog with a snake for a tail, I just knew I had to find a place for it in the Darkmouth universe. After a while I decided to lose one dog head so that it became a double act on a single body, and I tried to imagine what it would be like for that snake to spend its entire life between the back legs of a dog. Especially if that snake had bigger ambitions in life. The result is Cornelius and Hiss, two conjoined animals with individual personalities. The snake talks a lot. The dog only says one word: “sausages”. That’s based on an old TV show that once featured a dog who said sausages and became a huge poochy celebrity as a result.

Illustration by James de la Rue

The Basilisk

Every hero needs a foe they struggle to defeat. And in the first Darkmouth, Finn gets the Basilisk. It’s a small, shuffling Legend that thinks its powers of hypnosis are so strong it will paralyse its victims. But in this case, it is self-deluded and no more dangerous than a baby’s giggle. But Finn is so incompetent he struggles even to capture this fellow. When I show his picture at reader events, they always want to take the Basilisk home in some stuffed, cuddly form. If the books fail, I’ll do a line of these toys for sure.

The Hogboon

The great thing about working in the worlds of Legends is that every culture has them. While many seem to work off familiar templates (giants, shapeshifters, scary older women who really got a raw deal by storytellers), within that there are creatures particular to a place such as the sprite-like, twisted, knobbly-knuckled Hogboon from Scottish myth. In Darkmouth, the main Hogboon we meet is Broonie, a poor little fellow who plays an important role in the story, but does so while awful things happen to him. And keep happening. And never stop happening. I feel cruel doing it to him. But I can’t stop.

The Hydra

When you look first at the Hydra, you see a huge, seven-headed creature, with snapping jaws and a bad attitude. But if you look at it and think, well what if those seven heads didn’t get along with each other? Or what if one had bad gas? Or two wanted to go in in different directions? Suddenly you’ve not got one character, but seven on one body. And better, chop a head off and suddenly you’ve got eight characters. I kind of kept it in the shadows for two books, but in Darkmouth: Chaos Descends the Hydra finally gets its day. And I had so much fun writing it.



They are not particularly well known Legends - certainly not when compared to those of Greek and Roman myth - but these Irish giants have proven fantastic bad guys. Huge, brutish, ugly (unless you’re Fomorian yourself, of course) they enjoy dishing out disaster. Maybe it’s because of their Irishness, but I use Gaelic words as names, because they sound unusual to English speakers but have a hidden meaning. So, the ruling Fomorian in Darkmouth, Gantrua, gets his name from the Irish for “Without mercy.”

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Guest Post: Designing the Cover for Peter Bunzl's Cogheart

Last week we were delighted to reveal the cover for Cogheart by Peter Bunzl. As promised, today we are joined by Usborne designer, Kath Millichope, to tell us about how she went about designing the Cogheart cover, and we also have this extra-special treat for you - this fabulous animated version of the cover that (the obviously multi-talented) Peter Bunzl has created:

“On reading the manuscript to prepare for the cover design, I began to immediately see the imagery in my head - it would needed to have a magical and fantastical feel to reflect atmosphere and adventure of the story, but I also felt that it should be action-packed, as it is full of flying machines whizzing around and the children themselves seem to even tumble through the book!

There are so many gorgeous elements – from talking foxes to mechanical housekeepers – that I wanted to show as much as possible of Lily's world, and I began to think it would be exciting to create a world that actually looks like it was itself made of clockwork. To achieve this, I used a combination of photographic and illustrated elements, creating a layered, drop-shadow look, giving the illusion of it being a bit 3D, where each part looks as though it could move independently. I then added the zeppelin lines in a kind of figure of eight, to both represent the continuous cycle of the clock, and also the route of the adventure that the children would follow.

We managed to secure fabulous illustrator Becca Stadtlander to work on the project. Her muted-pallette style has a beautifully timeless feel and perfectly suits the dark Victorian backdrop, while her characters have a quirky, magical quality with angular joints – all of which suited the clockwork style.

I finished the cover with a sprinkling of what could be stars or snow - I imagined the characters to be in a sort of starry snow-globe, which could be tipped over like an egg-timer to start the adventure all over again!”

Cogheart by Peter Bunzl is out in the UK on September 1st 2016. Share the adventure with #Cogheart. You can follow Peter on Twitter @peterbunzl. 

Monday, 11 April 2016

#CoverKidsBooks - Chapter Three

It has been some time since we brought you a summary of some of the responses we have received regarding the #CoverKidsBooks campaign. You may have noticed that there has been a short break in S.F. Said's interview posts, since the Teachers post on the 14th March. Have no fear, S.F. will be back on 25th April with a series of interviews he carried out with parents, and we have also added an 'Experts' post to the schedule for 9th May.

At the moment we have no additional news we can give you regarding future plans to take the campaign to the next level, but we hope to be able to reveal more in the near future. In the meantime, we continued to be overjoyed and heartened by the responses and support we continue to receive online. It is very rare that a day doesn't go by without a handful of tweeters using the #CoverKidsBooks hashtag, and for that we are very grateful.

Thanks to a couple of wonderful vloggers, the #CoverKidsBooks has made the leap on to YouTube. First up there is this fab mention by Victoria Addis (@VictoriaAddis) on her YouTube channel, A Hermit's Progress:

A handful of days later Andrew Hall (@PewterWolf13) had a "full blown rant" about a topic very close to our hearts, on the Bookish Brits channel:

Writer Sinéad O'Hart (@SJOHart) wrote this very thoughtful piece on her blog:

"We need to #CoverKidsBooks on the radio, on social media, in traditional media, on the television, and get it going as a topic of conversation. An adult looking for a gift should know straight away where to find advice and recommendations. A child looking for their next read should have no problem finding just the right book for their needs, and should be able to access a library (with knowledgeable staff) and/or a bookshop (also with knowledgeable staff) without trouble. Children’s books are so important, and within their covers they contain multitudes; worlds full of magic, imagination, heart and intelligence, tightly plotted and expertly written stories of love, loss, adventure, danger, exploration, and discovery – to name just a fraction of the treasures you’ll find if you look – and they deserve to be respected."

Writer, comedian and screenwriter Catie Wilkins (@Catiewilkins) gave the #CoverKidsBooks campaign a fabulous mention during an interview she did for The Muse, when asked what one thing she would like to change about her industry/working life:

"Firstly, more review space for children’s books. Children’s books currently get 3% of all book review space in newspapers, even though they account for 30% of the UK book market. A brilliant campaign called #CoverKidsBooks has been launched by children’s literature critic, Imogen Russell Williams to help rectify this. Everyone would benefit if children’s books were more fairly represented. Parents would be able to buy more than the same Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton and David Walliams, if they knew more about what was available."

Primary PGCE lecturer Alison Baker (@AlisonBaker01voiced her support for the #CoverKidsBooks campaign over at her blog, Nerds In Space:

"The Guardian, for example, has an amazing children’s book section on their website– but it is not on the app, let alone in the print paper. Weekend editions of papers may review one or two books a week. So what? you might ask, but reviews lead to buzz lead to shops stocking books leads to readers buying them, or ordering them from the library. The big best selling authors are best selling because they already have buzz and publicity. Most children’s authors have no publicity beyond a kind local bookshop stocking some signed copies."

And finally, we have been absolutely delighted that #CoverKidsBooks has been the topic for two recent Twitter chat sessions, specifically #MGiechat (transcript here) and #ukteenchat. Our heartfelt thanks go out to the organisers of these Twitter chat sessions.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Happy Book Birthday: April Edition

It's another month, and there are more brilliant MG books out! We're delighted to welcome Tom Easton, Martyn Ford, Sara Grant, Karen McCombie, Dawn McNiff, Gwyneth Rees, Robin Stevens and Paul Tobin to MG Strikes Back to take part in the Happy Book Birthday feature.

If your main character was going to a party to celebrate their book birthday, what would they wear?

Dawn: Poor Woody. His bossy, embarrassing mum would probably buy him a bobbly, woolly jumper to wear from the women's rail in the charity shop. He'd wear it for a quiet life, and turn up red-faced. (Then his big, bad dog, Gooner, would probably nip out the gate AGAIN and follow him to the party - and embarrass him even more by stealing all the cake and throwing up on the carpet.)

Gwyneth: Poppy would wear her new glasses to the party – the ones with the round frames which are the best style for her rectangular shaped face (according to her friend Anne-Marie’s face-shape quiz). Or better still she’d like to wear contact lens, though first she’d need to persuade her mum to let her buy some. Outfit-wise she’d wear something not too flashy as she wouldn’t want to draw too much attention to herself – unlike her cousin Sadie who’d want to stand out as much as possible!

Tom: Unlike her sister Daisy, Chloe doesn’t think too much about her appearance. She tends to just throw on the first set of clothes she finds in her wardrobe. So she’d probably just turn up in her old jeans and a loose top. She might brush her hair if Mummy reminds her enough.

Martyn: Well, let's assume it's fancy dress, which I find is a good rule of thumb when considering attire for any social event. Tim owns an imagination box, so he could create by far the best costume at the party, with latex pieces and everything. He could make a monkey suit for himself, and a miniature version of all his clothes for Phil, his finger monkey, and then they'd go as each other. 

What three things would they most want to find in their party bag?

Tom: Chloe loves animals and spends a lot of time observing them (as well as other people). So she’d probably like a notebook and pencils to write down her observations and draw pictures. She’d love some cake, of course, a big piece so she could share it with her family. Finally, I think she’d love to get a book. Because who wouldn’t?

What party game would they be most confident in winning at?

Paul: For Delphine, she would DEFINITELY win the "who will eat the most cake?" party game. That might be an unofficial game, but she is officially good at eating cake. And Nate would win the "fastest to construct a stable miniature black hole using only plastic forks, potato salad, and gift wrapping" game. Okay... he might be the only one playing... but he'd win.

Karen: Jessie's confident about only one thing, that her mother drives her MAD!! Mum's always around school, knows Jessie's timetable and homework schedule better than she does, and is practically on first name terms with all her teachers. So I'm pretty certain that Jessie's party game winner would probably be hide and seek. What could be better than finding a nice, dark spot out of sight of her pushy mother for a few blissful hours? Hey, if Jessie took headphones and an i-Pod with her, she wouldn't even need to feel guilty for ignoring the desperate shouts of "I give up! You win, so come out!"

What would be their ideal birthday cake?

Gwyneth: Poppy thinks that homemade birthday cakes are always the best – especially if they’re made by her mum. Poppy would like either a book-shaped cake, because she loves buying books from secondhand bookshops, or a handbag shaped cake since she also loves to buy vintage bags and other accessories. She certainly wouldn’t want a red sports car cake with lots of sickly icing, which is what her dad’s new girlfriend bought him on his birthday!

Robin: Of course, Daisy's favourite cake is a chocolate cake with cream. She loves rich, decadent desserts! Hazel's is coffee and walnut cake - it's one of her favourite British foods!

Paul: For Nate, it would be simple chocolate cake, because it is well known that chocolate cake has the most perfect atomic structure, but Delphine would choose a Super Triple Strawberry Cataclysmal Peach-Frosted Fireworks Surprise Torpedo cake, because cake is rather her thing.

What was the most memorable birthday party you had, or went to, when you were a child?

Robin: When I was six, I had a birthday party with a clown. He made fun of my American accent, I cried and spent the rest of the party hiding upstairs in my room. It was not a good day. As a child, I was definitely more of a Hazel than a Daisy!

Dawn: My little brother and I both have grim, rainy January birthdays, so my mum would throw us joint summer parties in the garden. These parties often descended into massive water fights, and my dad was the worst offender. I remember him HOSING my mum who was hiding in our lounge!

Karen: I decided at a young age that I was going to be vegetarian, much to the confusion of a) my parents, b) friends' parents who invited me for tea, and c) the meat-centric cafes of my home town. Then came a WOW moment; my friends Alison and Wendy turned 13 around the same time, and invited a few of us out for a meal, which felt INCREDIBLY grown-up and amazing. More amazing still, their parents dropped us at the first EVER Indian restaurant in Aberdeen. So exotic! And lo and behold, the menu had a WHOLE SECTION OF VEGETARIAN FOOD!! Excuse the flurry of capitals, but you can't believe what a revelation that was. In fact, that's it: I should celebrate the Book Birthday of The OMG! Blog with a curry! ("Hello? Can I have a veg korma and tarka dal, please...?")

Sara: If it’s okay, I’m going to adjust the question a smidge. What was my most memorable birthday present when I was a teen? It was for my seventeenth birthday. My older sister and her boyfriend told me to be ready at 5 p.m. They were coming into town to take me out for a birthday dinner. The doorbell rang, which was a bit strange because my sister had a key. When I answered the door, there was the gorgeous lifeguard I’d met a few weeks earlier when I volunteered as a camp counsellor. When my sister had asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I’d jokingly replied – the lifeguard. My sister worked as a camp counsellor that summer and knew exactly the boy I meant. He handed me a note from my sister, explaining that he wanted to be there. We had a lovely night and actually dated for a few months after.

If money was no object, what kind of a party would you throw to celebrate publication?

Martyn: I suppose if money is no object then I'm guessing there's no time limit on this party? So a round-the-world trip, with various people flown out to meet up with me and celebrate from time to time. It'd probably last like a year or something? Irritatingly I'd have to find time to write during this, which would be tricky. Actually, on second thought, scratch the trip, I'll probably just get Domino's and eat it on a park bench.

Sara: I’d rent an island in the Maldives and invite family, friends, bloggers, librarians, teachers and a few fans to celebrate the launch of Chasing Danger. We’d have a big beach party but also lots of time set aside for snorkelling, riding jet skis, sailing, swimming, etc. The book is set and was inspired by a trip to an island in the Maldives. While my husband was relaxing, reading and sunning himself, I was plotting murder and mayhem.

Tom Easton is an author of fiction for all ages and has had more than thirty books published. He has written under a number of different pseudonyms in a variety of genres. Subjects include vampires, pirates, pandemics and teenage agony aunts (not all in the same book). He lives in Surrey with my wife, three children and two cats. In his spare time he works as a Production Manager for a UK publisher.

Martyn Ford is a journalist, author and one of those lingiusturites who isn't afraid to make up new words. He is represented by Clare Wallace at the Darley Anderson Literary, TV and Film Agency who, in his experience, has some of the best literary tastes of any agent in all of the known universes. His debut novel, The Imagination Box, published by Faber & Faber, was released in May 2015.

Sara Grant is a writer of multiple personalities! She writes fiction for young adults, teens and young readers. Her stories range from action-adventure in exotic locations to fairy godmothers in training to dystopian and apocalyptic tales of survival and love.

Karen McCombie's writing career began at Sugar and other girls' magazines, giving her great insight into the passions and problems of pre-teens. Her novels are hugely popular. She lives in North London.

Dawn McNiff was born in a blue house by the sea in Sussex, and now lives in a brown house on a hill in Gloucestershire. She loves dogs - especially big, fluffy, silly ones – and water fights, which she never ever loses. How Not To Be Weird is published by Piccadilly Press (out April 7th)

Gwyneth Rees is half Welsh and half English and grew up in Scotland. She studied medicine and qualified as a doctor, working as a child and adolescent psychiatrist before she became a full-time writer. Her bestselling books include the Fairy Dust series, Cosmo and the Magic Sneeze and The Mum Hunt, winner of the Red House Award. She lives near London with her husband, two young daughters and one noisy cat.

Robin Stevens was born in California and grew up in an Oxford college, across the road from the house where Alice in Wonderland lived. She has been making up stories all her life.

When she was twelve, her father handed her a copy of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and she realised that she wanted to be either Hercule Poirot or Agatha Christie when she grew up. When it occurred to her that she was never going to be able to grow her own spectacular walrus moustache, she decided that Agatha Christie was the more achieveable option.

She spent her teenage years at Cheltenham Ladies’ College, reading a lot of murder mysteries and hoping that she’d get the chance to do some detecting herself (she didn’t). She then went to university, where she studied crime fiction, and then worked at a children's publisher.

Paul Tobin is the Eisner-award winning, New York Times-bestselling author of Bandette, Colder, and many other comic books and graphic series. His original graphic novel I Was the Cat was nominated for an Eisner in 2015.

The Genius Factor: How to Capture an Invisible Cat, first in his series of five novels for middle-grade readers, debuted in the USA March 2016 from Bloomsbury Kids. It comes out in the UK today, April 7 2016, and in Australia/New Zealand May 1 2016.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Cover Reveal: Cogheart by Peter Bunzl

Today we are absolutely delighted to welcome writer Peter Bunzl to MGSB to introduce his stunning debut novel Cogheart and reveal the beautiful cover:

“Thanks Middle Grade Strikes back and Darren for hosting the cover reveal, here’s a little bit of info about the book and the fab cover…

Cogheart is a children’s adventure story set in a fantastical Victorian England. It’s filled with murder, mystery and mayhem, airships and automata, mechanical animals and crazy clockwork.

Lily is summoned home from school when her inventor father vanishes in an airship accident. With her friends Robert, the clockmaker’s son, and Malkin, an opinionated mechanical fox, Lily sets out to discover the truth behind his disappearance. But she’s not the only one searching… there are silver eyed men, stalking her through the shadows, who will stop at nothing to find her father and uncover the truth behind his greatest invention. Soon Lily and her friends are plunged deep into a mystery that could change their world in a heartbeat…

I am thrilled with the finished cover of Cogheart. I think it looks absolutely incredible! I really was a little bit teary-eyed when I first saw it. The gorgeous illustrations by Becca Stadtlander are dynamic and quirky and really capture the characters to perfection, and Katherine Millichope’s stunning design has such a strong feeling of movement and adventure. I can’t wait to see the artwork on the finished book, but in the meantime it has been great fun working with Becca’s beautiful drawings to create some some fun content including this animated gif, plus a few other surprises that you can see soon at”

Cogheart by Peter Bunzl is out in the UK on September 1st 2016. Share the adventure with #Cogheart. You can follow Peter on Twitter @peterbunzl


I first found out about Cogheart when I met Peter last summer. I really can't wait to read it as it sounds fantastic. The cover is stunning, and if you come back here next Tuesday you can find out how Usborne designer, Kath Millichope, went about designing the Cogheart cover, and also see a stunning animated version of the book cover.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Sara Grant: Ordinary to Extraordinary

We're excited to read Sara Grant's new book Chasing Danger soon, so it's great to have her on the blog today talking about it!

Ordinary to Extraordinary
That’s the journey of the main character in Chasing Danger. American Chase and her new British friend Mackenzie are ordinary teens until disaster strikes.

I say ordinary, but really there’s no such thing. Both girls are keeping secrets. Both have extraordinary talents. Both have fears and hopes and dreams just like the rest of us. The beauty of developing characters and telling their stories is demonstrating how we are all extraordinary in our own way.

I’ve only met extraordinary people. I’m from the Midwestern United States. We are known for our friendliness. I’m pretty sure my mom has never met a stranger. Like her, I might strike up a deep and meaningful conversation with the person sitting next to me on a plane or the phlebotomist drawing my blood at the doctor’s office. After a few questions, I’m mesmerised by the stories people tell if you dare – or care – to ask.

This same inquisitive nature serves me well as a writer. I’m not sure which came first: always asking why and why not or my search for story. 

About Chasing Danger

When fourteen-year-old Chase Armstrong is sent to visit her grandmother at a remote tropical resort, she’s looking forward to sunbathing, swimming and snorkelling. The last thing she expects is danger. But she’s in for some surprises. She discovers another girl hiding out on the island and uncovers a devastating secret about the mum she’s never known. When modern-day pirates attack the island, it’s up to Chase to outrun, out-think and outfight the pirates . . . before it’s too late!

Chasing Danger combines so many of my favourite things. I’ve always wanted to write a thriller. I probably shouldn’t admit this but I read or watch about a dozen murder mysteries a week. My passion for the whodunit started with Agatha Christie when I was a teen and never stopped.

I’ve always wanted to believe that I’m the kind of person that would act heroically if disaster struck. When the flight attendant gives the safety demonstration, I imagine how I’ll help my fellow passengers down the exit ramp. When those horrible images came through from Brussels recently, I hoped I’d have stopped and helped the walking wounded. In the days after 9/11 I wondered if I’d have been one of the people who said ‘let’s roll’ and prevented one of the terrorist plots.

Maybe that’s my own fiction. Maybe I’d run as fast as I could to safety or cower in the shadows hoping someone else would be the hero.

Chasing Danger is my chance to create heroes. It’s my chance to let a kid like me – Chase is from a small town not far from where I grew up – save the day. I’m looking forward to watching Batman v Superman, but I’m not really interested in superheroes. I’m never going to have something as cool as the Batmobile or powers as awesome as Clark Kent. I could, however, be a Chase or a Mackenzie. I could dig deep and use the limited skills I have to make the difference in a life or death situation.

Chasing Danger by Sara Grant will be published by Scholastic on 7th April.