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Reading + Art at Keats Library

September 22, 2019


Bring the kids for a reading of the newly released picture book, Arabella and the Magic Pencil. Then, stay for an arts and crafts activity. We’ll be making magic pencils and designing paper dolls of Arabella and Avery. The event is free and will be held at Keats Community Library on the 28th of September from 1:30-2:15PM. See you there!

via Event: Reading + Art at Keats Library — Stephanie Ward

Booking Around the World – King’s Library Tower

August 24, 2019


The nearly impossible to photograph King’s Library Tower at the British Library

I love to travel and I love writing books, so whenever I’m in a new place, I seem to be looking for a bookstore (and a coffeeshop or restaurant, but that’s another post!). I’ve found some amazing places and bought lots of children’s books in languages I can’t read. So now, I’m on a mission to highlight all of the wonderful books, bookshops and bookish images that I have discovered on my travels.

Since I currently live in London, it’s fitting to start with a classic image from the British Library. The King’s Library Tower sits smack in the middle of the British Library. It spans six stories and is covered with glass making for a stunning spectacle from any angle. The books contained inside are actually the collection of King George III and include over 65,000 bound copies.

I’d highly recommend popping in the British Library for a peek of the King’s Library Tower when in London.

British Library
96 Euston Road
London NW1 2DB

Malaika Rose Stanley obituary (Guardian)

August 6, 2019

JO BROADWOOD Fri 2 Aug 2019

Malaika Rose Stanley drew on her own experiences of motherhood in her books for children

My friend Malaika Rose Stanley, who has died of cancer aged 65, was a pioneering children’s author, educator and activist. Ros, as she was known to her family, was forthright, funny and fierce, and she made an important contribution to children’s fiction at a time when there were few black female writers being published.

Man Hunt, 1996, and below, Dad Alert, 1999, two of Malaika Rose Stanley’s series of books about Max’s search to find a man for his single mum

Her first book, Man Hunt, was published in 1996; Max is a mixed-race boy on a quest to find a man for his single mum. Told with humour and subtlety, it draws on Ros’s own experiences of motherhood and is laced with references to her local football team, Arsenal. At the same time it addresses serious themes and in particular celebrates a black child’s perspective on the world. Ros went on to establish herself as a popular and prolific author whose work ranged from picture books to pre-teen fiction.

The sequels following Max’s adventures, Operation X (1997) and Dad Alert (1999), were particularly popular, as was her series of “Spike” books, including Spike and Ali Enson (2010) and Spike in Space (2012). Dance Dreams (2013), about an aspiring ballerina, and Skin Deep (2016), the story of a young Brummie girl’s beauty contest ambitions, also found a wide readership

Ros was born in Selly Oak, Birmingham. Her white birth mother, Marina Stanley, had been detained under the 1913 Mental Deficiency Act for being unmarried and pregnant by a black man and was immediately encouraged to give her baby up for adoption. After a series of short-term foster placements Ros was found a loving and stable home with foster carers, Fred and Jean, who she came to refer to as Mum and Dad.

Growing up in the 1960s as a mixed-race child in a mostly white suburb Ros was subject to the casual bigotry of the times, eloquently described in her 2016 memoir Loose Connections. It was not until she attended further education college that she began to explore her black identity. She recalled hearing the song Young, Gifted and Black on the radio for the first time as an epiphany. “My new afro was so much more than a fashion statement,” she wrote. “I was black and proud.”

Ros first trained as a teacher, at Dudley College of Education, which enabled her to indulge her love for travel. Fluent in German, she lived first in Zambia and then in Germany, returning to London only in her late 20s to settle and have children. She had already begun writing when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 39. The news prompted her to dedicate herself full-time to pursuing her dream of becoming a children’s author.

She was a founding member of Islington Writers for Children and the Black Women Writers Group and featured regularly as a speaker at British Council and Black History events and children’s literature festivals. Ros was also a regular visiting author in schools in Islington, north London.

Ros was modest about her courage and determination in overcoming the challenges of her childhood to live a full and adventurous life. She was surrounded with love from a close-knit community of family and friends, and is survived by her sons, Garikai and Danjuma, and grandson, Luca.

Link to the original article:

Handa’s Noisy Night

July 23, 2019

posted by JOHN O’LEARY

Former member and friend of IWFC Eileen Browne has a new book coming out in September. Some of us remember the early drafts of Handa’s Surprise, the book which can now be found in practically every school in the country.

The latest installment of the acclaimed Handa series is a warm, funny story about night time fears with a cast of nocturnal animals and an Kenyan setting.

The Walker Books website says the following:

When Handa has a sleepover with her friend Akeyo, the girls are allowed to spend the night in a little hut near the house. They’re excited to be on their own, but as they get ready for bed, Handa feels more and more nervous. She keeps hearing things – strange snorts, chitter chattering, a big thud. Akeyo says it’s only her noisy family, but on the opposite page the reader sees the nocturnal animals who are really making the noise – and while some of them are familiar, others are very peculiar-looking indeed! With rich, night-time illustrations, sound effects, and plenty of curious animals, Handa’s Noisy Night demands to be read aloud and shared – whether in the classroom or tucked up in bed at home.

We look forward to reading it in September.

For readers aged: 3+
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 9781406320015
Published: 05 Sep 2019

Malaika Rose Stanley

June 19, 2019


Malaika Rose Stanley (Ros)

1954 – 2019

We were deeply saddened by the death of Malaika Rose Stanley who was a prominent member of our group for many years. Some of our newer members will also also have met her when she returned to the group, albeit too briefly, in 2018.

Marion Rose gave a moving tribute to Ros at her funeral last week in which she said:

“Some of us first met Ros in a scruffy classroom in the Hornsey Road. It was a course  for writers who were ‘serious’ about publishing for children. Ros was very serious. Over the weeks we  also found that she was funny, and feisty, and very focused on things she cared about – such as her own search for a parent, and being the best that she could be as a single mum, for her two boys.

All of this is reflected in her writing, though we probably didn’t see it at the time. What we did see was her emerging skill as a story-teller, her empathy with and insight into people , and her determination to champion a black child’s place in the world, with all her considerable creative talent.”

Ros was a former teacher, a children’s author and, with the publication of Loose Connections, a debut memoirist.

Her children’s books have been described as topical, engaging and full of humour. Her first Amazon review describes Loose Connections as a ‘… wonderfully moving book… really well written, clear and simple but heartbreaking too.’

She was born in Birmingham and lived in London, near her grown-up sons, their partners – and her first grandson.


WHILE I AM SLEEPING Pearson Education



SKIN DEEP Tamarind




MAN HUNT Orchard Books

OPERATION X Orchard Books

DAD ALERT Orchard Books


5 Great Kidlit Podcasts

May 3, 2019


I’m late to the game when it comes to podcasts. But recently, I found a slew of entertaining and informative shows that have made me convert. Here are five podcasts that children’s book readers and writers should have a listen to.


The Happy Book: A Children’s Book Podcast with Tania McCartney

My latest discovery is a brand new podcast (now in Season 2) by Australian author, illustrator and all around fabulous kidlit creator, Tania McCartney. I love this podcast for so many reasons but it’s by far the most informative for those that are writing and/or illustrating children’s books. With 30+ years of experience, Tania McCartney tells it like it is (with a charming Australian accent) and with specific, relevant stories from many areas of the kidlit industry. A bit of the information is specific to Australia, but the large majority is relevant across borders so give it a go. Available on iTunes, Spotify and Whooshkaa and there’s a Facebook page too.


One More Page: A Podcast for Lovers of Kids’ Books






This is the podcast that got me into podcasts. It’s fun, funny and full of interviews with popular kidlit authors. But what sets it apart from others is that they actually talk to kids about kids books. Brilliant, right? And it’s hilarious. In its first year, One More Page was a Finalist in the Australian Podcast Awards. Well worth checking out. Available on iTunes, Castbox, Pocketcasts, Spotify and iHeartRadio.


The Children’s Book Podcast with Matthew Winner





This might be the most comprehensive podcast about children’s books available. There are over 500 episodes and some with the most successful children’s authors in the world. Matthew Winner’s long-form interview style gives creators ample time to share their journeys. I’ve picked up some incredible wisdom by simply tuning in and tuning everything else out. Plus, Matthew’s sheer joy and gratitude about the world of children’s literature is infectious. It’s an absolute pleasure to listen to this multi-award-winning, highly acclaimed series. Check out the website for all of the details.


So You Want to be a Writer

Practical advice for writers of any genre, Valerie Khoo and Allison Tait share their wealth of experience as writers and authors. Plus, there are interviews with a wide variety of authors. I search for relevant kidlit authors, but occasionally I’ll try an adult or non-fiction author and invariably learn something I can use in my own writing. With 275+ episodes, there is something for everyone. Available on iTunes, the Australian Writers’ Centre website or Stitcher Radio.


Middle Grade Mavens: The Podcast

A relative newcomer, this podcast specifically focuses on a middle grade books. Middle Grade Mavens reviews books, interviews publishers and authors working in this genre and discusses everything related to the genre. If you’re writing middle grade, check out this podcast for the most relevant and timely information about this wildly popular kidlit genre. Available on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and Radio Public.


I’d love to hear what you tune into, so please leave a comment with a link to your favorite kidlit podcasts.

Happy listening!

This post was first published in

Empathy in Children’s Literature

April 5, 2019


I have recently become aware that there is such a thing as an ‘Empathy Book List’. I looked at the list today and there are some excellent-sounding books. A while ago, I also read about someone sending her daughter to an ‘empathy session’. I’m not sure whether this is heart-warming or not. It probably is. . .

Clearly empathy is heart-warming but is it strange that such activities/book lists are necessary?

Perhaps the following comment by Empathy Lab UK explains the need for current attention being paid to empathy.

“There is a long list now of young people who have been persecuted in a way that would not have been possible until this century. It represents a failure of empathy, compounded by the impersonality of digital communications”
@PeterBazalgette #TweetwithEmpathy

I remember feeling empathy with the majority of characters I used to read about as a child. It seemed to be a necessary part of carrying on reading about a character – even, for example reading about cross young Mary in ‘The Secret Garden’. I felt very much for her and her reaction to her circumstances – the loss of her parents in India and being sent to a strange house in Yorkshire.

I also remember feeling greatly for Katy in ‘What Katy Did’. She had an accident and seriously hurt her back and had to strive to recover from this. The love/empathy of her grown-up Cousin Helen and her loving sister Clover helped her through the ordeal.

There are many books written today in the list by the Empathy Lab. There is even an Empathy Day.

“On Empathy Day on 12 June this year, lots of children, teachers,  librarians and authors shared empathy-boosting books and took part in a wide variety of activities around the country, including the hugely successful #ReadforEmpathy social media campaign.”

“Although Empathy Day is over for this year, our Read for Empathy Guide is still available, as is the 2018 book collection.” 

I have at last completed writing my first children’s novel. ‘Saving Willowfield’. (Please note: Looking for a publisher. . ) The main character Abigail cares so much for her twin brother Gabriel who is suffering from a serious disease of the hip (Perthes disease). I hope her love for her brother and her love of their grandparents’ farm come across and will move the children who read the story.

Here is UK Children’s Laureate, Chris Riddell’s illustration and comment on empathy.

Another matter that requires empathy in my novel is the plight of farmers of small farms struggling to make ends meet. Abigail and Gabriel are desperate to think of a way to save their grandparents’ farm from having to be sold. It means so much to them. They love their grandparents and visiting the farm is a big part of their lives. I hope the reader will share the children’s concern and salute their persistence.

As long as it involves the reader enough, a fictional story about identifiable characters can bring care, concern and invoke feelings of empathy. It seems as if this is something urgently sought after in today’s digital technology and internet-obsessed society.

Originally posted in


On critique groups – further thoughts

February 14, 2019


I think Lorna’s checklist (On criticism: can we be kind, careful and constructive? Jan 31, 2019) is an excellent idea. I have been attending the Islington Writers Group for many years and have always found the feedback constructive and helpful. We look for something positive as well as something constructive. (Of course it is complicated when different people say entirely different things!)

I had an interesting experience lately. Unfortunately, at the moment I am not able to attend frequently but I did get a reading “slot” on my last visit. I presented Chapter 1, having completed the novel and thinking that I needed feedback especially on this start to the story. Criticism was quite hard-hitting. It was also almost unanimous, so I listened hard. I found this extremely helpful, but what to do if it is a long time before I can return? I know I benefited greatly from the criticism and planned to put things right. For me the whole situation was bearable because one kind person whispered to me that if I wanted to send a re-write to her, she’d be happy to read it.

Maybe the message I’m trying to get across is that even with guidelines and procedures in place and with a writer well-used to critique sessions, there is always room for kindness as this writing business leaves one quite exposed.

On criticism: can we be kind, careful and constructive?

January 31, 2019


Having your work read aloud in a writers’ group can be very scary. You’ve slaved over the piece, re-drafted many times, changed the title and the main character’s name. What if they don’t like it? What if they think it’s lightweight – you’re lightweight – and shouldn’t be part of the group?

Who hasn’t felt their heart beat faster as the reader picks up those sheets of A4 and begins?

Now – picture the scene at the end of the evening. You’re heading home on the Tube, tears sparking behind eyes, mentally crumpling those A4 sheets into a ball and flinging them from you as far away as possible. You quickly go from ‘They’re all idiots – too stupid to understand what I was trying to say’ to ‘I knew I was useless – why did I even bother. I’ll never write another word.’

It’s never happened to you? Lucky. It has certainly happened to me, in my encounters with various Writing Groups over the years. I can clearly recall some particular vicious comments from – oh, maybe 30 years ago. Goodness knows what kept me writing.

But, to be fair, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to think of something pertinent and useful, moments after you’ve heard a piece for the first time. It’s so easy to fall back on ‘I liked the ending’ (you slept through most of it) ‘the pace felt about right’ (the reader didn’t stop once) or the inevitable ‘it’s all been said’ and ‘I agree with everyone’ which isn’t particularly helpful.

The Writing Group I lead in Sudbury, Suffolk, identified this as a real problem. Where some members, perhaps with years of practice, could comment specifically and constructively, others, when placed ‘on the spot’, found it very difficult to think of anything to say. To try to help, I put together a ‘Checklist for Constructive Criticism’. Each member has a copy and keeps it beside them, so that when it’s their turn to contribute they’ve got an aide-memoir to consult, however briefly. I believe that we’ve all found the list useful. Every member is now contributing a comment rather than ‘opting out’ because they can’t think of anything.

I also remind members at the start of every meeting, of The Three Cs (except they’re one K and two Cs, actually): Be Kind (find 2 ‘good’ things about the piece) Careful (if something isn’t working, or you ‘just don’t get it’, by all means say so, but remember that the writer really wants their piece to work), and Constructive (no more than 2 suggestions in which you think the work could be improved.)

Another thing we do is to ensure that each group member has a copy of each story read at the meeting, so authors need to bring along a copy for everyone. Instead of writing notes in a notebook while the story is being read, the members write their notes on their copy of the story, which they hand to the author at the end. This has proved not just useful to the author, but also when making comments.

While these systems seem to be working well at the moment, we are always open to new ideas and different ways of working. I’d be delighted to know what you think at Islington Writers for Children – where, I must say, I never had a vicious or unkind comment in my years as a member.

Checklist for Kind, Careful and Constructive Criticism

The beginning:

  • The title – am I intrigued? Or does it give away too much?
  • Does it begin well? Am I hooked?
  • Is the beginning – gripping; clear; difficult to understand; baffling; boring; tedious?
  • Do I want to know what happens at the end?

The structure:

  • Is the viewpoint clear?
  • Any clichés or clumsy sentences?
  • Any really effective description? Any sounds, smells, weather?
  • Is the dialogue realistic and/or convincing?

The plot:

  • Does it work or is it contrived and/or predictable?
  • Is the pace right or does it feel rushed or drawn-out?
  • Is there a dilemma or a high point – does it work?
  • The middle – does it flag?


  • Was I gripped by the story?
  • Did the ending link to the beginning in any way?
  • Was the ending satisfactory?
  • Length – was it too long, or too short?
  • Did the story have that WOW factor?


Love Factually

January 9, 2019


My very first book is out this month – it’s been a massive project and I’m excited-relieved-exhausted-curious to see how it goes. Here’s the BLURB (it’s called Love Factually in UK / Aus (, Love Understood in the US (

Poets, philosophers and artists have been trying to explain romantic love for centuries, but it remains one of the most complex and intimidating terrains to navigate. Most people are afraid to be open and honest about their relationships … until now. For Love Factually, Laura Mucha has interviewed hundreds of strangers, from the ages of 8 to 95 in more than 40 countries, asking them to share their most personal stories, feelings and insights about love. These intimate and illuminating conversations raised important questions, such as:

• How does your upbringing influence your relationships?
• Does love at first sight exist? Should you ‘just know’?
• What should you look for in a partner?
• Is monogamy natural?
• Why do people cheat?
• How do you know when it’s time to walk away?

Drawing on psychology, philosophy, anthropology and statistics, Love Factually combines evidence, theory and everyday experience and is is the perfect read for anyone who is curious about how we think, feel and behave when it comes to love.

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