Zoology Live!

Otter poop (spraint*) smells like a newly-opened pack of jasmine tea. I discovered this fun fact at the Zoology Live! Festival, held on 23-24th June to celebrate the reopening of Cambridge University’s Museum of Zoology.

IMG_3941

Along with many other people, I’ve missed the Museum since it closed for redevelopment in 2013, so it’s a joy to see it open again on the New Museums Site, off Downing Street.

The iconic Fin Whale still welcomes visitors, drawing every eye upwards. In the entrance hall below, a stunning automaton by one of the creators of the Corpus clock offers a fun reward for cash donations.

IMG_3946_copy

The weekend festival had a lot going on, including children’s crafts and story-telling. Representatives of Shepreth Wildlife Park were there, with a host of live insects and reptiles, like this beautiful corn snake.

IMG_3945

There were talks (full-length and bite-sized), workshops and urban safaris, and plenty more to keep children and grown-ups alike entertained.

Exploring the collections in the lower galleries I happened to look up and saw giant glowing jellyfish swimming across the ceiling.

IMG_3940

The Museum offers events throughout the year, and it has Zoology Clubs for youngsters up to 18 years old.  Do take your kids along. You may not find a corn snake in the courtyard, but even on the most ordinary day, this place is a treasure trove of wonderful things to discover.

Just remember to look up!

IMG_3942

* Otter survey info can be found at Cambridgeshire Mammal Group

A-maze-ing garden storytime

I was in distinguished company yesterday, with fellow authors, Isabel Thomas, Katie Dale, Pippa Goodhart and Helen Moss. We braved the bitter northerly wind with coats, scarves and blankets, and brought storytime to the glorious maze garden in Balsham, in one of the preliminary events of Linton Children’s Book Festival, coming up this weekend 19-20th May 2018. (Don’t miss it!)

Isabel took charge of our last minute publicity.

Balsham_readers_publicity

After a quick photo-call, we snuggled up in the mini-marquee with some of our books and lots of delightfully engaged children.

Balsham_story_readers

Isabel treated us to a pre-publication reading of her new book, Moth, a brilliant, lyrical account of an example of natural selection and evolution in our times.

Among other stories, Pippa enchanted with her beautiful, fable-like tale, A Bottle of Happiness; Helen intrigued with clever clues in The Mystery of the Green Lady; and Katie caused hilarity with her mum, Elizabeth Dale’s Nothing Can Frighten a Bear – which just shows that Katie’s mastery of rhyme and humour runs in the family.

I read Daddy’s Little Star. It’s always a joy to read to children who love books as much as the Balsham audience clearly did. And they were especially delightful wearing their fox masks (courtesy of and ©FirstPalette, a brilliant site for kids’ craft ideas). I’ve kept one of the masks as a souvenir of a fabulous afternoon.

Foxmask_Firstpalette

Spider Hunt Giveaway

How scary is a tarantula? My latest storyline stars one of these giant mini-beasts, so I had to do some research.

My spider-loving friend, Sarah, kindly introduced me to her pets. The Mexican Red-Knee is gorgeous, with orange and black tufts like tasselled trousers. But he’s prone to puffing a cloud of irritating hairs at unwelcome visitors, so I left him in peace.Red_knee_tarantula

Pablo, the Brazilian Black was happier to make friends and she sat, docile and velvety, in my hands. I could feel her slight weight through each of her pipe-cleaner legs. Occasionally she probed the air with a foot before setting it down again.

tarantula_in_hand

I had to count and recount her legs. Oddly, there seemed to be ten. But, no – that short pair at the front are pedipalps, more like arms than legs. Back in her tank she used them to grab a hapless cricket for her lunch.

Tarantula_close

How scary is a tarantula? Not at all. Unless you’re a mini-beast smaller than she is. Then she’s very scary indeed!

GIVEAWAY: The wonderful Rosalind Beardshaw illustrated six of the picture books I’ve written, and she put in lots of cute mini-beasts, including dragonflies and beetles. I think there are only two spiders among them. Can you spot them?

To help you, the English language titles of the six picture books that Rosalind and I have collaborated on are: ‘Daddy’s Little Star’ (or ‘My Little Star’ or ‘Mommy’s Little Star’), ‘A New Home for Little Fox’ (or ‘Daddy’s Little Scout’), ‘Goodnight, Magic Moon’, ‘Night, Light, Sleep Tight’, ‘Little Deer Lost’ and ‘The Best Present’. There’s a spider in two of them.

spider_bp2

I’ll send a PRIZE* to the first person who correctly names the two picture books and tells me where these spiders are hiding. Anyone can enter. Just leave a comment on this website.

spider_nl

*The prize is a copy of the toddler-sized My Little Star board-book, now out of print. Good luck!

My_Little_Star_boardbook

World Book Day 2018

Cambridgeshire, like the rest of the UK, was in the snowy grip of The Beast from the East on World Book Day, two weeks ago.

Snowy_rabbit

My weather-wise rabbit warned me to stay at home, but I had an important engagement to keep. So I ignored him, packed up my Little Fox books and set off on a twenty minute drive to Cottontails Pre-school.

I needn’t have worried; the roads were clear for this intrepid explorer. Also, something fabulous happened on the way – I saw a running fox, gloriously red against the snow. Clearly, I thought, Cottontails must be a very special place if Little Fox comes out to see me go! 

Icicles

And I was right. Outside, the icicles on Cottontails’ playhouse roof were echoed by a row of ingenious ice sculptures hanging from a line, and inside there were lots of sunny smiles.

There was some marvellous fancy dress to be seen. Here’s the merry band of staff in character:

Cottontails_WBD

Cottontails’ children know a lot about animals and birds, and they told me all about Forest School activities, like exploring and making dens. Little Fox would be right at home there.

We had fun with role-play, with our lumbering bears, trotty badgers, hopping bunnies and buzzy bees all finding their way home for a snooze in the end. Later, a stack of paper plates inspired some brilliant drawings of different creatures in their dens and burrows.

Thank you, Cottontails, for a lovely warm welcome on a very chilly World Book Day.

 

14th February Book Giveaway

This Offer is Now Closed: Story Snug is celebrating International Book Giving Day with a multiple picture book giveaway. A copy of Daddy’s Little Star, signed by both brilliant illustrator Rosalind Beardshaw and by me, is among the books that could soon be winging their way to a new home anywhere in the world.

BE QUICK: to be in with a chance, click the button for your chosen book on the Story Snug site before midnight on 14th February. Good luck!

The Lost Words

The Lost Words is a dictionary of nature words like conker, fern and acorn, but much more than that. It’s also a spell book. It unites Robert Macfarlane’s lyrical, acrostic poems and Jackie Morris’s gorgeous illustrations to name and conjure things in the natural world that, astonishingly, are in danger of being forgotten.

IMG_3451

There are three spreads for each entry; the first holds a ghost of the word with its letters hidden in a scatter of alphabet; the second has a picture and a spell of the word; and the third is a glorious illustration of the named thing securely in its natural environment.

Every school and household should have a copy of The Lost Words. Failing that, a Crowdfunder appeal is hoping to deliver a copy to every primary school in Scotland. The project is open for donations until 9th February.

Jackie Morris is putting fabulous, unique pieces of her artwork up for auction to support the appeal. Pop over to her blog for details. I bid for a piece earlier, and I’m now the proud owner of a trio of labyrinths and the name of the Goldfinch captured in gold.

IMG_3450

The Lost Words is available from the usual outlets. A proportion of the profits will go to the charity Action for Conservation. #TheLostWords

10th February update: Many congratulations to The Lost Words Crowdfunder campaign on reaching its target and securing a copy of this marvellous nature book for every school in Scotland. You can read more about the book and the campaign, on the Guardian website.

 

Black Grey Squirrels

One of the grey squirrels in my garden is black. He’s very cute, and so unusual that people often think he must be a different species, like a red squirrel.

black_squirrel

In fact, the black fur is due to a genetic mutation, first seen in Britain in Bedfordshire in 1912. The mutated gene has been spreading through the grey squirrel population since then, so we are seeing more and more black-furred, melanistic individuals like mine.

He’s very nervous and hard to photograph, but I like this snap. It gives us a glimpse of his rich brown tummy.

black_squrrel_1

Genes for colour variants can be linked to other traits, like blue eyes and deafness in white cats. Scientists wonder whether melanism in squirrels might be linked to higher testosterone and so to more aggressive behaviour. For what it’s worth, my black squirrel is pretty shy. His grey relations beat him to the bird-feeder every time!

grey_squirrel

It’s Christmas!

Advent guests on Catherine Friess’ Story Snug blog are talking about their best-loved Christmas books and revealing which books currently top their wish lists. Today it’s my turn. Hop over to Story Snug’s Advent Calendar to find out why ‘One Little Angel’ is my favourite Christmas book, and discover which book I’m hoping to find under the tree this year.

OneLittleAngel

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday, and discover a sack-full of brilliant books to enjoy in 2018.

 

The Magic Umbrella

A beautiful little book (The Royal Tournament; Das grosse Ritterturnier) recently landed on my doormat.

MU_Book 5_cover

It’s the fifth book in The Magic Umbrella series, aimed at readers aged 7-9 and published in Germany by Loewe Verlag GmbH as Der fabelhafte Regenschirm.

These delightful books have glossy, embossed hardback covers, and are illustrated on every page-spread by Naeko Ishida. They tell the story of four children and a dog, whisked off on magical adventures by a mysterious, battered, old umbrella.

MU_Book 2_inside_page

Author Sarah Storm is supported by a production team at Working Partners Ltd, and I’ve been helping too. I’ve enjoyed doing some of the background research, especially learning a lot about the weather. The children’s grandfather is a retired meteorologist, and fittingly, his silky-coated spaniel is named Cirrus, after those feathery clouds.

The children’s adventures range from the surreal (Book 1: Topsy Turvy Town; Die verruckte Stadt) to the historic (Book 3, The World’s First Car; Eine bahnbrechende Erfindung).

I think Book 3 is my favourite. While researching this story, I found a replica of the Benz motor car at the Beaulieu National Motor Museum. Here I am, posing with it:

Beaulieu_Benz_car

You can see how the car was started up, from this video on YouTube.

German readers can also look forward to The Magic Umbrella Book 6 (The Wrong Dinosaur; Das verschollene Dinosaurier-Ei), which is due to be released in January 2018. Here’s a sneak peek at the cover….

MU_Book 6_cover

The Magic Umbrella books are fun and educational, and they’re a good next-step for young readers who enjoyed The Magic Tree House (Das magische Baumhaus). Find them on Loewe Verlag’s website or on Amazon.de

Now I just need a German-speaking 8-year old to read them to me!