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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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:


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

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



Goodnight Sleepy Babies in Arabic

I’ve just had an exciting delivery from the postman – a gorgeous copy of Goodnight Sleepy Babies, translated into the Arabic by Academia International, Lebanon.

Goodnight Sleepy Babies Academia Int

My picture books have appeared in several languages, and it’s always a treat to receive a shelf copy for the collection. But there’s something extra eye-catching about an Arabic edition. The elegantly flowing script seems to grace the page and it especially suits Sebastien Braun’s jewel-bright illustrations.

Goodnight Sleepy Babies Songbirds Spread

Academia International’s website is under construction, but outlets for Goodnight Sleepy Babies in Arabic (Tusbihuna ala Khayr ya Sighar; ISBN 9789953371450) include Jarir Books.

Some of my earlier collaborations with wonderful illustrator, Rosalind Beardshaw, are also available through Jarir Books, including The Best Present (Ajmal Hidaya; ISBN 9789953379838).

Academia International Titles

Goodnight Sleepy Babies in English is available from Amazon.

Halloween Reading

My towering to-read pile collapsed with a crash a few days ago. Realising I had to take action, I plucked the most recent addition from the scattered heap and began to read. It was Chris Priestley’s new middle grade book, Maudlin Towers: Curse of the Werewolf Boy


I was soon chuckling. ‘The Curse of the Werewolf Boy’ is very funny. The convoluted plot is illustrated with Chris Priestley’s own wacky drawings. There’s another famous author-illustrator lurking among the characters. Do look out for him. Clue: ‘Gloom. That’s the key…’.

This is the start of a Maudlin Towers series, so we can look forward to more Maudlin fun to come. The first book is a time-travelling mystery. With its ghostly goings-on, gothic school setting, delightfully creepy teachers and plucky heroes, Mildew and Sponge, this is a perfect kids’ read for a late October weekend. It’s also pumpkin-coloured. 


Happy Halloween!


Adventures at RHS Wisley

I came face to face with The Famous Five at RHS Wisley recently. They seemed to be on the point of making an exciting discovery in the middle of a flower bed.


The Five were centre stage in all their topiary glory because the garden is celebrating the series’ 75th anniversary; the first of Enid Blyton’s famous books was published in 1942.

Wisley has much more to offer too. The Surrey Sculpture Society Trail is there until 24th September, with some amazing artworks on show. Of course I loved this cheeky ‘Mr Fox’.

Mr Fox by Alan Wallis

It was a rainy day, but luckily we’d taken a big umbrella.


When we found sanctuary from the rain in the glass-house, I couldn’t help wondering who might sit on these prickly stools…


The gardens looked fabulous, and the pumpkin patch promised a beautiful, bountiful autumn to come. RHS Wisley is a joy whatever the weather.




Treasured Art

I’m a hoarder. I still have and treasure an early drawing by my daughter Heather, then 2, now 29. It’s a picture of ‘Mummy, Heather and Daddy’ – our family before her little sister came along. I’ve always loved the stick-figuriness of it.


Heather was always ready to put on her Cookie Monster pinny and pick up a paintbrush. It’s a wonderful thing to watch small children doing something they love, and to know that with luck they might still be doing it, in some form, when they’re all grown up.


Heather still loves to draw and paint. A few years ago, she painted these foxes for me, to celebrate the publication of ‘Daddy’s Little Star’.


She painted the Tyne bridges for her Geordie-Dad.


By now, she’s painted her little sister a few times. This is a recent one; Fiona caught in a sunbeam in Iceland.



You can see more of Heather Bingham’s artwork on her website here. Warning: the website includes images of a surreal or adult nature.

52 Stories

Cambridge has a fabulous story-celebrating initiative called 52 Stories. Children bring their grown-ups from far and wide to Cherry Hinton Library every Saturday morning, to listen to wonderful books.

Mo Child and Annelies Saunders are among the founders of 52 Stories. And these intrepid ladies have been giving their time to organise the event for THREE WHOLE YEARS! They have a pool of volunteer readers, and somebody reads EVERY week. That’s a lot of stories!

Annelies Saunders & Mo Child


Earlier this month I joined a group of volunteers and even more enthusiastic children, to celebrate 52 Stories’ third anniversary.

Some of the 52 Stories gang, including volunteers, Richard, Clare, Shani, Janet, Mark and Edward


Reflecting the birthday theme, the books we read included ‘Angelina’s Birthday’, ‘Happy Birthday, Winnie’ and ‘Happy Birthday, Moon’. We also enjoyed the Paddington picture book, in tribute to Paddington’s creator Michael Bond who, sadly, died a few days earlier.

Our audience listened and joined in beautifully, and did some fantastic birthday-themed colouring-in. We all got a cupcake at the end, and went home looking forward to our next storytime session.

I’ll be reading at 52 Stories again on Saturday 29th July, 10.30-11.15am. I hope to see you there. @52stories