UKMGExtravaganza…coming soon. Very soon.

UKMGExtravaganza October 2015 Nottingham

It’s only a couple of days now until UKMGExtravaganza in Nottingham. Thirty-five  – yes, 35 – UK middle grade authors all in one place, perhaps the most ever seen in captivity! It follows on from UKYAX last week and is organised by the amazing Kerry Drewery, Emma Pass and Jo Cotterill. Authors will be talking, mingling, signing books, and eating cake.

I will be in Nottingham Central Library on Saturday afternoon, waving my books about, and giving away the gorgeous bookmarks for my new title, Nancy Parker’s Diary of Detection, which isn’t actually out until next year.

Julia Lee's books UKMGExtravaganza 2015


Brighton Definitely Rocks Books

Children's Laureate Chris Riddell's sketch of children's author Julia Lee at Brighton Rocks Books

I just had to post this sketch of me reading at the Brighton Rocks Books event at the Jubilee Library in Brighton last weekend.

I knew that the new Children’s Laureate, Chris Riddell, was going to kick off events for the Summer Reading Challenge – but I didn’t know that he would stay and join in with our Middle Grade Author Panel and draw us in action!

Adventures in Writing

I haven’t posted here recently as I’ve been busy finishing a book and delivering it to my editor. And then recovering from finishing a book. And then doing all those tasks that I’d put off until after I’d finished the book. Including anything to do with Christmas.

But I did manage to fit in a few adventures.

Oldham Central Library Oldham Brilliant Books 2014

A warm welcome at Oldham Central Library

In November I went to Oldham for the Brilliant Books Awards. Thanks to Beverley Martin and her wonderful hard-working team at Oldham Council, we had a great day. The event took place in the spacious and inspiring Central Library, which is a fabulous place for any book-lover. Children and young people, teachers and parents, turned out in force. There were workshops and readings for each different age-group, followed by an award ceremony and book signings. Members of the Oldham Coliseum Theatre Young Rep Company performed mini-plays based on each shortlisted book, and then the awards were presented by keen volunteers from the audience who each got to keep a copy of the winning book.

What was so delightful was that lots of the shortlisted authors attended and I think all almost all the winners were there to accept their prize in person. This makes a lasting impression on the children who voted for their favourite books: they’d already met the author in one of the earlier sessions and could chat to them and get their autograph afterwards.

Book signing at Oldham Brilliant Books 2014

Although, sadly, The Mysterious Misadventures of Clemency Wrigglesworth did not win the 9-11 category, it was exciting to find out that the joint winners were Liz Kessler and Rebecca Lisle, who I’d got to know over dinner the night before and had just shared a workshop with. I met all the other fab authors, too, and renewed acquaintance with Helen Docherty. I first ran into her at the 2014 Booktrust Best Books Awards, and this time her brilliant picture book The Snatchabook was a winner!


Rebecca Lisle, Liz Kessler, winners Oldham Brilliant Books 2014

Rebecca and Liz with their prizes & prize-winning books

The coldest day of the year so far found me signing book in a pavilion outside(!) Wigwam, a wonderful independent toyshop in Brighton. I was dressed in so many layers I could hardly move, with red berries and a robin on my hat, and with a giant inflatable reindeer for company. I even had a Christmas tree signing pen with irritating/jolly jingle bells attached. Or should that be jolly irritating…?

Julia Lee signing books at Wigwam Toy Shop, Brighton

Last but not least, just before the Christmas holidays really kicked in I was off to the first day of the exciting 21st Century Author Training run by The National Literacy Trust and Author ProfileI tried not to get too distracted by the panoramic views of central London from the 14th floor of a glitzy office block. About 20 children’s authors from far and wide were prised out of our writing garrets/sheds/corners to brush up on our presentation skills and learn how to really engage with young audiences. It’s always good to meet other writers and share ideas, because we all spend far too long on our own with our keyboards and our imaginary friends.

More of this in the New Year.

And more about that new book, too…



‘Happy Christmas!’

Children Behaving Badly: ‘The Wind On The Moon’

The Wind on The Moon by Eric Linklater, Jane Nissen Books


‘When there is wind on the moon, you must be very careful how you behave. If it is an ill wind, and you behave badly, it will blow straight into your heart, and you will behave badly for a long time to come.’

As a child I was always reading and so was highly reliant on our local public library. It was situated on the ground floor of a big Edwardian villa, and the children’s section occupied what might once have been the drawing room. The fiction shelves were up one end and that was where I stayed. I don’t remember having any guidance from the librarians. As far as I knew, they were just there to stamp your books and take your library tickets – only two for children, and hey, a generous four for grown-ups. How times have changed!

So I just roamed the shelves and pulled out random books, or checked my favourite authors in the hope they had written something I hadn’t discovered before. This wasn’t so much to see if they had written a new book – the library stock was well-worn and a bit tired – but because that the something new might always have been out on loan to other readers before.

This meant that I often re-read books. Sometimes these were my favourites, left just long enough so that I’d forgotten most of the plot, and could enjoy them anew. Sometimes it was just that the book was familiar (therefore a safe read), and I was drawn again to the cover or the pictures inside.

One of these was The Wind On The Moon by Eric Linklater. I’ve just found it, reissued by Jane Nissen Books, complete with original illustrations by Nicolas Bentley. I was very struck by these pictures as a child, especially, I have to say, the one where Dinah and Dorinda take their clothes off and hide them in a tree. Naked people in a book? Perhaps that’s why I decided to borrow it! But there are lots of other strange pictures, many depicting mysterious night-time scenes, in Bentley’s rather simple yet sophisticated line drawings. Or maybe I chose it because I recognised his style from a humorous book we had at home, How To Be An Alien by George Mikes.

It’s a strange book altogether, long and full of bizarre episodes. Dinah and Dorinda are affected by an ill wind blowing on the moon, which makes their behaviour turn bad, and just at a time when their father is going away and leaving them for a year. It was published in 1944 and is marked by the attitudes of the era and the strangeness of wartime.

It wasn’t a book that I loved, but I did come back to it from time to time because something about it obsessed me. Of course, tales of children behaving badly are very attractive to child readers. There’s shape-shifting and talking animals, too. I wonder if it will seem as strange – or even more so – on re-reading as an adult?

You can read a piece on it by James Meek in the Guardian and a less enthusiastic review here on Bookslut.

By the way, Nicolas Bentley was a cartoonist and novelist as well as an illustrator of books. He was the son of E. Clerihew Bentley – inventor of the clerihew!


Library longings

I love libraries. I ought to have the tee-shirt. If there is one. I hope there is. Like the Books Are My Bag bags of last autumn’s brilliant campaign, we are sorely in need of an I ♥ Libraries tee-shirt.

Books Are My Bag campaign bag image

As I write this, I realise I’ve been a library user all my life, whether it’s been public libraries in various states of blossom or decay, or the slightly intimidating – but also glorious – university library. That one was up the big steps and through an almost airport level of security. And still people managed to steal books! They were stated as available in the catalogue but not on the shelf when I needed them, too often to be a simple case of mis-shelving. Stealing books (like dropping litter) rates high on my list of unforgiveable deeds. (Am I sad?)

Stealing books from a library steals them from all the other people, present and future, who would read that book. I was going to put ‘use that book’ but that’s too utilitarian, too Gradgrindian, and we’re in a very Gradgrindian era at the moment. ‘Read’ encompasses more than ‘use’; it embraces ‘like’ and ‘love’ and ‘recommend to others’ and ‘find useful’ and ‘find frustrating’ and ‘cast aside because it’s not for you’ and ‘remember for ever and go out and buy your own copy so you can keep it all to yourself!’

But I digress…

My local library has a very inviting area for teenage readers. I’ve only recently discovered this, because I wanted to catch up on my YA reading. There was no such category as YA when I was the right age for it – I wish there had been. It might have been on its way in when my kids were at that stage but if so, it didn’t register with any of us. My sons were such committed non-readers in their early teens, and I was such a non-hothouse-mother that instead of kicking hopelessly at a solid brick wall I just let them get on with other things and sank back into the pleasure of my own reading choices, serious fiction for fully paid-up adults. No farts or vampires.

The YA reading area in my library is a separate space, sectioned off but not cut off from the main library – and not leading out of the children’s area – which probably feels quite grown up. There are shelves of exciting-looking books, posters on the walls, and a corner with squashy sofas where there are always a few people sitting, sometimes talking, sometimes reading. Ok, it might be a school day and in school hours, but maybe they’re doing a project, and if not, well, there are far worse places to hang out than a library. It’s brilliant to see a teenager with their nose in a book.

When I was a reader at that stage (I don’t suppose there is a fixed age for it) I’d read everything I wanted to read in what was then called the Junior Library but had no idea where to begin in the Senior Library. My mother recommended a few minor classics which I steadfastly tried, but I’ve never been much good at reading those – all those flimsy pages, all those tiny words! – and quickly but quietly gave up on. I never asked a librarian. They were only there to date-stamp your books. So, completely without guidance, I just pulled books off the adult shelves and sometimes, if they had a really racy cover, I rapidly stuffed them back. Not that I didn’t want to read a (possibly) racy book, I just didn’t want anyone to see me choosing it!

Somehow I discovered science fiction (it was a catch-all category then) and got stuck into that – John Wyndham, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C Clarke, Ira Levin: yes, they were all chaps. Probably I found the names of other books and other authors in the same stable on the dust jackets and took it from there. At home we had a handful of macho adventures by Alistair MacLean and Hammond Innes so I read those and more of the same. It was interesting, but also a bit of a cul-de-sac. There was so many other kinds of writing out there I would have loved, if I’d only known about them.

I’m only just embarking on my catch-up of recent – and not so recent – books that are now categorised as YA. The themes and content are pretty challenging, but they have young adults, male and female, as protagonists, working through all sorts of adolescent stuff, as well as dystopian nightmares and life-or-death dramas. Not just old blokes doing blokey stuff. How I wish there had been a dedicated space for me as a reader emerging from the Junior Library cocoon, and a wide selection of books that just might, or might not, fit the bill.

And how I wish there had been squashy sofas, too.

University of Sussex library

Happy Birthday Rainbow Library!!

This is a project close to my heart, as I used to run a book and toy library for very young children with all sorts of developmental difficulties (not that that made a difference, they were children first of all) and know the fun and thrill and pleasure of introducing a small person to a book they are going to be intrigued by and really enjoy. And setting up a love for, and confidence with, books in future…

Rhino Reads

Woooo! One year old! The Rainbow Library was created a year ago today for International Book Giving Day 2013. And now there are 4 of them!!!

Thank you for all the support and encouragement – and books – along the way. It means a huge amount to me. And most importantly, to the children who use the Rainbow Libraries.

For IBGD this year, Rainbow Library 1 has had a bit of a makeover and lots of new books.

I’m also releasing a secret weapon over there. More about that in a mo’.

The second Rainbow Library is still receiving parcels from you lovely lot, so didn’t need any extra books from me. Thank you everyone! But I’m not leaving Rainbow Library 2 out. For their IBGD celebrations I have finally finished some story sacks which will be going straight to Gem’s library for her children to enjoy when they get…

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Make every week a children’s book week with 100 Best Books For Children

This was really last week’s news, but why not extend Children’s Book Week a little longer? Make every week a children’s book week?

Booktrust published its list of 100 Best Books for Children. The books had to be published in the last 100 years and the selection panel chose to concentrate on fiction. There are certainly many familiar books and many of my own family favourites here, particularly in the youngest section.


In the 0-5 age range, special mention to Each Peach Pear Plum, which I think I could still recite – at a pinch. We loved looking for the witty details in the pictures, and I really do admire the way all those fairytale characters managed to appear most naturally together. Hairy Maclary From Donaldson’s Dairy has a similar zingy rhythm to it and an inventiveness that makes it such fun to read aloud. And then John Burningham’s Would You Rather? which mixes cringy, scary and funny and gives lots to talk about. There are just one or two in this section which are new to me. Only the other week – coincidentally just before this list came out – I came across I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen for the first time and enjoyed its poignant deadpan humour.


Fewer real favourites in the 6-8 age group, though I loved being reminded of Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown. Mister Magnolia and Winnie The Pooh are in there too, but I think my kids enjoyed these at a much younger age – probably because I enjoyed them so much. This section seems to show that around now individual reading tastes begin to develop and diverge.

But 9-11s has a really strong field and so many beloved books in it. I’m so pleased to see The Wolves of Willoughby Chase made it, alongside Skellig, Ballet Shoes and Journey to The River Sea.

Interesting that in the 12-14s there are several books I only read as an adult and bought as adult books: Watership Down, I Capture The Castle, The Curious Incident of the Dog In castle The Night-time. Some wonderful reads here, new and old. At this age I didn’t know where to look for interesting and challenging books and, outgrowing the children’s section of the local public library, I launched on a random assault of the adult shelves. (The word ‘adult’ as an adjective always sounds rather dodgy these days!) I waded through some very strange stuff before settling into science fiction and rather macho thrillers. I couldn’t seem to manage the classics then and nothing I read at school – except Lord of the Flies – engaged me at all. If only today’s range and quality of reading for teens had been available when I was that age.

The Library of My Childhood

A Traveler In Time by Alison Uttley Puffin paperback

For some reason, I possess only two or three of the books from my own childhood: a couple of well-worn and well-loved Winnie The Pooh hardbacks and – somewhere – a Beatrix Potter. In the loft there’s a box of picture books my children had, but we couldn’t keep everything, and I have a horrible feeling that the paperback chapter books all went to school bookstalls and jumble sales. I keep hoping that there is another box in the far stretches of the loft, but so far it evades us.

So I have decided to try and restock the library of my childhood – mostly the fiction I read on my own – and I’m gradually acquiring random E Nesbits and Just William books, Narnia and Noel Streatfeild, Rosemary Sutcliff and Green Knowe. I’ve also picked up a few titles I always meant to read and somehow never did. The only problem will be deciding what to read first.

Here is my latest find, A Traveller In Time by Alison Uttley. My best friend read it then lent it to me when we were about 11 or 12, and we both fell in love with its mix of time-slip mystery, genuine history, and the dash of romance along the way.