Thursday, 12 September 2019

HOW THE BORKS BECAME • New Paperback Edition

How the Borks Became, An Adventure in Evolution, written by me and illustrated by Elys Dolan, has just been published in paperback by Otter-Barry Books.

The book shows young children how evolution by natural selection works by following the evolution of successive generations of Borks, a fictional alien species who live on the faraway Planet Charleebob.

The Borks evolve from smooth-furred, short-necked, blue into shaggy, long-necked, yellow creatures.

"You see, Borks haven’t always looked as they do.
Their fur was once short and its colour was blue,"

The arrival of a huge flying predator - the Ravenous Snarfle – results in an evolutionary change.

"They were roaming this plain on a bright sunny day.
when a Ravenous Snarfle came flying their way."

Since the original hardback edition was published last year, the book has won the Best Early Years Book category of the STEAM Children's Book Prize which celebrates children’s books that highlight the importance of science, technology, engineering, arts and maths. And the Italian edition Perché noi Boffi Siamo Cosi?translated by Lucia Feoli and published by Editoriale Scienza, was shortlisted for the prestigious Andersen Prize.

The book has also picked up many glowing reviews, including the two below from Booktrust and Teach Primary magazine.

"This fantastically funny tale combines humour, rhyming text
and wonderfully vibrant illustrations to present evolution
and natural selection in an accessible way."


"Zany characters and joyous text combine into a thoughtful, lucid explanation of Darwin’s theory, so whether you’re a Y6 teacher starting this topic, or want to introduce younger children to the idea, there’s no better starting place."

Here's a trailer I made for the book.

You can download and print out these activity sheets for the book by clicking on their images.

Spot the Difference


And you can buy the new paperback edition at your local 'Borkshop" or by using one of the sales links below.

Buy at amazon US

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

HOW THE BORKS BECAME • STEAM Children's Book Prize and Lancashire Science Festival

I'm thrilled to announce that How the Borks Became, An Adventure in Evolution by me and Elys Dolan has won the "Best Early Years Book" category of the inaugural STEAM Children's Book Prize

The prize was set up by UCLan Publishing in partnership with the British Interplanetary Society to celebrate children’s books that highlight the importance of science, technology, engineering, arts and maths. The prize is unusual in that both non-fiction and fiction books are eligible for each age category. The combined fact and fiction nature of the prize is a good fit with How the Borks Became as it uses fictional creatures to illustrate the non-fiction principle of evolution.

I went up to the UCLan campus in Preston last Saturday to pick up the award at the Lancashire Science Festival.

My wife Rachel and I decided to make a weekend of it and took the opportunity to visit Antony Gormley's Another Place sculpture on the way. The sculpture consists of one hundred life sized cast iron figures facing towards the sea. The figures have been there since 2007; many are fully submerged at high tide and are covered in barnacles.

I did a couple of How The Borks Became events as part of the science festival and the award was presented to me at the start of my first event by Hazel Holmes of UCLan Publishing.

I was really impressed by how many fantastic events and activities there were to see and do at the Science Festival and how many local families had come along to explore them.

Here's one of the budding young scientists that the Borks and I met.

Local bookseller Tony Higginson of Beyond Books was on hand to sell copies of my books and do a bit of Bork-spotting afterwards. Thanks for letting me use some of your photos on this blog, Tony!

Once the festival was over, Rachel and I popped up the coast to Blackpool and paid a visit to the Tower and its stunning ballroom (as featured in Strictly Come Dancing) before heading home.

I'd like to say a big THANK YOU to festival organiser Stephanie Brayn for making me part of this year's festival, volunteer Charlie for helping out at my events, Hazel Holmes and the rest of the team at UCLan Publishing for organising the wonderful STEAM Prize and the judging panel for choosing How the Borks Became as the prize's very first "Best Early Years Book".

How the Borks Became An Adventure in Evolution
illustrated by Elys Dolan is published by Otter-Barry Books.

Buy this book at amazon UKBuy at amazon US

Find out more about this book and
download activity sheets on my website

My How the Borks Became event is suitable for ages 5-9 years.
If you're interested in booking it, you can download an event outline here.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Dear PTAs: if you want your children to go places, a School Library Service subscription will be a better investment than a school trip or a minibus.

A child’s education is the responsibility of their parents and guardians as much as their teachers and most good schools have the support of a dedicated Parent Teacher Association. A key activity of most PTAs is fundraising. A recent survey carried out by UK PTA organisation Parentkind revealed that PTAs raised £108 million for UK schools in 2018, with an average of £8,030 per school.

2018 PTA fundraising infographic from Parentkind
The survey showed that books were among the items most commonly bought with PTA funds along with school trips and sports and playground equipment. As we approach the end of this school year, and PTAs start to think about their fundraising wish-lists for next year, I’d like to make the case for making an annual subscription to a School Library Service a priority item.

For anyone unfamiliar with them, a School Library Service or SLS (also known as an Education Library Service or ELS) is a locally run service that provides books and other learning resources to schools. Books are borrowed rather than bought, enabling schools to refresh in-school stock on a regular basis. The way School Library Services are funded varies, but most schools have to buy into the service. As school budgets have become tighter and tighter, some schools have had to cancel or reduced their SLS subscriptions, opting to purchase new books for themselves or make do with the books they already own. As a consequence, many SLSs are struggling to stay in business. Last year both Derbyshire SLS and Walsall SLS were closed. And once an SLS is gone, it’s gone for good – it’s a case of use them or lose them.

The cancellation of SLS subscriptions may save schools a few hundred pounds a year in the short term, but it’s a false economy that could have a detrimental effect on children’s educational achievement and life chances in the long term. There is now a wealth of research demonstrating that children that read for pleasure do better in maths, vocabulary and spelling than those who rarely read and gain advantages that last their whole lives. Children have widely differing tastes, so the more books a child can get access to, the more likely they are to find books they’ll enjoy reading. The easiest way for most children to get regular access to a wide selection of books is through their school library.

"The only way to create a lasting culture of reading for pleasure within a school is to have a thriving school library; an annual SLS subscription is THE easiest and most cost-effective way for schools to achieve this."
As an author who visits schools regularly, I know that the only way to create a lasting culture of reading for pleasure within a school is to have a thriving school library; an annual SLS subscription is THE easiest and most cost-effective way for schools to achieve this. Most children will not want to keep visiting a library that offers the same selection of books any more than they will want to keep watching a TV channel that offers the same selection of programmes. For a school library to maintain its appeal and relevance, its stock needs refreshing frequently and an annual SLS subscription, which allows schools to exchange books regularly, costs a great deal less than repeatedly buying in new books.

Inspire ELS, my local service, currently charge primary schools just £5.85 per book, per year for their “Unlimited Exchange” package. This is less than the price of most new paperbacks! Schools can keep the same book all year or exchange it for another as often as they like, either by visiting the Inspire ELS showroom or by weekly van delivery. So if a book is swapped every half-term then the cost works out at less than £1 per book per half-term. And, while books owned by schools deteriorate and go out of date, books borrowed from an SLS are constantly refreshed with new and up to date replacements.

SLSs can put together tailor-made book collections
to match specific topic criteria.
An SLS will stock a wide range of both fiction and non-fiction books, along with many other educational resources. So, whether your school has ‘traditional tales’ or ‘space’ as a classroom topic, an SLS can provide a range of books to support it. Teachers can either select individual titles themselves (by browsing in the showroom or using an online catalogue) or ask the SLS to put together a tailor-made collection to match their specific topic criteria.

Another huge benefit of an SLS subscription is access to the SLS’s team of specialist librarians. Around 10,000 new children’s books are published in the UK every year. Teaching staff have enough work on their hands without having to sift through this endless stream of publications trying to find the new “hook books” that will turn children into avid readers. Fortunately this is a task that SLS librarians excel at. All the books in an SLS loan collection will have been individually reviewed and selected by the SLS’s expert team and their advice and assistance comes for free with an SLS subscription.

So, if you are a hardworking member of a PTA and would like your fundraising efforts to have a lasting legacy, please consider directing some of your funds towards an annual SLS subscription. And, if your school’s lucky enough to have an existing subscription, please consider increasing it to cover a few more books. You will be helping to build a culture of reading for pleasure in your school that will benefit your children for the rest of their lives.

You can find your local UK School Library Service on this page of the School Library Services UK website:

If you are a PTA of a school in Nottinghamshire or Derbyshire and would like to find out more about subscribing to Inspire ELS, you can visit their website at, phone Val Sawyer or Rachel Marshall on 0115 98854200 or email them on and Inspire ELS can arrange for a librarian to come to talk to your PTA about the service they offer, if you’d like them to.

Friday, 18 January 2019

A SPOT OF BOTHER was my most borrowed UK library book in 2018

I've just received last year's UK library loans figures for my books, courtesy of the Public Lending Right (PLR) organisation. Although my top 5 books most borrowed books remain the same they have shuffled around a bit and there is a new number 1!

A Spot of Bother, illustrated by Vanessa Cabban, has jumped from 2nd place last year to become my most borrowed book. The sequel to The Pig's Knickers was taken out of UK libraries over fourteen thousand times last year.

Prince Ribbit, illustrated by Poly Bernatene, has leapfrogged Here Be Monsters and The Princess and the Pigalso illustrated by Poly, to take second place, while The Silver Serpent Cup, illustrated by Ed Eaves, retains its place at number 5.

The PLR figures show that my books were borrowed from UK libraries a total of 138,352 times last year.

PositionTitleNº of loansRelative Position
1A Spot of Bother
illustrated by Vanessa Cabban
2Prince Ribbit
illustrated by Poly Bernatene
3Here Be Monsters
illustrated by Poly Bernatene
4The Princess and the Pig
illustrated by Poly Bernatene
5The Silver Serpent Cup
illustrated by Ed Eaves

A big THANK YOU to everyone that borrowed my books, the wonderful librarians that made them available and the UK PLR scheme for helping authors like me to earn a living.

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Gift-Wrapped Characters Christmas Quiz

This post was originally published on Picture Book Den, a blog about picture books by picture book authors and illustrators.

When I was a child, part of the excitement of the run-up to Christmas was shaking, squeezing and even sniffing the gift-wrapped presents beneath our Christmas tree in an attempt to deduce what was inside. For this year's Christmas quiz, I've gift-wrapped 10 picture book characters. Since shaking, squeezing and sniffing are not options, you'll have to work out who they are from their outlines alone. How many can you identify?

Click on each image to reveal the answer











How did you do?

10All present and correct: Your picture book character recognition skills are exemplary!
7–9Gifted: You know your Seuss from your Scheffler.
4–6Some contents missing: Not bad, but perhaps you should add a few picture book classics to your Christmas list.
1–3A bad wrap: You need to brush up on your picture book knowledge.

My delightfully dark Christmas picture book The Santa Trap, illustrated by Poly Bernatene, is available in a UK paperback print-on-demand edition from Hatchling Books and a US Hardback edition from Peachtree Publishers.

Buy this book at amazon UKBuy at amazon US

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Are UK authors only prepared to defend the rights of people like themselves?

This article was originally published in The Bookseller on 30 November 2018

Victims of UAE injustice: UK academic Matthew Hedges, with his wife Daniela, and UAE Human Rights Campaigner Ahmed Mansoor, with three of his children.

The UAE government’s pardoning of UK academic Matthew Hedges earlier this week was clearly a cause for celebration. Matthew’s release was the result of the courageous campaigning of his wife Daniela Tejada. After months of having her requests to meet with Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt ignored, Daniela decided to disregard the Foreign Office’s advice and shared the story of her husband’s plight with the UK media. By doing so she secured the immediate attention of Jeremy Hunt along with the sympathy and support of the UK public. The UAE’s mistreatment of Matthew caused such outrage that the staff of three UK universities voted to boycott their UAE campuses and several UK authors booked to appear at next March’s state-sponsored Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai announced that they would boycott the festival if Matthew remained in prison.

"The academic and author boycotts of the UAE helped to send an emphatic signal to both governments that the UK public was not willing to turn a blind eye to such shocking mistreatment of a fellow citizen."
The UAE is currently the world's fourth-largest buyer of arms and one of the UK’s most lucrative trading partners. The UK government has a track record of prioritising trade over human rights in its dealings with the Gulf state and it seems likely that, if the UK public had been indifferent to Matthew’s predicament, he would still be languishing in an Abu Dhabi jail. The academic and author boycotts of the UAE helped to send an emphatic signal to both governments that the UK public was not willing to turn a blind eye to such shocking mistreatment of a fellow citizen.

Obscene miscarriages of justice like Matthew’s are everyday occurrences in the UAE, where writers, academics and journalists are routinely arrested, imprisoned and tortured for expressing the mildest criticism of the country’s sociopathic rulers. In the words of Amnesty International’s Middle East Director Lynn Maalouf, “The authorities have left no room for doubt: those who dare to speak their minds freely in the UAE today risk grave punishment."

One of the UAE’s notable prisoners of conscience is the engineer and blogger Ahmed Mansoor, formerly described by Amnesty as "the last remaining Emirati human rights defender”. After being released from eight months in prison in 2011 for the crime of “insulting officials”, the UAE government confiscated Ahmed’s passport, forcing him to remain in the country. Knowing full well that his actions would inevitably result in further imprisonment and torture, Ahmed continued to speak out against human rights violations in the UAE. In 2015 a jury of ten global human rights organisations, including Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, awarded him the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in recognition of his courageous work.

Human rights organisations explain the vital role played by UAE human rights defender
Ahmed Mansoor in this 2015 video made before his return to prison.

In March 2017, Ahmed was re-arrested and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for the “crime” of criticising the UAE government on social media. Unlike Daniela Tejada, Ahmed’s wife is unable to campaign for his release. The family and friends of UAE prisoners of conscience who challenge prisoners’ convictions are liable to become prisoners themselves and that would leave Ahmed’s four young children without a parent. If Ahmed and the many other UAE prisoners of conscience convicted purely for exercising their freedom of expression are to be pardoned, the pressure must come from outside of the UAE.

"If UK authors are prepared to boycott a festival over the unfair imprisonment of a single innocent UK citizen, then surely we should be prepared to do the same for the scores of innocent Emiratis like Ahmed Mansoor."
If UK authors are prepared to boycott a UAE state-sponsored festival over the unfair imprisonment of a single innocent UK citizen, then surely we should be prepared to do the same for the scores of innocent Emiratis like Ahmed Mansoor. If not, we’re effectively saying that the welfare and liberty of a UK citizen are worth far more than those of a foreigner imprisoned for defending the freedom of others.

I’d like to think that UK authors are better than that. Freedom of expression is the fundamental principle on which our craft depends; whether we boycott the festival or choose to attend it, UK authors should challenge those who are brutally suppressing freedom of expression within the UAE. So, as we celebrate Matthew Hedges’ release, we should also speak out to defend the rights of those who have no one else to defend them.

Further Reading

Matthew Hedges is free. What about UAE citizens who are unfairly jailed and silenced?
Middle East Analyst Bill Law's November 2018 article for Middle East Eye.

THE EMIRATES FESTIVAL OF COGNITIVE DISSONANCE: How do writers and publishers square their commitment to freedom of expression with sponsorship by a brutally repressive regime?
My March 2018 blog post on the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature.

Monday, 5 November 2018

THE SANTA TRAP • New UK Print-On-Demand Paperback

I'm delighted to announce that Poly Bernatene and I have just published a new UK print-on-demand edition of our "darkly funny" Christmas picture book The Santa Trap.

When children ask which of my own books is my favourite, this is the book I pick. It tells the story of Bradley Bartleby, an obscenely rich, villainous child who sets out to trap Santa Claus so that he can steal all of Santa's presents. One of the reasons I'm particularly fond of the book is that it's slightly autobiographical; as a child, I used to build Santa traps. However, unlike Bradley, I didn't want to capture Santa and steal his presents – I just wanted to get a glimpse of him. So the traps I built were designed to wake me up the moment Santa set foot in my room.

After several years of creating increasingly complex traps, I came up with the tripwire system shown in the diagram below. I strung four thin nylon tripwires around my bedroom and tied the ends to four large beads resting on one end of a Lego see-saw. The opposite end of the see-saw was wired up to a battery-powered alarm. If a tripwire moved, the bead it was tied to would be pulled off the see-saw, causing the opposite end to drop and close the circuit on the ear-piercing alarm. In addition to real tripwires, I strung a similar number of decoy tripwires around the room. It was impossible to tell the real tripwires and the decoys apart – so they both had to be avoided. I tested the trap myself and — even with the light on – I was unable to cross the room without setting off the alarm. The whole system took me so long to build and test that I didn't get into bed until almost midnight, by which time my bedroom looked like an enormous web, crisscrossed with gossamer threads, with me lying spider-like at the far end.

This diagram, from one of my school sessions, shows the final trap I built in my attempts to trap Santa. 

The strict code of secrecy surrounding Santa prevents me from telling what happened that night*, but I can tell you that it was the last Santa trap I ever built.

Another reason I'm particularly fond of the book is Poly's wonderful illustrations. Although it didn't take long to find a publisher, it took three years to find a suitable illustrator. A couple of illustrators agreed to do it but then changed their minds. Eventually, editor Emily Ford found Poly and asked him to do a sample. He turned out to be a perfect fit and well worth the wait. Poly and I have since done another three books together.

One of my favourite spreads from the book.

Bradley's darkly comical antics were a hit with readers and reviewers alike and in 2015 the story was adapted into a stage musical by Robin Belfield and Simon Slater.

Toby Vaughan (left) as beastly Bradley with Elouise Secker and Ben Tolley as his parents in Belfield Slater's 2015 stage production.

Although technically in print, the original UK paperback has not always been available in the weeks leading up to Christmas, so Poly and I have published the new print-on-demand edition to ensure its availability this year.

Another spread from the new edition.

Here's a trailer I put together for the new edition:

The book has proved popular in schools and Herts For Learning have produced a set of lesson plans, based on the book which you can download using the link below.

You can also download some activity sheets for the book by clicking on the images below.

The book is also available in a US Hardback edition from Peachtree Publishers. You can order the new UK print-on-demand edition and the US edition using the buttons below.

Buy this book at amazon UK Buy at amazon US

* Which is a shame because it was extremely funny.