Should children read the classics?

I was recently involved in a discussion about which classic books children might love. I felt a little uncomfortable answering and I’ll explain why. As you probably know, until recently I was a primary school teacher and in many of our classrooms in Key Stage 2 we had a selection of the classics and they were hardly ever chosen by the children. Why is that? Times have changed.

Firstly, the language in the classics is very old-fashioned and in some cases I would describe it as archaic. Language is a living thing, constantly changing, and these classics use words and phrases that children nowadays no longer use nor understand. If you ever find yourself reading an old book to a child, count how many times you have to stop and explain what something means. Stopping to explain is important so that the meaning is not lost but if you stop too often it will interrupt the flow of the story and the children may lose track of the plot.

Children like books to be pacy and/or be humorous. They are surrounded by fast-paced media and like their books to be the same. The old classics  tend to be wordier and slower in pace; they had a lot of leisure time to fill in those days with little else by way of entertainment. These days there are many other things that many children would rather be doing. If we want children to love reading we have to give them books that fit their world.

Speaking of worlds, think LTWTWabout how much the world has changed in the last fifty years or so. Children then led quite different lives to now. Yes, we might feel a little sad at the passing of that world and it’s lovely to reminisce but we can’t pull back the past. Many of the classics portray a world they just can’t identify with. I’m going to partially exclude fantasy books from this, though. I learnt a valuable lesson last year. I read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe to my class last year and, quite frankly, I was very concerned before I started reading it that they would find the book too old-fashioned. However, it’s a book I love and it fitted perfectly with the work we were doing with the children, so I was willing to give it a go. Yes, I had to stop and explain now the language now and again, but the beautiful fantasy world of Narnia that CS Lewis created is still as magical to today’s readers as it was to children who read it when it was first published. Fantasy seems to stand the test of time.

So do the classics have no value at all for today’s younger generation? I’m not saying that at all. There are still ways they can enjoy those stories, if not in their original form. Look out for simplified versions of the books which children might find easier to digest. It may go against the grain for us to read them ourselves but at least they will have access to some of that wide and wonderful array of classic literature, and just maybe, they will be enticed to read the originals when they are more mature.

Another way forward is to look at more modern classics. Children still adore the likes of Roald Dahl, for example, and my personal favourite is Matilda. There are many others too. Look for authors like Michael Morpurgo (Kensuke’s Kingdom) and Michelle Magorian (Goodnight, Mr Tom). But it’s good to also look out for lesser known authors; those without the marketing budgets of the big publishing houses behind them. I know that you wouldn’t be reading this blog if you weren’t interested in the Agnil’s Worlds books, giving me, a relatively unknown author, a crack at giving children stories I hope they enjoy, and I am very grateful for that. Will the Agnil’s Worlds books stand the test of time and become classics? Who knows, they are fantasy books, after all. Thank you for sticking with me and enjoy the ride for now. Some exciting times are looming!

 

The People’s Book Prize

Several weeks ago my publisher, Ant Press, submitted The Rise of Agnil to The People’s Book Prize Awards. This is a national competition aimed at finding, supporting & promoting new and undiscovered works. With Founding Patron, Dame Beryl Bainbridge and Patron, Frederick Forsyth, this is quite a ‘big deal’ for me. So imagine the huge excitement at Agnil’s Worlds this morning when I found out that The Rise of Agnil will be showcased on the People’s Book Prize web site  for three months from the 1st December. It means that the book has been accepted into the awards and would get through to the next round on the strength of public votes. I guess I will be canvassing for votes like crazy from that day!your-vote-counts-300x251

The next stop on 2014 WIP blog tour

A few days ago I was tagged in the 2014 Work in Progress (WIP) Blog Tour. This gives authors the chance to share some little tasters from their current Work in Progress. I was tagged by the lovely Janet Givens who has written a fascinating book called At Home on the Kazakh Steppe: A Peace Corps Memoir. Luckily, I do happen to have a Work in Progress. Called Agnil and the Centaur’s Secret, it’s Book 4 of the Agnil’s Worlds series.

 

The rules for the WIP tour are simple: 

  1. Link back to the post of the person who nominated you.
  2. Write a little about and give the first sentences of the first three chapters of your current Work In Progress
  3. Nominate four other writers to do the same.

*****

Chapter 1

Morning

Agnil looked at her reflection in the mirror and tied her hair back into a ponytail, revealing her slightly pointy ears. Today was the day. She couldn’t go on living a lie.
She’d known for months that she was half-elf and that her mother was alive. The thought of talking to her dad about it was troubling her but now it was becoming urgent. Her dad knew that his missing wife was an elf, and immortal, but she’d been gone so long, he believed he’d never see her again. He’d told Agnil she was dead. He had no idea that she’d found her mother.
Now her dad had a new girlfriend and Agnil would need to lie to her as well. Besides, Agnil wanted her mum and dad back together again so they could all live in Aberrian together. She wanted a happy-ever-after fairytale ending.

Chapter 2

The ‘Tween World

Agnil’s mother, Estil, looked even more beautiful than Agnil had remembered her.  Long chestnut coloured hair framed her face and a simple golden circle sat on her head entwined with ivy. The old tree spirit, Cranus, grinned and his deeply furrowed face crinkled even more. They had prepared some lunch. The table in the low-beamed room was laden with food as if they were expecting quite a crowd.
“Are we in Aberrian?” she asked.

Chapter 3

Caroline

“I can’t ask her!” Agnil frowned defiantly and turned to her mother, “I don’t like Caroline and I don’t want to even pretend to like her!” Estil put an arm around her daughter, drawing her close.

*****

And the four writers I will nominate for the 2014 WIP Tour, in alphabetical order, are:
OK, those of you who can count will notice that there are only three but they were chosen to give a you tasters of a variety of genres. Alison is currently writing her first book, a memoir. Jane writes YA fantasy and has several WIPs on the go at the moment. She has written a series called The Green Woman as well as a number of shorter novellas which give the backstory of various characters in the series. Lisa (L.D. Cullen) has written her first children’s book, The Ability Kids and K-9 Agency in “The Case of the Peanut Butter Bandit”.
None of the three are under any obligation to play tag, but what a great way to introduce people to new books and authors!
Please do visit their sites and find out about their work.
So, here goes: “Tag: Alison, Jane and Lisa. You’re it!”

Free until Friday!



OK, so maybe I’ve gone a bit crazy, but with half term coming up in the UK I thought that maybe some of you like might a free read to introduce you to the Agnil’s Worlds series. So, if you haven’t already got it, pop along to Amazon and grab yourself a copy of the Kindle version! It’s free until Friday the 24th October so tell all your friends to grab it too, while you all can!

Don’t forget I can even sign Kindle copies of your books. All you need to do is pop along to the Authorgraph site and request it. It won’t cost you a penny!

free till Friday

The Magic of Forests

What is it about forests? It’s no secret that I love them. In Germany, where I spend a lot of time, the area I visit is full of them and I love walking there. In early autumn picking mushrooms and later watching the leaves turn from green to all the glorious shades of gold and brown. In winter driving along narrow roads, forest on both sides, passing through a tunnel formed by the boughs of trees laden with snow. Sometimes we try to walk through as silently as we can in the hope of catching sight of a passing deer. I always take my camera in an attempt to capture some of their enchantment. I find them both enthralling and inspiring.
forest1
The forest symbolises somewhere wild, where you can escape civilisation for a while, yet it is full of hidden dangers at the same time. Even the act of picking mushrooms is fraught with danger unless you know which ones are safe to eat!

toadstool

Definitely not for eating!

In ancient times forests covered much of Europe, and Germany still seems to have retained much of its woodland, while here in East Anglia, where I live, they are few and far between. Have we become too ‘civilised’?

In 1812, Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm published their collection of German fairy tales, commonly known as Grimms Fairy Tales (or Grimms Elfenmärchen in German). Of course, in Grimms tales, the forest is always present. It’s the place where Hansel and Gretel find the cottage of the wicked witch and where Little Red Riding Hood comes across the wolf on her way to her grandma’s house. Forests appear in many myths and legends too. Take Robin Hood, for example, where the outlaws hide in the forest. Story tellers throughout the ages seem to be obsessed with them and I suppose I am no different.

In each of the Agnil’s Worlds books, the forest plays an important role. In ‘The Rise of Agnil’, it’s the place where Agnil meets the strange old man who comes to play such an important role in her life. In ‘Agnil and the Wizard’s Orb’, the Frozen Forest of Boreas is where Agnil and Estil are placed in mortal danger. By contrast, the forest of Lilurrian in ‘Agnil in the Tree Spirits’ is in danger itself and Agnil’s quest is to save the home of the tree spirits.

If you are interested in reading more about the symbolism of forests in fairy tales, look no further than this article by Justine Gaunt.

 

 

All photos by me!

An experiment

Right now I feel like some mad scientist pouring strange chemicals into test tubes, mixing them carefully and trying to come up with a magic formula! Let me explain. I love my books. I believe Agnil has some wonderful stories to tell so I’m sad if children don’t get to hear about her just because I’m not published by one of the major traditional children’s book publishers. I want her to reach a wider audience.

mad scientist

Amazon offers some opportunities for authors who only sell their ebooks through them. One of those is to make them available for loan, rather like an online library, through Kindle Unlimited. Until very recently, this feature has only been available in the USA but it has just come to the UK too so I felt it was the right moment to try this experiment. At the moment, Amazon are offering Kindle Unlimited on a 30 day free trial and it will normally cost £7.99 a month to borrow as many ebooks as you want from their vast collection. Think of it as a Spotify or Netflix for books!

For the next three months at least, we have withdrawn the e-book versions of Agnil’s Worlds from all other online retailers to enable the books to be available through Kindle Unlimited. We’ll watch carefully and see how it goes. Will it enable Agnil to reach out further into our world? Only time will tell! Watch this space but follow this link if you want to read Agnil’s Worlds for free!

Five Star Reviews for Agnil’s Worlds!

Several months ago, I submitted the first two of the Agnil’s Worlds books to Readers’ Favorite, a book reviews and awards organisation, requesting professional reviews for them. I wanted to get honest reviews so I went for a free rather than their paid option nor do I know any of the people at Readers’ Favorites in any way, shape or form. That way they were not obliged in any way to give a favourable review.  It took a few months to get the reviews back but, suddenly, both notifications arrived in my inbox within 24 hours of each other!

To receive one five star review was brilliant but when the second arrived I couldn’t quite believe it! I was over the moon to discover that both books had been awarded five star reviews!

Readers Favorite also run a prestigious annual award and I am currently considering whether I should submit one of them for next year’s contest. What do you think? Are you more likely to read or recommend a book which has won an award?

five star stickerHere are links to the reviews:

The Rise of Agnil

Agnil and the Wizard’s Orb

Life changing

Today is the first day of the rest of my life. Until yesterday I worked as a teacher in a wonderful primary school. I had been there for a long time and all my children attended the school. It has been a part of who I am for very many years but today I have left it behind. I am ready to move on to the next chapter of my life by turning to writing. This will give me time and energy to continue the Agnil’s Worlds series and maybe branch out into other genres too.

However, life is never straightforward and the best laid plans don’t always go without a hiccup. I do have some family problems to deal with over the next few weeks. Because my internet access will be rather intermittent, I may not be able to update this blog for a little while. On the other hand, I do hope to have some time to write. Book 4 is bubbling away in my mind, desperate to appear!

Remember, if you haven’t yet read the third book, Agnil and the Tree Spirits, it is now available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iTunes, Scribd and right here!Agnil and the Tree SpiritsIf you have read the book but haven’t yet left a review on Amazon, please help me out by spending a few moments doing this. Reviews on a book help its ‘visibility’ on Amazon and enables us to further promote it to a wider audience.
Children’s reviews can be sent to me via the contact page for inclusion on the reviews page.

Many thanks to you all for following me on this exciting journey through Agnil’s Worlds!

thank-you