Junior books are what I would call early or pre-middle grade. They are for youngsters reading to enjoy a story, which may have some mild danger in it, but still learning many words. I decided there was demand locally for a guinea pig based book for readers before my middle grade book Messenger Misadventures. And that sounded like the vehicle I needed for Neville and Roscoe to have an adventure or two.

But first I needed to research early reading opportunities. I picked two at random from the library shelf, and asked my seven-year-old (eight by now) great-niece to lend me one of hers.

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This is my Insecure Writers Support Group post, in which we share our successes and failures as writers, our insecurities, in fact. Anyone can join in, just sign up at the IWSG Sign-up page, write a blog post on the first Wednesday of the month, and go back to that sign up page to link with everyone else–or a goodly sample. Our host is Alex J Cavanaugh, and cohosting this month are:

Patricia Josephine, Diedre Knight, Olga Godim, J. Lenni Dorner, and Cathrina Constantine!

Mike Falls Up by Candy Gourlay and Carles Ballasteros

A boy who lives in the Chocolate Hills finds a message which seems to be trying to attract his attention. It says “just fall up”. He falls into a cave or a hole by a lake, and falls up, and round corners, and then down again, into a chimney and out into a living room. There he meets a girl who lives in an ordinary terrace house in England, who also has this strange message. So they both fall up the chimney, and end up in a rocky cave. The Rock Monster is delighted to have friends to tea as it’s his birthday. So they celebrate until it’s time to go home.

These are all good stories. I initially didn’t take to Mike Falls Up, (Little Tiger books), but on returning to it I liked the story better. It is fully illustrated in colour, with pictures covering the whole background to the words. The text is in colour mostly against the pictures, with some pages of black text on white. These are centred, which seems odd. Sometimes the colour choices are hard to read – orange text on dark brown is not a combination for me, even if kids can read it! There are four chapters, but I’m not sure why these were placed where they were in the story.

Attack of the Snack (Rabbit and Bear) by Julian Gough and Jim Field

Rabbit and Bear are out with their friends when something goes whoosh! past them and collides with a tree. The friends debate what it is. It looks small, round and feathered. Some think it is dangerous. Some say it isn’t from round here and should be avoided. Eventually they talk to it and find it is in trouble because it’s being bullied because it’s smaller than the other owls. So they make friends with it instead, and help it to find its way home.

Initially I liked the look of Rabbit and Bear more. It has large greyscale plus yellow pictures with the text wrapped around, and occasionally a whole page of text. The pictures are drawn in a more realistic style, with near-3D cartoon-ish animals and pretty forest-type background. I think the size of the text is better than the first, but the first has a better font. Rabbit and Bear has more pages than either of the others, but is in a slightly smaller format than the standard trade size of the other two. There is a map at the front.

Choosing Crumble by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Tony Ross

Terri-Lee and her mother go to the Rescue to get a dog, which will be called Lassie, because she’s put the name on its bed already. Instead of choosing a dog, they go for an interview with the dog, who asks them all the sorts of questions a discerning rescue dog should. And eventually Crumble decides that despite everything, he’s willing to be friends with them, especially when they change the name on the bed to Crumble.

Choosing Crumble seemed more lightweight than the other two, and is a more realistic situation. I liked the issues that Crumble was most worried about in his new home, and this raises good points for anyone thinking of getting a pet, from a rescue or otherwise. I liked that this gives the junior reader a chance to think about it from the dog’s point of view. Mum was involved in this book, the only one of my selection (Mike’s Mum, and possibly the girl’s too, only appear to call them in for meals). All Crumble’s pictures were in greyscale in a ‘sketching’ approach, and every page had a picture and text, sometimes the words were more a caption for the picture. The print was a mid-size between the other two, and font more like the first.

Learning points on junior books

Given that I have costed out the size of book I need to make to price it at the same prices as these (£5.99)

  • 80 pages is fine for this level of junior reader
  • More pages if you have a strong story, that needs more illustration
  • Choose your font and size carefully
  • Grayscale is fine
  • Pages of text are fine, with illustrations facing
  • Friendship is a common theme but can’t be overdone
  • Other people’s point of view is also a theme
  • Chapters may not be necessary, but can make sense
  • Short strong stories are probably better.

My other comment is that illustrators need more kudos: on the book covers two list them at the same prominence as the author. Michael Rosen is clearly a brand of his own (my great-niece has a box to hold them in, still to be filled), but Tony Ross appears to do more work! Rabbit and Bear is the brand, there were several in the library (maybe 8?) but this is not numbered, and two more are mentioned at the back. Mike Falls Up is a Little Tiger book, which is the brand although not obvious. It shows more by a range of authors at the back.

Next steps

I’m thinking about putting these learning points into my edited book. I have two adventures in this story, not just the one where they make friends. Maybe I should split it in two? Or leave it as a double bill?

I gave my draft of the Cavies of Flexford Common with my great-niece for her thoughts. She rattled through the first chapter and wanted more, but after not hearing from her for weeks, Mum explained she’d been busy, then school had introduced an amazing new series for the class… (did she say exploding toilets or was it a rabbit coming out of a toilet?). So I think my book may not be exciting, or funny enough. Would some readers might like a less frantic story, which still has adventure and mild danger?

When I returned Choosing Crumble, my great-niece gave me another of the Michael Rosen series: Rigoletto the Pasta Cat. This is the same size and type as Crumble, but with chapters, and more words per page. It’s pretty much what I’ve aiming for with my book, and I’d say it was for slightly more advanced readers in the same age group (and a great story!).

Do you have kids – does this match your thoughts on books for them? Are you writing for kids (7-8 year olds)? I’d love to know what you think!

But my final thought is whether I’m too late–or it’s too late for me to do this. I’m having trouble with my hands, as previously mentioned, and having great trouble drawing. But I’m having more trouble writing than drawing. Maybe I should just keep going.

After all…

If you ever did stop writing, what would you replace it with?

IWSG question of the month

I’m asking this sort of question about a lot of activities that are becoming limited by the amount of energy/stamina in the hands. The answer is that I may not stop any of them, but I may just have to reduce the frequency. You can only take so many rests after an activity without running out of the day.

And I have already asked myself: as the guinea pigs take up so much time and effort every day to care for ‘properly’ (i.e. to my standards — the ones they expect) should I give them up? After a short period of thought, the answer to that is: I will give everything else up first. And then the house.

Junior Book Reviews and learning points #IWSG
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7 thoughts on “Junior Book Reviews and learning points #IWSG

  • 7 June, 2023 at 11:36 am

    Fudge lived to be an astonishing six and a quarter. Hope he enjoyed his long life with us.
    I’d like to share the book thoughts with a friend working with mid school
    children still affected by the pandemic and lost education.

  • 7 June, 2023 at 12:49 pm

    That’s great that you’re sharing chapter books with your niece and that this is helping you to figure out your own series. It sounds like a project you’d enjoy to keep working on since you already researched it so much. Sorry about your hands.

  • 7 June, 2023 at 1:45 pm

    Piggies! I LOVE piggies! Haven’t had any for ages but now you have me thinking about those cute little sounds they make . . . And now I’m thinking about my three cats. Hmmm. Maybe not a good idea. Can SO relate to your hands issue. I had to choose typing or knitting because I couldn’t do both without pain. Since I was a better writer than knitter I believe I chose wisely.

  • 7 June, 2023 at 4:32 pm

    I would have been very surprised if you had said you’d give up the guinea pigs! Unless that is a sign you have been kidnapped and need rescuing.

  • 7 June, 2023 at 5:08 pm

    I love your reviews – especially Choosing Grumble. I really enjoyed sharing stories with my grandson and with the kids at library Storytime.
    “Reducing the frequency” of writing sounds a lot less depressing than not writing at all. I don’t think I’d survive.
    Carry on, dear Jemima. You remain an inspiration.

  • 7 June, 2023 at 6:11 pm

    I can’t imagine you without the piggies. I hope you’ll be able to keep them and the writing/drawing!

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