Showing posts with label Emma Barnes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Emma Barnes. Show all posts

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Princesses with Attitude: My Top Ten Princess Books - by Emma Barnes

Princesses get a bad press. There can be a lot of snarling and breast-beating among parents and book lovers on the subject: all that simpering – all that passive sitting about looking pretty and waiting for princes – all that pink! When people take issue with gender stereotypes in children's books, it is often princesses that are first in line.

I agree that girls and boys shouldn't be pushed towards particular models at an early age, and should be free to choose their own toys, books and clothes as they please. Yet I can't help feeling that there are double-standards at work – that while it is fine for girls to want to be pirates or aliens, when it comes to princesses and fairies, everyone would much rather girls would just forget about them (and perish the thought that boys might ever pick up such a book).
Chloe longs to be a princess

Is wanting to be a princess (at age seven) really so surprising? Consider this, if you are a princess you are:

  1. Important, however old you are, and because of this -
  2. Adults have to listen to you.
I mean, what's not to like!  It's the opposite of the usual state of being a child, which means being dependent and having to do what adults tell you. No surprise, then, that princesses become objects for fantasy and role-play. That might mean dressing up and bossing people around. (In fact, there's almost certainly an element of that!) But it is also about being taken seriously and having power to shape your own life.

Of course, the fantasy is one thing, but real-life is more complicated. When they get muddled, there's all kinds of trouble!  In my new book, Chloe and her two best friends are determined to be princesses. But ordinary life has a horrible habit of getting in the way. Unsympathetic parents who won't pay for dancing lessons, busy teachers who don't like frogs, annoying brothers who are...well, annoying: they all make Chloe's pursuit of princessdom a lot harder than she anticipated.  Not that Chloe and her friends Aisha and Eliza will ever give up.

Princess books will keep being written, and published, just so long as there are dreamy little girls like Chloe out there longing to read them.  Here follows a list of my ten favourite princess books.

1) Princess Smartypants


Who couldn't love the alligator-owning, motorcycle riding Princess Smartypants?

2) The Little Princess Series

By contrast this princess is very much a real toddler - constant cries of "I want"! - and her adventures are very grounded in real life.

3) The Worst Princess

A lovely rhyming text, and like Princess Smartypants, very much a twist on the traditional fairy tale. 

5) Princess Grace

Grace discovers that you don't have to be blonde, or wear pink, to be a princess.

6) Princess Mirror-belle

By Gruffalo creator Julia Donaldson, naughty Princess Mirror-belle escapes from a mirror and causes all sorts of trouble!

5) The Rescue Princesses series

Perfect for newly independent readers - and with lots of titles to read - the Rescue Princesses series is about friendship, adventure and love of animals.

6) Princess (Dis)Grace

Funny, charming series about a clumsy princess going to boarding school.

7) The Young Elizabeth

One of my favourite reads growing up, this tells of the early life of Elizabeth Tudor (later Elizabeth I) who relied on her considerable wits to survive accusations of treason and imprisonment in the Tower of London and eventually become queen!  (Now out-of-print, a good modern alternative might be My Royal Story by Kathryn Lasky.)

8)   A Little Princess

One of my absolute favourites - and Chloe's too.  The heroine, orphaned Sara Crewe, inspires Chloe to believe anybody can be a princess, if they believe they're a princess and act like a princess (not always an easy thing to do).

10.  The Princess Diaries


New York high school student Mia discovers that she is next-in-line to inherit an European principality: witty, funny, sophisticated, this series of books inspired a successful film - and is very much in YA territory.

Having complied this list, I realise there are so many more I'd have liked to add.  And plenty have been recommended to me too.  

If you're still hungry for princess books then do not fear!

Some more great books...

Emma Barnes's book Chloe's Secret Princess Club is out now.
Find out more about Emma's books on her web-site.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Why gardening is like writing a book - Emma Barnes

It sometimes strikes me that writing a book is a bit like gardening.* You've got some vague idea of what you want – and expect – but you never quite know what's going to come up.

This rose has an unexpected visitor...

I consider myself a good theoretical gardener. Walking around open gardens with friends, I'm not bad at identifying plants – and even at knowing what kinds of conditions they like, whether sun or shade, how hardy they are, and when they are likely to flower. I have all kinds of ideas in my head for beautiful borders, and theories about which shapes and structures work best, and which arrangements of colour are most enticing.

The reality, though, can turn out quite different.

Hydrangea - tough enough even I can't kill it

As a practical gardener, I'm mediocre. I buy a plant – and then forget to plant it. I plant it – and forget to water it. I water it for a bit – and then forget it ever existed, and so forget to water it... you get the idea.  Often the plants I end up with, are not so much my choice as the ones tough enough to survive my regime of neglect.

My garden has certain problems. One of them, soil that is probably better for making pots with, than growing plants in. Another, pesky slugs that slime around the place and utterly destroy any green, leafy plants that they can get their teeth into. (Question: do slugs have teeth? If not, they do an amazing job when it comes to chomping up petunias.) I know about these problems, yet I never get round to doing anything about them.

This colour scheme totally unplanned!

So, as the year changes, I'm constantly surprised. Forgotten things flourish. Plants I expected to see have completely disappeared. It's all like writing a book, really...

This month, as I've been enjoying my garden, in all it's flamboyant unexpectedness I've also received the first copy of my new book – as pink and vibrant as a garden flower.

 Like my gardening, this book didn't always go to plan. Among those things that changed along the way were:

  • The main character's name. 
  • The title – twice. 
  • The age group that the book is aimed at.

When I started off, I had an idea I was going to write about religion and cultural differences in contemporary urban schools and neighbourhoods – umm, that didn't end up a major focus.

What did stay the same? The kernel of the book – which was about a very imaginative little girl, whose fantasy life (in this case all about princesses and fairytales) tends to get out of control. And the funny things that happen to her when it does - like when she ends up kissing a frog in the school playground.  Eek!

Geranium Rozanne - my top gardening tip
So now I'm going to sit in my garden, amongst all the glowing, unexpected colours, and look at my pink-and-silver book, and enjoy the fact that sometimes it's a good idea to change your mind, and even go wandering up the garden path.

And my final gardening tip.  Whatever else you do - or don't do - or forget to do - find a shady spot and plant Geranium Rozanne.  You won't regret it.  I promise.


Chloe and the Secret Princess Club is out on 1st September and can be pre-ordered from Amazon.

Emma's Website
Emma’s Facebook Fanpage
Emma on Twitter - @EmmaBarnesWrite

Praise for Emma's previous books:
Wild Thing series - "Hilarious and heart-warming" The Scotsman
Wolfe - "Funny, clever and satisfying..." Books for Keeps

Friday, 17 June 2016

A List Of Great Children's Books About Football - Emma Barnes

Football. You can't escape it. We are one week into the European Championships, which means you are either cheering or cursing: cheering because of the weeks crammed with top flight football games, or cursing because of the relentless media coverage or because of a football fan in your household hogging the couch and the TV.

I've no doubt Sam, in my book Sam and the Griswalds, would have been revelling in it. Sam is passionate about football and desperate to be in the school team. It feels just the right time for Sam and the Griswalds to be back in a new edition in print (and e-book) with a striking new cover.

 I've always thought there is a lack of football in children's fiction – curious given that a) so many kids (particularly boys) are passionate about the sport and b) it has so much inherent drama. It's a team game, full of potential triumph and disaster. It's a game of skill and also of luck. The relationships within the team (and the rivalries between teams) can be as tense and changeable as the action on the field. And there's plenty of room for comedy too. 

Because I don't remember many footie reads, I've been asking around for recommendations old and new for this post.

Old Favourites

My own favourite fictional football matches probably featured poor Darbishire acting as linesman in the game against Bracegirdle while trying to take photos for Form Three Times (Jennings and Darbishire by Anthony Buckeridge), or being a goalie but hanging his specs on the net for safety and then wondering why he didn't save any goals.

My husband fondly remembers Striker by Kenneth Cope. Based on a children's TV series, it tells the tale of a talented boy footballer whose dad won't let him play because he himself suffered serious injury as a professional. Then there is The Goalkeeper's Revenge by Bill Naughton - the favourite story of children's author Andy Seed, part of a collection with a distinctive Lancashire setting.  (Warning: only the title story is football-related.)  Others remember Michael Hardcastle's  "Mark Fox" books, like In the Net - a whole series based around football.

These days, there seems to be far more choice for young football-addicts.  This is a brief look at the just some of what is available.  

Series Fiction

Tom Palmer is a bit of an sports writing specialist, and has written several football series. Football Academy is described by it's author as "about a Premier League under-twelve side – about what it’s like to play the game at the top".  (Some of his other titles blend football with historical settings.)  

Then there are Dan Freedman's popular Jamie Johnson books which are currently being made into a TV series.

The TJ books by Theo Walcott feature the adventures of TJ, who begins as a new boy at Parkview School, where he plays his part in the creation of a brilliant football team.

Girl-Lead Stories

When I was growing up there weren't any books about girl footballers (I chose to write a football book because I had actually played the sport as an adult, not because I had grown up reading about it). Thankfully this has changed.  In Helena Pielachty's Girls FC series,  each book follows a particular member of a girls' football team.

Narinder Dhami has written The Beautiful Game series and, for older readers, Bend it like Beckham (a novelisation of the successful film).

If you have a football loving girl reader in the UK, then it's worth remembering that in the US football (or rather soccer) is primarily a woman's sport - consequently there are far more girl-oriented soccer books for young readers.  Have a browse on or  goodreads.

Younger Reads

Dave Cousin's Charlie Merrick's Misfits series is told in comic strip format and, as with many football books, has a strong emphasis on friendship.

Frank Lampard's Frankie's Magic Football series combines football and - yes - magic!  The first book involves a game of football with pirates and is aimed at 5+.

Older Reads

A stand out title is Mal Peet's Keepera multi award-winning book.   It blends the supernatural into a tale of a boy learning to be goalkeeper - all recounted as part of an interview in later life to a journalist, and set in Latin America.  Peet has also written The Penalty.

Bali Rai has written two football stories : Dream On and sequel Game On, for Barrington Stoke - a publisher which specialises in producing texts for less fluent readers. "While Baljit shovels chips in is dad's chippy, he dreams of football stardom. Then the chance of a lifetime comes along - a trial for the Premier League.

More Sources of Information 

Please recommend your own favourite footballing reads!

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

SPAG, SATs and other Horrible Things - by Emma Barnes

This post is an expanded version of one that I wrote a few days ago for GirlsHeartBooks.  In particular there is new section on "Where is the evidence?" for the current approach.


If I'm looking a bit pained, not to mention puzzled, it's because I'm staring into my computer trying to do some of the questions that 10 and 11 year olds were doing for their SATS test papers this year. 

If you didn't do SATS yourself, you might want to take a look .  See how you do. 

 I'm a writer, so you'd think I would find these questions about the English language pretty easy.  Not so.  Sad to say I have never heard of a "subordinating conjunction", to take but one example.  And do you know what?  It hasn't exactly held me back so far. 

Ah, but that's because I write creative, airy-fairy stuff, I can hear you say.  Children's fiction.  I can even get away with starting this paragraph with "Ah". 

Think again.  I was once a civil servant.  I wrote briefings, letters, minutes and even politicians' speeches.  (I hope my writing was better than some of the stuff that comes out of government departments.)  I also went to graduate school, and not to study creative writing either, but political science. 

Actually, I'm not even against teaching grammar.  I didn't learn much of it in school (it wasn't fashionable then) and it would have been helpful when learning a foreign language later.  Also, some children enjoy a more formal approach to English. 

But like a lot of writers (and teachers and parents and - I'm guessing, because nobody seems to ask them - children) I think all this testing has gone too far.  The worst thing is, I can't see the link between the kind of tasks that children are being asked to do and actually improving their literacy in any meaningful way.  Meanwhile, a lot of truly valuable things - such as actual reading and writing - are being squeezed out. 

 And what's taking their place? SPAG! Now how bad can that be? Sounds like it's short for spaghetti, right, and everyone loves spaghetti.

Tomato souse pasta

But no, SPAG is actually short for Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar, and in its current form many children probably feel it was dreamt up purely as an instrument of torture!

 On visits to schools, I meet too many stressed teachers and children, who are being forced to concentrate on SPAG and other SATS prep when they could be doing something more interesting - like actual reading and writing - instead.  When I do workshops, children write down their versions of the stories that we have invented.  In the process, they are practising description, narrative, dialogue, setting, sentence construction and many other important things.  They are also having fun.  What saddens me is that they often have little chance to do this kind of writing at school.  Something is going very wrong.

 I'm not the only writer who thinks this.  In fact, children's writers as a whole have said that they think SATS are actually damaging children's writing.  For example:
As I've said, I'd actually like to know more grammar.  Sometimes I'm not certain which version of a sentence is correct.  But do you know what?  It's not that hard - I just look it up.
My Trusty Grammar Guide
What you can't just look up is language itself.  To be a fluent reader and writer, there is no substitute for practice.  You can give children endless rules to learn.  But they won't be able to read and write well unless they read and write regularly.  If they do, then most likely their grammar will be correct most of the time anyway.

 This requires time, and access to books.  So why not concentrate on those things rather than dreaming up ever more bizarre and convoluted tests?

Where's the evidence?

What I increasingly wonder about it where is the evidence for the current approach to teaching English?

If you go to a doctor, and are prescribed treatment, you tend to hope that there is some kind of evidence - based on research - that lies behind the choice of that treatment.  In fact in the UK there is an entire agency, NICE, which exists to look at particular medical treatments, review the evidence supporting them, and advise doctors on the best ways of treating various conditions.

You would think that educational policy - prescribing the way children are taught in school - would also be based on some kind of evidence.  Especially as it is constantly changing - placing additional burdens on the teachers and children who have to adjust.

Is there evidence that the approach taken at the moment is actually effective?  Does it produce more literate children - able to read and write more fluently, to cope better with the demands of their high school eduction?  Are they more likely to possess the literacy skills they need in adult life?

If there is such evidence, I'd love to see it.

By contrast, there is a huge amount of evidence that reading for pleasure is hugely beneficial to children's educational attainment - not only their literacy, but across the board.  This research regularly appears, and is international in scope.  Here's a link to just one such study - there are many more.

But what are the government doing to respond to this evidence?

I'm sure they would respond that they are not trying to deter reading for pleasure.  But they don't exactly seem to be going out of their way to encourage it, either.  Regional School Library Services - whose role it is to support schools - are closing.   The Society of Authors has campaigned for every school to have a library (every prison must have a library by law, but schools don't have to) - but so far without success.  With so many public libraries closing too (a truly national scandal) many primary children do not have access to the range of books they need to turn them into readers.

Furthermore, there is only so much time available.  The increasing focus on tests and SPAG inevitably squeezes out library time, quiet reading, the shared "read aloud" class novel.  Money spent on SATS revision guides cannot be spent on books for the school library.

Yes, I wish I'd learnt more grammar - but not the way it's being taught now.  Not at the expense of so much else.  In the end I did pretty well in that test.  That's because I've always been a reader and a writer. That's what I'd like to see children doing - learning to become lifelong readers.

There is a lot more to writing and reading than knowing a "subordinating conjunction" when you see it. As a first step - go and pick up a good book instead. 

  • Emma Barnes writes funny, contemporary fiction for children - for more information see her web-page.
  • Her latest book, Wild Thing Goes Camping, is the third in her series about the naughtiest little sister ever.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Venice in Children's Books - Emma Barnes

I've escaped!  Actually, by the time you read this I will most likely be home again and my first trip to Venice will be receding like a dream. But meanwhile, I have a chance to muse, to relax and to refill the well of inspiration (while pigging out on ice cream).

Because of the peculiar way my mind works, when I knew I was going to Venice I started thinking about which children's books were set there, and to my surprise could hardly think of any - Cornelia Funke's The Thief Lord being the main exception.  (I also remembered Diana Wynne Jones's Magicians of Caprona - but that is surely a fantasy version of Venice's near neighbour, Verona.) So I started doing some digging, and happily I've discovered there are quite a few Venetian tales.  So if you are taking children to Venice, or simply want to bury yourself in children's books that are set there, here is a selection.  I haven't read most of them, which means that I will have plenty of books on my reading list when I get home.

Picture Books

Younger Fiction

Rose and the Magician's Mask by Holly Webb
The Mermaid's Sister by Holly Webb
The Waterhorse by Holly Webb
The Mystery in Venice (Geronimo Stilton, No. 48)
The Merchant of Venice (children's version) by William Shakespeare
Othello (children's version) by William Shakespeare
The Phantom of Venice (Nancy Drew Book 78) by Carolyn Keene
LionBoy: The Chase by Zizou Corder
The Mozart Question by Michael Morpurgo
Heartsong by Kevin Crossley-Holland

Young Adult

The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke
Stravaganza - City of Masks by Mary Hoffman
Daughter of Venice by Donna Jo Napoli
For the Love of Venice by Donna Jo Napoli
Shylock's Daughter by Mirjam Pressler
The Undrowned Child by Michelle Lovric
The Fate in the Box by Michelle Lovric
Talina in the Tower by Michelle Lovric
The Mourning Emporium by Michelle Lovric
The Flowing Queen (Trilogy) by Kai Meyer
Seeking Crystal by Joss Stirling


I don't want to expand too much into adult fiction.  But Brideshead Revisited is one book that I adored as a teenager, and the romantic settings, including Venice (home of Lord Marchmain and his mistress) were a big part of the appeal.

So which are your Venetian favourites?


Emma's Website
Emma’s Facebook Fanpage
Emma on Twitter - @EmmaBarnesWrite

Emma's Wild Thing series for 8+ about the naughtiest little sister ever. (Illustrated by Jamie Littler)
"Hilarious and heart-warming" The Scotsman

 Wolfie is a story of wolves, magic and snowy woods...
(Illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark)
"Funny, clever and satisfying..." Books for Keeps

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

World Book Day 2016: It's Almost Here... by Emma Barnes

World Book Day 2016 will soon be upon us! The official date is Thursday, 3rd March, but like many other children's authors, my World Book Day tends to spread out over more than a week. I get invited to lots of schools, and perform tasks as diverse as opening new libraries or judging fancy dress competitions (impossible!). But always, always I'm spreading the word about love of books and reading.
Talking about books

There's been a few new books since
signing for pupils

Enjoying the new library

Travelling has its compensations

Another school library!

Somebody's listening
An unfortunately placed arrow

This school were prepared!

Reading aloud is vital

Here's just some of the things I try to do:
- talk about my own favourite books and why they got me writing
- help kids see books can be an escape into another world
- show that love of reading is a life-long gift
- read aloud to the kids, and get them engrossed in an exciting, funny or dramatic passage
- explain that being a good writer is not mainly about punctuation and spelling: it's about imagination and being able to make a reader feel “What happens next?”
- ask the kids about their own favourite books
- acknowledge that not everyone likes reading – but sometimes its just a matter of finding that special book that gets you excited and into that reading habit.

I often do writing workshops with the kids, and I've got aims for those too. I try and do activities that reflect the way I work as a writer, and which will either complement what the children do in school, or else show them an entirely new way of doing things. The National Curriculum can be extremely prescriptive, and its exciting and liberating for children to find that they don't always need to plan a story a particular way (or at all) – and that “real” writers work in different ways, and so can they. Some of my principles are:
- reading aloud gets the imagination working
- it's about the process, not the result (children shouldn't feel afraid to fail)
- all writers have different methods
- there's a time to worry about spelling and a time to go with the flow
- everyone should be able to join in
- writing can be fun and playful
- let's celebrate the (funny, moving, scary, atmospheric, always imaginative) results.

And finally here's some of the things I will try not to do:
- get lost on the way to school
- take the wrong exit on the motorway
- forget my Sat Nav
- forget my memory stick or “clicker”
- forget my lunch
- get locked into the school car park
- trip over a cable or crash into a whiteboard
- eat too many biscuits or (horror of horrors!) use somebody's favourite mug in the staffroom.

It's going to be a full-on, fun, exhausting, time. I'm looking forward to it – and I'm looking forward to coming out the other side too.

Happy World Book Day (in two weeks from now) to you!

Emma's Website
Emma’s Facebook Fanpage
Emma on Twitter - @EmmaBarnesWrite
Emma's Wild Thing series for 8+ about the naughtiest little sister ever. (Cover - Jamie Littler)
"Hilarious and heart-warming" The Scotsman

 Wolfie is a story of wolves, magic and snowy woods...
(Cover: Emma Chichester Clark)
"Funny, clever and satisfying..." Books for Keeps