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Multi-Sensory Stories

Last week we celebrated World Book Day… correction, we would have celebrated if this hadn’t happened:

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Not the cat, snow! Deep snow everywhere closing roads, schools and putting a stop to world book day celebrations across the UK. My events were cancelled but I’ve been thinking back to World Book Day last year, when something magical happened.

I was invited by Oaklands School (for children with additional support needs) to come to watch their performance of a picture book I’d written called Can’t-Dance-Cameron, illustrated by Katie Pamment:

They had turned the book into a multi-sensory story. That means they created a sensory experience for the children to engage in using the story as the journey through the experience. They recorded sounds and children who were unable to speak pressed buttons to make the sound at the correct moment in a story, for example “PING”:

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They made props like this amazing tree, giant hazelnut and bird hat:

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*By the way, the teachers dressed up in pajamas or so that’s why I’m in my dressing gown and slippers!

The children and support workers made costumes and the children acted out sections of the book while one of the teachers read the story using a microphone:

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They invited parents and other schools to come and watch. They invited me to say a few words about a new book Ollie and the Otter, illustrated by Kirsteen Harris-Jones, and I used a squeezey osprey to join in with the muti-sensory theme:

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Their performance was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen. I was so impressed by the effort that had gone in to practicing the story and making it so extrodinary.

The whole event finished with a capercaillie ceilidh – the children danced around in wheelchairs while I was trying not to cry.

One of the staff members told me the boy who played Cameron kicked independently for the first time at the kick part of the story – this was really exciting because in the practice the carer had lifted his leg to make him kick! That’s just one of many moments that morning that made me smile:

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Thanks to everyone at Oaklands for making World Book Day a day I’ll never forget!

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2018 in Education, Events, nature, storytelling

 

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Book Week Scotland 2015

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I loved Book Week Scotland 2015! It was a busy week – I traveled 560 miles, met 440 children, inspired 65 multi-feathered multicoloured pine cone capercaillie creations, visited five local authorities and performed eight events about three books. Here are the highlights:

Number 35

The Scottish Book Trust announced a list of the 50 most influential novelists on twitter in advance of Book Week Scotland and to my surprise, I was at number 35! Was really good to see many children’s authors on the list.

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Leith Library: Edinburgh

The first events I did were with the lovely St Mary’s Primary School at my local (and favourite) library, Leith Library.

I added a Poo or False quiz to the ‘Grouse and Mouse‘ interactive story event so this was a chance to test it out. I may have slightly overdone the number of samples for this first session and have since added many more science links (e.g. when trying to count black grouse you may instead look for these droppings!)

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Leith Library was home for nine months when I worked as the Scottish Book Trust / Creative Scotland Reader in Residence. It was lovely to be back and to see the familiar faces of staff – thanks everyone for having me!

Find Leith Library on Facebook here.

Read-a-Licious Book Festival, Peebles

It was lovely to be at Read-a-Licous Book Festival for a second year with two new book events. I did a Grouse and the Mouse with 120 very excited nursery to P2 pupils:

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Image Credit: Read-a-Licious Book Festival. Find the Eastgate Theatre on Facebook here.

Followed by my first Volcanoes and Non Fiction writing show with 60 Primary 4 and 5!

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Carrbridge Primary School in the Cairngorms

I took the Can’t-Dance-Cameron interactive story event to Carrbridge for a whole school assembly and then we made capercaillies out of pine cones with the RSPB and Scottish Natural Heritage:

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I met a child who had a female capercaillie visit his house! I still haven’t seen one myself yet.

Carrbridge is a caperaillie conservation area so engaging the local school by sharing about these amazing birds was a real privilege. Plus now every child in Carrbridge can dance like a capercaillie.

Sinclairtown Library and Newburgh Library, Fife

I had the most lovely welcome from staff and children in Fife!

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I saw 120 children over two events. One girl called Emily (not me – it was a child!) knew all about owl pellets – she proudly shared her expert knowledge during the now improved, poo or false quiz. I was very impressed with the overall enthusiasm for wildlife in Fife. We also sold around 80 books that day so I hope many children and parents are enjoying wildlife themed bedtime stories!

Day Off

Friday was amazing – a lie in, then afternoon tea at Mimi’s and in the evening it was ‘The Lady in the Van’. I’m still recovering from a bad back so was really tired after lots of driving and events. This day made all the difference.

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The Language Hub, Glasgow

Saturday was my final event, a trip to The Language Hub for a family Grouse and Mouse event. It’s a lovely wee venue in Glasgow:

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Image Credit: The Language Hub, find them on twitter here and Facebook here.

I’d like to say a big thanks to everyone who helped organise events and to the children and grownups who came to celebrate reading with me for Book Week Scotland!

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2015 in Education, Events, nature, Science, storytelling, Writing

 

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August

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August was a little bit overwhelming. It included nine lots of airbnb guests staying in my old flat, three Edinburgh International Book Festival events, two events at the Green Man festival in Wales, one event in the Cairngorms, a visit from my sister, niece and nephew and three writing deadlines.

I’d launched a book and moved house at the end of July so I didn’t start August in the most relaxed place either. I’d also borrowed money and had a large amount on a credit card and had friends who were going through difficult situations. So I was feeling overwhelmed but then I had a mini revelation at a conference.

Firstly I felt like I should make a list of all the good things that had happened in August. I used to write things I was thankful for in a book at night – a gratitude diary. But I’d somehow got out of that habit a few months back. I’d stopped remembering to be grateful.

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So I made that list.

And then the speaker was talking about his three-year old daughter. They were in a lift and more and more people were getting in and it was hot and the people were smelly and the wee kid said “pick me up Daddy, it doesn’t look good down here”.

And so the Dad picked up his daughter. And the situation hadn’t changed, they were still squashed into a lift but the child had a different view and that changed everything. So I looked back at the list and realised I’d lost perspective – I’d been too crowded by circumstances and I’d stopped noticing the good things.

So I thought I’d share a few of the good things here in pictures:

A Visit from Family

I had three days off just doing nice things like making this mermaid:

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Unbound at Edinburgh International Book Festival

On the subject of mermaids, a group of Illicit Ink writers each took a fairy tale and rewrote it with a twist. This is the Wee Mermanny:

Illicit Ink: Happily Never After

Chris Scott took some amazing pictures of this event. I’d rewritten sleeping beauty but with cryogenic freezing:

Illicit Ink: Happily Never After

Green Man Festival

Wales, camping! I did a Cameron kids event in a tent and then some science spoken word for a soggy Sunday afternoon huddle.

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Edinburgh International Book Festival Children’s Events

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I enjoyed meeting families at ‘Are You Sitting Comfortably‘ and doing a schools event for Gala day to promote ‘The Grouse and the Mouse‘.

Loch Garten and the Giant Black Grouse

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One of my favourite things had to be taking Can’t-Dance-Cameron to the Loch Garten Osprey Centre in the Cairngorms. This was the place that first inspired me to write a story about a dancing capercaillie.

There was a wee girl at the event called Islay. It’s always children who remind me of the important things in life. She was four with curly red hair. She’d been to see me do Can’t-Dance-Cameron at Dundee Literary Festival last October. Now she’d brought her older cousins and her younger cousins and several families. I soon realised she was the most excited and enthusiastic audience member I’d ever had. When we got to learning the dance moves she triumphantly shouted her catchphrase “I know that!”.

So I got Islay up to the front to help show everyone how to dance like a capercaillie. She was so happy dancing there and when the music stopped I asked the audience to give her a round of applause. The entire Osprey Centre started clapping. All the adults who had been busy at the telescopes during the session had stopped to watch her and now they were clapping so hard . Islay smiled back at everyone. It was really wonderful.

The thing is, going off to the cairngorms by myself was a little daunting. Whenever I do events I feel well… alone. It’s a bit weird. I think it’s maybe because my greatest fear was and probably still is standing up in front of people. I did an MSc in communicating science ten years ago to try to conquer that fear, to learn the skills I needed to stand up in front of people. But it’s not like those feelings ever go away. I get nervous. If I’m on the stage I’m being me so it feels kind of vulnerable. If I’m sharing something I’ve written that’s also me, so it’s double me in front of people and it often makes me feel sick! But when I’m in front of kids I’m so I’m busy making sure they’re having a good time that there’s not really time to think about me. And Islay was having the time of her life so I guess I realised it was all totally worth it

The staff at the Osprey Centre were so welcoming and excited too (not quite as excited as Islay, but still pretty up there). They wrote about the event on their blog here. One of the rangers, Nimrod dressed as Bagpipe the black grouse from The Grouse and the Mouse. He learnt all the Cameron the caercaillie dance moves and came out after we finished the story to join us for one last dance. Unfortunately – the arrival of a giant bird caused three of the children to cry! So he danced at the back instead. He was very complimentary about the session:

“What you’re doing for conservation is astounding!”

Again I was reminded it is all worth it!

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After the event I went for a two-hour walk in the forest and it was so beautiful! And I didn’t feel alone even though it was just me. I felt happy.

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And that night I had curry with the rangers, the Education Officer Jen cooked up a feast. Nimrod arrived and said he couldn’t believe that I was there with them and it was just really lovely to eat and find out more about wildlife.

And Now?

One of the writing deadlines I had during that busy August was a synopsis for a non-fiction science book. I heard last week it’s been signed off. So now I’m writing and that’s a new book on the way. I finally put the forest up in my office / room:

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I guess it’s a reminder to stop, and reflect and breathe. And to know it will all be okay. Sometimes we just need a new perspective.

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2015 in Events, nature, Science, storytelling, Writing

 

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Scottish Library Energiser Launch

Last week was a week of royal baby stories and election coverage. But there was also the launch of the Scottish Library Energiser competition on page two of the Herald:

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Yes that is actually me! I’ve never been page two of a paper before. I was taking Can’t-Dance-Cameron to the launch of the competition at the beautiful newly renovated central children’s library with the Royal Mile Primary School as special guests.

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The children’s library has shelves all over the walls in the shapes of tree branches and a tree house you can read books in! There are paintings taken from book illustrations and funky lighting too.

If you have good ideas to make your school library more exciting or maybe a list of books you would like your school to buy then why not enter the competition?

The Scottish Library Energiser competition is run by the ScottishPower Foundation and the Edinburgh International Book Festival. It gives schools a chance to win a £2000 makeover for their school library. Find out how your school can enter here

 
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Posted by on May 15, 2015 in Education, Events, Media, storytelling

 

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Rockets and Dancing in Dundee

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I’ve been working through in Dundee running science events as part of Dundee Women in Science Festival. On Mother’s Day we ran a Can’t-Dance-Cameron event for under sevens (and Mums!) in the morning. In the afternoon we ran ‘Love you to the Moon and Back’ rockets show and workshop for over sevens / families. Photographer Alan Richardson took some fab pictures at both events. My favourite photos were of the dancing:

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I love the photos that showed the children’s reactions too:

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There’s one of me looking highly uncool with head set and safety goggles:

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And finally the book signing at the end:

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Next up we have the ‘Love you to the Moon and Back’ rockets show and workshop:

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Making and testing rockets for the competition:     WiSF_Fly-Me_to_The_Moon_AR WiSF_Fly-Me_to_The_Moon_AR WiSF_Fly-Me_to_The_Moon_AR WiSF_Fly-Me_to_The_Moon_AR WiSF_Fly-Me_to_The_Moon_AR WiSF_Fly-Me_to_The_Moon_AR

The competition:

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The happy winner:

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And our grand finale, launching a water rocket in City Square:

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The best way to see the rocket launch is via a video:

Evaluation

The drawing of me launching the rocket (and getting wet) was on the back of one of the evaluation forms. My favourite comment on the forms was from the boy who won the rockets competition. When asked what he liked most about the event his answer was:

Winning flowers for my Mum

Big thanks to everyone at Dundee Women in Science Festival and to everyone who came along to the events.

Video: Ana Ranceva. Images: Alan Richardson

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2015 in Education, Events, nature, Science, storytelling

 

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Kick It Cameron!

Last week, people kept sending me links to a video of this bird:

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The video was of a dancing capercaillie attacking skiers! It went viral. That same week I got a couple of lovely letters about my much less violent capercaillie children’s book ‘Can’t-Dance-Cameron‘. I wanted to share these things with you.

Firstly, I’m sure you’re dying to see the video:

It reminds me of how important it is to observe nature from a distance! Male capericallies dance during the mating season but they also dance in defense. Sometimes they dance so hard they drop down dead. No joke. And there’s only around 1000 of them left in the wild in Scotland. That’s why we humans shouldn’t get too close. If they waste their energy dancing for us it might just be their last dance.

If you do want to see the phenomena that is a dancing capericaillie you could watch one from inside a bird hide. That way you don’t disturb the bird causing any unnecessary dance moves. I’ve been to RSPB Loch Garten Caperwatch the last three years in a row to try to see a dancing capericaillie. I live tweeted my adventures and even made a wee video about it. Did I see a dancing bird? You can find out here.

Alternatively, to dance like a capericallie without harming any capericallies in the comfort of your own home or school, you could follow the dance moves in Can’t-Dance-Cameron!

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And now, on that lighter and much lovelier note – I’ve received a letter from a Dad and one from a Mum all about just that:

 xxxx had to give a talk in school this week about an object that summed up ‘Scottish identity’. So, he took along his signed copy of ‘Cameron’ and talked for two minutes in front of his P2 class. His teacher said he did really well, and she was delighted to discover the book through him. She read it to the class after his talk and it went down a storm, with all the kids doing the Cameron Boogie at the end. The teacher has ordered a few copies for the school (she said she was struggling to find new books for P2’s with accessible Scottish themes). So, if you are planning a promotional roadshow to local schools any time soon, please include xxxx PS in Musselburgh to the list – you already have an established fan base there!

I just wanted to let you know how much we loved your new book – My daughter was given a signed copy of ‘Can’t Dance Cameron’ for Christmas and I will make sure its kept safe so she can treasure it forever . She loves the book and we read it often and do the dances , we both love the beautiful pictures and the story of the book is very apt for my little late bloomer who took her time to find her groove like Cameron. We can’t wait for other stories to follow x

Writing is sometimes a lonely job – you don’t get much feedback sat at a desk by yourself. So getting letters like these is really one of the loveliest things about being a writer. It’s so great to know you’re making a difference – thanks to the parents who took the time to write them – you totally made my day!

 Image Credit: Laurie Campbell

 
 

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Reviews of the Reviews 2014

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One of the exciting and rather nerve-racking things about publishing a new book is reading reviews. I wanted to thank all the people who took the time to read and review Can’t-Dance-Cameron in 2014 so I’ve decided to review the reviews in this blog.

Firstly, I should probably mention – Children’s books don’t traditionally get many published reviews. Adults seem to prefer to review adult books. But that doesn’t mean reviews don’t appear in other places. I’ve had reviews on Mum blogs, Dad blogs, Wildlife blogs, online magazines, on Kirkus Review (in New York) and on book sales sites like amazon.

So now to review the reviews. I’m not going to give them stars (anyone who’s taken the time to review Cameron gets five stars in my book already) but it did get me thinking. To review a review, I need to know…

What Makes a Good Review? 

Looking at the reviews I’ve had, I’ve put together my top five things:

  • It tells you enough about the story to make you want to read it but not too much (no spoilers).
  • It gives specifics, why do you like or dislike something? What is it about a character that you enjoyed?
  • It’s personal. We all review things through the filter of who we are and what makes us tick. What did you personally connect with with a book and why? Use language or examples that share a bit of you.
  • It tells a story. I want a beginning, middle and end. I want the journey to stay exciting and I want to find out what happens next.
  • It makes you smile. I guess that’s about connection again, something that makes you laugh or makes you think.

Review of the Reviews

Following the points above, I’ll try my best to review the reviews:

11th Sep, Read It Daddy

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In this brilliant blog, I like to think of ‘Read It Daddy’ and his daughter Charlotte as imparting wisdom as picture book reviewing extraordinaires. Just their intro has everything listed above – it’s personal, specific, funny and it sums up the story:

Never call him a grouse! Charlotte mistook him for a pigeon. But he’s one of my favourite birds, he’s Cameron – the Scottish Capercaillie and as awesome as he is, there’s just one problem. Cameron can’t dance!

My favourite line, comes a little later on and it concerns the supporting role in the story, Hazel the red squirrel:

We like to think of Hazel imparting her words of wisdom like a female more-squirrelly Morgan Freeman 🙂

And I love how Read it Daddy has included video footage of actual dancing capercaillies in the wild at the end. Also a really nice touch is the ‘favourite bits’ comments. Again it’s specifics and showing the child and adult angle on the book.

Thank you Read It Daddy and Charlotte!

24th Sep, Dorkymum Blog

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And now for a mum blog, again a wonderful blog. It includes Ruth’s (Dorkymum) gorgeous photographs and her honest reflections on life, parenthood and everything else.

The review is a well written story, it has a beginning, middle and end and it’s personal. Here’s how it begins:

There is nothing that DorkySon loves more than coming home from school to find a parcel waiting for him on the table, and especially so when it contains a new book.

This review is quoted on Amazon and in several other places so evidently my publishers loved it! This is the lines that I keep finding quoted:

Can’t Dance Cameron is a wonderful, gentle wee story about learning to believe in yourself, and discovering what you are good at.

Later she expertly sums up the story in one paragraph and also talks about the importance of connecting with her Scottish routes. Dorky Mum lives in Australia but she’s originally from Scotland.

I think my favourite line is this:

DorkySon thought this was a great book. it made him giggle, but it also made him think – I could almost hear the cogs whirring.

Just because the story behind the story is important to me, about children knowing they can do things even if they do them badly at first and people laugh at them. This is my story too – I’m slightly dyslexic and everyone used to laugh at my spelling, now thanks to others encouraging me – I’m a writer!

Hurrah for Dorkymum and Dorkyson!

16th Oct, Lothian Life Magazine

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This review begins more like a news story to be in keeping with the publication. It introduces the Kelpies range of picture books first and then goes on to the latest book, Can’t-Dance-Cameron. That’s where the fun begins. Reviewer Suse takes the story a step beyond any other reviewer by questioning the need to dance. Yep, she really does it – she mentions the M-word:

Now as everyone from the Plaza ballroom in Glasgow to the forest floor in the Cairngorms knows, dancing is an important part of mating, so Cameron is in big trouble. But fortunately for him, he meets a sympathetic squirrel, Hazel, who offers to teach him to dance in exchange for help in finding her lost nuts.

The review continues in a witty style, an adult perspective on a children’s book – very different to the Dad and Mum blog reviews above but still brilliant and reflective of the writer, Suse Cone’s quirky personality.

4th Nov, Kirkus Reviews, New York (Also Magazine – Kirkus Reviews Issue Nov. 14th 2014)

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This review came as a surprise to me, I was quite excited to discover Kirkus are based in the USA and they review LOADS of books.

I love the launguage in this review, it’s essentially a summary of the story but with almost poetic narrative:

Can Cameron kick up a capercaillie ceilidh—a shindig, that is, a hoedown, a bird hop—in the ancient evergreen woodlands under the Cairngorms, or is he a grouse with two left feet?

Hazel is described as giving zen guidance and I really enjoyed the description of the dance moves with a feathered Fred Astaire:

He can shimmy (see him shake off those pine needles); he can duck walk (see him limbo under that downed tree); he can kick like a Rockette (see him distract that bobcat by booting a pine cone). Now tie them together on the dance floor—he’s a feathered Fred Astaire.

And it’s interesting to see the location or ‘locale’ (as they put it) being described as ‘exotic, yet very real’. I suppose the cairngorms are exotic if you live in New York.

Thank you Kirkus!

5th November, Scottish Natural Heritage Blog (Scotland’s Nature)

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I had an email from Scottish Natural Heritage asking if I was okay with them reviewing Can’t-Dance-Cameron in a post on their nature blog along with several other books – I WAS SO EXCITED!

The other books in the post are adult books, I mentioned at the start of this post that children’s books hardly ever get coverage alongside adult books so this was wonderful news. Plus the other books in the blog are totally amazing so I felt proud and privileged to be included alongside such greatness as ‘H is for Hawk‘ (which just won the Costa Book Prize) and ‘Otters: Return to the River‘ by Laurie Campbell and Anna Leven. I have that book, it’s beautiful!

I love the way this this post is written from a scientific point of view, it uses the word ‘lek’ (that’s the capercaillie dance) and talks about it the book being:

a great tale to get toddlers interested in nature.

My favourite part is the last line:

Lovingly illustrated this is a fine example of how children can be subtly charmed by the wonders of nature and that not all stories need to feature overseas exotica.

Although when I quoted the above on facebook, I had a few comments. It seems people were confusing exotica with a similar word. I’ll say no more but a thank you to Scottish Natural Heritage.

Amazon

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There are 12 reviews on amazon so far. I love these because they do all the things in my top five list above but in a much smaller word count. They include ages of the children who enjoy the book, how it’s read, why the parents enjoyed it and each person seems to have given the review a personal and often comedic slant. For example here’s a couple of quotes from Brian Wilkinson’s review:

Cameron’s untapped potential is released by his friend Hazel and from starting out as a two-left-footed wallflower he turns into the forest’s new Lord of the Dance….

I read this to my son at bedtime (It’s the ideal length for a bedtime story), and he wanted it read again first thing in the morning.

Bill Walsh:

Both my six-year-old and my two-year-old love this book, and request it regularly at bedtime. A great story with lovely illustrations that passes the ‘repeated reading’ test with flying colours.

And Helen Ewan gets the prize for writing the most enthusiastic amazon review. It starts with:

Just read this AMAZING book! Wow. Wow. Wowzer!

You can read the rest of these lovely reviews and many more here.

There’s also a lovely but lonely five star review on goodreads (lonely in that it’s the only one – it’s not written by a lonely person – she sounds amazing) and the awesome ‘Hive‘ has no reviews. The hive is the cheapest place to buy Can’t-Dance-Cameron online just now and includes free delivery to your local independent bookstore who even get a percentage of the profits (did I mention I love the hive?).

So if you’ve been inspired by the reviews above, I’d love to read your review somewhere soon. But can I just say, if you hated Cameron – why not review another book that you loved instead?

With thanks to all the wonderful reviewers of Can’t-Dance-Cameron in 2014. And to Ben and Eva at Leith Library (featured in the photo at the top).

 
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Posted by on January 13, 2015 in storytelling, Writing

 

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