Five Paddington Bear Novels For Newbies

As most people now know, the Queen of England has recently passed away. Whatever your opinions on the monarchy, you can’t deny that Elizabeth the Second has had a significant on culture.

From her cameo appearances in short skits to her iconic profile, she’s had an impact on almost every aspect of the cultural world.

One of the most symbolic ways the Queen has impacted our culture is her short film with Paddington Bear.

Michael Bond’s cute, cuddly little bear, who’s a refugee from darkest Peru, has become a famous symbol over recent years and became the unlikely, unofficial mascot of the late Queen, after she appeared in a humous skit with an animated version of Paddington.

In light of this, many readers are returning to this childhood favourite to bring them comfort in these tough times. I myself have loved the Paddington books for years, and found myself going back to them when I saw all the Paddington artworks and mentions that spread across social media after the Queen’s passing.

The Paddington books were illustrated beautifully and transport readers into a simple yet spellbinding world of imagination and gentility. Each book is a series of short stories that follow one another, meaning you can pick the book up and revisit it again at your leisure. All the stories involve a moment of minor peril, but every mishap is overcome in the end, so there’s always a happy ending and, occasionally, a moral to be found.

If you’re new to Paddington Bear and want to start reading about the plucky orphan bear and his madcap adventures, then here are 5 great books to start you off.

5. Paddington at Work: Back from a visit to Aunt Lucy in darkest Peru, Paddington quickly gets into some high-jinx with a man claiming to be from the Stock Exchange. There’s also a trip to the ballet and a few unique adventures involving the Browns, their housekeeper and their curmudgeonly neighbour Mr Curry. Paddington is renowned for being reluctant to spend money, but he does buy gifts for the Browns in this novel to thank them for the trip, and it’s sweet tales like that which make this book a must-read.

4. Paddington Helps Out: In this series of fun stories, Paddington tries to help those around him, usually with pretty disastrous results. That includes his hilarious trip to a laundrette, where he’s helped out by the kind staff, his experiments with DIY and the time he prepared dinner for Mr and Mrs Brown when they’re sick and everyone else is away. It ends with an utterly brilliant story about a meal out to celebrate Paddington’s birthday. As you can probably expect, all doesn’t go to plan, with brilliantly funny results. While Bond doesn’t lecture the reader on massive cultural or social morals, he does offer a great perspective on how to be more understanding of others and teaches kids valuable lessons through his tales, and Paddington Helps Out imparts some great values to readers.

3. More About Paddington: The second book in the series is a fun caper featuring the mystery of the missing marrow, a chaotic family portrait of the Brown family and the bear’s first ever Christmas in London. The book is fun for kids and adults alike, with some cute capers that are funny and show the values Bond tried to impact through his Paddington tales: friendship, honesty, understanding, tolerance and family unity even through trying times.

2. Paddington Goes To Town: In this series of stories, Paddington goes on a selection of adventures, including a trip to the golf course with Mr Curry that ends with a visit to the hospital, an adventure to find the finish touch for Mr Gruber’s patio and finally, more Christmas shenanigans, as Paddington tries out carol singing and goes to view the town Christmas lights. This book is fun and cosy, and the final stories are great for anyone who gets the winter blues around this time of year.

1.A Bear Called Paddington: Beginning at the beginning is a great way to immerse yourself in a new book series, and it also helps when the first book in a series is as good as A Bear Called Paddington. From his first meeting with the Brown family at Paddington Station, where he tries out tea in a cafe and find the experience truly unique, to his acceptance as a member of the family, his visit to the theatre to his time building sandcastles at the seaside, every one of the stories in this book is a fun-filled adventure.

Is It Just Lockdown That’s Driving Children Towards More Challenging Books?

Recent studies have shown that children are reading more challenging and longer books during the lockdown. They’ve been checking out longer texts and novels on more challenging topics than ever before.

While you might think that kids would be less inclined to read with schools closed and so much technology at their disposal, they’re actually reading more books and ones that involve more complex ideas and plot points.

That’s a great thing: reading can help kids with everything from increasing their vocabulary to helping them to learn more about different cultures and experiences. It’s an important part of life and it can be really vital for kid’s development.

Fantasy novels topped the list of books that kids read during the past year, with Rick Reardon’s The House of Hades coming out on top. Other popular titles included Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban and The Hate You Give. As you can see, the titles are predominantly fantasy. The Harry Potter title was an obvious one; that series is like comfort reading. However, that particular book marks the point in which the series turns from a cheery children’s saga into a darker, more complicated set of books.

So, it’s clear that children are enjoying more complex books over the past few months. Obviously, this study doesn’t reflect every child in the world, but it does give us a unique insight into how kids are reading and what’s going on in the world of children’s literature.

While I agree with the study that the amount of extra time they had during the lockdown has contributed to their improved reading habits, I also think that there are other issues at play here.

For example, I think that the fact that kids couldn’t go outside and learn by playing made them want to enter into an imaginary world. While TV shows can help, there’s no better way to transport yourself to a fantasy world than reading a good book.

So, I think that the lockdown has definitely impacted on the choice of books that kids read. However, I also think that there are other factors that have pushed kids into the arms of more complex and challenging novels.

For example, I definitely reckon that the recent social situation has pushed kids to read more widely, and to choose books that explore a more diverse range of topics. The Hate You Give, in particular, is about racial inequality. Considering the BLM protests and recent increased media focus on the murders of innocent black individuals at the hands of the police (it’s been happening for decades, but it’s only really since 2020 that they’ve been the focus of public outrage and extensive, critical media coverage), it’s clear that these factors have influenced children’s choices.

Also, another thing to remember is that while kids choose what they want to read, it’s often the parents and other relatives who buy books for them and help to influence their choices. After all, they’re the ones that have the money, particularly when the kids are too young to have their own jobs or earn significant pocket money.

Therefore, I feel like the recent social unrest has also been, at least partially, responsible for the change in children’s reading habits. It’s led their parents to provide them with a wider variety of reading materials on different topics. The increased focus on diversity in today’s society, which is frankly long overdue, is driving parents to purchase a wider range of authors and topics.

That’s how it goes with both younger kids, as their parents and guardians tend to purchase their books. Older children and teenagers tend to be exposed to more TV and have access to their own cash, so they’re even more likely to be influenced by factors such as social change. Therefore, it’s understandable that young adult books such as The Hate You Give are more popular now.

I also reckon that another issue that’s changed the way children read is what I’m terming ‘screen fatigue’. After months of having to do their schooling online and spending hours everyday staring at screens, I think that many kids are probably sick and tired of staring at screens. I don’t have kids myself, but I do know a lot of people who do, and I know that between virtual schooling, playing video games and watching endless TV, they’re a bit tired of screens.

They all want to play outside and spend time in the real world. That’s why I think that books, particularly longer books, are more popular with kids right now. Children want to spend more time doing cool stuff, but between poor weather (it’s the UK) and the quarantine restrictions, they’ve been stuck indoors with limited options. Long books give kids a unique opportunity to dive into a new world and stay there.

With shorter books, you don’t really get the chance to immerse yourself in the novel’s setting and plot before it’s all over again and you have to start a new book. That’s why longer, more complex books and series are ideal when you’re looking to get away from it, which today’s kids definitely are.

Ultimately, I think that the lockdown has definitely had a major impact on children’s reading, and adult’s reading for that matter. It’s changed all of our lives in so many different ways, and I’m sure that it’s affected our reading habits- I know it has changed mine. However, I think that as the world is changing and kids are being exposed to more turmoil and social change from a young age, there are other factors that have impacted on the reading habits of kids in 2021.

Roderick O’Grady Interview: “I would like to write more books for young people”

Children’s author Roderick O’Grady talks to me about his debut novel and his future writing career.

Tell me about how your debut book Bigfoot Mountain. Why do you think readers will enjoy it?

It’s about a young girl of 12, who recently lost her mum, living with her step dad in a remote cabin, at the foot of a mountain range, near the sea in the Pacific Northwest of North America. One day she and her friend Billy find four HUGE footprints in the woods… Her stepfather Dan thinks its hoaxers but Minnie thinks she knows better. She and Dan are struggling emotionally- he is withdrawn and grief-stricken, whilst she is very sad but feels compelled to keep busy.

The events that transpire in the woods and around their cabins help them become closer and help them deal with their grief. I think readers will enjoy that it alternates between what Minnie discovers- sometimes with Billy, sometimes with Dan, sometimes alone, and events from a young Sasquatch’s point of view. He’s been watching the humans. Their stories begin to intertwine. I’ve created a community of Sasquatches who have had to move over to this side of the mountain due to forest fires and as guardians of the forest have to manage the wildlife that has also fled the fire and is crowding the mountain slopes. The story is about seeking balance, understanding the rhythms of nature and, ultimately, it’s about love and connection.

What is your career background and how did you get into writing?

I used to be an actor when I lived in New York but gave it up on my return to London as I had children to support. After 18 years I returned to an acting career, at the age of 56. When I was ‘resting’ between acting jobs I decided to write a story revolving round a magically beautiful forest where large bipedal hominids roam… The only writing I had done before was having a go at writing film screenplays, none of which ever saw the light of day.  I wrote a road-movie, a time travel comedy, a New York based romantic drama, a thriller based in the world of building contractors and the Russian mafia, a period tale of an escaped female slave busting a people-trafficking and smuggling ring on the Devon coast in 1750. It was good practice in some ways though, as I learned about creating snappy dialogue, making it specific to the character in tone and rhythm and learned how to create a overall tone for a scene; the ‘exposition’ in screenwriting terms.

Also structure is hammered in to novice screenwriters as absolutely key if you’re writing a ‘commercial’ movie. So that practice all helped hugely. It also made me a very visual writer and I think served me well in writing the novel. I always doubted that I could write enough, that I could come up with enough story and was very pleasantly surprised when it came in at 47 thousand words.  I didn’t really plot the book, I just let it flow. The sequel has a more complicated plot though and that took a lot of work. But this first one, Bigfoot Mountain is a linear story told from two perspectives. It required much research- on Sasquatches (I’ve read many books by interested scientists and so-called researchers) but also on the flora and fauna of the area, which I loved doing.

As a new author who’s just got their debut published, what are your thoughts on the industry currently? How can it become more accepting to new authors such as yourself?

I was surprised and naïve on entering the profession-  there are SO many children’s’ novels being published every month! I had no idea how hard it is to make a living from writing. And I wasn’t expecting to have to engage on social media so much in order to make the book ‘discoverable’. It’s out on 29th of April so I am busy engaging on social media and actually I’m looking forward to visiting schools, and independent bookshops. I will be introducing myself and bribing the shop staff, with biscuits, to do a special Bigfoot Mountain window display! 

On the subject of the publishing industry, I’m encouraged that many literary agents allow submissions to be sent in, as finding an agent is so hard these days, but it takes a lot of digging and questioning to get the bottom of what a publisher will actually be doing for the author, with the work, in the process of getting the book to market. Children’s publishing is different from adult literature too and getting one’s head round it all requires a novice writer to find the right people of whom to ask the right questions. I don’t know any writers or anyone in the business so it’s been a long and interesting journey.

What do you enjoy reading and how does this influence your writing?

To relax I dabble in thrillers and books about the environment- rarely do the two genres meet… perhaps that’s a gap in the market! I love children’s classics- Varjak Paw by SF Said and of course Pax by Sara Pennypacker. I finished and admired Overstory by Richard Powers recently, which is about trees, beautifully written and with engaging multiple story lines. These writers inspire me to try harder, and to take more time over my prose, in order to describe the natural world to the best of my ability.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

I enjoy Patrick O’Brien for a rollicking sea-faring yarn and would love to plot a story with him though he is sadly no longer with us. His work reminds me how important well developed characters are. I enjoyed the charm and simplicity of AA Milne’s writing and I would have liked to maybe come up with more characters, in that series.  Again, Milne worked with well-developed characters.

Have you got any exciting new plans or projects coming up that you’d like to share with me?

I am planning to write a third book in the series. I finished the sequel, during Lockdown One but am not sure when that’s going to be published.

Where do you see your literary career going? What would you like to achieve over the coming years?

I would like to write more books for young people. And I would like to write for the screen- how that will manifest I’m not sure. But with children’s books which I really love writing now that I’ve had a go at it with Bigfoot Mountain, I try to make my characters fun to spend time with- it’s important that they be spirited, positive and funny, like children are inclined to be naturally. I think if characters in a story can be daring, kind, fun, and determined, it’s helpful to young readers. I try to write memorable scenes, and exciting profound moments that will hopefully stay with the reader.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to in the future?

I feel like I’m distinctly behind the curve with new writers and really just want to browse in some bookshops and talk to the staff about exciting new writers. Staff in independent book shops always have good advice and are usually up to speed on new works. That will happen hopefully from April 12th this year when ‘nonessential shops’ can reopen! Hoorah! Personally I think bookshops are essential retail…

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I really hope young people and their older siblings, their parents and teachers all enjoy Bigfoot Mountain and take on board the message about understanding the bigger picture; that we are all connected, through the earth, through the energy in the earth passing through plants, rivers, seas, and animals, and that we must learn to respect and love our natural world.

Thanks to Roderick for answering my questions: I love a good children’s book about nature so I’ll be interested to check out your debut!

Dr Seuss Isn’t Being Cancelled: This Is How Book Publishing Works

You gotta love the internet. Not long after Dr Seuss Enterprises, which published books by the renowned children’s author and preserves his legacy, announced it was pulling six books due to their portrayals of people, outrage ensued.

People started raving that the writer was being ‘cancelled’ –spoiler alert: he’s fucking not. They started bulk buying his books and hoarding them, or selling on old copies at silly prices, in a sad attempt to cash in on this ludicrous display of impotent, pointless outrage.

Frankly, the whole debacle and public outcry is ridiculous. For one, the idiots who are upset at the idea of Dr Seuss being ‘cancelled’ probably have never heard of half the books he wrote.

Aside from The Cat In The Hat and Green Eggs And Ham, they’ve probably not heard of anything the author put together, never mind the books that aren’t being published anymore. One of them is the first book he ever published, and most of the others are obscure parts of his back catalogue that already aren’t that popular because of their racist depictions and the poor values that they might teach to children.

Also, if the internet trolls are this upset that an author’s novels are being pulled by a publisher decades after they were written, then they should hear about all of the actually outrageous stuff that goes on in publishing, like the sexual harassment many women encounter, the lack of support for BAME writers, nepotism and more. That’s what they should actually get angry about, not the fact that a well-known writer, who is long dead and whose works still make millions for his estate, isn’t going to get 6 books published anymore.

The issue with these books is that they portray some pretty offensive depictions, which, in 2021, just aren’t acceptable. I mean, they’ve never been acceptable, but society has only just started to accept that racism isn’t OK.

For many years, other, less renowned authors have gone out of fashion and their books have been put out of print. The Bulldog Drummond series by Sapper were one series that has been out of the public eye, and out of print in many cases, because of its highly offensive depiction of Jewish people.

However, these books haven’t garnered as much attention for being out of print for being offensive, simply because when they went out of print, people didn’t automatically leap to this idea that it’s ‘cancellation’ or a freedom of speech issue to stop printing a book that’s deemed offensive. Freedom of speech isn’t freedom from the consequences of that speech; in other words, you’re more than welcome to write offensive books, but don’t expect publishers to keep printing them when readers start speaking out about the issues.

After all, readers are the backbone of any publishing house’s success. They protest with their purchases, and so publishers have to make sure that they’re printing works that reflect the values they want to portray.

That isn’t to say the Dr Seuss was necessarily an active racist; he was probably just ignorant and reflecting common prejudices from his time. However, today’s readers don’t want to see that sort of racist imagery, particularly not in children’s books, and rightly so. Racism is never acceptable, and the world needs to move on from outdated ways of thinking and embrace new literature.

It’s understandable that Dr Seuss’s publishers, particularly an organization dedicated to his work, and therefore unable to expand with new authors, should want to refresh its catalogue and remove writing that’s not in keeping with its values.

Many classic children’s authors, including the amazing Roald Dahl, created problematic portrayals of some races and types of people, and their books are constantly under scrutiny from publishers and agencies alike. If they’re found wanting and the publishers feel that they are too offensive to remain in print, then they will go out of it and new work will come onto the market.

That doesn’t mean that we can’t take away the good messages we take from these works; it just means that we’re acknowledging that, in 2021, people of different races and creeds shouldn’t be faced with humiliating and offensive portrayals of themselves in children’s literature or anywhere else.

One thing I would say about the ‘Dr Seuss is being cancelled’ argument is that it’s definitely disproportionate and that, honestly, this is what happens in book publishing. Work goes out of vogue, or it simply doesn’t sell very well, so it goes out of print. You can still buy second-hand copies, but they won’t make any more of them, for now anyway.

There are bigger fish to fry in 2021, with a global pandemic still raging and Donald Trump still roaming free despite trying to end democracy in the US and causing untold harm to millions of families through his family separation, poor treatment of refugees, and much more. There’s a lot going on in the world, and the fact that the Dr Seuss estate isn’t going to publish half a dozen long forgotten novels doesn’t really matter all that much.

At the end of the day, I think that some books need to make way for new ideas and that it’s not important when some older novels go out of print, for whatever reason. Books that are offensive to some groups deserve to be put out of print, but they’re hardly ‘cancelled’. There will always be somewhere to get them second-hand, and in the age of eBooks they’ll be an everlasting memento of almost every work of fiction. The only reason Dr Seuss’s work is getting so much notice is because some of his works have been made into popular movies. But racist imagery isn’t acceptable, and so we should remember the books we love by Dr Seuss, and accept that not all of them are worth preserving.

Sooth Your Worries With Books From Your Childhood


Just a quick disclaimer to start- I’m not in any way suggesting that rereading children’s’ stories will fix your problems or mental health. If you’re struggling severely, then consult your doctor.

That said, I do think that in these uncertain times, anyone who is finding it hard to contend with the ‘new normal’ we find ourselves in could benefit from revisiting the stories they loved as a child.

Personally, I’m rereading Winnie The Pooh and The House On Pooh Corner to give myself a sense of balance. I’m not even in a bad situation; I’m lucky enough to have a stable job, great colleagues, lovely friends and a safe home. Despite that, it’s still a tough time for everyone right now, and with my anxiety levels rising I’m enjoying the comfort that comes from rereading books I adored as a kid.

Most children’s books centre around overcoming adversity and learning how to adapt around the strange, changing circumstances that are growing up. They also share the messages we need to hear right now- that the world is a big and scary place, in which we can all live happily.

There are also nice pictures and a calm rhythm, making children’s books a great way to feel better even during these challenging times. It can be hard to deal with the traumatic events occurring right now, so these books can not only take you back to a simpler time, when you were a kid, but also make you feel relaxed and calm.

So, if you’re feeling out of sorts thanks to the current crisis, consider revisiting an old favourite from your childhood. It doesn’t matter how young the target audience for your chosen reading material is, as long as it makes you happy and calm. Just try it out if you’re in need of a little rejuvenation even as the lockdowns start to lift; the world isn’t going back to normal in a hurry, so put your health and mental wellbeing first and do whatever you can to start feeling better.

Book Reviews: Why Aren’t Children’s Books Getting The Space They Deserve?

kids reading books

Recently the Bookseller announced that just 4.9% of all reviews were children’s books, which seems strange when you consider that the Independent stated that in 2018 the children’s book market had grown yet again and was now worth a whopping £383 million.

As adults and children alike enjoy a wide range of increasingly complicated and enticing books, it begs the question: why aren’t they getting reviewed?

It could be a case of poor management on their publisher’s parts: after all, a big part of any book promotion is marketing, of which reviews are a part, and if they’re not coordinated properly then they simply won’t work/ happen.

A big part, however, is most probably the lack of respect that marketing firms and publications alike have for kid’s books. Everyone seems to think they’re poorly done and not as important or good as fiction aimed at adults, when in fact when they’re well done children’s books are skilfully crafted masterpieces rich in characterisation and description. Considering the greater limitations that children’s authors have placed on them, I’d even go so far as to suggest that it’s harder to write a book for kids than for adults.

So, what is there to be done? Well, for starters the book reviewing industry needs to change. I myself will be working to add more young adult books to my blog (given that it’s a crime fiction blog it’s hard to find much kid’s fiction that gritty enough, but I’ll try). For the wider market, work needs to be done to educate more reviewers about the importance and value that’s to be found in children’s literature.

However, the biggest change that really needs to be made is a greater focus on getting young people to review books. After all, they’re written with them in mind, so they should be reviewing them too. In today’s modern society where every 4 year old has an iPad, computers are incredibly accessible and more young people should be using them to write reviews of the books they enjoy.

At the end of the day, I’m always encouraging people, especially young people, to read more, as are many others, but when it comes to writing there’s less encouragement, and that’s simply wrong. We should be pushing more young people to get out there and start reviewing the books they like to read. They don’t even have to get their work published; as this very blog illustrates, anyone can set up their own space to share their reviews, so there’s literally no excuse not to!



Five Classic Children’s’ Authors Who Turned To Crime Fiction

children's books

Having recently reviewed (and loved) Bodies From The Library, a Golden Age anthology featuring a short story by Winnie The Pooh creator A.A. Milne, I realised that there are a surprising number of children’s writers who have moved into writing crime fiction. As such, I decided it was high time I picked out five favourites and shared them with you, in case you didn’t realise or were simply intrigued by the prospect.

The reason for this shift in an author’s genre is simple: both children’s literature and crime fiction share the same formulaic nature, which makes them both eminently suitable for an author keen to stick to a way of writing. It is with great pleasure that I share a selection of authors who have all chosen this path, and explore their enduring popularity.

5. Anthony Horowitz: Perhaps most well known for his young adult fiction, Horowitz has also written a number of Sherlock Holmes novels, including the innovative and intriguing The House of Silk. The author, whose Alex Rider series is a cult favourite among teenagers, has also created a James Bond novel, Trigger Mortis, and as such has proved his versatility and skill at creating engaging characters and unique plots.

4. J.K. Rowling: Writing under the now defunct synonym Robert Galbraith, Rowling created her Cormoran Strike a few years following the conclusion of her world-renowned and beloved Harry Potter series. Although not incredibly well received, the Strike novels have now been turned into a TV series and remain popular with fans, with a new book scheduled for release later this year.

3. Sophie Hannah: Bet you didn’t see that one coming! Alongside her gripping thrillers and reimaginings of Agatha Christies famed Belgium sleuth Hercule Poirot, Hannah has also written books for children, including a super cute collection of poems called The Box Room. Her latest novel is another Poirot story, The Mystery Of Three Quarters, which I reviewed HERE.


2. A.A. Milne: As previously mentioned, the author of the timeless Winnie The Pooh books also wrote crime fiction, which featured in a number of publications. Although his furry creations became a burden to him, as they caused a rift between him and his son, Christopher Robin, and also became what he was predominantly known for despite his being a prolific author, his crime fiction stories remain a real treat.

1. Michael Bond: As well as his renowned Paddington Bear series, this prolific writer also created the innovative detective Monsieur Pamplemousse, who, alongside his dog Pommes Frites, solve a range of baffling puzzles. An undercover food researcher for a culinary guide, Pamplemousse and his faithful pet are a unique detective team that make for great light reading.