Archive for March, 2014

As my blog turns into a pumpkin …

It’s two minutes to midnight on March 31! My time as March author is about to run out.

I’m sad to say goodbye, but on the bright side, this happened today:

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Nothing makes a fan of carnivorous plants (or any plants!) happier than a box like that on their doorstep.

When I opened it, one sarracenia pitcher plant was desperate to get out.

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Now the whole boxload are making themselves at home where they’ll catch plenty of flies for us.

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These magnificent plants, by the way, are all from a marvellous and very experienced Christchurch carnivorous plant grower by the name of Ross Taylor. (Maybe you’ve visited his nursery?)

Okay, the computer’s squawking midnight … My finery is about to turn to turn to rags. (Oh wait, I was wearing rags anyway.)

I’m hanging out to see who the April author is …

All the best!

Johanna xoxox

 

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Drawing mutant carnivorous plants: a chat with Sabrina Malcolm

How do you turn ordinary looking plants into walking, talking mutants? That’s what the wonderful illustrator Sabrina Malcolm has to do in The Fly Papers books. I asked her a bit more about how …

sabrinaWhen you start coming up with ideas for turning particular carnivorous plants into sentient mutants – what are some of the things you think about?

Sabrina: I always need to think about how the creature will move around, and how it will perform whatever actions are required by the story. Dion’s roots, for example, became his way of getting around; and his traps came in handy for things like opening louvre windows.

The eyes have always been particularly important, because they’re one of the most important ways of showing the creature’s thoughts and emotions. Other parts of the creature can be helpful with that, too — for example, Dross’s leaves can look bedraggled, or lively and excited; and similarly with his eye stalks.

Of course, these things are always decided in consultation with the author and designer!

dionDo you use real plants or photos for reference (or both)?

Sabrina: I use real plants when I can, but photos can be useful too, especially if I’m drawing while a plant has died down for the winter. Venus flytraps, for example, can look very poorly during the winter months.

How do you make the plants’ eyeballs express emotion?

 Sabrina: Eyelids are the crucial thing: without them, it’s much harder to show emotion. They can take on some of the job of eyebrows — pulling down for a frown, narrowing together to show suspicion, or rolling right back in fear.

The eye stalks can be helpful, too — if they’re rearing back, it can convey fear, and lunging forward can show aggression.

Okay, if you were Bette Noire – and you could create a mutant plant or animal in your lab – what might it be?

 Sabrina: A cow with cheesecake-flavoured milk. Oh, and edible brussels sprouts.

 

Sabrina is the illustrator of all The Fly Papers books, and also an author. Last year she wrote and illustrated a beautiful picture book: Blue Moon Bird.

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Competition: Guess the book name!

When all eight books of The Fly Papers are released, the names, listed, will form a sort of poem. Books 1 and 2 are out already, and we’re working on Book 3:  The Aldrovanda Turns. 

Dion-EB2(An aldrovanda is an amazing carnivorous waterweed – like a floaty Venus flytrap. Sadly we can’t get them in NZ.)

So. Here’s the poem so far:

The flytrap snaps

The sundew stalks

The aldrovanda turns ….

 

What do you think the next line in the poem might be? In other words – what do you think book 4 will be called? 

Here are some other carnivorous plant names to give you ideas:

Pitcher plant

Bladderwort

Butterwort

Cobra lily

Byblis

Pinguicula

Heliamphora

Sarracenia

Cephalotus

Nepenthes

 

Have a guess what Book 4 will be called in the comments, and you’ll go in the draw to win the first two books in The Fly Papers – as well as go on our list to receive a free copy of Book 3 as soon as it’s out.

You don’t have to be right! It’s going to be a random draw. Have fun!

 

 (Illustration by Sabrina Malcolm.)

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Solving The Fly Papers mysteries

character1 If you’ve been following the adventures of Spencer, Tora, and their friends in the first two books of The Fly Papers, you know that the kids still have a lot of mysteries to figure out. Luckily they’ve got six more books to do it in!

People often ask if I’ve planned what’s going to happen all the way through to the eighth book.

When I first started writing book one, my answer was, ‘Mmmm … kind of.’ I had a vague resolution that I aimed get to at the end of book eight, but that was about all.

character2The wise and generous author Fleur Beale took me in hand and told me (nicely) that I needed to do better than that. She warned that if I didn’t have a very clear idea what was going to happen throughout the whole series, then writing it would be dangerous. I might get to a point later in the plot where I was stuck and would suddenly realise I should have written things differently earlier on.

So I came up with a few paragraphs of plot description for each book, but deep down, I knew it might not be enough to save me from a plot tangle.

Luckily – after the first book was published – something exciting happened. We got approached by a  producer working for quite a famous British film and TV company. This company was interested in maybe turning The Fly Papers into a TV series! (I didn’t believe it at first. I didn’t even reply to their email for about a month, because I thought it was someone scamming me. But nope, it was legit.)

Well. First they wanted to know more aboutcharacter3 every book’s storyline. So I began feverishly developing the plot in more detail than I’d ever tried to do before.

As it happened, no TV series eventuated. (Such is the uncertain nature of the film and TV industry.)

I was a bit disappointed, but not horribly, because I’d been trying not to get my hopes up. I was also grateful. I now had pages and pages of plot information to work from, all the way through to the end of The Fly Papers.

character5So now, when people ask me if I’ve planned what’s going to happen the answer is, ‘Yes – everything!’

(But no, I’m not telling.)

P.S. All these lovely character illustrations from The Fly Papers are by the marvellous illustrator Sabrina Malcolm.

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Our encyclopedias get a makeover!

Using computers to help with homework is pretty normal these days. Yet the information we find may not always be helpful or true. That is when you need us! Your local librarians consider themselves pretty good at providing quality information that will speed up your homework while getting you good results.

When I was younger all you had at the local library were heavy print encyclopedias to help with homework, but now from the comfort of your home you can get all that help online from the library with these two resources:

All you need is your library card number and PIN/Password and you will be guaranteed to find all the correct answers and enjoy yourself in the process! Learning fun? It can happen!

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Win a Wild Things magazine pack

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur March Star Author, Johanna Knox, has been blogging about editing the Wild Things magazine for the Kiwi Conservation Club.  The KCC has very kindly sent us some copies of last year’s magazine to give away to some lucky Christchurch Kids Blog readers.  Wild Things is packed full of information about local wildlife, stories and activities.

Thanks to everyone who entered.  The winners of the magazine packs are – Ewen, Tegan, Asta and Logan.

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Marvellous Margaret Mahy

March 21 would have been Margaret Mahy’s 78th birthday and it’s a great excuse to check out some of the fantastic Margaret Mahy stuff on our catalogue and the internet.

If you are itching for some Margaret Mahy screen goodness, you can check out full episodes of her award-winning TV adaptions on NZ On Screen:

The Haunting of Barney PalmerBook Cover

Is Barney being haunted by his dead Uncle? One person in every generation of his family has a special gift; is it Barney? If you like the movie, borrow the book from our Library.

Kaitangata Twitch

What happens to a girl who has dangerous dreams? What if the land itself punishes those who would harm it? Kaitangata Twitch is a supernatural eco-thriller! Watch the first episode on NZ On Screen and then check out the book or DVD from the library.

The Great White Man-Eating SharkBook Cover

Norvin looks a little bit like a shark and is also a little bit sick of other swimmers at the beach. He thinks he’s got the perfect plan to have the beach to himself, but does he? Once you’ve watched the hilarious video, read the full story from our library.

If you’d like some more information about Margaret Mahy, you can check out our interview with her, or our special Margaret Mahy pages.

If you start reading now, you might be able to read all of our Margaret Mahy books before the Margaret Mahy Family Playground opens. It hasn’t been started yet, but when it’s finished it will be ‘the most amazing playground’ the city has ever seen, it will have different activity zones aimed at different ages, comfortable places for adults to supervise, and challenging play equipment, all inspired by the amazing stories of Margaret Mahy.

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How to edit a magazine (part 3)

Writing isn’t part of every editor’s job – but it’s part of mine. For each Wild Things magazine I write an episode of Owl Kids plus at least one article. I also write word puzzles and devise a board game.

Here’s how we make the game:

First, I think of an idea. Then I draw a rough draft and start testing it on my family. I test it over and over, each time making small changes to the rules until it all works. It’s fun at first, but after several days my kids are begging me please not to make them play the game again!

Once the game is devised, there’s still plenty to do. The game wouldn’t be the game without Rob Di Leva, the designer. So when I’ve settled on the final instructions for it and made a draft layout, I send it all to him. At this stage it doesn’t look much fun to play!

This was my draft layout for the September 2013 game:

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Rob spends a lot of time and imagination turning each game into something that people would actually enjoy.

Here’s what he did with the plan above.

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Notice that he’s not just a fantastic designer, but a wonderful illustrator.

In fact, if you think Wild Things looks interesting and fun in general – that’s all thanks to Rob. While I’m writing and editing, he’s spending hour after hour taking care of the visual side. Behind every good-looking magazine (or book) is a great designer!

Okay. Once everything is written, illustrated, edited, and designed, and the whole magazine is almost ready to be printed – one last task begins. Proofreading.

This takes ages, and involves the editor and several others going over and over every part of the magazine to try and make sure it’s absolutely, perfectly, incontrovertibly correct – while the designer fixes all the spotted errors.

Now, let me tell you a secret that all editors know. No matter how well you think you’ve done your proofreading, at least one mistake will somehow creep through and end up in the printed magazine.

You just have to hope it’s nothing serious …

For example, you wouldn’t want a single dot left out of an email address so that everyone sends competition entries to the wrong place, causing great panic and an urgent phone call to tech support, who have to drop everything to get all the emails redirected from the wrong email address to the right one …

You wouldn’t want that.

But that is just an example, of course.

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How to Have a Movie Night

There’s nothing better then sitting on the sofa with some friends, some popcorn and some free DVDs!

Kids DVDs

1.   Choose a day and a time that will suit a lot of people. If you choose a Friday or Saturday night, people won’t have school the next day. Think about how many movies you want to watch, if each one is about an hour and a half, you’ll need at least four hours to watch two movies (once you include time for eating and talking).

2.   Invite people. Give people lots of notice so they (and their parents) can organise things. The more the merrier! Get everyone to bring a small snack or drink so there is heaps of yummy stuff to eat.

3.   Choose some movies! Did you know the library has heaps of kids movies on DVD? And they are all free for you to take out? You can even reserve the ones you think look good and get them send to the library closest to your house! Here are some great picks:

Epic
M. K. is shrunken to the size of the tiny citizens of a forest that is in deadly danger. Can M. K. help save their Queen, their tiny world, and save our world too? This is a very exciting movie with great animation.

Lost Medallion: The Adventure of Billy Stone
Two friends uncover a long-lost medallion that transports them back in time. They must survive the perils of the past as well as outwit the evil Cobra!

Cover of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 3Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2
Inventor Flint Lockwood thought he saved the world when he destroyed his machine that turned water into food causing cheeseburger rain and spaghetti tornadoes. But Flint soon learns that his invention survived and is now creating food-animals! A sequel to the awesome Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.

Monsters University
When Mike and Sulley first meet at university they are sworn enemies, but when their mutual dislike gets them thrown out of the School of Scaring, they join forces to compete in the school’s annual Scare Games and become friends.

Mr StinkMr Stink Book Cover
Chloe invites Mr Stink (a stinky, neighbourhood tramp) to secretly live in her garden shed. Chloe must keep this secret from her family, while her Dad is keeping a secret and Mr Stink is keeping an amazing secret too. This movie is based on a hilarious book by David Walliams.

The library is getting new DVDs all the time so check out the full list on our catalogue.

4.   Arrange some comfy chairs, bean bags, cushions and blankets around the TV.

5.   Have fun!

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Timmy Failure: Now Look What You’ve Done

Clueless detective Timmy Failure is back on the case in his latest book, Now Look What You’ve Done.

He doesn t like to pull rank. To reveal that he s this guy: Timmy Failure, founder, president, and CEO of the greatest detective agency in town, perhaps the nation. But he is. And he s about to crack the biggest case of his generation: a school competition to find a stolen globe. It s his ticket to bringing home a $500 prize, which is guaranteed to set him up for life. But someone is clearly trying to game the system. Hoodwink. Con. Defraud. So it s up to Timmy Failure, with the dubious help of Total, his lazy polar-bear partner, and his unlikely new ally, eccentric Great Aunt Colander, to find a way to avenge these shenanigans. Defeat this injustice. If he can only get his entry form in on time.

If you’re looking for a book full of ‘greatness,’ ‘shenanigans,’ quirky characters and antics that will make you laugh out loud, then Now Look What You’ve Done is the book for you.  Timmy’s latest shenanigans have everything I loved about the first book, but even sillier.  There’s more Molly Moskins, more Total (Timmy’s 1500 pound polar bear partner), more Corrina Corrina (aka The Wedgie or The Weevil Bun), but there are also hilarious new characters, like Timmy’s Great-Aunt Colander (inventor of the Boom-Boom Shoe Wheel).

Timmy Failure: Now Look What You’ve Done is perfect for fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Big Nate.

Win a copy of Timmy Failure: Now Look What You’ve Done

Thanks to everyone who entered.  The winner is Jasper.

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Guest Author: Mara Shaughnessy on Lego Man in Space

Lego Man in Space was one of the top books of 2013 that we selected for our Holiday Reading Guide.  The creator, Mara Shaughnessy, has very kindly written a guest post for us about her book.  Check it out and grab a copy of Lego Man in Space from your library.

So far, more than 3 million people around the world have tuned into YouTube to watch the real-life voyage of LEGO® Man in space: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MQwLmGR6bPA

But you can also read about this incredible feat by asking your librarian for a copy of LEGO® Man in Space: A True Story.  Inside, you’ll see how two teenagers, Mat and Asad built a spaceship, sent it into near space and brought it back to earth safely. The book is packed with facts and information and you’ll also find cool ideas for your own science and engineering projects, as well as LEGO®-themed games and crafts.

If you STILL can’t get enough LEGO® Man in Space, you can check out the colouring sheets, worksheets and activities at www.littlemonster.ca/legoman.

Ever wondered how to draw a LEGO® Man or Woman? Here is a fun activity to get you started!

draw-a-lego-man

Happy inventing, drawing, writing, building, creating and dreaming!

Remember that little kids + big ideas = big things!

Mara

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How to edit a magazine (part 2)

In my last post I talked about planning each issue of Wild Things magazine. That’s fun – but here’s what’s MORE fun:

Deciding who to invite (or beg) to contribute.

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Who are your favourite authors and illustrators?

Imagine you could create a magazine and invite them all to do something for it. Who would you ask to do what?

Who would you ask to design and draw a beautiful maze?

Who would you ask to write an article about your favourite animal?

Who would you ask to write a hilarious skit? And whose illustration might go brilliantly with that skit? You can team them up.

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I can hardly describe how exciting it is to send off emails to writers and illustrators I admire, enquiring if they’d do a particular job for Wild Things, and then waiting for their reply.

Occasionally they’re too busy, but usually they say yes. (Yay!) Then I send them more details about the job, so they can get going. I try not to give  TOO MUCH detail – it’s better if they have loads of freedom. Because what’s the point in asking creative professionals to do a job if they can’t be creative?

Here’s the most brilliant thing of all:

The finished work that they send back is ALWAYS different from how I thought it would be – and way better. I’m in awe of how these people’s imaginations work. New Zealand has many amazing professional writers and illustrators!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter this exciting bit, I have to do boring stuff: make sure the contributors send in invoices so they can get paid, and sometimes ask them to fill in tax forms.

Strange things can happen …

Have you seen the book, Watch Out, Snail!? It’s about Powelliphanta – incredible, rare, giant snails that live only in New Zealand. They’re way more awesome than the common garden snails that eat your precious vegetables.

The book’s illustrator is Margaret Tolland, and for one issue of Wild Things, she made us a beautiful maze where you have to help a Powelliphanta snail find its food.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWell, I think the common garden snails that keep trying to live in our letterbox must have been jealous, because when she sent me her tax form, they ate it! All they left were a few shreds of holey paper.

I had to email Margaret, apologise profusely, and ask her if she could send another tax form, because snails had eaten the first!

More about editing a magazine soon. In the meantime, keep your eyes peeled for your favourite NZ authors and illustrators in any Wild Things issues you see. (And beware the letterbox snails.)

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Gorgeous eBooks and eAudiobooks from OverDrive

Oh I just love fresh reading ideas and here is a selection just for you at OverDrive!

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Guest Post: Juliet Jacka on Night of the Perigee Moon

Think up your best insult, and be in to win a copy of Juliet Jacka’s award-winning Night of the Perigee Moon.

Do you like magical talents, talking cats, dogs and bats? Or how about fantastical feasts, yo-yo masters and entomologists in the making?

Then my book’s for you. Here’s the blurb.

All Tilly Angelica wants for her thirteenth birthday is to be normal! But with her changeover party looming and her mad, magical family gathering from near and far, Tilly is set to inherit a terrifying or tantalising talent of her own. But what if she inherits Hortense’s talent of super-smelling, with an oversize nose to match?

As the enchanted Angelicas gather and Arial Manor becomes a madhouse, Tilly’s troubles are tripled by her creepy cousin Prosper, and his sinister plot to bewitch the family by harnessing the powers of the Perigee Moon.

Halfway through the book, my heroine Tilly has to come up with a hit list of inventive insults. Here are three of her favourite ones.

“You’re an ox, an ass, a slubberdegullion!”

“You belligerent fleck of llama spit.”

“Earth vexing hedge pig.”

Can you come up with something similar? Send me your best one-liners (no rude words, thanks!), and the winner gets a free, signed copy of my book.

Have fun! Get inventive. Then email me at nightofperigeemoon@gmail.com

Juliet
Night of the Perigee Moon, winner of the 2013 Tom Fitzgibbon Award.

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How to edit a magazine (part 1)

Have you ever made a class magazine?

I love working on magazines, so I couldn’t believe my luck when I got a job editing Wild Things. That’s the magazine of KCC – the Kiwi Conservation Club. KCC has members all round the country – kids like you – who get together to have fun and help save the environment.

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So. What does the Wild Things editor do?

I start planning each issue about three months before it has to be printed.

First I talk to four important people:

  • Tiff, the manager of KCC
  • Rob, the graphic designer and art director of Wild Things
  • Marina, who edits the Forest & Bird magazine (the adult’s version of Wild Things), and
  •  Mandy who’s in charge of the KCC website.

These four are always having brilliant ideas, as well as hearing important news, so I have to figure out the best way to fit all their ideas and news into one issue.

I ask myself: What could we make a puzzle or game or skit out of? What should have an article written about it? How long should the article be? What might we have to leave out, or maybe put in a later issue?

I have to remember we have only 24 pages in an issue. Sometimes I wish I could cram in a bazillion and six things – but then the writing would be so tiny you’d barely read it.

After much scribbling and typing and deleting and retyping, I have a plan I’m happy with. Part of it looks like this. See what it shows? (Enlarge it by clicking on it.)

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Yes – you just got a sneak peek at what will be on each page in the next issue.

In publishing jargon, that’s called a ‘flat plan’. I’m not quite sure why, but I suppose it makes sense: it is a plan, and it is flat (usually … unless it’s spent too long in my messy bag, or our cat Smoofie has been sitting on it.)

The next step is to see what Tiff, Rob, Marina, and Mandy think of the flat plan.

Hmmm … I haven’t shown this one to them yet – you’re the first to see it!

I better go show them now. More about how to edit a magazine soon.

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Sending warm, dry thoughts

Dear Christchurch readers

I saw the photos in the news, and heard about your floods. All I want to say right now is that I hope – so much – that you can all stay as warm and dry as possible. If only we could send you a giant blow-dryer for your city.

Snuggle up when you can, and as best you can, and take care.

Johanna

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Timmy Failure: Now Look What You’ve Done book trailer

He doesn’t like to pull rank. To reveal that he’s this guy: Timmy Failure, founder, president and CEO of the greatest detective agency in town, probably the country, perhaps the world.

But he is. And he’s about to crack the biggest case of his generation: a school competition to find a stolen globe. And win the $500 prize, which will set him up for life. But someone is clearly trying to cheat. Bamboozle. Hoodwink. Con. Defraud. So it’s up to Timmy Failure, with the dubious help of Total, his lazy polar bear partner, and his unlikely new ally, eccentric Great Aunt Colander, to find a way to avenge these shenanigans. Defeat this injustice. And obliterate Timmy’s arch-nemesis, the WEDGIE, aka the Worldwide Enemy of Da Goodness In Everything.

If he can only get his entry form in on time.

The second book in the hilarious Timmy Failure series by Stephan Pastis, Now Look What You’ve Done, is out now and you can reserve your copy at the library.  If you love books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Big Nate, you should check out Timmy Failure.

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The lure of mystery

Hi everyone – I’ve been looking forward to being your March author.

Do you like mystery?

I do. Growing up, my favourite book series was The Three Investigators. I longed to discover this gang was real and join them as investigator number four –  I mean, they really did need a girl.

I also loved those mysteries you have to solve yourself, like the Encyclopedia Brown stories – except I got impatient and looked up the answers. Then I’d feel angry at myself and try to brainwash myself into believing I’d worked them out on my own.

ImageThe stories I love writing are also mysterious ones. The Fly Papers is full of mystery.

Another series I’m working on is The Owl Kids. It’s for a magazine called Wild Things and has wonderful illustrations by Adele Jackson. (Like the one on the left right!ahem, 45 years old and I still get my left and right mixed up sometimes.)

I’ll talk more about it soon, but you can read the first episode here – and solve the first of its mysteries.

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Most Popular Kids Books of 2013

Christchurch City Libraries has just released our list of the most popular kids books of 2013. In the Top Ten there are only 4 different authors.

Here they are, in order of fewest books to most:

Cover of Queenie

Jacqueline Wilson has one book on the list Queenie at #8.

1953, England. Elizabeth is to be crowned Queen of England, but Elsie Kettle and her grandmother both fall ill with tuberculosis. Elsie is whisked away to a hospital where she is confined to bed for months and misses her beloved Nan desperately. However, in the hospital she makes friends, including Queenie, the hospital’s majestic white cat.

Read some more posts about Jacqueline Wilson on our blog.

Cover of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

J.K. Rowling has one book on the list, and it’s a classic – Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone at #9.

It’s been 17 years since this came out and it’s still going strong! J.K Rowling has recently said she will write a play and another book about the Harry Potter universe.

Last Straw Book CoverDog Days Book CoverThird Wheel Book Cover

Jeff Kinney has THREE books on the Top Ten list this year. The Last Straw at #10, Dog Days at #6 and at #1 – The Third Wheel!

The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series is the hilarious story of Greg’s life at school and home. The funny words are matched up well with some VERY funny pictures. If these books don’t make you laugh out loud, you don’t have a funny bone! Read some more posts about Jeff Kinney on our blog here.

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The author with the most books on our Top Ten list is Rick Riordan! HALF of the books on the Top Ten list are by this awesome author who writes the Percy Jackson series. These exciting books have sold over 20 million copies and the third film in the series is due out in 2015. You can read more about Rick Riordan by looking at posts on our blog about him.

See how many books you’ve read in our most popular kids books of 2013 and let us know in the comments below 🙂

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March Star Author – Johanna Knox

Johanna KnoxOur marvelous March Star Author is New Zealand author, Johanna Knox.  Johanna has had an interesting and varied career as a writer.  She has written books for children and adults, edited magazines, worked as a manuscript assessor, created exhibitions for museums and visitors centres, and she now runs her own publishing company.

The Fly Papers is Johanna’s fantastic series for children, and the first two books are available in the library, The Flytrap Snaps and The Sundew Stalks.

Thanks for joining us Johanna!  We look forward to hearing all about your books and your writing, and maybe a little about carnivorous plants.

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