Book Group

Jess Butterworth


This week, four of our schools were lucky enough to have a visit from the very inspiring Jess Butterworth. Last year, Jess came to talk to us about her debut novel, ‘Running on the Roof of the World’ so we were delighted when she agreed to come back and tell us all about her latest book, ‘Swimming Against the Storm’.


Set in a small fishing village on the coast of Louisiana, ‘Swimming against the Storm’ is the story of twelve-year-old Eliza and her family. Eliza enjoys a wonderfully close relationship with her younger sister, Avery, and together they explore the unique, fascinating wetlands that surround their home. However, the water levels are rising, threatening their home and their way of life. Determined to save the place they love so well, the girls launch a search for the legendary ‘loup-garou’ , sure that if they can prove it exists the government will take steps to save their home. When Avery goes missing in the swamps and a storm rushes in, Eliza has more to save than she ever expected.


Full of evocative images, ‘Swimming Against the Storm’ beautifully captures a young girl’s passion for the world she knows and the lifestyle she loves. The unpredictable weather, the dangers of the wildlife, the threats posed by the rising water levels- all these things are captured in this exciting adventure story.

With strong environmental themes, warm relationships and excitement a-plenty, ‘Swimming Against the Storm’ is, quite simply, a brilliant read.


Jess spoke about the amazing experiences she has had growing up which have inspired her writing and the children- and adults- were completely fascinated. She was so inspiring, offering some really useful writing tips and suggestions. The children asked so many questions which Jess answered with great patience! She read a section from ‘Swimming Against the Storm’, using props to help bring the story to life.


The other schools Jess visited were every bit as impressed as we were. Here are some of the comments I’ve had:

I just wanted to say how wonderful the response was from my year 5/6 colleagues after Jess Butterworth's visit yesterday morning. In particular, they said the students had been really inspired by Jess talking about the drafting and editing process and were desperate to write their own stories after the visit. Thank you so much

She (Jess) has inspired them (the children) … we spent a lot of time talking about her stories…

The feedback from Jess’s visit was so positive. The children were really engaged and loved it…

My class were so excited to hear her speak and thought she was wonderful. They were so excited to meet the author of ‘When the Mountains Roared’ and hear about what inspired her to write it…

One of my class simply said, ‘She’s lovely, isn’t she?’ which I think says it all!

Many thanks to Jess for coming to see us again and to Dom for coming too. Thank you to Alistair from Books on the Hill for arranging book sales for us again.

Swimming Against the Storm Jess Butterworth, illustrated by Rob Biddulph

Orion ISBN: 978-1510105485

You can read out review of ‘Running on the Roof of the World’ here.

FCBG Conference 2019

This weekend, I travelled to Surrey where the 2019 FCBG Conference was being held. It was lovely to meet up with so many old friends- and meet all those wonderfully book-ish people!


We were welcomed by the Gruffalo who had come to celebrate his 20th birthday, bringing gorgeous cupcakes and making everyone smile. So many people were sharing fond memories of reading this story to their children, grandchildren, classes and in library sessions.


Having attended the AGM, the publishers then each made a presentation about some of the new, exciting things that they have in line for us all. There are so many amazing books around and just as I think my TBR pile couldn't get any bigger, I hear of new treats on the way. I really enjoyed listening to the enthusiasm of each new publishers- it was really inspiring.


A few stand out titles for me were 'The Suitcase' by Chris Naylor- Ballesteros, 'Africa' by Atinuke and 'Explorers' by DK, but there were so many lovely looking books; it was a bit like looking into a sweet shop window!


The Publishers' exhibition is always a highlight of this weekend. It is great to catch up with people you know and put faces to the names in emails or on Twitter. Each display was a cornucopia of delights and it was a joy to discuss favourite titles, new releases and listen to recommendations.


In the evening, we were joined by the wonderful Frank Cottrell Boyce who entertained us wonderfully with stories of his growing up, the experiences he had and the importance in his life of those who led him to reading. He talked about there being 'magic in well chosen words you don't have to understand' to enjoy or be affected by. It was a great talk, heart-warming and entertaining!


Just as you thought it couldn't get any better, the poets took to the stage! We were treated to a joyous performance of all kinds of poetry- humorous, moving, ones which needed audience participation and those set to music! They finish with a musical set, combining their many talents to perform together. More about this in a future post!


Up early the next morning and the day started with Lisa Williamson talking about her books, particularly 'Paper Avalanche'. With its theme of hoarding, this made me feel slightly twitchy about my extensive notebook collection, but she was fascinating to listen to! An equally interesting session followed about the importance of representation with Knights Of, Cynthia So and Aisha Bushby.


More cake next as we celebrated DK's birthday before heading back into the auditorium for the 'Empathy Panel'.


This was another fascinating session with each of the panel- Miranda McKearney, Ross Montgomery, Sita Brahmachari and Jane Ray- speaking movingly of their experiences and of the importance of the work they are doing in this field. It was very inspiring. The next session was supposed to be Sharon Dogar discussing her books, but sadly, she was ill and was unable to attend. However, Charlie Sheppard filled in for her. Sharon's new book, 'Monsters' is about Mary Shelley and I can't wait to read it!


After lunch, there were seminars with M A Bennett, Amy Wilson, Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet and Guy Puzey. These very different sessions were really well received and provoked plenty of discussion.


Back in the auditorium, we were celebrating twenty years of Giraffes Can't Dance, a huge personal favourite. Guy Parker Rees, whose amazing illustrations really make this tale come alive, was just wonderful as he shared pictures he drew as a child, drew pictures as we suggested ideas and read us the iconic story. Gerald (in puppet form!) even made an appearance himself before more tea and cake to celebrate. I cheekily asked if I could have one of the mugs and was delighted when I was given one- thank you so much!


Later that evening, we celebrated another birthday- Elmer's 30th! The patchwork elephant is another huge favourite of mine so it was lovely to raise a glass to him. (No cake this time!!)


The Gala Dinner followed and I was delighted to be invited to sit with Francesca Simon, the guest speaker for the evening. She was amazing to chat to- particularly about the importance of the Dewey Decimal System!- and my son, who used to read the Horrid Henry books with great enthusiasm, was impressed so it was a win-win situation! Francesca spoke passionately about the importance of reading and libraries and books, making a wonderful end to a very long and busy day.


Sunday started with snow! However, this was short lived and the sun did its best to peek through the clouds as we headed off to the auditorium again to listen to the 'middle grade' panel.


Candy Gourlay, Marcia Williams and newcomer, Serena Patel, discussed their books and the role they play in children’s reading development. I heard Candy speak about her wonderful book, 'Bone Talk', at Oxford recently, but it was a joy to hear her again. She has such a way of encapsulating ideas that I could listen to her all day. I was also very interested in Marcia William's new book- a novel instead of her usual comic strip style of text- and how she had come to write this. It was fascinating and I read 'Cloud Boy' as soon as I got home. A fantastic book, it will be reviewed soon! Serena's books sounded equally wonderful, but she was not allowed to give too much away- not even the title- but I'm sure it's going to be a brilliant read.


I had to leave after this session, but conference continued with sessions from Holly Smale, a non-fiction panel with Sam Hutchinson and Laura Knowles and finally, Nick Sharratt, before Conference 2019 closed.


It was a lovely weekend! Congratulations to everyone involved in organising it.

JAB South

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Today, JAB South met to begin the joyful task of reading and reviewing books for this year’s awards. Armed with chocolate biscuits and cups of tea, we set about browsing all the piles of books that have been suggested so far.

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There was so much book-ish chat! Everyone enjoyed sharing their suggestions and borrowing books to read. This year, there is a team for each category who will start to put a list of possibles together to share with the group.


So many lovely books! All too soon, the meeting was over and everyone left, clutching their pile of goodies to enjoy! It was wonderful to see the enthusiasm for reading and the importance placed on sharing this with children. I can’t wait for our next meeting! More news soon!