Shakespeare's Telling Tales: A M Howell


My visit to Shakespeare’s Telling Tales this weekend continued with A M Howell’s event. She was talking about her wonderful book, ‘The Garden of Lost Secrets’ and how she came to write it. This is a brilliant story, set in 1916, when Clara is sent to stay with her aunt and uncle. Taking a huge secret with her, she finds herself living in the Gardener’s Cottage on a country estate. Here she finds there are many other secrets, including a thief who is stealing the exotic fruits from the estate hothouses. Beautifully atmospheric and full of charm, it is an excellent read and I was keen to find out more about the author.


Ann-Marie told us about the diaries she wrote as a child and even read us a section from one! Talking about where stories come from, she told us that she gets lots of ideas from places she visits and Ickworth House in Suffolk gave her the idea for her story. Its walled gardens and the gardener’s cottage started her imagination working overtime and when she researched the history of the estate, she heard that a gardener’s notebook had been found which was about 100 years old. When she met with the head gardener, it turned out that the contents were not all that exciting, but it added to the mix of thoughts and ideas which became the book.


Ann-Marie then encouraged the audience to create their own settings- and there were so many ideas! Lots of weird and wonderful locations were suggested for stories which hopefully will be written by the lively minds that created them. It was a great session and a satisfying conclusion to this year’s visit to Shakespeare’s Telling Tales.

The Garden of Lost Secrets A M Howell

Usborne ISBN: 978-1474959551

NSTBA Past Winners- Read Aloud Category

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Reading aloud is one of the most pleasurable and important parts of a teacher’s job. This category is great fun to investigate and find candidates for- and we have read some treasures over the years! All of those short listed ( and most long listed!) are now tried and tested in our classrooms and have been huge successes. Such a wonderful selection to pick from.


In 2015, the wonderful ‘Hercufleas’ won. This is a great story, full of fun and houmour- and an adorable flea! On WBD this year, in our Sharing Stories assembly, Torie chose Chapter One to read to KS2 and it was as popular as ever! You can read our review here.


Sam attended the awards ceremony and has been a firm favourite with the group ever since, twice making the trip to visit schools in our group and speaking to JAB.

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‘Dave Pigeon’ won in 2016. Sheena, Swapna and her family came to the ceremony and were just wonderful. Warm and friendly, they added to the lovely atmosphere of the occasion. Dave proved to be a great hit with our children and each new book is eagerly anticipated. Light-hearted and quick to read these books have been particularly popular with Y3/4 children. You can read our review here.

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Andrew Beasley won in 2017 with ‘SCREAM’, a delightfully spooky read with really strong characters. Andrew was lovely when he attended the ceremony and was delighted to receive the award. The second book of this series, ‘Carnival of Monsters’ has also been very popular.

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You can read our review of ‘The Mummy’s Revenge’ here.

Last year, this category was won by the lovely Laura James and Emily Fox, both of whom came to the awards. Fabio is great fun and we are looking forward to sharing book two with children as soon as possible. Great fun, this highly illustrated, colourful story really offers something a little different. You can read our review here.


So many wonderful books to share, making the daily read aloud session something really special for everyone. Because these are chosen to be read aloud to a class, not all of them have book event ideas or teaching suggestions to go with them, but some do.


This year’s contenders are looking just as exciting- only thirteen days until submissions close now!

Quality Fiction next!

The Peculiar Peggs of Riddling Woods


Poppy has gone to stay with Grandma who lives in the sleepy town of Suds. Whilst there, she has to follow Grandma’s rules: keep the sugar locked away; do your washing during the day and make sure it’s brought in before six o’clock- even if it’s still wet; close the window at night, lock it and draw the curtains and NEVER dust the window sills. Not the rules you might expect, but then Suds is not as it appears. There are stories about children who have vanished- the colour draining slowly from them before they disappear completely. And then there’s the mysterious silk-bound book Poppy found on the train…

Poppy is certain that there is something peculiar going on in Suds and with her new friend, Erasmus, starts investigating its secrets. Curious characters and strange events lead them to the dark, sinister Riddling Woods, but will Poppy be brave enough to solve the mystery?

Full of wit and wisdom, ‘The Peculiar Peggs of Riddling Woods’ is a quirky original read which is deliciously dark in places. The many twists to the plot are cleverly woven together, making it thoroughly enjoyable.

Poppy and Erasmus are wonderful characters - both outsiders and both coping with difficulties in their lives. Poppy’s mother died in a crash and her father is often away; Erasmus’s mother is a drinker, often embarrassing and neglecting him. Each has an inner strength and copes, yet each is vulnerable. Gran is an amazing character- sweet- eating seamstress who can make anything.

The world of folklore and legends, the sinister nature of the Peggs and the hard fought battle of good versus evil make this book a refreshing alternative to many available at the moment. Peppered with quirky illustrations, it offers plenty of pacy action, mystery and adventure.

The Peculiar Peggs of Riddling Woods Samuel J Halpin, illustrated by Hannah Peck

Usborne ISBN: 978-1474945660