Children’s book recommendations

The Great British Bake-Off is over (Nadia: “I can. And I will.” An inspiration to women everywhere.) Strictly has begun. The nights are drawing in and bookshelves are groaning with books to be read in the long, dark evenings, and bought for friends and family as presents in the months to come.

But which books? How to choose?


The days of the long, printed colour supplement crammed with children’s book recommendations are over, and this is a shame. And a surprise. Children’s and YA books are leading the market. They’re the most successful sector. Why do the papers and the media hardly talk about them? However, there are lots of enthusiastic and well-read reviewers out there, and I’ve seen some great book recommendations on the web recently. One of them even includes a book of mine …

Here are my suggestions for where to look this October:

12 Teen Books About Refugees. Scottish Book Trust. OK, so first of all, I’m going to include the list that includes me. Because, obvs. We all have the refugees from Syria and elsewhere on our minds right now, and many books bring this issue to life for children in deep and surprising ways. Jo Cotterill’s Looking at the Stars has been nominated for a host of awards, and rightly so. Eoin Colfer, of Artemis Fowl fame, has announced that he’ll be publishing a graphic novel with Andrew Donkin called Illegal about a refugee next year, and I can’t wait to see it. But meanwhile, the Scottish Book Trust has reminded me that my very first book was about a refugee too. I thought I was mad to combine a book about three teenage girls in the London fashion scene with a story I wanted to tell about child soldiers in Uganda, and the repercussions on their families. But that’s what I did. Crow Lamogi is still one of my favourite characters, and always will be. I very much doubt she came into this country entirely legally, but I am equally certain that she will do London, and her heritage, proud. Refugees and their children are often the lifeblood of a vibrant culture and economy. Let’s talk about them, and read about them, and be them for a bit, if only in a story. It will make us more compassionate, and this world needs all the compassion it can get right now.

The best young adult books of 2015 … Daily Telegraph. I don’t have a book out this year (my latest, due out in spring 2016, took ages to write), so I’m taking a great deal of pleasure in all my friends’ success. I’m lucky to have lots of writer friends, and they’ve written lots of great books recently. In fact, I’m off to a launch party for one of them this evening – When I Was Me, by Hilary Freeman, combining quantum physics, parallel universes and the very recognisable pain and promise of being a teenager. You can see Blamemybookshelf‘s review of it here.

One series mentioned by the Telegraph that I’m particularly pleased about is Keris Stainton’s Reel Friends, for younger teens. Keris is an old friend of mine, and we met online because she has always, always championed YA books – since before that’s what they were called. And especially books for and about girls. (Even though she’s the mother of two boys, and has written successfully about them too.) The Reel Friends series subtly addresses issues of diversity that children’s fiction still doesn’t bring to life often enough. Sure, the wonderful Nadiya Begum won the Bake-Off final last night, but how often do you see a girl in a hijab on the cover of a book? Or a girl exploring her developing feelings for another girl? I do a lot of school visits as an author and I regularly meet girls who I don’t think see themselves represented in the fiction they read, and who would hug Keris’s books to their heart. I’m including a link to the review of Spotlight on Sunny by Teens on Moon Lanes – another blog bigging up children’s books right now (and linked to a local bookshop of mine), which I’m happy to see.

If you want more general reviews, suggestions, advice and the ability to buy, there’s always the fantastic Lovereading4kids. If I were to set up a website about children’s books – as Julia Eccleshare did a few years ago – it would be like this. Oh, and I notice that one of its recommendations is for One, by Sarah Crossan. Can a book about conjoined twins, written in poetry, be really, really good? Yes. Yes it can. (Sarah also throws really, really good launch parties. But the quality of her maccaroons in no way biases me. I’d read the book first and already found it wonderful.) CJ Skuse’s Monster is there too. If you feel like a bit of boarding school horror – and who doesn’t? – try this one. CJ never pulls her punches and the ending will leave you with a very uncomfortable feeling. As any good horror should.

More suggestions to come, for 9-12 readers. About dragons and detectives. Two of my favourite subjects.

But for now, happy reading. The right book is out there. You just have to find it …

sophia xxx

Meet friends and write books …

Today I’m not really here. The real me is in the shed. Seriously. Editing editing editing … and meanwhile the virtual me is on Writing for the Tub, with Caroline Green, talking to Carly Bennett about our new courses for aspiring children’s writers at City University London. Thank you for hosting us, Carly! Very kind.

If you want to find out more about how we chose our reading lists, what we find scary about writing, and what 3 things we’d put in our bag for a first evening on a writing course, then check us out here

And if you want to sign up for a series of fun Thursday evenings in Islington, talking about books and tweaking your writing, then it’s not too late! Details here.

Zoe drawings

What happens after The End?


Today I have been mostly blogging on Girls Heart Books …

Originally posted on Girls Heart Books:

Over a year it’s taken. Ages and ages and ages.

It became known as The Book That Wouldn’t Write Itself. And then, at the very last minute, it did – taking me rather by surprise. Scene after scene suddenly took shape. A bit with broken wood and snow, and a scattered records and a broken heart made me cry a little. My editor liked my ideas for how to finish it. Woooooo! And then …. this:

Girls Heart Books - 1See those last words? ‘THE END’.

Oh yeah. Crazy *this book finally wrote itself dance*

I sent it off to the (very patient) publisher. The publisher loved it. Woooooooooooo!

So – what next? What happens after THE END?

Well, obviously the next book. I’m slowly plotting it. And I’ve got some overflow characters who may well have to go in the one after. And I got a job! Woooooooo! As of next term, I’ll…

View original 164 more words

UKYA Easter Egg Hunt

Egg hunt

Welcome to the UKYA Easter Egg Hunt! One very lucky winner will win a huge grand prize of signed books by over thirty YA authors who write and live in the UK.

All you have to do is read this blog, count up how many UKYA branded Easter eggs you see here (not including the unbranded ones in the banner at the top), and follow the link at the end to the next blog. Keep going until you get back to the blog where you started, and add up how many eggs you’ve seen along the way.

Ta dah! Easy, huh?

Email your answer to: A winner will be chosen at random from all correct entries, and contacted by email.

This closes at noon (UK time) on Sunday, 5th April, and is open internationally.

A little bit about me

I write YA about girls who love, or hate, fashion, music and fame, and who somehow have to deal with the consequences. There’s also quite a bit about saving the world in there too.

My best-known series is Threads, which is about a secret genius teenage fashion designer and the friends who help her get discovered. I’ve also written The Look, You Don’t Know Me and The Castle.

I possibly spend too much time wondering what it’s like to be a designer, or a model, or a reality TV reject, or to accidentally stow away on a superyacht, end up on a billionaire’s private island and try to save a whole country from an evil dictator. Luckily, that’s my job.

So get finding those eggs! And some awesome UKYA authors and books along the way.

The next blog from here is Gillian Philip at

Good luck! Get counting!


Leipzig, Manga and more

Today, I’m in London packing my bags and making sure I’ve got travel insurance. (Thank you for reminding me, Post Office man.)

Tomorrow, I will be … well mostly on airplanes and trains, but on Friday I’ll be here …

manga2At the Leipzig Book Fair. Which, as you can see, isn’t just any book fair. As well as celebrating traditional books, this is the biggest Manga Comic Con in Europe. And as practically every teen I know who reads LOVES Manga, it’s definitely the place to be.

There will be drawing. There will be girls in blue wigs, and face paint, and wings, and space outfits, and boys in the same. There will be lots and lots of books. There will be my lovely publishers, Chicken House Germany, who kindly invited me, and me, reading from You Don’t Know Me, and thinking how much my characters would have loved to be there.

There will be fun. Wish me luck. Now I really must work out what to wear …


Top 10 books set in the Med …

Brrrrr, it’s cold.

I haven’t blogged here for a while, because I’ve been busy working out how to write the new book, and then putting the book aside and enjoying a family Christmas and New Year, and then picking the book up again and – with my wonderful editor’s help – fixing some problems with my first draft and getting on with it again.

In fact, 2014 wasn’t a big blogging year for me on You Read It Here, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t blogging. Because I was. Oh yeah. And as we hit 2015 with all our new year’s resolutions fresh in our hearts, I thought I’d share some of those pieces with you. Because I worked on them a lot. And because one of my resolutions is to share more of my writing life again – as well as just doing it.

Given how cold it is, I thought I’d start with one of my favourites – I piece I wrote for the Guardian in the summer, about my top 10 books set in the Mediterranean. Here are the top 8. If you want those final 2, including the all-important adventure story that helped inspire me while I was writing The Castle, check out the original article on the Guardian website.

The Castle by Sophia Bennett

Here’s the rest …

“Italy, on a good day, is a lot sunnier than England on a bad one. As it was tipping down with rain when I started writing The Castle, I fancied spending some time in the sun – if only in my imagination. The Amalfi coast, where a lot of the book is set, is so impossibly beautiful that if you weren’t feeling slightly car sick, whipping round all those hairpin bends on the coast road, you’d hardly believe it was real.

The Med seems to bring out the adventurous spirit in writers and it provides a thrilling backdrop for tales of mystery, love and death. Here are some of the best …

1. Meet Matisse by Jean-Vincent Senac

Matisse was a master at capturing the dramatic light and colour of the south of France, and there’s a stunning exhibition of his cut-outs at the Tate Modern in London. Through this activity book you can copy his techniques and create your own cut-out works of art. If you can, visit the exhibition too. It’s a delight.

2. The Usborne Illustrated Stories from the Greek Myths

There are many versions of the myths for children out there, but I was particularly wowed by the beautiful illustrations in this one. My seven
year-old loved the gore. Every rock and island, it seems, is the site of some mythical triumph or tragedy, often involving monsters being killed in various gruesome ways, or by sailors getting eaten. Perfect bedtime reading for the not-so-squeamish.

3. The Roman Mysteries series by Caroline Lawrence

Caroline’s wonderful detective series for pre-teen readers has all of my favourite ingredients: clever kids, friendship, puzzle solving, and a window into another world – life in the Roman Empire. Also, the stories are set in some of the best Mediterranean locations, from Pompeii to Alexandria. They bring the Roman world to life better than any other books I know.

4. My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

This was one of my favourite funny reads growing up and still makes me laugh. By chapter one, young Gerry, his eccentric mother, brothers, sister, dog called Roger and various caterpillars have left the dreary cold and rain of England for the “bright, looking-glass world of Greece”. They settle in a strawberry-pink villa in the Corfu hills, and Gerry’s adventures as a budding naturalist begin. It’s a must for any animal lover, and now you know how Clare Balding’s autobiography (My Animals and Other Family) got its name. See what she did there?

5. A World Between Us by Lydia Syson

“The sea, the sparkling sea: from the mountains they have come right across the sea again. It is beautiful.” Love, idealism and tragedy are thickly mixed in this story of the Internationales, who went off to fight in the Spanish Civil War. Lydia Syson writes gripping historical UK YA, set in the twentieth century. Look out, too, for the beautiful covers of her books, which echo the strong design aesthetic of the time.

6. The Iliad by Homer

The war between the Greeks and Trojans over Helen of Troy is somewhat older. How can a three thousand year-old poem about it possibly still be interesting, or relevant, or a good read for teens? Well, I recommend giving it a go. A bit like The Hunger Games, with chariots, ships and gods. By all means just skip to the battle scenes if you like.

7. Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

If that’s all a bit too energetic on a summer’s day, picture Hercule Poirot in cream linen, travelling up the Nile on an old-fashioned cruise ship. Agatha Christie was inspired to write the story while on a steamer that you can still cruise on. There is something about a very hot sun and a very wicked murder plot that just seems to work.

8. The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

Talking of wicked murder plots… Tom Ripley is sent to from America to Italy to bring back Dickie Greenleaf, a rich college kid who’s fallen in love with a lifestyle of sun, sea and jazz, and won’t come home. Trouble is, Tom comes to love Dickie’s life there as much as Dickie does…

Patricia Highsmith has a habit of making you root for the bad guy. Tom Ripley is of the most compelling serial murderers you will get to meet in fiction, and this is where it all begins.”

So those are the top 8. The other 2 are waiting for you here. Why not wrap yourself up on the sofa with a story, and send yourself off to the Med for some adventure and some hot summer sun … ?

Happy 2015!

sophia xxx

Cheltenham Lit Fest

I may have mentioned that I have the best job in the world.

It’s a bit of a scary job to have at the moment. A huge shift is happening in the publishing world, with self-publishing and e-books taking off and mail-order books taking over from our lovely, friendly bookshops, and while it’s great for readers that books seem to be getting cheaper, it’s not so great for writers until somebody, somewhere, works out how we’re still supposed to make a living out of making up stories. I hope they do. Maybe that someone will be me. Who knows?

But meanwhile, I still do get to make up stories and that’s a wonderful thing. I also get to talk about those stories and the process of writing them, and I get to do that in fun places, like schools and the Cheltenham Festival of Literature. And that is FUN.

I was there on Saturday with Barry Cunningham, my publisher, who was happy to share his tales of discovering JK Rowling (yes, he did that), and talk about what he’s looking for in children’s books now. The panel also included the agent Zoe King, and Alex O’Connell, the Arts Editor of The Times. It’s not every day you have a selfie taken by the Arts Editor of The Times (I know that means it isn’t technically a selfie, but go with me), but here’s me checking out my head mic, courtesy of Alex. Thank you!

Head micBest of all was hearing that her daughter has read and enjoyed a couple of my books. I haven’t met her, but I love her already.

I hope we were helpful to the crowded tent of aspiring authors who came to listen, and ask questions. It was inspiring to meet some teenagers in the audience who’ve already written their first books. It was so impressive to know that they’ve finished their stories. So many people start, and so few make it through to the end, so that’s an achievement in itself. We warned them that they may not find success quickly. In fact, they probably won’t. They have to really want it, and to persevere to make it happen. But with Zoe’s help – and she was keen to help them – perhaps it might.

But even better than the panel, for me, was simply being there. Festivals are full of fascinating people. If you’re lucky enough to make it backstage, you might literally find yourself bumping into Andrew Lloyd Webber (I almost did).

On the way to the Writers’ Room I managed to fangirl madly to Camila Batmanghelidjh, the inspirational founder of The Kids’ Company and one of my absolute favourite style icons, on top of the fact that she’s one of the most important fighters for the rights of underprivileged and troubled children in the country. It was very special to be able to tell her how much I admire her.

I was eating a quick supper in the Writers’ Room (they do food; it’s delicious), when I looked up and saw Richard Curtis. I think there’s a sort of unwritten rule that one doesn’t fangirl in the room itself, unless you at least vaguely know the person, so I just admired him from afar. Lots of admiring. I wish I could have heard his talk, which was about what drives screenwriting and song writing, but without a ticket or time to stay on, I had to make do with thinking happy thoughts about Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Blackadder and Comic Relief.

I love a good rom-com, and stories that make me laugh. At the opposite end of the spectrum, I love being made to think, and given in-depth information and analysis about complex situations. Anthony Loyd is probably, right now, the journalist I most admire. He’s a war reporter who has bravely gone to Syria many times to report on the atrocities happening there, and now he’s telling the story about what happened when he was betrayed by one of his hosts, held hostage, beaten up and shot, and only just (by minutes) managed to escape being sold on to ISIS, where he might be facing beheading right now.

Anthony was there too, to give a talk related to the tale of his capture and escape in the Times Magazine. Again, I didn’t want to disturb him to say hello, so I just fangirled from afar. What he has seen, and what he has to say about it, is so important.

I absolutely love the fact that festivals like the Cheltenham one give audiences the chance to hear from people like Anthony, and Camila, and Richard, and even Barry and me.

And the chocolate tart in the Writers’ Room was excellent.

Did I mention? I have the best job in the world.