In today’s blog post we dive into the literary world of adventure to give you eight exciting book recommendations. From staple classics to up-and-coming contemporary titles, you’re guaranteed to find something to inspire your inner explorer …
Here at Shrine Bell, our motto is to inspire adventure. Our titles aim to ignite that wondrous spark and encourage people to discover all that the great outdoors has to offer. From climbing boulders to summiting mountains, walking routes to fell running, or even simply taking in the visual beauty of nature on a quiet, bright day, the outdoors has something for everyone.
Oftentimes, our adventurous spirit begins as a young child – when our imaginations are ripe and our inquisitional minds want to see, do and learn. Our books are dedicated to preserving and encouraging this.
However, current literary trends tend towards issue-based children’s books, which has seen a decline in the number of adventure books published for children in the last few years.
A recent report by The Guardian looking into themes of children’s literature found that ‘there is a general societal trend – more inwards, more restrictive of the child’s movements, more focused on the self’. This shift inwards has been attributed to an increasing focus on mental health and individual wellbeing: ‘Many deal with things going wrong in families: family breakdown, accidents, deaths, mental health problems from depression and addiction to borderline personality disorders, all of which it will be impossible for a child to resolve as the issues are insurmountable’.
While this new focus on mental health is undoubtedly positive, the chain reaction seems to have caused a decline in outdoor adventure titles, meaning the positive mental benefits of such adventures are being cast aside. In an ideal world, the advantages of both approaches would be made known so that children would be free to explore these issues in a narrative style of their choice.
It is not only this shift towards exploring the issues of the self that has seen attitudes change towards adventure narratives and outdoor play, but the societal shift towards a more technologically focused world. Our daily lives are continuously becoming more and more materialistic – children now have myriad access to mobile phones, TV, tablets and gaming consoles – possessions are starting to take precedence over the possibilities of the outdoors and the joy of adventure. It has even recently been reported that children today are more likely to own a mobile phone than a book!
With that said, let’s take a look at the unique benefits of outdoor adventure time for children:
It’s healthy (in more ways than one!):
We all know the physical benefits of getting our children outdoors (fresh air, working up a healthy appetite, and a stronger immune system, to name a few), but the mental health benefits are just as important:
- Having adventures outdoors is commonly an activity shared with others – family bonding, great discussions and new friendships are often made while out exploring and this is a welcome contrast to the more isolating activity of playing on a console or watching a movie indoors. As adventure loving parents, we wish to lead by example, and it is no surprise that the second generation of Shrine Bell are into all kinds of outdoor activities: one enjoys doing hikes, gardening, and Parkruns with his mum every week, one is a budding BMX champion, and one is no stranger to remote back packing and mountain climbing adventures.
- A can-do, quick-thinking attitude – while outdoors children can learn lifesaving skills, such as key orientation and problem-solving skills, which gives them a foundation to be calmer in unexpected or stressful situations later in life.
- Being adventurous allows us to take more risks and often enjoy those risks! In today’s world it seems we are becoming more and more cautious as parents – however, children will often relish a challenge! Our author, Matt Dickinson, who often visits schools to talk about his experiences on Everest and his Everest Files trilogy, always asks the children whether they’d go up Everest and most say yes! In fact, the youngest person to reach the summit was just thirteen! The will to explore is there, we just have to encourage it. Outdoor adventure teaches children to be ambitious and gives them the confidence to achieve.
- Seeing things more clearly – time outdoors, away from life’s little stresses and technological distractions, can allow everyone to see what is really important and appreciate the bigger things. Our upcoming children’s book, The Goblin’s Blue Blanket, explores this in a charming story about why it’s important not to stress about the little things and to grab every opportunity for adventure with both hands.
Teaching respect and appreciation for the outdoors:
Less self. More world. While, of course, caring about yourself is important, the environment needs our consideration too. Children are the future and the environment needs protecting now and forever. The act of reading outdoor adventure stories as a young child can ignite this essential protective mindset and ensure that our love for the outdoors is never abandoned.
Following on from the recent publication of Robert MacFarlane’s The Lost Words, a beautiful book which stands against the disappearance of words used to describe nature from a child’s vocabulary, there’s been a lot of talk about educating children by taking them out into nature. It is a worrying trend that some children cannot identify certain plants, trees, wildlife or birds. If they cannot recognise them, how can we expect children to grow up and protect them? It is more important now than ever to reignite this admiration and understanding of nature.
What’s more, we can lose this key caring trait as we grow older and become encumbered by life’s abundance of distractions.
Reading adventure stories inspires outdoor play:
Children’s adventure books contribute excellently to the fun factor of the outdoors – the characters and adventures in these stories live fondly in a child’s imagination long after the final page. As well as building on their daily experiences, be that stories or other mediums, in the canvas of the outdoors, children can become creators of their own unique stories. I remember countless visits to my local woods as a child with my friends, re-enacting the Winnie the Pooh expeditions I had enjoyed reading at bedtime.
Our latest children’s book Popcorn-Eating Squirrels of the World Unite!, celebrates the boundless nature of a child’s imagination. To quote its award-winning author, Matt Dickinson: ‘It’s a pure flight of the imagination with no limits on craziness and bonkers stuff!’
There are endless possibilities and inspiration is a mere page turn away – let their imagination run wild!
Award-winning writer and adventurer Matt Dickinson has been to the top of the highest volcano in the world, he's survived a beaver attack in Alaska and, as anyone who has read his Everest Files books would guess, he's climbed the world's tallest peak but, as a father, what's the best adventure he's been on with his five children? What devices does he use in his writing to try and hold the attention of young readers who are surrounded by so many other distractions? Which children's books has he enjoyed reading? We catch up with him ahead of the release of his new children's book, Popcorn-Eating Squirrels of the World Unite!
Your Mortal Chaos and Everest Files series have been big hits with older children and teenagers around the world, what inspired you to write a book for younger readers?
Well, first I would say that I am now (and always have been) basically a big kid! But seriously. One of the nicest things about being a parent (I have five children) is that moment when they really get into reading. With my own kids they have switched onto it at different ages but I’ve always felt the six to ten years old phase of being a reader is particularly exciting and the Popcorn-Eating Squirrels series is written with that in mind.
Why is this age band an exciting one to write for? Well a combination of factors. Firstly, it’s a time when the imagination is firing up in all sorts of amazing ways. Secondly, kids this age really do have a crazy sense of humour. Thirdly, they are just starting to read independently and to engage with larger-scale stories. So Squirrels has been a chance to write with the ‘brakes off’. Let the slightly nuts side of my imagination go wild and have some real fun with the characters. I’m loving it and am intending to write more Squirrels books very soon.
How is the process different to writing for a young-adult audience?
A young-adult audience is a very sophisticated readership. But it's also one that has a lot of distractions. Social media, gaming, Netflix are all competing for their attention and as a writer you are up against all of that. I have always sought to bring a ‘real world’ feel to my young-adult books which has come from my own experiences (for example on Everest with The Everest Files) and I think that is a key part of the process. It’s quite controlled, and based on real life.
When you write for younger readers the process is really different. With Popcorn-Eating Squirrels I most certainly haven’t based it on a ‘real world’ experience, it’s a pure flight of the imagination with no limits on craziness and bonkers stuff. A popcorn machine that magically turns squirrels into zombies? Bring it on! A team of honey badgers who set up a vermin control company? Why not? So the process of writing for younger readers has more opportunities for fun. Plus they have far fewer distractions so once they get into a book they can really focus on it.
What was it like working with the book's illustrator, Calloway?
Working with Calloway Berkeley O’Reilly has been a great pleasure. It’s my first time to work with an illustrator and I think that our partnership will go from strength to strength. He’s a very young guy and this is his first book so it’s also a thrill to think that this is where his illustrator career starts! The most interesting thing has been to see how HIS imagination has given the pictures a special quality. I love it!
Can you give us five top things to love about squirrels?
1. They are real survivors
2. They're sociable creatures that can adapt
3. They can solve problems to get food
4. They have feet which can swivel through 180 degrees
5. They plan ahead – e.g. storing food for winter ... that is really smart
For anyone who hasn't read one of your books before, how would you describe your style of writing?
I think of myself as a storyteller first and foremost. I like to write in a style that is direct, in which the characters themselves dictate the action through their decisions.
I am definitely in the ‘less is more’ mindset. I cut my own work down rigorously before I send it to anyone. Some of my chapters have fewer than fifty words! My stories do move along fast, for that reason!
As a father of five, what’s the best adventure you’ve been on with your children?
Gosh there have been so many! But I think the all time epic was flying on a float plane into the wilds of Alaska and being dumped at a cabin. On that journey we saw Grizzly bears fishing for salmon and otters playing just a few metres away. Raw nature. Awesome!
Can you recommend other children’s books that you like to read?
I love the books of Philip Reeve and Sarah Macintyre, they are absolutely brilliant. And The 13-Storey Treehouse series is also superbly funny. As a one off book Wed Wabbit is also really worth a read.
What’s next on your adventure and writing agenda?
So far as writing is concerned it's full-on with the Popcorn-Eating Squirrels now. I want to build it into a series that kids will really enjoy. When it come to my own personal adventures I think I might be going back to Everest next year … watch this space!!
Kieron Black, a professional artist known around the world for his artwork, has signed with Shrine Bell, to write and illustrate a two-part children’s book series. The first book, The Goblin’s Blue Blanket, will be published in March 2019. With many strings to his creative bow, Black produces exceptional watercolour and acrylic mountain landscapes, cartoon strips, skateboard decks and book illustrations. He has illustrated many books throughout his career, but this is the first time his own words will be published alongside his colourful creations. Ogie is the goblin with the beloved blue blanket. When it goes missing, he and his cat, Gerald, go off in search for it but meanwhile miss out on the opportunities for adventure they are offered along the way. All parents will remember a time their child lost a much-treasured item, and for Black the inspiration for the book came when his daughter left her toy at a local fair and had to wait until the next day before she could retrieve it.
Black is thrilled to be collaborating with outdoor-adventure publisher Vertebrate Publishing, and believes it’s the perfect fit for the series. ‘Every time I'm in the hills, the Alps, the Mournes, wherever, I'm seeing Ogie, or something just like him, staring at me from behind some cairn or outcrop. It’s probably marmots, or sheep. But anyway, Ogie comes from the mountains. How perfect then that it should be Vertebrate – a publishing house steeped in the mountains – that picked up his story. I'm delighted.’
With Black’s full-colour, vibrant and magical illustrations alongside a poignant story with a moral, the Ogie stories promise to be a hit for all with an active imagination and sense of adventure.
Shrine Bell, the fiction imprint of outdoor specialist Vertebrate Publishing, is to release Popcorn-Eating Squirrels of the World Unite! – the first in a new two-part series by Matt Dickinson – in autumn 2018.
The narrative brings readers into the world of four unlikely heroes whose hunger-driven ambition to get hold of the Pop-O-Matic 3,000 machine causes popcorn pandemonium.
Thrilled to be working with Dickinson again on what will be his fifth book with Vertebrate, managing director Jon Barton said, ‘Matt Dickinson is one of Vertebrate Publishing’s most high-profile authors with a fantastic international reach. These will be his first books for primary school children, following on from his fantastically successful teen Everest Files trilogy. Matt’s vast experience working in schools with librarians and teachers made this deal so perfect for us.’
Dickinson’s filmmaking career as a director/cameraman for National Geographic television and the Discovery Channel has taken him to some of the most remote corners of the earth – often in the company of the world’s leading expeditioners. Inspired by his 1996 ascent of Mount Everest with actor Brian Blessed, Dickinson’s popular Everest Files series has seen him make appearances at hundreds of high schools across the UK and abroad in a bid to promote literacy and cross-curriculum learning. Now Dickinson has turned his hand to writing for primary school children with the aim of encouraging the younger generation to get reading.
When asked why he wanted to write a book about squirrels, Dickinson responded, ‘When I was young I really wanted to be a squirrel. I mean it. I totally did. My friends wanted to be dolphins and man-eating lions and Tyrannosaurus Rexes and so on, but me? Squirrel. One hundred per cent. What’s not to like? Shiny eyes. Fluffy, silky fur. They zoom about the trees with athletic grace, flying between branches with daredevil nonchalance. I wanted to write a series of illustrated titles with a strong identity to capture the imagination and with the potential for the next books to come out every four to six months.’
Popcorn-Eating Squirrels of the World Unite! will be published by Shrine Bell on 6 September.
Reissued this February with an all-new cover, Arrowhead, the third novel by award-winning author Ruth Eastham, awakens an ancient Viking curse, from which Jack and his friends must save the world. Weaving aspects of Norse mythology with race-against-the-clock tension as the modern world is turned on its head, Ruth draws you in to a thrilling emotional journey. We caught up with her to talk about character construction and what inspired her to write the book.
1. What was the inspiration for Arrowhead, have you always had an interest in Viking history?
Several ingredients were the inspiration for Arrowhead. One was a visit to the atmospheric Lindisfarne in Northumberland, the site of that notorious raid that kicked off the Viking Era. The other inspiration was when I read an article about a 5,000 year old man, Otzi, found in a melting glacier in the Alps, northern Italy. It’s a fascinating cold case murder story (!) and I was lucky enough to be able to visit the body. That got me thinking … If a 5,000 year-old body can be preserved in a glacier, what if …? What if the body of a young Viking was found, trapped for 1,000 years in the ice cave of a glacier? And then … How did he become trapped? What if his last act as he was dying was to carve runes in the ice, runes warning of some terrible danger? The rest, as they say, is history!
2. Your books always include a throwback to the past, do you enjoy the blend of ancient and contemporary or modernising well-known stories and retelling them anew?
My daughter thinks history is boring - but I keep telling her, it’s because she’s not being taught it in an inspiring way! History is part of us, and I find it fascinating to think about following the branches of my family tree further and further back in time and think about how my ancestors might have lived, and what it was like to be them. I enjoy exploring well-known stories from the past, and then thinking about how I can re-tell them with a twist.
3. You’re often praised for the believability of your characters. What advice can you give to budding authors struggling to bring their characters to life?
Thank you for saying so! Well, for me, the voice of a character has to be authentic, and distinct from the other voices in the story, as this marks out their personality. And – very important – your characters have to have flaws and failings, to make them believably human. But we need to like them too, and root for them, despite their sometimes getting things wrong, and they have to be pro-active and making decisions. And as for antagonists – even they have to have redeeming features!
4. The protagonists in your books have all been boys so far. Was this a conscious decision and do you think you might make a girl the central character in your next book?
In fact a recent book of mine, an illustrated short novel called The Moonlight Hare, has a girl as a main character! I really like the dynamics of the two boys and a girl trio. Actually all my books, without exception, have strong female characters vital to the plot, who are all very much major driving forces in the story. Lia in The Memory Cage, Sasha in The Messenger Bird, Emma in Arrowhead, Yara in The Jaguar Trials, and Emmi in The Warrior in the Mist.
5. What do you imagine happened to Jack and his friends after the final pages? Could they go back to living normal lives after such dramatic adventure?
Ah, well, that is for the reader to decide! I don’t think you could entirely go back to a normal life after being chased by murderous classmates, together with a blood-thirsty, resurrected Viking warrior, do you?! Tough things have happened to the characters, but I hope the ending is satisfying and meaningful for the reader, if not a total happily ever after.