A relatable and humorous story for young readers. Emily draws on her experience and knowledge as a secondary school librarian in her debut book. Read on for a guest blog from Emily!
The Bear Who Sailed the Ocean on an Iceberg is my first novel for 9-12s. It tells the story of twelve-year-old Patrick who discovers a polar bear living in his parents’ garage. Who is Monty? Where has he come from? And how will Patrick be able to feed Monty when his pocket money only stretches to a few tins of sardines?
The book follows Patrick’s attempts to conceal Monty and to devise a plan to get him home to Greenland. Friendship is a major theme of the story with Patrick finding an unlikely companion in Monty, and we also see a new friendship with a boy at school who helps Patrick to stand up to the playground bullies.
I feel incredibly lucky that I am able to combine being a children’s author alongside my job as a secondary school librarian. No day is ever the same; I might be assisting with a class visit, running a club, giving a talk about online resources, helping older students with research projects, all along with the many admin duties involved in running a library. I also love hearing about what students have enjoyed reading and why, or even what they haven’t enjoyed. As an author this is invaluable first-hand feedback and can inform my own writing. Animal stories are still popular in Year Seven as is humour, and I enjoyed the challenge of attempting to combine the two with my talking bear. I also wanted to depict the ordinary, everyday life of a Year Seven pupil, to ensure Patrick and his problems felt relatable.
A common complaint I hear from younger readers is that a book’s beginning is too slow; the author has taken too long to get into the story. I knew I needed to hook readers with a snappy opening and that Patrick had to meet Monty on page one. The book is as much about Patrick’s family and school life in crisis as it is the polar bear in his garage, but finding Monty is the catalyst for the unraveling of events at home and at school and I knew I had to capture Monty on the opening pages to engage the reader. Monty is an educated bear who, unlike Patrick, worries very little and takes life as it comes. He arrives in Patrick’s life at a time when Patrick needs a friend, and it felt important to me for Monty to be an inspiring as well as a comic character and for readers to be left wanting a Monty in their own garage. I knew I would like one!
I also knew the book needed plenty of heart, tenderness, and a character who finds the courage to express himself. At school, I run a Creative Writing club for years seven and eight and I try to encourage students to not only tell a good story but to help them realise their lives, opinions and feelings matter; to empower students to write about what’s important to them as well as to have lots of fun with their writing and character creation.
THE BEAR WHO SAILED WHO SAILED THE OCEAN ON AN ICEBERG by Emily Critchley is out now in paperback (£7.99, Everything with Words)
Follow Emily on Twitter @EmilyMCritchley and Instagram @emily.critchley and find out more at emilycritchley.com and everythingwithwords.com