• Engaging Young Readers: Eight great reasons to give audio a go

    We’re excited to announce that as well as providing our books in print and ebook formats, we are offering audiobook versions of select titles.

    Our first three audiobooks, Matt Dickinson's The Everest FilesNorth Face and Killer Storm are now live. To celebrate this addition to our digital library, our Digital Assets Editor, Sarah, takes a look at what makes audio so appealing for young readers …


    The ‘immerseability’ factor

    Ever heard the phrase, ‘Headphones in. World out’? This really rings true here – listening to a book makes it so much easier to get drawn into the story. This can be especially helpful for readers who get easily distracted or have trouble concentrating.

    Audio appeals to an innate desire: storytelling

    The art of telling and listening to a story is the oldest tradition – thousands of years before we were writing stories down and reading them. There is almost an innate comfort about being told a story, and hearing this story from a professional actor makes the experience not only more vivid, but arguably more engaging, realistic and exciting for young readers.

    Do more on the go

    Parents rejoice! Avoid the dreaded ‘I’m bored’ or ‘Are we there yet?’ on roadtrips – sticking an audiobook on can make any length of journey fun and entertaining!

    Give their eyes a break!

    In a world where young people are never too far from a screen – be it tablet, TV or mobile phone – audiobooks provide a very welcome relief for tired and strained eyes!


    Develop their literacy skills

    Using audiobooks can help grow a young person’s vocabulary, as well as their speaking and listening skills.

    Audiobooks are accessible

    Audiobooks are fantastic for developing a reader’s confidence – for those who find printed books daunting or feel discouraged from a title due its difficult reading level, audiobooks provide a welcome solution.

    The more the merrier: make reading a social experience

    Audiobooks allow the joy of reading to be developed, shared and discussed. Listening to a book as a family is a great bonding experience and, as previously mentioned, very entertaining due to the high-quality voice actors who narrate with captivating enthusiasm and expression.

    They’re great for bedtime

    Listening to an audiobook before bed is a fantastic way to winddown and relax. They also make incorporating some reading time into a busy evening routine easier: a real win-win!

    Sound good? Keep an ear out as we’ll be announcing more audiobook news very soon!

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  • Climate change protests by school children

    At Shrine Bell our ethos is to publish outdoor adventure books that inspire children to get outside and explore the natural world, so we’ve been keeping abreast of the recent climate change protests by school children because our landscapes need to be preserved and protected for the generations to come. 

    Sixteen-year-old Swedish climate-change activist Greta Thunberg – who was recently nominated for this year's Nobel Peace Prize – inspired a global movement to fight against climate change in which thousands of school children missed lessons to protest across more than 100 countries around the world.

    This March 1,659 school strikes are planned, across 105 countries. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's special report on global warming said that we have less than twelve years to ensure the global temperature doesn't rise more than 1.5 degrees or the risk of drought, floods, extreme heat, food scarcity and climate-related poverty will dramatically increase.

    The effects of climate change can be seen now with the devastating hurricanes in the US, record droughts in Cape Town and forest fires in the Arctic. If warming increases by 2 degrees extremely hot days will become more common, leading to an increase in heat-related deaths. Corals would be ninety-nine per cent lost and melting polar ice caps would lead to dramatically higher sea levels and flooded coastal areas, making places on earth inhabitable.

    A Guardian report said that burning fossil fuels is the world's most significant threat to children's health. Nine out of ten children around the world breathe in dangerous air. Toxic fumes inhaled by pregnant women increase the risk of premature birth, low birth weight and cognitive dysfunction. Pollution from diesel vehicles stunts lung growth, causing lifetime damage.

    The majority of those striking are too young to vote, so if you thought skipping class to protest about climate change might make a difference to your future, wouldn't you?

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  • Matt Dickinson's The Everest Files Trilogy Now Available in Audiobook Format

    Here at Shrine Bell, we are really excited about the benefits of audiobooks for young readers, and are thrilled to announce that our bestselling YA series, The Everest Files trilogy, is now available in audiobook format! Perfect for ages eleven plus, the trilogy follows eighteen-year-old Ryan Hart on a gap year working for a medical charity in Nepal. From the get-go Ryan becomes entangled in a series of thrilling and shocking adventures set amid the world’s highest peak. In book one, The Everest Files, Ryan becomes embroiled in a lethal mission to investigate the disappearance of a stricken climber lost on Everest. In the heart-stopping sequel, North Face, Ryan must survive a deadly earthquake and a do-or-die mission to save a friend stuck on Everest’s treacherous North Face; and in the gripping finale, Killer Storm,  a violent terrorist attack at Base Camp leaves a route up Everest’s deadly slopes the only means of escape …

    The series is inspired by Matt's own mountaineering adventures in the Himalaya. In 1996 he summited Everest via the North Face, climbing alongside actor Brian Blessed until Brian was forced to abandon the climb. Commenting on the Everest Files series Brian said, 'It brings the mountain to life for young readers in a fresh and wonderful way. I urge all lovers of adventure to read it!'

    Professional Voice Artist, Stewart Crank, who narrated the trilogy, said: 'I’m really grateful to have been given the opportunity to work on such brilliant stories for young readers. These books are full of tension and excitement and take you on a simply fantastic journey. I've loved narrating them and you'll love listening to them’.

    For more information on each of these titles and to begin listening, check out our page over on Audible.


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  • What do the concerns and changing behaviours of young people spell for the popularity of adventure books?

    Across Australia, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, the UK and the US, tens of thousands of school-aged children have been skipping class to protest about the global climate change crisis. An organised protest took place on 15 February in the UK with pupils taking to the streets across thirty locations. In Lancaster, A-level student Rosie Mills successfully campaigned to allow under eighteens to have a say on climate change issues, with the aim that the city will eventually produce no carbon at all.

    The number of young people who turned out to vote in the 2017 UK general election was the highest in twenty-five years. Young people talk about politics with their friends, online and on social media platforms, getting involved in debates about gender equality, mental and physical health and education.

    Young people's habits are changing. In a report released by the Health Survey for England, in 2015 one in three sixteen to twenty-four year olds were teetotal, compared with one in five in 2005 with rates of harmful drinking declining. In 2015, twenty-eight per cent admitted to drinking above the recommended limits, compared to forty-three per cent in 2005 and 10,000 participants reported that abstention was becoming mainstream. Pubs are closing at a rate of eighteen per week whereas there are now over 25,000 coffee shops across the UK.

    So might this mean the non-drinking, politically aware, environmentally conscious, avocado-eating young people of today might be looking for healthier ways to spend their time? Perhaps with a good book or getting out and enjoying the outdoors while they can?

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  • Why I Love Doing Children’s Books by Kieron Black

    The Royal Ulster Academy art exhibition takes place in Belfast every year. It’s quite a prestigious event and for an artist to make the shortlist, never mind the exhibition itself, is a fairly big deal, at least locally.

    Last year I was lucky enough to make it through the process and get a piece into the exhibition. It wasn’t my first time as an RUA exhibitor, and hopefully it won’t be my last, but it was a memorable one … for all the right reasons and one very wrong one.

    It was one of my landscape pieces that made the grade, a moody piece depicting a band of rain falling on the Mourne Mountains here in Northern Ireland. It was a bit of a sleeper hit, a painting I had initially dismissed and only submitted on the encouragement of my wife. I remember painting it – I had felt a very strong need to try and capture the scene but afterwards could only see the flaws in it. But there was something in it’s mood that resonated with people and I think that is why it made the exhibition.

    So there we are on opening night, me and my wife, wandering around the rooms and trying to absorb at least some of the amazing work on display. I remember we were scratching our heads in front of one of the more radical pieces when an official from the RUA gently tapped me on the shoulder.

    ‘Ah Kieron’ she says, ‘I wonder, we have a lady here really likes your piece and is thinking of buying it. Maybe you could have a little chat to her about it?’

    ‘Uh … what … why … I’m uh … really …?’ I say, concise and to the point as ever. My wife digs me in the ribs. ‘Of course I can’ I finish.

    So suddenly me and this very nice lady are standing in front of my painting, each of us clutching a glass of rapidly warming white wine. What a perfect opportunity to further my artistic career I think. So, in order to maximise my chances I immediately morph into a red-faced stuttering imbecile who can barely string two coherent sentences together. It does not go well.

    You see, we artists, for a lot of us, we’re the absolute worst choice to represent ourselves. Something to do with left brain, right brain I think, creativity negating salesmanship … or something. Anyway, standing with that lady, all I could see was the flaws in my painting, all I could feel was the heat in the room, all I wanted to do was submerge myself in my chardonnay (which I don’t like anyway) until the encounter was over.

    I know – I’m selling myself short, now and then, I know I am. In the end the lady bought the picture. It was a good painting, it still is, and I hope it still brings her lots of happiness … for I did capture the mood I was looking for, it does have a resonance with the right viewer, and it is, I have to stand up and say, art.

    But that didn’t help the conversation at the time. I only just managed to stop myself from pointing at the key elements of the painting and saying ‘mountain’, ‘sky’, and ‘rain’ like some foreign student in week two of a ‘nouns’ workshop and there’s a part of me that still thinks the lady bought the work just so I would stop talking.

    Now, let’s contrast that with another ‘art’ encounter I had only just last week. I was waiting for my six-year-old daughter, Penny, to get her shoes on after her ballet class (very important I do it myself daddy) and there’s a light tug at the hem of my jacket. I look down to see another six-year-old pink-clad princess, who, when I lean down, whispers ‘I loved your book.’

    ‘You did?’ I say. Cue a ten minute conversation, earnest and unselfconscious, about what Gerald has for breakfast, how you get to Goblinia from Downpatrick and whether or not the slime in the Slimewoods smells (it does). It was sublime and all I wanted to do after that was get home and do some more work on the next book.

    So why was that encounter so different from the RUA ‘sales pitch’? Well, maybe the art was already ‘sold’ for one, in the form of the book, so no pressure there. But otherwise, the situation was very similar – Kieron talk about your work.

    And as a piece of work The Goblin’s Blue Blanket also has flaws in it, more than I’d like to admit (don’t tell my publisher!) but in this instance I didn’t care. Together the story and the visuals, if indeed they are separate elements, connected with that little girl and she and I were able to immerse ourselves in that world for the entire duration of the conversation like we had been there, and in a way, we both had.

    Now, those flaws. I know I’m not the best artist out there, how could I be? I’m not even in the league that’s next to the league of those I admire most in the field, people like Chris Riddell, E.H. Sheppard, and Satoshi Kitamura. My work verges on sloppy, lazy even, and I can see the bits in it that would have been so much better if only I hadn’t gone for a surf or a snowboard that day and had stayed in the studio instead and just worked …

    But, and it’s a big ‘but’ (snort – he said ‘big but’), it’s exactly those surfs and snowboards and hikes in the mountains that inform the work, that make it what it is, and that’s an unalterable, integral part of what I do. No, I’m not the best artist out there, not by a long shot, but I’m the best guy there is to tell my story.

    And telling a story is wonderful. I’ve done readings where I’ve honestly wondered if the front row of children are levitating, for every time I look up from a page they are a little bit closer to me, faces rapt. Sometimes I want to shout out ‘I just made this all up you know – it’s complete nonsense!’ But it’s not – my daughter tells everyone who’ll listen (and even those who won’t) that she is the little dude reading by mushroom light on the trunk of a tree in the Slimewoods. That her daddy’s favourite character in the whole book is the little guy in red dungarees with the oil can. That he would turn down the chance to be in Pearl Jam if he could only join the bug band playing at the skate park. This, and all the rest of the detail that I put into that book and had once fretted would go unnoticed is again and again seized upon, questioned, and relished. That, dear reader, is an amazing feeling.

    Which all makes children unquestionably the best people to work for. They couldn't care less whether my skill-set matches that of Sheppard or Riddell, for them there is the story told and it begins and ends there and there is an important lesson in this which I am still learning.

    And don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy and will continue to do my landscape painting, just in future I think I might get my daughter to do the sales pitches for me. She’d do a much better job.



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  • The Philosophy of Gerald by Kieron Black, author of The Goblin's Blue Blanket

    Chaos does not come easy for some, or, when it does, it’s an unwanted
    entity, something to be banished as soon as possible. An unwelcome
    houseguest with no consideration for the feng shui of your
    scatter cushions.

    For me, the clue is in the name. Scatter those cushions. The front
    garden, the bathroom, the roof. A bowl of porridge is a dull, inert
    thing. Grey and insentient. But if I take a mad leap for the milk as
    you pour, suddenly it’s a living thing, colonising your kitchen floor,
    growing, spreading. Then, if I knock the porridge packet over just as
    you are cleaning the rest from the floor, we have a beautiful
    symbiosis of goblin and mop and rage and oats.

    What is a rose garden without poo in it? Pot pouri is just restrained
    chaos. Release it. How can one enjoy the beauty of a sunset without a
    cat climbing one’s leg? I merely aspire to greater heights, as you do,
    though my route is simpler – up your leg.

    The tranquillity of an afternoon read ... boring! What if I spill your
    coffee, shred your book, knock over your pot plant? Suddenly we are
    dancing, running, singing! If I am outside, I want in. If I am in, I
    want out. If the door is open I will sit at the window. If the window
    is open I will yowl at the door. I see your stacked dominoes – wheat
    before my scythe. Your late morning is my early start, your early
    night is my late finish. Show me a goblin at his leisure and I will
    show you a canvas without a brush.

    I am the brush. I am the chaos. I am the Ginger Destroyer and you love me.

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