Diary of a Penguin-napper by Sally Harris

Sally Harris from Melbourne recently launched this bright, engaging fun book for children called Diary of a Penguin-napper. The book is for children in the 8 to 12 age range so we were pleased to receive a copy of Sally’s book in the post.

What was striking about Sally’s book is that it’s so attractive that the kids pounced on it as soon as it was out of the wrapper and were attracted by the cover, the title and the catchphrase ‘3 weeks ...2 boys …1 little penguin …What could possibly go wrong?
What is also unusual is that all my children in that age range (Evan, just turned 12, Ronan 10 and Erica 8) were interested in reading the book. One is penguin mad anyway which is a plus and the others were captivated by the story. Here is what they had to say:

Erica (8):  It was a fascinating book, exciting and adventurous. I liked the part where they stole the penguin from the zoo.  How much trouble can one little penguin cause? Answer: a lot.

Ronan (10): I like it because my favourite animals are penguins. I think the book is really good because it’s funny and adventurous. I like the policeman best.

Evan (12): I really liked the way the book was told as a first person account by Marty. When I picked up the book I couldn’t put it down and read it straight through to the end. It was a really well written book and I would definitely recommend it.

Fine praise indeed. What struck me was the fantastic cover, the compelling first chapter and the little details of having a little penguin at the bottom of every page. Lovely!

I asked Sally a bit about herself and the book…

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

Well, to begin with, I grew up in rural Australia in a large town on the Murray River called Mildura. It was a fantastic place to grow up because we had so much freedom, plenty of animals around and yet there wasn’t so much to do that we didn’t have to use our imaginations!

I can’t remember a time that I couldn’t read or write.  Mum made sure that there was always an endless supply of books and paper around the house and we were always at the local library.  I still have the first ‘proper’ book I wrote – I say proper because it was good enough to be covered with plastic to protect it!  I’m sure there were others, but my ‘Food Giggles’ joke book is now a treasured possession.

I went to boarding school for most of my high school years and had some fantastic teachers who really challenged me. I went on to complete a Bachelor of Education in Melbourne.  Since graduating, I’ve spent at least part of every year teaching in schools both in Melbourne and in the UK.

In 2008, I moved to the UK to complete a Masters degree in Education, majoring in Children’s Literature, which was absolutely inspiring. I learned so much about books for children during that one-year course and I’d go back to do it again if I could, just to learn even more.  And perhaps most importantly, I came away with the crazy idea that maybe I could write them myself!

And now, only last week in fact, I have just released my first book, Diary of a Penguin-napper.

What gave you the idea for Diary of a Penguin-napper?

It’s funny, now that I think about it, that I can’t pin point the exact moment that I first heard the urban myth about the boy stealing the penguin.  I think someone might have told me during my time at Cambridge in 2008/09, because I pondered the idea and made notes for about a year before actually putting pen to paper in 2010.  What I do know is that once I’d heard of the idea, I kept hearing about it from lots of different people!  And they all had a slightly different take on it.

It kind of got to a point where I felt like the universe was trying to tell me something, I’d heard about the myth that often, that I wondered how I had existed for 25 years without hearing about it earlier.

I also find the newspaper to be a great source of story ideas.  The ‘penguin-napping’ story has made the paper a few times over the past year or two. I usually find great inspiration in the short 4-5 sentence articles that fill the sides or bottoms of pages.  I find they are often on really unusual topics and you are only given a snippet of information to get you started.  Then, it is up to you as a writer to fill in the gaps!

Why do you enjoy writing for children?

I think I enjoy writing for children because I never stopped reading children’s books myself.  There was never really a complete transition into adult books – I’d read Maeve Binchy one day, Enid Blyton the next and a favourite pony book the next.  I love the adventure that you get with older children’s fiction – when children could go camping, hiking or horse riding for days on end and nobody would worry about them.

I also like the challenge of writing for children.  People always think it is easier because the books are shorter or the plots can be less complex, but let me tell you, they are a tough crowd! If children don’t like something, they’ll tell you.  If there are any loose ends, they’ll point them out.  If they aren’t engaged, they’ll put the book down without a second thought.

What do you think makes Diary of a Penguin-napper stand out?

Well, apart from the bright yellow cover, I think there are two things that really make it stand out in the sea of middle grade fiction out there.

The first is that it is based on a story that a lot of people have heard of already – that of a boy stealing a penguin from a zoo on a school trip. When people ask me what my book is about and I tell them, their reaction is often that they’ve heard about that and didn’t it really happen?

The second thing that I think makes Diary of a Penguin-napper really exciting is that it is funny.  As a teacher and librarian, I know how much children (and their parents) love books that make them laugh.  There are a lot of funny male writers – Roald Dahl, David Walliams, Andy Griffiths, to name but a few – but not nearly as many well known females.

What do you plan in the future?

I love being a teacher and working with children, so I’m definitely going to keep doing that. It is great to have a captive audience to test out story ideas on and to have some time in school holidays to get cracking with writing. I’m hoping to have a new title ready for next year and I’ve got a couple of ideas simmering away.  I just need to refine my corny jokes!

The cover is outstanding, tell us about that.

I absolutely love the cover design for this book!  I think it both captures the spirit of the story, plus it both fits well with the middle grade fiction genre and yet stands out because of the bold use of yellow.

When I decided to go ahead and print the book myself, I really wanted to produce a professional looking product and part of that was having an experienced cover designer create the cover.  Andrew Brown of Design for Writers had designed a number of covers for other books that I had read or come across, so I got in touch with him. He was absolutely fantastic to work with – very patient and very receptive to feedback.  I can’t recommend him enough!

Where can we get the book?

Diary of a Penguin-napper currently is available from Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Diary-Penguin-napper-Sally-Harris/dp/0987416308/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1352707832&sr=8-1&keywords=diary+of+a+penguin-napper) as a paperback and for Kindle.  It is also flying off the shelves (or should that be waddling?) in a range of e-book formats from Smashwords (http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/251817).

As part of her blog tour, Sally appeared on That Book You Like (http://www.thatbookyoulike.com.au/) yesterday and will be talking about using research to bring your writing to life on Lost in Lit (http://lost-in-lit.blogspot.com.au/) tomorrow.  Be sure to join her to enter the draw to win a free copy of Diary of a Penguin-napper!

Be sure to join her to enter the draw to win a free copy of Diary of a Penguin-napper!

You can enter the draw and find out more about Sally and her new book on her blog where she’s written some very engaging articles on writing research and motivation.

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12 comments

  1. Your kids’ feedback is wonderful! And I’m sold. This sounds like a fantastic read and I know a niece and some godchildren who would absolutely love this book and it’s about to go on my amazon wishlist any minute…

  2. That looks great fun — I heard the myth for the first time only this month, but love the idea that the penguin has been escaping for decades! Our local park has a penguin called Houdini and then there’s Madagascar… is it a penguin conspiracy? Are they all like that?!

      1. Haha luckily it is a great read for both mu and my daughters! I’d love to hear what she thinks about it in her Christmas reading 🙂

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