In this Q&A, author Tony Bradman tells us about Reading Planet Astro, the exciting new high interest/low reading level strand. Tony series edited the 48 fiction and non-fiction books which have been created by a team of top authors including Bali Rai, Jan Burchett and Sara Volger.
What is Reading Planet Astro?
The Astro series is a new Reading Planet strand designed for children who face challenges with their literacy skills, or who might be reluctant to engage with books. The books have been designed to be as accessible and interesting as possible in every way - text, illustration and design. There’s a great range in the scheme, with non-fiction books about young environmentalists, Tutankhamun, computer games, and two titles that support the Black Curriculum - Amazing Men and Women in Black History. Diversity and inclusion are cornerstones of the series. In fiction we have adventure, comedy, thrillers, sport, two graphic novel mini series, contemporary school stories and an Indian folk tale, all written by some of today’s top writers for children. Something for everyone, in fact!
Why did you decide to include graphic novels in the series?
I’ve always loved graphic novels - I remember buying Superman and Batman comics when I was still at Primary school myself. So I know that a combination of powerful visuals and a great storyline is very attractive to children at the beginning of the reading journey. Of course, I grew up watching TV and films, but children these days are constantly absorbing stories on screens, so the visual side of storytelling is hugely important for them. So children who might struggle with text on its own can often build reading confidence by using the visual cues in the artwork to work out words or phrases they don’t understand. And there’s one other very simple reason - graphic novels are enormous fun! Martin Chatterton’s fantasy mini-series in the scheme is called Dragonville, and it’s brilliant.
Do you have any favourite Astro books?
That’s pretty much being liked being asked which of your children is your favourite! The answer is, of course, that I love them all. It was a great privilege to work with such wonderful writers - it’s always exciting to see an idea being developed into a great story or non-fiction text, and then go through the editing, illustration and design process. The Reading Planet team is terrific, and I really enjoyed working with them. I think you can see the results of all the hard work from everyone on the finished books - I’m very proud of each and every one!
Tell us about your forthcoming Astro mini-series The Forbidden Classroom
One of my all-time favourite films is the 1950s classic Forbidden Planet, and I remember just idly doodling some title ideas in a notebook some twenty years ago, one of which was Forbidden… Classroom. To begin with I didn’t have a story to go with it, but over the years ideas began to cluster around it. Another influence was the classic TV series The X-Files, and I began to wonder if the story might be about some very strange events in an ordinary school being investigated by a pair of intrepid young investigators. I’d always thought of it as a single graphic novel or screenplay, but then those nice people at Reading Planet said I could do it as a four-book mini-series. It was huge fun to write, and Dylan Gibson the illustrator has done a brilliant job on the visuals.
Finally, which books inspired you when you were a child?
In my last year at Primary school my teacher Mr Smith read our class The Hobbit, and I absolutely loved it! From that moment on I was a dedicated reader, and spent most of my time with my nose in a book (I still do). I went on to read The Lord of the Rings, of course, and lots of historical fiction by writers such as Henry Treece and Rosemary Sutcliff - her novel The Eagle of Ninth was (and still is) a real favourite. That’s probably why I ended up writing books like Viking Boy. But like any obsessive reader, I enjoyed a huge range of stories - and I watched a lot of TV and films too!
Tony Bradman has been involved in the world of children’s books as an award-winning writer, editor and reviewer for many years. He has written for all ages and in many different genres - poetry, picture books, fiction for beginner readers and reading schemes, non-fiction and reviewer for both the national and specialist press. In recent years Tony has also written a number of historical novels himself which have been very popular in schools. Tony has visited many schools during his long career, and has appeared at all the major literary festivals.
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