Tag Archives: St Viper’s School for Super Villains

Encouraging Reluctant Readers

How do you encourage reluctant readers to want to read? I’ve been thinking about this question a lot recently. I know reluctant readers, I’ve met them on author visits to schools and some reviewers have said that my story, St Viper’s School for Super Villains, is a good book for them. But what actually makes a good book for a reluctant reader? Is there a list of gold star stories which will help them to find a love of reading and what advice is available for parents who are struggling with this issue? I’ve been talking to teachers, librarians and parents about the topic and reviewing the literature. One person who has some really interesting views on the subject is James Roberts-Wray, a Year 4 teacher who is passionate about children’s literature. I’m delighted to be able to share with you our first guest blog, by James, on Encouraging Reluctant Readers:

James Robert-Wray blogHave you ever entered a competition where you had to complete a sentence as a tiebreaker? Have you ever won? I have – twice. I’ve been given a portable stereo, as well as a holiday for two in the Algarve.

The story of how I won the holiday is for another time, but the stereo was won after considering quite carefully the subject of this post, namely how to encourage children to adopt a reading habit. The competition was run by the Puffin Book Club and, though I don’t recall the exact words of my winning entry, I do remember the gist of it.

It seemed to me that the Puffin Book Club succeeded by creating a community of readers, a club which anyone might join. The feeling of belonging, with reading as a shared endeavour, was its most important feature. This may seem like stating the obvious, but I think too often reading is viewed as a solitary process, something done alone in a quiet corner.

Think for a moment of adult reading behaviour. We may spend happy hours reading alone, but we also talk to friends about what they are reading, we seek out recommendations at our local bookshop, read reviews online, attend author events, or even join a book group. Why should this be different for children? Indeed if we are to encourage reading for enjoyment as a lifelong interest, then we should be modelling this with children.

As a teacher of primary aged children I try to promote this sharing of books as much as I can. Books often go in ‘crazes’ within my class, as pupils see their peers enjoying particular books. They want to join the party, and share what their friend is so enthusiastic about. This works particularly well with series of books. Try a child with ‘Stormbreaker’ and before you know it half the class are reading their way through the Alex Rider series. Give a reluctant reader ‘The Bad Beginning’ and, if they enjoy it, 13 books later they have read the whole Series of Unfortunate Events and more importantly, have become enthusiastic rather than reluctant readers. Children like reading series, because by doing so they sidestep that awful question, what shall I read next?

Of course, using peer pressure to encourage children to read is easier for a teacher to engineer at school than a parent in the home environment. But sharing a book with your child helps, as does modelling good reading behaviour by keeping up your own reading habit. If a child does not see you reading, what conclusion will they draw about the value of reading? Visit bookshops and libraries with your child. Do not assume that the books you read as a child will be of interest. Make proper non-computer, non-television space for reading. Use the five finger test. Put a finger on any word your child does not know. If you have reached the bottom of the page and have run out of fingers, the book is too difficult – change it.

Watching a reluctant reader turning on to the pleasures of reading is one of the most rewarding parts of my job. It’s not something I judge from reading test scores or English exams. It is the child sat down reading before school starts – unasked – transported by their book to another place and time.

James Roberts-Wray

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Coming Soon – St Viper’s School for Super Villains (Book 2)

2013 is going to be a busy year for Electrik Inc. All the Inklings have books coming out. It’s very exciting! Here’s the cover for book 2 in the St Viper’s series. We hope you like it. Publication date: March 2013.


Update: 3rd March. The paperback has now been printed and is looking brilliant! The ebook is on its way…
Here’s a link to The Big Bank Burglary’s Amazon page:

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Time to write

Shhhh! Listen carefully and you’ll hear the tap tapping of fingers on keyboards, the rustle of paper, printers chugging and the sound of whizzing and popping as ideas come to life. We’re all finishing writing books at the moment, which is why we’re so quiet. I’m fizzing with excitement about the other Inklings’ stories — children will be in for such a treat! And the second book in the St Viper’s School of Super Villains series is close to completion. But more about this later. We mustn’t disturb the stories. See you soon.


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St Viper’s New Illustrator Slave

BUZZZZZZ! St Viper’s School for Super Villains has a new illustrator slave – Izzy Bean. Izzy is putting her BA honours degree in animation and illustration to good use as she starts work on book 2.  We’re all fizzing with excitement. Take a sneaky look at Izzy’s illustration for chapter one:

Many thanks to Petherick Button for all his hard work on book 1. The St Viper’s pupils haven’t vaporised him – he is working on his own story. You’ll be missed, Petherick!

Kim Donovan

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Fantastic Fiction for 7 – 9 Year Old Boys

I’ve been on a mission to find fantastic books for 7 – 9 year old boys that they’ll love. When my son was between seven and eight he was an advanced reader. He started to find books like Horrid Henry, Astrosaurs and Jeremy Strong’s stories too easy, but he was put off by the length of books for older children. For many of his friends Michael Morpurgo’s books bridged the gap, but Chris found them a bit sad, and I must admit I avoided another firm favourite with his peer group: BeastQuest.

Why are there so many formulaic, team written books for new readers? I can only guess it’s that children find comfort in continuing with a series they know they can read. I have mixed feelings about some of them (not all!). If children find a love of reading through these books – and many have – I’m all for that, but during my research I’ve had parents, booksellers and teachers flinch at the name of particular titles and yet those books command so much shelf space. Can’t we do better for children? Parents must vote with their wallets.

With a bit of searching we did find some stories for my son and I also wrote St Viper’s School for Super Villains for more able readers like him (see reviews of my book.) Since writing an article in a local magazine about how St Viper’s came about, I’ve had parents email and tell me face-to-face that there are not enough good books for 7 – 8 year old boys in particular, whatever their reading level. Now my son is a year older there does seem to be a lot more choice. Having raised this issue on a books forum and spoken to children’s writers, teachers, parents and booksellers, I feel there are good books for this readership, but they are not always easy to spot in the sea of big brands. And for more able readers it often means finding age-appropriate books aimed at older children.

So, I thought it would be helpful to come up with a list of great books for 7- 9 year old boys. I’ve asked for recommendations, scoured forums and read every book suggested to me. Writing for this readership is difficult to do well. The author needs to be able to see the world through the eyes of a boy this age, write according to the child’s reading ability with easy-to-read text and short chapters and make the book exciting.

Here are my top choices, which tick all the boxes. I’ve roughly ordered them in terms of reading ability starting with books to build confidence:

Flat Stanley. Series Written by Jeff Brown.

Poor Stanley Lampchop is squashed flat when a board falls on top of him, but being the happiest of children he takes it all in his stride and makes the most of his new shape: being posted in an envelope, flown as a kite and used as a painting in a museum. Timeless classic. Great for children building confidence with reading.

 You’re a Bad Man, Mr Gum! Series Written by Andy Stanton.

Mr Gum is a nasty old man who hates children, animals, fun and corn on the cob. His house is a pigsty, filled with junk and pizza boxes, but he has an amazing garden. This is not due to Mr Gum being a Chelsea-award-winning garden designer but is because an angry fairy whacks him with a frying pan if he fails to keep his garden super tidy. But a dog called Jake starts to dig up the garden on a regular basis and Mr Gum is punished by the fairy. He decides to get rid of the dog once and for all. Mad as a box of frogs. Laugh out loud funny.

Hooey Higgins and the Shark. Series written by Steve Voake.

Hooey and Twig are desperate to raise sixty five pounds to buy a gigantic chocolate egg. A shark has been seen in the waters of Shrimpton-on-Sea and they are convinced that people would pay a lot of money to see it. With the help of their friend, Will, they come up with a cunning plan, which involves a bottle of tomato ketchup, a cricket bat and a duvet, to capture the shark and charge fifty pence for a look at it in their bath. The boys’ plan doesn’t come off, but they do find the world’s biggest sea urchin, which turns out to be a Second World War mine. Great fun. Illustrations on most pages.

Welcome to Silver Street Farm. Series written by Nicola Davies.

Meera, Gemma and Karl have wanted to set up a city farm since the first day of infant school when they played with a headless sheep, some painted pink chickens and two cows with missing legs. The chance to make their dream a reality comes when an old railway station is closed down, which the children think is a perfect venue for their farm. But the council have other plans for the station and want to turn it into a car park. In the meantime, the children start being donated animals and have nowhere to keep them, but they are not going to give up on their dream easily. With determination, help from a friendly policeman and some singing supporters they win the day.  A feel-good story.

The Roman Mystery Scrolls. Series written by Caroline Lawrence.

This is a new series set in ancient Rome. It is written by the well-respected author of The Roman Mysteries. In the Poisoned Honey Cake, Threptus, a soothsayer’s apprentice hasn’t eaten for two days as his mentor, Floridius, has gambled all his money away on chariot race. To make matters worse, Floridius is afraid he’s lost his talent for seeing the future, which means they’ll have no money to buy food. Threptus offers to try and find out some information that his mentor can use to convince people he still has the gift. But while he’s sneaking around, weak with hunger, he spots a honey cake left on an altar for a god. He seizes the cake and eats it, but soon finds out it is poisoned.  Rich in historical detail.

Roald Dahl books.

There are some scrumptious Roald Dahl stories, such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The BFG, but for boys beginning to read chapter books it is probably best to start with The Twits, George’s Marvellous Medicine and The Fantastic Mr Fox as they are shorter stories. The Fantastic Mr Fox is one of my favourite children’s books. Boggis, Bunce and Bean are wealthy and mean farmers who don’t take kindly to Mr Fox helping himself to a plump chicken, a goose or a nice turkey for supper. The farmers take action: guns fire, Mr Fox loses his tail and his young family are trapped in their hole. But Mr Fox is not called “fantastic” for nothing and he has a cunning plan. Fabulous fun.

Far-Flung Adventures. Fergus Crane.  Series written by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell. Winner of the Smarties gold award in 2004.

An inventive story with lots of imaginative mechanical gadgets and off-the-wall characters: a long lost uncle who grows macadacchio nuts with the help of a team of penguins and blood thirsty pirates who pretend to be school teachers in order to get the pupils to do their dangerous work for them. The pirates are seeking fire diamonds, which are only to be found deep inside a live volcano on Fire Isle and accessible only to the most agile explorer.  The children are disposable as far as the pirates are concerned and once they’ve got their bucket of diamonds they’re sailing off into the sunset without them. Fergus, the young hero of this story, not only has to find his missing father but rescue the children as well on a mechanical winged horse. Fuel for the imagination. Gadgets galore. Quirky illustrations.

King of the Cloud Forests.  Written by Michael Morpurgo.

Parents and booksellers recommended Michael Morpurgo’s books in general. King of the Cloud Forests is about a boy called Ashley who has to travel across the Himalayas with his Uncle Sung when Japan invades China. The journey is perilous. Uncle Sung disguises Ashley as a Tibetan and tells him not to speak to anyone, as he is at risk of being murdered for being a white foreigner and the son of a missionary. Ashley almost dies of infection, starvation and the cold and is hunted by wolves. Then, if his situation couldn’t get any worse, he is split up from his uncle. However help arrives from a community of yetis, who treat him as the King of the Cloud Forests. Michael Morpurgo is described as ‘The master storyteller’ and this book will not disappoint readers. It is suitable for able readers, who are ready for more challenging stories. The book is not illustrated. Thought provoking adventure.

How to Train Your Dragon. Written by Cressida Cowell.

To become a member of the Hairy Hooligan Tribe, Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third and the other young Vikings must pass a gruelling initiation test.  There is a lot of pressure on Hiccup as not only is he the hope and heir of the tribe, but he’s also a bit weedy and not very brave. Even his dragon is the smallest and scrawniest of the bunch. But Hiccup has a special skill — he can speak Dragonese — and when the Viking community are threatened with being gobbled by the Sea Dragonus Maximus he becomes an unlikely hero. The How to Train Your Dragon series is great for boys moving towards longer books for older children. Seriously good fun.

Gangsta Granny. Written by David Walliams.

Every Friday night, Ben goes to stay at his boring Granny’s house where he plays Scrabble and eats cabbage soup. He hates being there and his granny knows he feels this way, so she pretends to be an international jewel thief to stop him seeing her as a dull old woman.  They begin to have fun together again like they used to when he was younger. Gran cherishes the extra time she gets to spend with her grandson and Ben realises that she’s really rather lovely after all. But they get carried away and end up in the Tower of London trying to steal the Crown Jewels.

Like the How to Train Your Dragon series, this is a good book for boys moving to the next reading level. Funny and touching.

St Viper’s School for Super Villains.

If you are not familiar with my series, you can read about it on this website or by clicking on the link  to visit Amazon. Here you will find more reader reviews. Thank you!http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=St%20Viper’s%20School%20for%20Super%20Villains

See also this blog: Super Books for Boys.http://kimdonovanauthor.wordpress.com/2013/10/24/super-books-for-boys/

I’ve also set up a pinterest collection of brilliant books for boys. I’ll keep updating it. Here’s the link.

Thanks for reading my blog!


Kim Donovan


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World Domination Starts At Waterstone’s

St Viper’s School for Super Villains may not have taken over the world just yet, but it’s starting to gain followers. For the last couple of weeks, since its wild and noisy book launch, I’ve been visiting schools to tell young super villains about the book (see photos). I have an eight-year-old evil genius myself and our house is always full of kids, so I thought the school visits would be easy. That was until I found out that most of the year groups have about sixty pupils! But I had no need to sweat. The children got into the spirit of St Viper’s, demonstrating their evil laughs and telling me what super powers they would wish for themselves. In some of the schools I ran workshops on developing super villain and super hero characters. Interestingly, very few children chose to create super heroes.

They must have had fun because thankfully a good number turned up at my Waterstone’s event on Saturday 7th July. I was relieved to see them. I had been dreading being one of those unknown authors I’d seen in the store sitting uncomfortably behind a table, twiddling their thumbs, hoping someone will come up and ask for directions to the toilet.

To try to avoid this horrible situation, I planned craft activities: super villain eye-masks to colour and ‘Who’s Super?’ trading cards to make. Mini Boy, Rock Man, Smash Mash, Fang Face and Death Doom were some of the super-powered characters the children created. They gave their characters scores for power, speed, attack, defence and intelligence and were soon setting up their own games against each other on the carpet. One young boy arrived dressed up as The Hulk. The children also made their own entertainment: masked super heroes and super villains fought each other with fireballs and lightning from behind the bookshelves. The lovely Waterstone’s staff (Kat and John) took it all in their stride and everyone had a fun time. My other big worry – having to sell my book to people and failing – didn’t materialise. I was so busy attaching elastic string to eye-masks, discussing the scores of children’s trading cards and signing copies that the book ended up selling itself. I’m sure some parents probably thought I was a children’s entertainer brought into the shop to do crafts with the boys and girls on a wet and windy day, but Waterstone’s still said St Viper’s sold really well and commented on how the event had created a warm atmosphere throughout the whole shop.

The following day I visited the bookshop to pick up my art box. As I walked past a parked car I saw a girl on the back seat playing with the St Viper’s trading cards. My heart leapt with joy. World Domination starts at Waterstones!

Kim Donovan

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Super Villains pretending to be Ultra Ordinaries

Magical moments come in all shapes and sizes and can brighten our lives at any time. Some are a pleasant surprise, like rainbows on a cloudy day. Others are the realisation of a dream. The kind of dream that encompasses hard work, perseverance, talent, patience, and the ability to run around doing twenty-five things at once while still maintaining the outward appearance of sanity. The kind of dream that starts with a blank sheet of paper and ends in a local bookshop filled to the rafters with screaming, whooping, whistling, clapping children. All practising their evil laugh, just like Dr Super Evil in St Viper’s School for Super Villains.

Kim Donovan launching St Viper’s School for Super Villains at Topping & Company Booksellers of Bath

This was Kim Donovan’s magic moment: Friday 15th June, at Topping & Company, an independent book store in Bath, when the launch of St Vipers proved that all her tenacity (writing, rewriting, proofreading, editing, organising illustrations, correcting illustrations, formatting pages, swearing at the computer, re-formatting pages, banging head against the wall and re-re-formatting pages, marketing, organising, writing to schools etc etc…) – all that hard work was worth it.

Writer slave!

Green balloons bobbed everywhere, the kids wore super-villain masks and yelled their evil laughs and bought the book until the tills were smoking. St Viper’s School for Super Villains was a sell out and Toppings had to break into the box of books which had been set aside for school visits and brought along ‘just in case they need them’. Boy, did they need them. Kim signed books while the queue grew ever longer.

The Team. From the left: Jenny, Kay and Janine

It was a magic moment for Electrik Inc, too, and the culmination of all our blood, sweat and proofreading,  seeing our first ‘baby’ safely delivered – and so well received. Toppings declared it a ‘great success’, parents beamed, and the kids lapped it up. They loved the story, they loved Petherick’s illustrations, they loved the characters. Just seeing them jumping around pretending to be Demon, or Stretch, or Wolfie, made me realise how fantastic it is to write books that children love. There they were, up late, in a wonderful book shop, wearing fun masks and being read to by a lovely woman who told a story about a school where it was not only okay to be very naughty but was actively encouraged and on the curriculum. Unblinkinbelievable! What bliss. So this was their magic moment too. And that’s what it’s all about.

The Author, Kim Donovan

Here’s to more magic.

Kay Leitch

The Illustrator, Petherick

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