Awesome Early Readers – the Cinderellas of the book shelf

When children start to read by themselves it can be a bit of a leap from picture books with their comforting mix of shorter text and plentiful pictures to full-on chapter books. That’s where first readers come in.first reader

sam child pix 1

Me, when I was learning to read (and to smell the flowers!)

These amazing little story grenades are the perfect books to help you earn your reading wings.

Very much the Cinderella of the book shelves, early readers may not get the glory but they provide youngsters with their first solo shot of literary satisfaction.

With exciting plots, short chapters and lots of eye-catching pictures, first readers provide a fast route to confident reading. I still remember the thrill of completing a book by myself. I felt like I’d been given the keys to the car! (A 1970s brown Mazda 929 Estate with vinyl fake-leather seats, just in case you wondered.)

When you’re a newbie reader, chapter books can feel a little daunting, like considering climbing Kilimanjaro in your flipflops. patriotic-flip-flopsBut early reader books? They’re achievable. You can race up these mountains, flip-flops and all.

I was chatting to a brand new reader in my local library and he proudly told me he’d read 13 books in one week. Fantastic! Who cares what shape, size, length those books were.  That’s the joy of first readers – success is attainable.

Cactus Joe coverI’ve been writing first readers for a few years now. And I’m excited to have two new ones coming out soon: Cactus Joe’s Cowboy Caper  which is illustrated by Daron Parton and Nightingales CoverToo Many Nightingales with pictures by Roger Simo. 

I love the challenge of writing early readers. They’re like mini mind puzzles. You have to distil a big idea with strong characters, a juicy plot and a satisfying end, all in less than 1,000 words. Or sometimes even fewer. (I’ve just written a tiny title called Tom’s Tooth with gorgeous pictures by Melanie Sharp, which has less than 50 words. Brevity is all.) TOM'S TOOTH sam hay

There are so many cracking first reader series to choose from, including Egmont’s Bananas and Franklin Watt’s Race Ahead with Reading series There’s a feast of amazing stories out there to satisfy the hunger that ensues the moment a child starts to take off with reading.

These are some of my son’s favourites. Happy reading!   brick-a-breckcudweed
ninjabread man katrina charman, the football ghosts  

Sam Hay’s First Picture Book

Exciting news! I’ve recently stuck my big toe into the pond of picture books. My debut picture book Do Not Wash This Bear Do Not Wash This Bearwhich is illustrated by the amazing Nick East publishes with Egmont in 2016.

I love picture books. And I don’t think you ever grow out of them; that magical meshing of unforgettable imagery and enchanted text.

Not only do picture books excite, inspire and comfort us, they’re also a catapult for kids into the world of independent reading. Many children will memorise the text of their favourite picture book long before they begin to read it. I’m thrilled to be part of this exciting genre and can’t wait to see Do Not Wash This Bear on the shelves.

My Top 5 Books about Fashion by Alice age 12


Me age 4!

Hi, I’m Alice, and while Sam and the Undead Pets are away, I’m guest blogging and reviewing some of my favourite books with a fashion theme. ♥

First up, ‘Fashion’ by DK Books.fashion dk I’ve always loved fashion (check out my cool outfit →). And history is my fave subject, so this fab book was perfect for me. It gives a detailed history of fashion from the floaty garments of Ancient Egypt, to the eccentric world of catwalk fashion. It also includes bios of some of the most influential designers and style icons, including Coco Chanel, Queen Nefertiti, Elizabeth I, Twiggy and Schiaparelli (some of my faves!).

Three fashion shockers from the book:

  •  -Ancient Egyptian priests wore wax cones on their heads that melted in the sun!
  • -17th Century shoes were made of wood!
  • - Marie Antoinette’s skirt was often 3.5 meters wide!

Next up is ‘Secrets, Schemes and Sewing Machines’ by Katy Cannon

secrets schemes and sewing machines

This is an essential must read YA novel which I have read over and over again.

It’s all about a girl called Grace who adores acting. It’s her life, until she is late for an audition and everything falls apart. Then she offers to join the costume team instead- but she barely even knows how to sew. All her struggles, emotions and relationships are captured in this fantastic novel, as well as sewing tips and instructions. So get out your needle and thread and be inspired to sew. (That’s if you can bring yourself to put the book down for a moment!) 

I love this book because the characters are easy to relate to and realistic and it carries a strong message throughout. And if, like me, you can’t get enough of the series, try reading book one, ‘Love, Lies and Lemon Pies’.

marshmallow skye

The third fashion book I love is Marshmallow Skye’ by Cathy Cassidy, part of the Chocolate Box Girls series. It’s all about a family who make chocolate.

This is another book which I must have read at least 5 times, basically because it is about two of my favourite things: fashion and chocolate! It also captures the problems of friendships and families perfectly.

The story is told from the POV of a vintage-fashion-loving twin named Skye, who always feels she’s overshadowed by her twin. And then she finds a trunk of 20s dresses and accessories that belonged to an old relative. But disaster strikes when one of her closest friends reveals that he’s fallen for her twin, and Skye once again feels second best. Things go from bad to worse when she can’t stop dreaming about the owner of the dresses, and she falls in love with a ghost boy from her dreams. But she knows that she can never even meet him.

This haunting teen novel still manages to be light and not too serious, which is why it’s so enjoyable to read.

Next up is a book  called ‘How to draw Vintage Fashion’ by Celia Joicey and Dennis Nothdruft.vintage fashion

It is one of my faves, because it shows you how to draw fashion like a REAL designer! Which is great if you love to design fashion, but aren’t sure where to start. It gives tips from accomplished designers, and info on what type of figure to draw depending on which decade the outfit is from. It also gives a short history on fashion from the last century.

It is accessible and easy to follow, but also detailed and factual. It is very inspirational and it is laid out clearly with plenty of colour.

The last book I want to tell you about is ‘Popular – a memoirand it’s by Maya Van Wagenen; who is a real life teen.popular-a-memoir-by-maya-van-wagenen

It is another must-read, because it is funny, emotional and exciting all at the same time!

The book begins when Maya discovers a 1950s popularity guide, by Betty Cornell, a cool 1950s teen model. Maya swears to follow the advice of the guide to increase her position on the high school popularity scale. But do girdles, pearls and long skirts change her social life for better or for worse? Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out!

It is an amazing book about fashion, make up and general attitude which I LOVE. I especially like the thoughtful dedication- ‘to all those who’ve sat alone at the edge of the playground.’ It also made me laugh loads, and I’m sure it will do the same to you.

With all these fab reads to get your teeth into, all that’s left to do is to find your inner fashionista and have fun!

Bye for now, Alice x




With Christmas just a few sleeps away, I was delighted to receive some early presents – four fantastic letters from Undead Pets’ fans in the US.  Thanks so much Jude, Lucca, Jenna and Sam and their inspirational teacher. Well done, guys! I love your ideas and I was so touched to receive them. ♥

Dear Sam Hay,

I love the Undead Pet s series. After you have finished the book you are writing I think you should right about a snake. The snake s name should be Red .I think he should be called that because the snake is dangerous! The cause of the death is he got run over by a car. The snake can not rest in peace because the boy who owned him forgot about him.                                                                                                  From Jude


Dear Sam Hay

       I have an idea for the fifth book in the Undead Pets series. These are all the things I have planned.

      Species: sheep

      Name: who cares? You choose!

     Cause of death: he (or she) died because of being bored with his owner. They only sang ‘’Bah bah Black Sheep“ to him (or her).

      Why they can’t rest in peace: he (or she) doesn’t want this to happen too his (or her) sister (or brother). 

          That is my idea. I hope you like it. Please answer.  Sincerely Sam 


Dear Sam Hay

I think you should write the fifth book about a parakeet. The name can be Ace. His cause of death: he was killed by a cat owned by his owner’s brother. The cat had eaten him. He cannot yet rest in peace because he is afraid his brother will meet the same fate. His brother’s name is Anger. He is 7 years old.



Dear Sam Hay,

For your fifth book, I think it should be about a monkey. The name can be Ben. Ben’s death happened when he was very young. He was probably 1 when he died. He died because he was the only one who was a boy in his family and had to fight. His dad died when Ben was about 1 month old. His mom and sisters told him he had to be the man of the family. As in he has to be the leader of the family even if he is the youngest. He was fighting against a much older monkey who was the leader of another group. Ben was fighting for food. The other monkey killed him. Ben cannot rest in peace because he wants to make sure that his family is safe.

From Jenna


It’s amazing to hear from fans of the Undead Pets from all around the world. As well as these awesome letters from the US, I recently received a great letter from a fan of the books in Japan! The series really has gone global – the zombie pets are now working their way across the US, Canada, South Korea, France and Sweden. And watch out Denmark! The Undead Pets will be with you, as well, very soon. FANTASTISK! Danish flag

Happy Christmas one and all. And good luck for 2015!  



Exciting news… Cartridesave Christmas Writing CompetitionI’ve been asked to judge a fantastic new writing competition for kids. If  you, or a child you know, live in the Manchester area, check it out. The themes for the competition are Christmas and Winter and there are some brilliant prizes up for grabs. So spread the word and get scribbling. I can’t wait to read the stories! It’s the perfect boredom-buster for the half-term holidays.  For more details click on the picture or follow this link: www.cartridgesave.co.uk/writechristmas 

Martin August 2011

In other news…Happy Halloween! (well, nearly!) As a huge fan of all things ghostly, I’m always excited at this time of year. I’ve ironed my best black clothes and looked out my reddest lipstick. (I’ve already got the black cat!) But this year is even more thrilling, as the final part in my Screaming Sands trilogy has just hit the shelves – Battle of the Beach Freaks!9781846471698 If you like the seaside and the dark side, this one’s for you. Check out the awesome new cover design, too!  US flagMeanwhile, the Undead Pets series is storming around the world.UPETS_ROTHHAMSTER The books are now available in the US, Canada, France, Sweden and South Korea. I wonder if Uncle Charlie has spotted the books on his travels!  Have a great half-term. Sam x




Undead Pets in the USA

Exciting news from the zombie den. Undead Pets are now in the US. The first two titles in the series have just been published by Penguin in the States! With the other books to follow soon. Click on the picture of Dumpling for more information. The series is also now available in South Korea, Sweden, Canada and France. Zombie Pets take over the world! US flagUPETS_ROTHHAMSTER



Don’t put on your make-up in the dark!

I reckon I visited some 500 children last week. And for someone who seldom leaves their bat-cave, that’s an awful lot of smiling! (My face still hurts!It was an amazing week, kicking-off with Monmouth Literary Festival where I worked with a top team of sixth formers from Monmouth Comprehensive, performing an Undead Pets workshop at local primary schools. 

Monmouth Lit festival 2014Then it was on to Leicester for the ‘Our Best Book Award.Our-Best-Book-award-imageWow! What a reception!! Highlights included being mobbed by hundreds of kids for autographs – (who me? Seriously?) and watching pupils perform an awesome Undead Pets zombie tribute dance!  Then it was back on the bus and on to Literally Coventry to meet some keen Undead Pets fans in Waterstones!Coventry Book fest

Phew! What a week! So many highs. No lows. But some valuable lessons learned about life on the road, such as:

1. Do get yourself a good deodorant! Even the bravest among you will probably get the willies when faced with 300 enthusiastic young readers who appear to have muddled you up with someone from One Direction!  (Thank you Leicester Our Best Book Awards. I had the best time EVER!) Remember: sweaty armpits don’t win friends.     

2. Don’t leave your secret stash of Dairy Milk in the car while you’re performing on a sunny day. Treat chocolate like you’d treat a pet dog/child/old auntie. Keep it cool. Rivers of melted chocolate around your gear stick is not helpful when navigating the M42.dairy milk 2

3. Do practise following the Sat Nav lady. This will avoid:  ’does she mean this left, or that one? NOOOO!’ (author now heading the wrong way down the M1!)

4. Don’t put on your make-up in the dark before you set off for your event. You will look like a corpse.

5. Do arrive early. But not so early that you scare the organisers. See above.  

6. Don’t break in your ‘presentable’ shoes on the day of the event. Sore feet and friendly- smiley-face are not friends. 

7. Do have more than one set of ‘presentable’ clothes. By day three the smell may put-off the children! 

8. Don’t be freaked-out by extremely personal questions. How much money do you make? How old are you?

9. Do be prepared to return from your brief moment of glory to the humdrum life you left behind that morning: washing everyone’s pants and cleaning the loo.

What a week!

As well as meeting some amazing kids, I met some astonishing adults too! A special mention must go to the team behind Leicester ‘Our Best Book Award,’  Paul Gobey and Sandy Gibbons. They are doing an exceptional job of bringing books to young people in Leicester. Thank you for including Undead Pets in your wonderful competition!UPETS_ROTHHAMSTER  

And great to meet my new friend Fleur Hitchcock too. As well as being a super author, she’s also a lovely lady. Her new book is out this week and I can’t wait to read it!

Thanks to the fantastic team of sixth form volunteers at Monmouth Literary Festival. I wish I could take you with me everywhere! You guys are going to be running the world soon! 

And thanks to Literally Coventry and Ashley and the team at Waterstones for hosting me and the Undead Pets. 

Saving Sophie

Catch up soon!









Urgh! What’s inside my keyboard!

Half-term’s over and the house looks like a king-sized tip, with knobs on, but I’ve finally got five minutes to write something… HURRAH! though I’ve just had to unpick the dust, and crud and biscuit crumbs that have been jamming up letters ‘O, L and P’ on my keyboard. If the Health & Safety people did home visits, they’d close my keyboard down. (Please no one tell me how keyboard bacteria is worse for you than eating your breakfast off a toilet seat!) Actually, my keyboard looks like a cool DNA science experiment. There are so many cultures growing on it, it seems a shame to clean it. Maybe if I leave it for a few more weeks some new life form will appear… If you don’t hear from me ever again, it probably ate me.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had housekeeping issues. I used to have a magnificent old Honda Prelude car. (Remember them, older readers?) It was an astonishing thing: sunroof, pop-up lights, low-slung racing-style bucket seats. 140,000 miles on the clock! Super cool! Only problem was it leaked a little, so there were a few mushrooms growing on the back seat….  I miss that car.

So, anyway, it’s been a good week. UPETS_HOTDDOG My latest Undead Pets book – number 8, Hour of the Doomed Dog, is out and available in all good book shops and libraries and online emporiums! It stars Frankie the undead dachshund who comes a-cropper in a revolving door. OUCH! Mysterious old Uncle Charlie even makes an appearance. Check out the amazing art work by pen-master Simon Cooper. It’s the last in the series, so I’m a bit sad…

But, I totally cheered up when I  paid a visit to the fan-tabulous Pickled Pepper Book shop in leafy Crouch End. Wow! What an amazing place to hang out. Brilliant selection of books, super friendly staff and a great atmosphere.

It was lovely to meet the owners, Steven and Urmi and their fantastic kids. And a huge thanks to all the Undead Pets super-fans (and parents) who showed up to say hi. Blimey! What a bright bunch. They were SO knowledgeable.  They knew more about the books than I did. I expect to see them on Mastermind soon. Specialist subject: 101 things everyone should know about zombie animals appearing in Undead Pets books 1-8! 

Some even brought their own outstanding Undead Pets fan art. Thanks Hania. You rock!photo 4 (8)photo 3 (5)

Thanks too, to (my super) special agent Gemma Cooper and her amazing fan NAIL art! How does she do that??photo 4 (5)


After coffee and cakes, I headed into central London, with my advisers – (daughter Alice and mum, Shonagh). First stop, the Natural History Museum. BIG mistake! It was WAY too busy. We wimped-out of the two-hour queue and went next door to the V&A. Less busy; still scary. I live in the country now. I’m not used to people!  Then a toddle down the Brompton Road… and finally a collapse in Harrods searching for the jelly bean bar that I was sure I remembered from when I used to live in London. It’s still there!!! A bit smaller, (isn’t everything), and now located in the toy department. I got back to Wales 15 hours after leaving it. A grand day out! Can’t wait for the next one!


P.S. This is what we’re reading in my house at the moment:

Me: The Screaming Staircase, Jonathan StroudLKW2[1]

James: The Chimp Paradox, Steve Peters9780091935580_1[1]

Alice: TRASH, Andy MulliganTrash_Andy_Mulligan and Wimpy Kid, (all editions – again!!)by  Jeff Kinney

Archie: Earth’s story


Why I like Mondays

It’s cold, it’s wet, the garden looks like a boggy swamp, but hey! – it’s Monday and as usual at the start of a new week, I have this freaky Ready Brek glow of positivity. (It doesn’t last long. By Tuesday I’m back to my usual Eeyore slump.) But today. It’s MONDAY! Anything could happen. Really. It could.

Pixar might call.

My Premium Bond might come up.

I could find that half-filled in passport application. (My house is the size of a hamster cage so not sure how it’s scientifically possible to lose anything.)

Mondays aren’t all good.  Apparently it’s the most common day to have a duvet day or to be late for work or school. Clearly Mondays aren’t good for everyone.  When I was a kid I hated Mondays, too. Mondays meant school and I hated school even more than Mondays. But now Mondays are like having a clean sheet of paper and a brand new pencil. Or like buying a lucky-dip bag of sweets and guessing it’s at least half full of fizzy cola bottles. Or receiving a white envelope with a publisher’s frank. There’s so much promise about a Monday…

And this one started well. The postie knocked – (soaking wet, busy and not bearing a Ready Brek glow of love for Mondays, which is understandable considering the rain). He was clutching a big bag of advance copies of Undead Pets 8, the Hour of the Doomed Dog. Thanks TEAM STRIPES! UPETS_HOTDDOGThe art work is spectacular. The cover looks amazing. And Uncle Charlie makes a dramatic return. I love it. Can’t wait to April for publication day. I’m also dusting-off my best lipstick ahead of a visit to the wonderful Pickled Pepper book shop in Crouch End on Saturday. www.pickledpepperbooks.co.uk

Guy Bass: You’ll be a hard act to follow! www.guybass.com

In other news, the Return of  the Hungry Hamster (Undead Pets 1) has been shortlisted for the Leicester Libraries ‘Our Favourite Book of the Year’ award! Wow! So kind. I get to go to the Leicester Tigers’ home ground in June for a wee shindig and to meet loads of kids who’ve been voting for their favourite books. I love Mondays. Hope you’re having a happy one too. Samx

P.S. This is what we’re reading and recommending.

Me: The Children’s War by Monique Charlesworth. Absolutely wonderful WW2 novel.  Great for young teens+CHILDREN's WAR

My daughter: Trash by Andy Mulligan and Mrs Frisbee and the Rats of Nimh by Robert O’Brien. Two classics!Mrs Frisbee

My son: Dirty Bertie - every book in the series! By Alan MacDonald and David Roberts.  Dirty Bertie continues to be King in our house.

My School groups: Trash by Andy Mulligan. The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, Holes, Louis Sachar and Itch, Simon Mayo.  Trash_Andy_Mulligan