Wednesday, 20 October 2021

Witch in Training - Q&A with illustrator Briony May Smith

Today we welcome Briony May Smith onto Picture Book Party to talk about her new picture book, Witch in Training, written by Michelle Robinson!


 Betty is brewing her first-ever potion! And potions need ingredients – ingredients that can only be found in the WILD. So Betty, with her mum by her side, soars off into the magical, moonlight night to bravely gather her wicked and wonderful supplies: vampire fangs, fairy dust, werewolf whiskers, and more. The only problem is, she might have to come face-to-face with a few monsters – a few treacherous monsters! – along the way...


With rollicking read-aloud rhymes from Michelle Robinson and spellbinding art from Briony May Smith, this is a funny, edge-of-your-broomstick adventure for aspiring witches and wizards everywhere.

Q&A with Briony May Smith


Can you tell us more about your journey into illustration?
 
I always loved drawing and making up games and stories as a child, playing with my younger sister and brother. I never put the pencil down and decided to pursue illustration in the hopes of working in the children’s book world. I studied Illustration at Falmouth University and built up a portfolio of artwork. I have been very lucky to work with some of my favourite authors writing today, and Witch in Training was an exciting venture into books with a Halloween bent! Witch in Training is the second book I’ve illustrated with author Michelle Robinson. Our first book, Tooth Fairy in Training follows fairy sisters as the littlest sibling starts her first night as a tooth fairy.


How did you begin illustrating Witch in Training?

I started with the home and characters of Witch in Training. Betty and her mum go collecting ingredients for cauldron training - all the spooky, witchy, magical places a young potion maker might need to visit would be a fun exploration on each spread, but the start and finish are in their home. I used this as an opportunity to build a house best suited for witches, with broomstick parking, an adjoining potions room, and a witchy weathervane, all in one wonky stone and timber home. I experimented with a few character designs and settled on a traditional-looking witch green skin and a mane of purple hair, wanting to mirror the Tooth Fairy’s bright colours from mine and Michelle’s first collaboration. I had a lot of fun designing their clothing too.



What was your favourite spread to illustrate in Witch in Training?

I think my favourite spread to illustrate in the book was the opening spread. It was a lot of fun to introduce the world, the time of day, and Betty and her cat, Pumpkin Patch, to the reader, and play with the lighting and composition.


 What are your favourite picture books, both older and more recent?

Growing up my three favourite picture books were:

The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base

The Complete Book of the Flower Fairies by Cicely Mary Barker

Portly’s Hat by Lucy Cousins

They are all very different - Base’s story is an intensely detailed and clever tale of a birthday party full of intrigue and puzzles, things to be found on every page and a code to break at the end. Cicely Mary Barker’s fairies are like a field guide to the fairy world and enriched our games based in fairyland. Portly’s Hat is extremely charming and funny and bold and like The Eleventh Hour, one that I have very fond memories of being read to us when we were little, giggling at the same parts that make me smile now.

These three are still my favourites and sit on my bookshelf in my studio.

As a grown-up, I’ve added some more favourites.

I saw My Little Hen by Alice and Martin Provensen at a friend’s house and ordered my own copy. I love chickens and straw hats and the two unite beautifully in this picture book. There are many books illustrated by Aurelia Fronty that I love, possibly my favourites are Fil de Fee (Fairy Threads) or Tristan e Iseo (Tristan snd Iseult) written by Beatrice Fontanel. I also love Helen Stephens’s work, her books have a beautiful bold palette and charm.

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A special thanks to our guest this week, Briony May Smith!
Witch in Training is now available from all good booksellers.

Witch in Training - Q&A with author Michelle Robinson

Today we welcome Michelle Robinson onto Picture Book Party to talk about her new picture book, Witch in Training, illustrated by Briony May Smith!


 Betty is brewing her first-ever potion! And potions need ingredients – ingredients that can only be found in the WILD. So Betty, with her mum by her side, soars off into the magical, moonlight night to bravely gather her wicked and wonderful supplies: vampire fangs, fairy dust, werewolf whiskers, and more. The only problem is, she might have to come face-to-face with a few monsters – a few treacherous monsters! – along the way...

With rollicking read-aloud rhymes from Michelle Robinson and spellbinding art from Briony May Smith, this is a funny, edge-of-your-broomstick adventure for aspiring witches and wizards everywhere.

Q&A with Michelle Robinson

What was the inspiration behind writing Witch in Training?

I have always desperately wanted to be a witch. The late Jill Murphy has been one of my favourite writers and illustrators since I was young. I find Mildred Hubble, The Worst Witch, very relatable. As a child, I used to make my own ‘potions’ out of anything I could find in the kitchen, bathroom and garden. As a writer, I love the idea of spell books and I particularly like spells that rhyme. The idea of chanting words aloud, stirring a concoction of special ingredients and magicking something into being is just so appealing. It seems only natural that any young witch would need to learn the ropes along the way.

Can you tell us a little bit more about your writing process?

I try and write something most days, even if it’s just for fun. My favourite time to write is very early in the morning before the rest of my family are awake. I find my mind is still in dream mode. The birds are just finding their voices, I haven’t started worrying about any admin, chores or personal troubles, and I can write freely without my critical mind clicking into gear. I work anywhere I can sit comfortably, which is most often in an armchair or on the sofa. I find sitting at a desk makes writing feel like serious business. Of course, I take my work seriously, but I like to feel relaxed when I’m writing. I don’t actually own a desk or an office chair.
 
Can you tell us more about your journey into the world of childrens books? 

Writing is part of who I am. I have written pretty much every day for the last twenty-odd years. I get anxious and muddle-headed when life gets in the way of work. Before becoming a full-time author I spent ten years working as an advertising creative, writing copy and conceiving ads all day, every day, for very long hours. I hated it, but it was a good training ground for learning to accept criticism and how to identify strong ideas. I had always wanted to write for children, and I started to give it a try in every spare hour outside work. My first attempts weren’t great, but I stuck at it and put myself on some courses with the Arvon Foundation. Eventually, my stories improved and I was taken on by the Catchpole Agency, who I’m still delighted to be represented by.


What was it like seeing Brionys illustrations for the first time?

Briony’s work is so special it honestly feels like very real magic whenever I look at it. I know it must be very hard work to create illustrations of such a high standard, but Briony makes it look easy. Beautiful, charming pictures seem to flow from her fingertips. The light and dappled shade she creates wows me every time. I particularly love how her characters manage to have a dreamlike appeal while also being realistic. Briony is one of the finest illustrators the industry has. I can’t believe I’m lucky enough to be making books with her.
 
Do you have a favourite spread in the story?

Honestly: every single one of them. The house on the first page is so inviting, I want to move in. I particularly like how Briony included the characters from our previous book in one scene — I’ll let readers hunt that one out. If I was forced to pick, I adore the sea monster. The light filtering through the water and highlighting its scales is amazing, and I love how it shows Betty’s fearless character. I always try and make my writing as pithy as possible to leave more space for the art. It’s wonderful to have images like this to lose yourself in and feel awestruck by the moment.


What are your favourite picture books, both older and more recent?

Tough question! My favourites always seem to vanish from my brain whenever I’m asked. I love The Giant Jam Sandwich by John Vernon Lord and Janet Burroway, which has an absurd premise and is excellent fun to read aloud. Silly stories are truly wonderful and I wish they were as appreciated within the industry as they are by the families who devour them. I really love Fred Blunt’s work, like Lionel and Gnome. He has a brilliantly daft sense of humour and his drawings always make me laugh. His latest collaboration with Steve Webb, Cows Go Boo, is super funny too. And of course, I love Whatever Next! by Jill Murphy. My children have long since grown out of it, but I keep a copy on my shelf. If I ever want to remind myself what standard I’m aiming for, Jill’s work is right up there at the top. I’ll keep on trying!

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A special thanks to our guest this week, Michelle Robinson!
Witch in Training is now available from all good booksellers.

The Queen in the Cave by Júlia Sardà - Take Over

Last month we invited the wonderfuJúlia Sardà to take over our @BigPictureBooks Instagram to celebrate the publication of The Queen in the Cave!

Júlia Sardà is a Spanish artist who has illustrated many books for children, including Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein by Linda Bailey, The Liszts by Kyo Maclear, and a number of classics such as Alice in WonderlandThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. 


The Queen in the Cave is Júlia's debut to the Walker list and the first book she has both written and illustrated; she spins an enthralling and evocative tale rich with layers of meaning to be unearthed...

One night, Franca has a dream about a marvellous queen, who lives in a dark cave, deep in the forest. She cannot sit still until she knows if her dream is true! So, together with her younger sisters, Carmela and Tomasina, she ventures into the forest at the end of their garden. As they travel deeper through nettles and thickets, drawing closer and closer to the cave, the world shifts ... everything shrinks and expands at the same time. They are somewhere new now, somewhere different. Here, they meet beasts and creatures that shock and delight them, and escape horrible things that utterly frighten them. They learn how to be brave, to be bold, to face their darkest fears. And what of the queen? Well, what they find in the cave is perhaps the most unexpected thing of all...

You can now follow Julia's takeover here and see a sneak peek below!


 @juliasardaportabella I’ll start by sharing the cover of The Queen in the Cave, my first authored book. It’s the story of three sisters and how one afternoon they decide to run away from home. They follow something they can not name, but somehow it feels more compelling and engrossing than the familiar shelter.


Doing this picture book has been an amazingly long process. It was around 2016 when I got my contract with Walker and started thinking about how I could explain this weird feeling that the memory of childhood gives me. 

The expectations I had, plus the fact that I hadn’t written since long ago and I felt very shy about it, plus the big amount of illustrations that we decided this book would have, made me procrastinate and delay the work that had inevitably to be done. 


In the end, it’s just a matter of doing it but, as we all know, all the demons on our back make it complicated.

Luckily, I had the invaluable help of Maria Tunney and Deirdre McDermott that made everything possible, I felt all the time as if they were teaching me how to walk. Sadia Chowdhury was also a huge help during the painting process, and the most patient.


In this post, you can also see some of the back and forth I did with the cover, some alternative versions of it and a pencil sketch. 

Now I’m very glad the cream option won but, I used to prefer the orange one. I remember I made a try one night at like 12am with my last neuron and sent it to Sadia. Later, I regretted giving them another option because everybody preferred it. 

And even before, I preferred the grey one with the frog that has nothing to do with the story and, as my friend @rosel.david said, looks like a second-hand shop.

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Head over to the @BigPictureBooks Instagram to find out more about Julia's childhood, the inspiration, influences and references in her illustrations, and what this book has meant to her.

The Queen in the Cave is now available from all good booksellers. 

Spooky reads

We're just a short time away from the spookiest evening of the year, Halloween! What better way to herald in All Hallows' Eve than with our pick of Halloween picture books:

Pick a Pumpkin 
by Patricia Toht, illustrated by Jarvis


Then cart it home, scoop out the insides, carve a scary face, and finally light a candle inside, transforming it into a one-of-a-kind, glowing jack-o’-lantern...

It’s Halloween! Which means it's time to dangle cobwebs and bats from the windows, put on costumes, and – most important of all – visit the pumpkin patch and pick out that perfect pumpkin!

With warm, autumnal art, this is the perfect book to share by flickering candlelight on the spookiest night of the year.

Click here to download our Pick a Pumpkin activity sheets!

Watch our trailer pumpkin-filled trailer below:


Witch in Training
by Michelle Robinson and illustrated by Briony May Smith


Betty is brewing her first ever potion! And potions need ingredients – ingredients that can only be found in the WILD. So Betty, with her mum by her side, soars off into the magical, moonlight night to bravely gather her wicked and wonderful supplies: vampire fangs, fairy dust, werewolf whiskers, and more. The only problem is, she might have to come face-to-face with a few monsters – a few treacherous monsters! – along the way...

With rollicking read-aloud rhymes from Michelle Robinson, and spellbinding art from Briony May Smith, this is a funny, edge-of-your-broomstick adventure for aspiring witches and wizards everywhere.

Beast Feast

by Emma Yarlett



Beast has found a tasty dinner, and he's written to all his friends to invite them to a feast. Unfortunately, Dinner is a child who very much does not want to be eaten. As Beast's friends send their instructions for cooking Dinner, is there any way Dinner can convince Beast to change his menu? A vibrant and charming interactive book with hilarious letters to open.

Gustavo, the Shy Ghost
by Flavia Z. Drago


THE WINNER OF THE KLAUS FLUGGE PRIZE 2021

"A great story about making friends by being yourself and the illustrations are a constant visual delight" Malorie Blackman

Gustavo is a ghost. He is good at doing all sorts of paranormal things, like walking through walls, making objects fly and glowing in the dark. And he loves playing beautiful music on his violin. But Gustavo also has a problem. He is SHY. Which means some things are harder for him to do, like getting in a line to buy eye-scream or talking to the other monsters. But Gustavo longs to be a part of something, he longs to be seen. More than anything, he wants to make a friend. So, plucking up all his courage, he sends a very special letter: “Dear Monsters, I would like to invite you to my violin concert at the Day of the Dead party…”

You can read our Q&A with Flavia here and download our activity sheets here!

 Monsters Play... Counting!

by Flavia Z. Drago



Eat like a monster! Eat like Simone. Simone has ONE TONGUE for licking tasty cones.

Count from 1-10 with ten funny and flamboyant monsters! As little ones discover one tongue, two ears – and a lively monster with three eyes! – they'll be inspired to shake and move, and learn the names for their different body parts, too.

With monstrously bright and bold illustrations, rhyming words, and a sturdy feel, this interactive board book is the perfect gift for a new arrival, and a stylish addition to a toddler’s first library. A first counting book has never been wilder or such fun!

 Monsters Play... Peekaboo!

by Flavia Z. Drago


Hidden beneath seven flaps, seven silly monsters are waiting to be discovered! Arh-wooh! It's Winston the hairy werewolf. Clackety clack! That must be Mr Bones, the handsome skeleton. Little ones will love making the noises, lifting the flaps, and of course – shouting PEEK-A-BOO! – in this interactive board book full of surprises.

With monstrously bright and bold illustrations, read-aloud sounds, and a sturdy feel, this is the perfect gift for a new arrival, and a stylish addition to a toddler’s first library. A first game of peek-a-boo has never been wilder or such fun!

Monster Food
by Daisy Hirst


Some monsters eat peaches, some monsters eat pears, and then there are monsters who only eat chairs. Some monsters like noodles, some monsters like stew but this little monster is eating a shoe. Daisy Hirst's adorable, cheeky monsters are guaranteed to make little children chuckle! For picky eaters, I-like-everything eaters and I-might-have-liked-it-yesterday-but-I-don't-like-it-today eaters alike!

Monster Clothes
by Daisy Hirst


When monsters get up in the morning, they have to find something to wear. Simon wears socks, Darrell puts on a dress and Terrence tries on a tomato. Meanwhile, Cassie is wearing cars and Lester has the latest fashion – leaves! Daisy's adorable, cheeky little monsters try all sorts of hilarious combinations of clothes that little children won't be able to resist.

All of our Halloween books are available from all good booksellers! 

Tuesday, 12 October 2021

Everyone Sang: A Poem for Every Feeling by William Sieghart and Emily Sutton (illus.)

Everyone Sang: A Poem for Every Feeling is a brand new, magnificent poetry anthology chosen by the creator of the bestselling Poetry Pharmacy, William Sieghart. This exquisite gift-book contains over a hundred poems and is illustrated in sensational style by picture-book star Emily Sutton. 

Divided into four thoughtfully curated sections, including Poems to Make You Smile, Poems to Move You, Poems to Give You Hope and Poems to Calm and Connect You, the poems originate from an extraordinary and diverse range of sources, from Maya Angelou to A.A. Milne, Lemn Sissay, Jackie Kay, Carol Ann Duffy, Joseph Coelho, Kae Tempest, W.B. Yeats, Christina Rossetti and Emily Dickinson, among many others. 
Combining traditional favourites with recent gems, there are poems to delight, inspire, entertain, intrigue, console and uplift readers of all ages.

Watch our Everyone Sang: A Poem for Every Feeling trailer below: 

Thursday, 7 October 2021

New October Picture Books Releases

 The Queen in the Cave
by Júlia Sardà

One night, Franca has a dream about a marvellous queen, who lives in a dark cave, deep in the forest. She cannot sit still until she knows if her dream is true! So, together with her younger sisters, Carmela and Tomasina, she ventures into the forest at the end of their garden. As they travel deeper through nettles and thickets, drawing closer and closer to the cave, the world shifts ... everything shrinks and expands at the same time. They are somewhere new now, somewhere different. Here, they meet beasts and creatures that shock and delight them, and escape horrible things that utterly frighten them. They learn how to be brave, to be bold, to face their darkest fears. And what of the queen? Well, what they find in the cave is perhaps the most unexpected thing of all...

Click here to read out behind the scenes piece with Júlia. 

Gustavo, the Shy Ghost
by Flavia Z. Drago


THE WINNER OF THE KLAUS FLUGGE PRIZE 2021
"A great story about making friends by being yourself and the illustrations are a constant visual delight" Malorie Blackman

Gustavo is a ghost. He is good at doing all sorts of paranormal things, like walking through walls, making objects fly and glowing in the dark. And he loves playing beautiful music on his violin. But Gustavo also has a problem. He is SHY. Which means some things are harder for him to do, like getting in a line to buy eye-scream or talking to the other monsters. But Gustavo longs to be a part of something, he longs to be seen. More than anything, he wants to make a friend. So, plucking up all his courage, he sends a very special letter: “Dear Monsters, I would like to invite you to my violin concert at the Day of the Dead party…”

You can read our Q&A with Flavia here and download our activity sheets here!

Now out in paperback!

It's Mine!
by Emma Yarlett

Once there was a mysterious thing. Nobody knew how it got there, it just was. “It’s mine, all MINE!” say Mouse, Frog, Fox and Bear. But is it a piece of fruit, a wheel, a ball, a chair or something else altogether? And who will get to keep it in the end?

 Everyone Sang: A Poem for Every Feeling
by William Sieghart and illustrated by Emily Sutton

This exquisite gift-book contains over a hundred poems, chosen by creator of the bestselling The Poetry Pharmacy, William Sieghart, and illustrated in sensational style by picture-book star Emily Sutton. Divided into four thoughtfully-curated sections, including Poems to Make You Smile, Poems to Move You, Poems to Give You Hope and Poems to Calm and Connect You, the poems originate from an extraordinary and diverse range of sources, from Maya Angelou to Roger McGough, Lemn Sissay, Jackie Kay, Carol Ann Duffy, Joseph Coelho, Kae Tempest, W.B. Yeats, Christina Rossetti and Emily Dickinson, among many others. Combining traditional favourites with recent gems, here are poems to delight, inspire, entertain, intrigue, console and uplift readers of all ages.


Monsters Play... Counting!
by Flavia Z. Drago


Eat like a monster! Eat like Simone. Simone has ONE TONGUE for licking tasty cones.

Count from 1-10 with ten funny and flamboyant monsters! As little ones discover one tongue, two ears – and a lively monster with three eyes! – they'll be inspired to shake and move, and learn the names for their different body parts, too.

With monstrously bright and bold illustrations, rhyming words, and a sturdy feel, this interactive board book is the perfect gift for a new arrival, and a stylish addition to a toddler’s first library. A first counting book has never been wilder or such fun!

 Monsters Play... Peekaboo!
by Flavia Z. Drago


Hidden beneath seven flaps, seven silly monsters are waiting to be discovered! Arh-wooh! It's Winston the hairy werewolf. Clackety clack! That must be Mr Bones, the handsome skeleton. Little ones will love making the noises, lifting the flaps, and of course – shouting PEEK-A-BOO! – in this interactive board book full of surprises.

With monstrously bright and bold illustrations, read-aloud sounds, and a sturdy feel, this is the perfect gift for a new arrival, and a stylish addition to a toddler’s first library. A first game of peek-a-boo has never been wilder or such fun!

BANG!
by Katherine Halligan and illustrated by Amy Grimes


 In the beginning there was nothing, and then – BANG! – the universe was born. Discover the incredible story of billions of years of life on Earth, from the first tiny cells, through the age of dinosaurs and prehistoric beasts, all the way to the first humans. With playful text and stylish illustrations, this awe-inspiring history is perfect for curious young minds.

 Round and Round the Garden
by Shirley Hughes

This classic collection features 60 beautifully illustrated nursery rhymes from Shirley’s childhood to inspire a new generation to discover their own favourite rhymes – and sing them wherever they go. Parents and children can enjoy these rhymes all through the day: from walking to the park on a cold and frosty morning with “Here we go round the mulberry bush”, splashing about in a tub singing “Rub-a-dub-dub” or going to bed with “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”. This collection is the perfect addition to any child's bookshelf.

My Big Book of Transport
by Moira Butterfield and illustrated by Bryony Clarkson


Come and hitch a ride in vehicles of every shape and size – from family cars to double-decker buses, chugging tractors to speedy supercars, and gigantic monster-trucks to noisy fire engines. With bounce-along rhythms and fascinating facts from author Moira Butterfield, and bright, lively pictures by rising star Bryony Clarkson, any single reading of My Big Book of Transport is sure to result in a victory lap or two!

The History of Everywhere
by Philip Parker and illustrated by Liz Kay


Did you know the woolly mammoths were still around when the Egyptians built their pyramids? Or that Leonardo Da Vinci lived at the same time as Henry VIII and the Aztecs? Welcome to The History of Everywhere, a fascinating guide to all the stuff you never knew happened at the same time! In lively maps, see the whole world of history: from ancient times to the modern day, watch civilizations rise and fall, spot fascinating connections and coincidences, and discover the people and events you never learnt about in school. Prepare for a fascinating journey around the world that will change the way you see history!

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Our October releases will be available this month from all good booksellers!

Wednesday, 29 September 2021

Let's Save Antarctica - Author blog post

Today we welcome Catherine Barr onto Picture Book Party to talk about her new book, Let's Save Antarctica, illustrated by Jean Claude. Catherine wrote this piece for Peters.co.uk and it was too good not to share with our Picture Book Party readers. 


Over to Catherine...

"I remember discovering that the great white continent of Antarctica was once lush tropical forest. It is still difficult to believe that this frozen wilderness was thick with deep green vegetation – and dinosaurs. That led to a conversation that inspired a new book. Or rather, a series of exciting new picture books with Walker Books, kickstarting with Let’s Save Antarctica. Brought to life in full, gorgeous colours by the illustrator Jean Claude.

For me, a new picture book often begins with finding an expert with whom to explore the science at the centre of the story. The opportunity to learn, explore and understand the stories of Antarctica has been fascinating. These are conversations that I value and enjoy. I visited British Antarctic Survey HQ in Cambridge to meet scientists who spend months working in this frozen landscape. Having studied ecology and travelled widely in my wildlife campaign work with Greenpeace International, I am eager to hear their adventures in cutting-edge science and ideas about conservation. And I am so grateful for their time – I have a lot of questions.



The challenge to weave complex science into a simple non-fiction narrative is one I love. In this series, we wanted to focus on WHY it is important to protect iconic habitats on our planet: within the inevitable context of climate change. So each spread begins with ‘Let’s save Antarctica because…’, exploring reasons why special places like Antarctica, the Amazon, the Great Barrier Reef and lastly the great Okavango Delta in southern Africa matter. 


I have not visited the Antarctic but, aboard a Greenpeace ship, I have sailed up the Amazon. I found my own experience of the threats to this breathtaking wilderness seeped into my thinking in writing this book. But as well as consulting Greenpeace UK CEO John Sauven; I also met (virtually) two extraordinary Brazilian scientists from the Sustainable Amazon Network. Their enthusiasm and our correspondence have been both interesting, insightful and fun. From referencing their shared family photographs for illustrating the faces of the Indigenous people to discussing toucan species and adding amphibians, it has been a journey that I can’t wait to share in schools and libraries.

More recently I have been learning about coral restoration from experts in Australia and I am in the midst of revisiting (based on my memory of a long-ago adventure) the Okavango Delta to introduce this lesser-known but critically important wetland habitat to young readers. I have been in touch with old friends and climate scientists who live and work in these swamps; while faraway, I write and edit the words to take children on a journey into this seasonal wildlife spectacle.


I am gathering a network of scientists working all over the world and as a re
sult creating a global travel itinerary. I hope, in time, to visit many of these valuable colleagues and friends in the field – to thank them – but also to find out what they are working on now and, of course, plan a new series of books based on these evolving experiences."


Let's Save Antarctica is available from all good booksellers.