As our last Guest Editor of this Year we are delighted to welcome Mel Taylor-Bessent, author of the brilliantly festive The Christmas Carrolls series. Mel is a passionate advocate for children's literacy, and has made her career connecting readers to their favourite authors and encouraging children to write for pleasure through her online platform, Authorfy. Read on for her top book recommendations and her totally festabulous, christmariffic stories!

Hello everyone!

I’m so excited to be the Guest Editor for this month’s LoveReading4Kids! I’ve been obsessed with reading since I was young, and I particularly loved escaping into fantastical worlds and meeting characters that I’d never come across in real life. In fact, every time I opened a new book, it felt like that moment Enid Blyton’s characters climbed the Faraway Tree or sat in the Wishing Chair and were whisked off to an impossible land. It felt exciting and magical and like anything could happen, and that feeling has never left me. Even now, every time I open a new book, I get excited at the thought of where it might take me.

I grew up as an only child, so I’d often write stories to entertain myself. They were normally retellings of my favourite Enid Blyton stories, but I’d always change one or two things to make it more personal. As I got older and read more authors and different styles of writing (I loved everything from Goosebumps by R.L. Stein to The Story of Tracy Beaker by Jacqueline Wilson), I found myself feeling more and more inspired. My love for reading grew into a love for writing, and it was always my dream to become an author. I didn’t think it would ever happen to me, though.

I’m still pinching myself that all three Christmas Carrolls books are published, and I am having SO much fun writing the new Race To Imagination Island series. I really hope you like them, too!

Q: The Carrolls are a fabulously eccentric family - do you have a favourite member and how did you develop these unique characters?

A: Holly Carroll has to be my favourite! I put a lot of myself into her – I am very excitable and energetic, and I love Christmas (although not as much as the Carrolls!). I also wanted to make Holly super creative, quirky, confident and endlessly cheerful. I really think we’re happier and kinder at Christmas time, and if the Carrolls lived every day as if it was Christmas, it made sense to make Holly positive and happy all year round. Of course, that meant I also had to make her quite naïve – she lives in a joyful snow globe world filled with twinkling fairy lights, Christmas trees in every room of her house and even a carol-singing toilet – so it was fun to see her character develop when she met people that didn’t celebrate Christmas all year round, and even some that might not get a Christmas at all.

Q: The books in the series are so entertaining and fun, kids will devour these in one sitting! What was your writing process and what is your secret to creating a page-turner?

A: I just had fun! I knew if I wrote a story that made me laugh and feel excited, it would (hopefully!) make readers feel the same. I hadn’t written anything massively funny before, but the jokes and puns came quite naturally as I developed the characters and their individual interests. Once I decided that Snow (Holly’s mum) made Christmas aprons and had her own wrapping room, Nick (Holly’s dad) was an inventor and a keen baker, and they had a pet donkey (Reggie) who wanted to be a reindeer, their personalities almost took over, and I would find myself writing scenes that were totally unexpected and had me laughing out loud. As well as including lots of Christmariffic puns (see what I did there!?) and a good dollop of toilet humour, I also wanted to make the Carrolls a family that everyone wanted to be a part of. I wanted readers to race through the book not only because of the jokes and the funny scenes, but also because of the warm and kind-hearted nature of the Carrolls, and because they’re a family readers fall in love with.

Q: We guess you're a huge fan of Christmas yourself - any quirky traditions?

A: I do love Christmas, although there are no quirky traditions unfortunately. My favourite presents were always notebooks and pens (I’ve wanted to be an author since I was 8 years old!), and we’d normally go to my grandparents' house for Christmas dinner, where my uncles would steal eachothers' roast potatoes, my grandad would fall asleep in his armchair, and my nan would act out the same movie for Charades as she did every year – Free Willy.

Q: Do you have a favourite festive read?

A: I really enjoyed reading Cat Doyle’s ‘Miracle on Ebenezer Street’ – it’s a magical, funny and surprising spin on ‘A Christmas Carol’. I also love Abi Elphinstone and Fiona Woodcock’s stunning picture books ‘The Frost Goblin’ and ‘The Snow Dragon’.

Q: You are well known in the world of children's publishing as the creator of Authorfy - what was the motivation behind it?

A: Before becoming an author, I ran children’s creative writing workshops and would often arrange for authors to come in and meet the students. Over ten years, I organised more than 200 events, and I loved seeing the instant impact these author interactions had on reading and writing for pleasure. This got me thinking . . . ‘why bring one author into one school when I could film with authors and put the videos online for anyone in the world to see?’. That’s when I started developing Authorfy, and it’s been an absolute joy interviewing authors and illustrators and hearing about their unique approaches to writing. It helped me improve my own craft, too!

Q: What was the first book you fell in love with?

A: It was probably Enid Blyton’s ‘The Enchanted Wood’. I read my mum’s copy from the 70s first and I believed so wholeheartedly that the magic was real, it made me want to write my own stories about fantastical worlds and quirky characters. I then got my own copy and I took it to school for my teacher to read to our class every day – I loved it!

Q: Any planned publications for 2024?

A: Yes! My new series is called ‘Race To Imagination Island’ and it’s coming out in July 2024. It’s set on a magical island that only children can get to, and when they use their imagination, the island comes to life! Luca, the main character, ends up on the island by accident. He’s terrified of everything and the only way for him to get home is to complete a series of challenges and reach the checkpoint at the end of the Race. That means he gets chased by snotball mammoths, rap battles a ninja sloth, and has to face his worst nightmares with the lights go out in the Neon Jungle. ‘Race To Imagination Island’ has been so much fun to write and there will be second and third instalments coming in 2025 and 2026.

Q: One in three of all books sold is a children's book yet children's books only get a fraction of review space in the media. Why do you think this is - and what can be done?

A: There are lots of online platforms like LoveReading4Kids and Authorfy that are showcasing and celebrating children’s books, plus fantastic podcasts like Nadia Shireen and Frank Cottrell Boyce’s ‘The Island of Brilliant’ and the launch of new children’s book awards like The Week Junior Book Awards and The Adrien Prize. But it would be brilliant to get more coverage in traditional media, too. I don’t have any immediate answers or solutions, but I do know that authors, illustrators and publishers are working hard to create some of the most beautiful, unique and diverse books the industry has ever seen, and hopefully we’ll see this reflected in the media in the near future.

Q: What does LoveReading4Kids mean to you?

A: LoveReading4Kids is a fantastic resource to foster a love for reading and I’m so thrilled to be your Guest Editor for December. Connecting children to stories that open their eyes to new places, people and possibilities is a form of magic, and one that LoveReading4Kids does so brilliantly. Thank you for inviting me!

As our Guest Editor, Mel has given us her top five children's books she'd like to recommend to readers - and why she loves them!

Peace on Earth by Smriti Halls & David Litchfield 

This heart-warming picture book is joyous! Smriti’s precise and lyrical language and David’s stunning illustrations are a match made in heaven. It’s a story about losing and finding peace, and it’s one children and adults of all ages can enjoy.

The Final Year by Matt Goodfellow 

Grab the tissues! This verse novel is an absolute triumph. The story follows Nate and his journey through year 6 and all the trials and tribulations it brings both in school, and at home. This is a very special story that I devoured in one sitting.

The Extraordinary Book That Makes You Feel Happy by Poppy O’Neill and Caribay M. Benavides 

This non-fiction book is jam-packed with activities to make readers feel happier. With simple takeaways and beautiful illustrations, there’s something in this book for everyone, and I was blown away with it’s varied, easy and practical advice.

Wonderscape by Jennifer Bell 

It’s got gaming, time travel, real heroes from history, adventure, intrigue, mystery and a pacy plot that left my breathless. If you like Jumanji or Ready Player One, you’ll love this!

Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone 

This is the most gorgeous, wintery, whimsical story about an eagle huntress, an inventor, and an organ made from icicles. It made me laugh, cry, gasp, and I never wanted it to end. Abi is and always will be one of my very favourite writers.

And Mel has chosen You Can’t Let An Elephant Pull Santa’s Sleigh as her December Book of the Month;

You Can’t Let An Elephant Pull Santa’s Sleigh by Patricia Cleveland-Peck and David Tazzyman is a riotously good read! From Patricia’s zippy rhymes to David’s hilarious illustrations, this book is a festive feast for readers young and old. You can’t help but smile as you read it, and it’s even better when read aloud. The whole ‘You Can’t Let An Elephant…’ series is genius but being such a big fan of Christmas, this one is my favourite! 

Find the three books in the Christmas Carrolls series below, all are great additions to any Christmas Stocking!

Thanks Mel - wishing you a very Merry Christmas from the LR4K team.