Tommy Donbavand was a prolific writer for Badger Learning. He penned two full series, Time Trek and Snow-Man, and numerous other books including the award-winning title, Raven, from our Teen Reads series and Annie, from our Between The Lines series, which was also shortlisted for an award. His other titles for Badger Learning include, The Terrible Tale of Melody Doom and Once Upon a Time from reluctant reader series, Gems; The Head is Dead and The Colony from the Graphic Novels collection; Just Bite, Ward 13 and many more in the Teen Reads series; MC Cesar, Ringtone and The Girl in the Wall from our Dark Reads series.
He was the author of the 13-book Scream Street series, published in over a dozen languages worldwide and he also wrote several titles for reluctant and struggling readers, including Wolf, My Teacher Ate My Brain, and Uniform – which won the 2011 Hackney Short Novel Award.
He sadly passed away in 2019.
Originally from Liverpool, Tommy lived in Lancashire with his family. As an author, Tommy visited hundreds of schools and dozens of book festivals to teach creative writing and promote a love of reading.
Q&A with Tommy Donbavand
What inspired you to write for reluctant readers?
My older son, who suffers from dyspraxia, found reading hard as he was growing up. We read together as much as we could at home, but things were different at school; there's was nothing in reading schemes about Biff, Kipper, Chip and magic keys that excited him enough to pick up a new book. I realised that reluctant and struggling pupils needed exciting stories if they were going to be encouraged to turn the page and so I began to pitch ideas to publishers who specialised in that area.
What challenges do struggling readers face when they open a book?
Struggling readers face all kinds of problems when opening a book - far more than most of us appreciate. To them, they have to WORK at reading a story - they can't just let it wash over them like the rest of us. Every word, sentence and paragraph is a challenge to be overcome - and only then can an authors' words hit home in terms of story, character and meaning. I see it all the time in schools across the country - and these pupils should be applauded, not criticised. They have to FIGHT to get to the meaning of a book - something most of us would fail at miserably.
What is your favourite type of character to create?
The bad guy! Villains are so much fun to invent - especially if they come with secret lairs, diabolical weapons and over-worked minions!
What features and methods do you use to ensure that your books have that High Interest appeal that really engages young readers?
A good story is a good story - no matter who it is written for. The fact that I have to watch the vocabulary, spellings or turns of phrase that I use when writing my books for struggling readers is not in any way important. I want as many readers to enjoy my adventures as possible, and that means I have to write each one carefully. Story comes first - readability comes later.
What difference do books like these make to children who are in need of literacy support?
I think they make a HUGE difference. If you're a struggling reader, you don't want to be reading a simple 'Thomas the Tank Engine' book while your friends are engrossed in the adventure of authors for older pupils. If we can make sure that all the pupils in class are reading the same author - albeit at several different stages of writing - no-one is excluded, embarrassed or left out. It is for that reason that I'm very proud to write for Badger Learning.
Can you give us any teasers of what to expect in The Terrible Tale of Melody Doom and Once Upon a Time?
Girls with attitude! Growing up, all the girl characters in the books I read were either meek nobodies who looked after the coats while the boys went on their adventures, or spoiled brats just waiting for their comeuppance. I prefer to write about girls who are keen to get stuck in and show the boys what they're made of.
What are the major themes of your work?
Friendship, standing up for what you believe in, and fighting evil (particularly evil dressed in titanium-plated robotic battle armour!)
What controls do you place on the vocabulary you use and how important is this?
Much less than you would suspect. Struggling readers are just that - readers who struggle to access words on the page. That doesn't mean they are stupid, or incapable of understanding a story. In fact - some of the smartest pupils I've ever met have reading problems. It's down to me to make sure the story is understandable - and if that means one or two pupils learn a new word or phrase along the way, so be it.
What is your favourite children's book?
Danny, The Champion of the World by Roald Dahl.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers/authors?
Write, write, then write again. Fill notebooks with stories - you'll get better with every tale you write.
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