Books and plays for children


Katharine Quarmby grew up in Norfolk in the ’70’s by a river and her fondest memories are of messing about in boats and swimming in the open air, and is still often found in cold water or kayaking.

Her two most recent books for children are co-authored with the English Traveller, Richard O’Neill, and are published by Child’s Play International. One, Yokki and the Parno Gry, is about a magic horse, a young story-teller, Yokki and a hard-working Traveller family down on its luck. The other, Ossiri and the Bala Mengro, is about a young musician, Ossiri, her Traveller family, and a monster.

Katharine’s work as a journalist took her all over the world, making films for the BBC and doing long-form journalism. When her second child was born she decided to concentrate on print journalism for a while so she could be closer to home. She started to write about the dire state of school food after her first child came back from school asking why she was being fed worms (which turned out to be the infamous Turkey Twizzler). She was the first UK journalist to break the story of the parlous state of school catering with the Guardian in 2004. She started to write about healthy eating for children at around the same time.

Fussy Freya, a rhyming picture book about a fussy child who is served up a fantastical feast, was published by Frances Lincoln in 2008, and was a Scottish Book Trust’s Book of the Month.

Katharine developed Fussy Freya into a musical show for the Little Angel Puppet Theatre through the Hatch and Incubate programmes. But, even more excitingly, Katharine’s second book, celebrating gardening with children, Rosie Gets The Plot, has been developed into a wonderful schools show, which went on a limited tour with the Little Angel in Islington schools in 2013 and 2014. She is now developing a new puppet show with the Romany Theatre company.

Katharine was also a committed member of Scope’s In the Picture campaign (which has now ceased due to lack of funding), which aimed to get more disabled children into children’s literature. She wrote a story for 7-9 year olds with a deaf main character (in conjunction with visits and consultation with a deaf unit in a south London primary school) and is currently revising it before submission.

Katharine was adopted at birth from a Iranian/English mixed race background and thinks it is important to celebrate diversity in children’s books. Fussy Freya puts a mixed race family centre stage (although it is not the central theme of the book).

Katharine is an enthusiastic member of the Islington Writers for Children group. The group’s website and regularly updated blog can be seen at

You can also buy Katharine’s book in good bookshops or online at

Book Reviews for latest books:

“This is a window onto a different culture and a reminder to have faith in imagination.” Super review by Nicolette Jones in the The Times and The Sunday Times Children’s Books Summer Reading!

Historical Novel Society on Ossiri and the Bala Mengro: Marion Rose reviewed it, writing: “This is a picture book where everything has been thought about, from the patterned end papers to the glossary that explains the sprinkling of unfamiliar words. It is beautiful to look at, and wonderful to read aloud. I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who is old enough to meet an ogre.”

Ossiri and the Bala Mengro (Child’s Play Library)

Elizabeth Hawksley reviewed Yokki for the Historical Novel Society thus: “I loved learning about the Travelling life, what everyone did, and how they coped. It’s also a story about the power of the imagination to rise above the bad times and look forward to a better future. Children of 4-9 should love it.”

Ossiri and the Bala Mengro (Child’s Play Library)

Leeds Gate, a Traveller charity, reviewed the books, with 11 year old Jerry Hanrahan writing:

“My name is Jerry Hanrahan, I am 11. I went to primary school except for most of the last year.  I’m hoping to go to high school in September. I read the books in our training room at Leeds GATE with my brother Billy crawling and exploring around us!

I read Parno Gry, it was quite easy for me to read, and I liked the story.  My favourite character was Yokki cos he told stories.  The worst bit was when Aunty couldn’t sell her flowers, I felt really disappointed for her.  The pictures were good.  I read half the other book, Ossiri and the Bala Mengro, but then my brother was making a lot of noise so Helen read through the rest.

I think these books would be best for children a little bit younger than me, say about nine.  I liked the stories being about Travellers and what was in the pictures. I think they should write more books. Thumbs up!”

“A traditional Romani folk tale brought to stunning life… hugely original story introducing characters and stories from other cultures in an engaging and delightful way.” ReadItDaddy–Features/Richard-ONeils-Gypsy-Traveller-stories-book.aspx

Reviews for Fussy Freya:

Fussy Freya (Frances Lincoln £11.99) is not for the squeamish: Katharine Quarmby’s rollicking verse tells how a three-year-old picky eater orders warthog and monkey, and learns a lesson when that is what granny serves. Piet Grobler’s watercolours have a sinister, angular exaggeration, like German expressionism. For children who like their food familiar and their rhymes revolting.” (Sunday Times, Best books for Easter, 2008)

“Piet Grobler’s brightly coloured illustrations are comic and eccentric in a way that is perfectly in keeping with the story… The characters are hilarious and unforgettable. The wavy layout of the text and the font are visually appealing too. All in all, this is a witty book that is fun to read. Each page has humour and entertainment value for children, though I love this book as much as my son does.” (

“What a joy of a picture book! I loved the illustrations, the fonts, the layout, the humour and the musicality of the text. A super book to read aloud with 2 to 7 year olds. The subliminal message is how Freya stopped being a fussy eater but the story line is simply a vehicle for an entertaining feast of children’s literature. Alliterative words, repetitive rhyming couplets, visual treats and more. I can hear the giggles now as the weekly menu is unravelled page by page. Every double page is packed so that I found something new each time I looked through it. In my experience this is a joy, not only for the small child but also for the adult sharing it and can make the difference between a genuinely rewarding bedtime experience and the ‘oh no not that one again’ kind of feeling on the part of the grown up. This can, so easily, be the kiss of death to expressive story sharing after a long hard day! If this is Katharine and Piet’s first collaboration, I hope they continue with original and exciting ideas for pre school children. Wonderful stuff.” (School Librarian)

“The story is written in a poetic way and is humourous and beautifully illustrated. The meals are carefully depicted, showing the importance of having vegetables and what could happen if children do not eat properly. And now when I use the threat of serving my children mashed monkey and rice when they become difficult at meal times, it yields wonderful results.” (

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