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Guest Post: James Carter / The Beasts Beneath Our Feet

We are delighted to welcome author and poet James Carter to the blog today.


Anyone who has ever witnessed an author’s visit to a primary school will recognise one of the most-asked questions from children: where do you get your ideas from? The answer – according to author and poet James Carter – is anywhere and everywhere!


James stopped by our blog today to tell us about his upcoming book, The Beasts Beneath Our Feet (publishing 30th Sept), from its fascinating seed of an idea involving a 13-year-old boy and a 35,000-year old woolly mammoth, through to the editing process and the finished book, which is written in verse to make the subject area enjoyable, accessible and memorable….


The Beasts Beneath Our Feet – Available Here

(Little Tiger Press 30.9.21)

James Carter

Where do I get my ideas from? Anywhere and everywhere. Literally.

When my daughters were young, we’d visit the Museum of Natural History in Oxford many a Sunday afternoon. The exhibit that always caught my attention and indeed raised my curiosity was the replica of the woolly mammoth. It led to me writing a few mammoth poems, but I always felt there was much more to be written about them. Fast forward a decade and a half, and I was looking at a website on walks in South Oxfordshire. In passing, it mentioned that in the Summer of 1975, a 13-year-old boy was swimming in the Thames at Goring. He stood up at one point and felt something hard beneath his feet on the riverbed. With the aid of his two mates, he brought the mystery item to the banks.

35,000 yr old jawbone of young mammoth –now displayed in The Museum of Oxfordshire, Woodstock.

It was later identified as a 35,000 year old baby woolly mammoth jaw. Boom! There was a book idea somewhere there, I thought. After a few months of research and much mulling over the concept, the book had morphed into quite a different beast.


I’d already written a number of science-focussed non-fiction picture books for Little Tiger. I’d covered all kinds of things – the Big Bang (Once Upon A Star), water (Once Upon A Raindrop), space travel (The Big Beyond), music (Once Upon A Rhythm) science (Once Upon An Atom). I felt that I was cumulatively creating a mini-history of the earth and us humans, and from a panoply of different angles.

And now I was looking to do something a bit different, though in the same format – a rhyming picture book text for 5-8s with a linear narrative of some kind. I realised eventually that I’d need more than mammoths to create a narrative non-fiction book, so then I thought about including other extinct creatures much further back in time. I think we often tend to think that it’s mainly dinosaurs that are extinct, so I wanted to show children the range of animals that have once lived on earth.


I thought it would be good where possible to include one of every main group of creatures, and after much research and deliberation, I ended up with seven animals in all – a trilobite (invertebrate), a metoposaurus (amphibian), a meganeuropsis permiana (insect), a tyrannosaurus rex and a brontosaurus (reptiles), an archaeopteryx (bird) and a woolly mammoth (mammal). This, I realised, would inadvertently provide a broad evolutionary line. And the text I created for each spread would give the reader some introductory detail on each creature, and in the penultimate spread I covered the many proposed reasons as to why these creatures are no longer with us.


The illustrations, by Russian illustrator, Alisa Kosareva, are truly magical, and I’m thrilled with the visual world she has created. And Alice, the designer at Little Tiger, also did a fabulous job too in guiding the aesthetics and integrating text and image throughout. My editor at Little Tiger, Isabel, as ever, made some significant contributions that greatly improved the book, such as suggesting we have a timeline of the seven creatures at the end of the book.

The Beasts Beneath Our Feet, as with all the other books in the series, is written in verse. It is my aim that the upbeat, rhythmical, rhyming text will hopefully make the subject areas enjoyable, accessible and indeed memorable to young readers and listeners. Though written in rhyming couplets, these are not poetry books per se but non-fiction titles, and are intended as a broad and gentle introduction to each topic, with the aim of instilling in children a sense of wonder, to get them curious so they will want to go further and deeper into each subject.

This series is now used in classes from Reception to Year 4 in primary schools all over the UK and even abroad (as the series is translated into 8+ languages) as research material for classroom topics. And as a non-fiction writer you couldn’t ask for more!




> Order The Beasts Beneath Our Feet from BookShop.Org

> Order The Beasts Beneath Our Feet from Amazon

> Visit James Carter’s Website


Many thanks to James for visiting our blog and sharing his guest post with us.


Where next? > Visit our Reading for Pleasure Hub

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