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Chameleon Dad - Debbie Thomas

The blurb:

When Connie gets a letter from the dad she thought was dead, she sets out to discover why he left her, eight years ago, sitting in an airport café with only her pet chameleon for company.

Since then she’s lived with her foster mum, a cleaner at the airport, and dreams of seeing her dad again.

With her new friend, a fearless, fossil-hunting boy called Thyo, she tracks her dad down. But as he reveals his true colours, Connie starts to wonder if she’s made the biggest mistake of her life.

Many thanks to Little Island for having me on the blog tour and a review copy. Check out the other stops below for more:

It's my pleasure to host a guest blog from Debbie, talking about her inspiration for this brilliant book:

The Inspiration(s) for Chameleon Dad

 Many thanks to Rich for inviting me to share some thoughts on the inspiration for my new book. Chameleon Dad (age 9+) is a comedy adventure but it was prompted by a very serious question: why do bad things happen to people who’ve done nothing to cause them? The only answer I could come up with was, ‘Because they do.’ But that lame non-reply led to another question: how do some people manage to reframe bad experiences into a positive, hopeful narrative for the rest of their lives? This one felt more useful. And if there was an answer, boy would it be worth sharing. I have friends who’ve faced incredibly difficult things - black South Africans living under apartheid, a refugee from Zimbabwe, parents of children with terminal illnesses at the hospital where I work. How come all of them are joyful, hopeful people I love to be around?

OK, so there was the starter question. And what better way to explore it than through a story? A children’s story, because children’s stories rock. A middle-grade children’s story, because they rock the most. 

Oh dear. How to tackle such a heavy theme for such a fun, joyful audience? 

By making it fun and joyful. But how? Oh dear again. 

Until I went to the zoo and watched a chameleon climb a branch. With its googly eyes, grumpy mouth and finicky gait, like a ballet dancer in treacle, it was a walking comedy act. Along came the character of Hue the chameleon – and once he minced on to the page, the story took off. A scene came into my mind: a little girl sitting at a café with a chameleon on the table. Her dad got up to buy her a cup of hot chocolate – and didn’t come back. Devastating, I know, but that was the point. 

Questions followed. Why did her dad walk away? Not out of cruelty – he loved her to bits – but something must have happened when he went to buy her drink. Where was the café? Maybe an airport … Dublin … why? Because her dad had brought her from England to get away from something or someone. Why did they bring a chameleon? It was the girl’s pet because … maybe her dad worked with chameleons. Maybe he was a scientist, using their amazing colour changes to research … what? Aha – emotions – because chameleons change colour according to mood. They wear their hearts on their scaly sleeves. And that could be very useful for a scientist trying to find a medicine that could take away sad memories.

The story opens when Connie is twelve. She’s never heard from her dad since he walked away in the airport eight years ago – until a mysterious letter arrives, giving a clue to his whereabouts. To track him down, Connie enlists the help of an eccentric new friend, a fossil-hunting boy called Thyo (short for Ichthyosaurus). Piecing together Connie’s past is like piecing together the bones of a dinosaur fossil they discover in a cliff on the Irish coast. 

And isn’t that what we all do all the time? When we meet someone new, we take pinpoints of fact – their hair colour, their voice, their clothes – and decide things about them that may not be true, or may be only partially true. When we remember an event, we form a story around the few facts that stick in our memory. We join the dots with our own feelings, motivations and interpretations. 

Writing Chameleon Dad has made me think more carefully about the judgments I make, the conclusions I draw and the prejudices I carry. It’s also helped to reframe some difficult experiences and memories: to choose to join the dots in a way that helps me live now. I hope it might help others to do the same. I’m not saying it can alwasys be done, and would never speak for anyone else in real life – everyone’s stories and experiences are so different – but it was wonderful to join Connie on her particular journey. As she says, when trying to reconstruct the dinosaur’s story from a few fossil fragments, ‘All we know are a few facts. The rest is just filling in the gaps with our own story. So why not make it the best story we can?’

#ChameleonDad is out now from Little Island. Find out more via their website:

You can also follow them on Twitter as @LittleIslandBks and find out more about Debbie at

Post by Rich Simpson ( @richreadalot on Twitter and Instagram) June 2022.

All opinions my own.

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