After reading so much amazing fiction in the last few months, it makes a nice break to review some non-fiction. It’s almost like a literary bank holiday – a time to refresh and wonder at the extraordinary world we are in, before returning invigorated to the made up worlds of others.
Questions and Answers by Catherine Chambers and Chris Oxlade (why do the writers of non-fiction not have their names on the cover?) fits the bill nicely. At nearly 400 pages long, there’s a chunkiness to the book and the range of content guarantees longevity. The subjects have been chosen wisely with sections on Space, Weather, Pirates, Inventions and lots of history, including Ancient Egypt, Rome and the Vikings.
There are few sounds more life-enhancing than the uncontrollable chuckle of a small child; the one that emerges from deep in the belly, the one that lacks any self-conciousness, as if their whole being has been consumed by a giggle.
These days, I’m sad to say, I rarely induce such an effect on my daughter. In fact it’s quite the reverse. Already, aged six – six! – she has adopted the teenage eye-roll. My finest joke, my most carefully constructed witticism is met not with laughter, but with a look. A look and a drawn-out ‘Daaaad, you’re not funny’ (once she added ‘anymore’ to the end of this sentence. Oh, the agonies of parenthood).
Thankfully, our house is not completely bereft of laughter. Not since Dave Pigeon landed on our doorstep. This is a charmingly daft tale, guaranteed – even in early onset teenage six-year-olds – to induce those uncontrollable, carefree giggles. It follows the eponymous Dave who, alongside his friend Skipper, seeks to oust a nasty cat so they can have unfettered access to the house and, more importantly, the biscuits.
One of the challenges of writing a blog about children’s books is to avoid overuse of words like ‘charming’ and ‘delightful’, particularly when you read a book like Giraffe on a Bicyle which is exactly those things – it is charming and it is delightful. No other words will do.
Julia Woolf’s debut picture book starts off with a monkey finding a bicycle (the not-to-be-skipped wordless endpapers tell you how this came to be – a clever little touch). Giraffe then pedals off through the jungle, gathering monkeys, tigers, flamingos and snakes on the bike. They hurtle along in their increasingly precarious journey, until…crash! The bike is in ruins – can the jungle buddies put it back together?
Questions and Answers about Space breaks new ground for this blog – it’s my first review of a non-fiction book. All credit must go to @andyseedauthor for pushing the non-fiction cause – he twisted an arm or two to get information books sent out to book bloggers, mine included.
This is a good a place to start as any – the ‘Question and Answer’ series is top quality and deserving of a prominent place in book corners and school libraries. I wasn’t easily won over – ‘lift-the-flap’ books normally get quite short shrift from me. They are usually the first books to perish; the flaps don’t just get lifted – even in the hands of book-loving children, they are soon pulled, twisted, bent and broken.
But the Usborne books are made of sturdier stuff. The cover is as chunky as a hard cover can be, and the pages are thick, almost board-like. Each page has almost a dozen fact boxes, hidden beneath solid folds of card. Hard to break, made to be handled and to be read again and again. Continue reading
After staring for some considerable time and with ever-increasing bafflement at Von Doogan’s Puzzle Number 1 – Impossibility Level 2 out of a maximum of 5 – I was left with two thoughts. The first of which was: how on earth can a ten-year-old brain grapple with such complexity? And, the second was: wow, my ten-year-old brain would have loved this, absolutely loved it!
My theory of cognitive development, up to this point, has been based on the premise that, put simply, you know more stuff when you’re older. Of course, there is a certain point where mental capacity tips into decline but, all being well, there is a broadly upward trajectory from conception, through the embryonic stage, past adolescence and then on at least until early middle age, or at least until parenthood and the moment where sleep deprivation induces massive mental regression (I lost my wallet for a week after leaving it in the salad drawer of the fridge).
This theory, however, is thrown into chaos by Von Doogan and the Great Air Race. If this is the kind of thing that ten year olds do for fun then I’m badly wrong. They – the pre-adolescent puzzlers – are the intellectual giants of the modern age, and it is upon their shoulders that we should clamber. Continue reading
Like Jack and super hero Stan, the brothers in this excellent debut picture book from Matt Robertson, my brother and I had a somewhat strained relationship. It’s hard to say who was the super hero in my house – neither of us could fly, and I don’t recall slipping into a lycra all-in-one (although it was a while ago, admittedly). But the truth is that we never quite clicked, not in the way brothers should. Things may have been different if we’d had Super Stan to read.
In the book, Stan steals every moment and saves the day; poor Jack is fed up with always being second, always overlooked in favour of his cape-wearing sibling. Eventually, when Jack is pushed to his limits, the relationship is redeemed when Stan realises he needs Jack after all.
Nibbles the Book Monster, in my house at least, has managed to achieve something quite spectacularly tricky. It appealed to and delighted both my youngest boy, who is a solid super-hero-loving-three-year-old and my oldest girl, who is five-turning-six-quite-soon-my-goodness-where-do-all-the-years-go?
Now, that might not sound all that much. There is, after all, only a couple of years between them. But the truth is that these days their literary tastes rarely converge. Bedtime used to be a wonderful, wriggling pile of a half-dozen elbows, arms and legs, as one parent lay in the middle while each child gazed upon a favourite picture book. Chaotic and far from comfortable, but fun.
But now, my eldest (my-goodness-where-do-all-the-years-go!) often prefers to read Flat Stanley on her own. On occasion, she takes herself off all together for what she calls ‘private time’ which, from what I can gather, involves marshalling her teddies and giving them some quite severe orders about lining up and sitting nicely.
I thought those shared bedtime moments had passed. But Nibbles the Book Monster, I’m very happy to say, has brought us all back together, elbows and all.
It is no surprise that Tom’s Midnight Garden continues to be read and loved, close to sixty years after it was published. The plaudits – it was voted one of the top ten Carnegie Medal winners of the last seventy years – are well-deserved. Given the period when Philippa Pearce wrote the book (the sixties hadn’t happened yet), it is a remarkable piece of story-telling.
The story is familiar to many. It has been told many times and in many different ways; there’s been TV and stage adaptations, as well as a film. Tom, a young boy sent away from his home to avoid catching the measles, lives with an Aunt and an Uncle (slightly distant and unpleasant, as story Uncles often are). It’s the 1950’s or thereabouts – it is a stuffy, stifled existence, with little to do, no children to play with and no garden to play in.
At night, when the old clock chimes, Tom is woken, creeps downstairs and opens the door to find a garden. Crossing the threshold of the door transports Tom to Victorian times. In the garden, now in the grounds of a large house, he meets other children – only one, a girl called Hatty, can see him. The rest are not aware Tom is there, as if he is a ghost.
I wrote earlier about a picture book I’ve been working on with Elena Bolado, a friend who also happens to be an excellent illustrator. This is her first picture book, and mine too.
We’ve nearly finished. We both have young children (Elena’s daughter and my daughter were born around the same time) so we’ve worked on this in between the endless churn of work, life and children. The plan is to self publish the book in the next few weeks.
The book is called Little Mo and it tells the story of a teddy who sees a firework from his bedroom window and inadvertently goes on a journey to explore the bright lights, hurtling through a dark autumn night on the backs and the wings of some nocturnal friends.
I started this blog with quite a few things in mind. I wanted somewhere to write about the amazing books I was discovering; a reading log so I could easily jog my memory if I forgot a book or a character or, even worse, whether I liked a book or not.
There was also – I must admit – a hint of vanity. I wondered whether there would be an audience, other people who might be interested in reading my bookish thoughts. Perhaps I would be able to point readers to an undiscovered book. Fingers crossed, they may even say they liked what they read.
That said, my blog is my blog – it’s mainly for me. I like to write. I have an urge to do so, an itch that needs a regular scratch. A blog post every few days keeps everything in sync – I get to write, but I also manage to keep the day job ticking over, not entirely neglect the children and occasionally empty the dishwasher. But there is another strand to my humble blog.