Five books which changed my life

I read a lovely article recently where Mariella Frostrup discussed her ten most life-changing books. Typically I can’t find this article to link to (my information warrior powers are sleeping on the job) so, as I was somewhat inspired by that article, here are five books which changed my life. Obviously a lot of them have a children’s literature slant, what with this being on my blog and all, but there are a few oddities in there. And I promise I’ll link to that article when I find it again.

(Also, I’m aware I could do a version of this article which focuses solely on girls school stories so beware, you’ll be getting something like that in the near future. For now just praise me that I’ve gone at least three posts without mentioning the Chalet School …).

The book which made me feel like I could be a princess

Growing up is hard to do. It’s harder to do when you’re one of the run of the mill kids. When you’re not cool, when you’re not hot, you learn to develop your support network in other ways. Friends. The right people get you through anything. And books: books that make you think you can get out of the never-ending drudge that is school because they show you what can happen to people (kind of) like you.

The Princess Diary  by Meg Cabot gave me all that and more. It’s the story of Mia Thermopolis, the dorky awkward teenager who discovers she is actually princess of the distinctly ruritanian kingdom of Genovia. And oh my god it’s funny. Meg Cabot sparks off every page and just lives the nightmare that is being a teenager.

The film adaptations (and Anne Hathaway, my secret girlcrush) are my guilty pleasures. I remember being on a long distance flight to New Zealand, about 402 hours in, and I turned into a sobbing wreck at the emotional journey Mia had undertaken in the film. Amazing. Although slightly embarrassing for the dude sat next to me.

The book that made me realise anything was possible

I really want to go to Tibet. I want butter tea. I want to see the prayer flags flapping on the mountain side and I want to witness that culture.

And it’s all because of one woman. Alexandra David-Neel. Nobody knows who she is these days but by god this woman was amazing. The first western woman to enter Tibet, she adopted the appearance of a pilgrim and her and her male companion made their way to Lhasa.  Vaguely normal so far, but this was actually incredibly brave. If she had been discovered she would have been thrown out of the country. She did it because she wanted to and because she knew she could.

There’s a moment on their journey where her and Yongden are stuck on a mountain without shelter. It’s viciously exposed and the bad weather is coming on. It’s very much a life or death situation. But they survive due to David-Neel’s mastery of thumo reskiang, the Tibetan skill of increasing body heat. She sends Yongden off to gather fuel and settles herself down to the rite. They survive. Both of them survive a night on the mountain side without any injury.

It’s an amazing, and viscerally readable story. Here’s a link to the same edition I have. It’s not in print anymore but there are a lot of second hand editions floating around.

The author that always makes me laugh like a fool

It’s a slight cheat here but I’m selecting an author. She’s never failed yet. Louise Rennison. I hate her because she’s so damn good. She’s bloody brilliant. Seriously. I’m running out of synonyms for amazing and I’ve only written seven sentences.

The book that left me winded

It’s unusual for a book to leave a physical impact. I can count on one hand the books that have left me feeling winded. Micheal Morpurgo is obviously up there, but if I have to select a specific book I’ll go for The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne.

The last few pages left me feeling physically assaulted. I still remember my genuine intake of breath when I read them, and that awful sick feeling in the stomach that what I had expected to happen had come to happen.

I’ve spoken on writing about war before and I think this book justifies my argument. Sometimes the numbers are just too huge to comprehend. Sometimes you need a name and a story to latch onto. Witnessing the death of innocence that occurs in this book is one of the most awfully painful reading experiences I’ve ever experienced.

The book that I keep coming back to

I am a mean reader. I really am. I’m very aware of this. I’ve put books back because I didn’t like the font. I’ll pitch a fit over a typo. I’ve ignored authors because of the name they’ve given their lead character. I confess : I am horrendously subjective when it comes to books.

But I will never ever ignore a book from Frank Cottrell Boyce. And it’s all because of Millions. Millions is one of those books that deserves to be on the reading list for everybody everywhere. It teaches you everything you need to know about the power of love (and no, not the eighties power ballad version). Love. Love between brothers, a father for his sons, and a mother for her children. And oh my god it has the most beautiful scene in it that I’m not going to spoil now but I’m teary just remembering it. Just – go – read it – and thank me later. I am evangelical for this book and pray that one day I’ll be able to deliver something as good.

The Joy of Enid Blyton

Yay! The fab team at Seven Stories (I’m such a fangirl) have put up a recording of their event on “The Joy Of Enid Blyton” via SoundCloud.

I love Enid Blyton. Admittedly in real life she might have been a little … different… but in book form, she’s quite simply astounding. And that’s not just for her productivity rate. A lot of her work has definitely dated but this is more than balanced out by the amount of her books that are still utter classics of their respective genre (Malory Towers for one).

Now I just have to find a time between dissertation writing, dinner and the Apprentice to listen to it ….    The Joy of Enid Blyton recording | Seven Stories’ Enid Blyton Blog

Something kinda ooooooooh

Two things made me go oooh today (apart from my envious leanings towards somebody else’s lunch).

The first was this: 

(from here)

Is it not Amazing? I don’t know about you but I’m checking this out as soon as I can. A good front cover sells the book before you’ve even read a word – and this does that in shedloads.

The second ooh worthy moment was discovering this. Similarly Amazing. I’m in love with it. Whoever got in charge of their online presence is a freaking genius.  The more I discover brilliant things like this, the more I edge towards something brilliant for my own job. I love being inspired by the work that others are doing out there – and this has inspired me no end.

An Act of Love – Alan Gibbons

An Act of LoveAn Act of Love by Alan Gibbons

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Full disclosure part one – I received an advance copy of this from the publisher.

Full disclosure part two – It’s really rather good.

An Act of Love tells the story of two childhood friends forced down separate ideological paths – one into the army and the other into extremism.

It’s a solid book, highly readable with a ton of detail that doesn’t detract from the core content. It’s also one of the few books that deals with the issue of terrorism – an issue which is rarely addressed in children’s literature.

What Gibbons manages to do here is portray the rounded whole and the genuine heartbreak that affects everybody involved in terrorism. The impact of a choice is shown upon the character and their surroundings – their families, friends and loved ones. And these choices, when they’re made, when they bend and break the character in question, they’re not easy choices. They’re heart-wrenching to read and yet bitterly inevitable.

It’s not an easy read but children’s literature doesn’t have to be. What it has to do is have an impact and an affect upon the reader. An Act of Love will create more questions than it solves – a perhaps inevitable result of the topic – but these are questions that need to be asked. And somebody needs to ask them.

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Chin up, chest out – hold on a minute

I’m a little peeved. There’s a line which I’ve just read in Mary Cadogan’s Chin up chest out Jemima which is rankling with me. I’ll quote it here: “Of course I moved on from DFB, through Elsie Jeanette Oxenham and Elinor Brent-Dyer and others, eventually to adult literature.” (2004:15).

Now I’m genuinely a fan of Cadogan’s work. You’re a brick Angela which she co-authored was fascinating (even though it ripped religion in the Chalet School somewhat ruthlessly apart). I learnt more about Angela Brazil and her work then I ever thought I would. And I’ll be one of the first to read more by Cadogan.

But this sentiment in Chin up chest out Jemima (and I appreciate it’s an isolated sentence) has really suddenly got my goat. I’ve come across a few comments like this recently. Confessions of adult fans. Embarrassed articles on why they still love children’s literature. Comments in otherwise highly excellent academic articles about the inevitability of “moving-on” from children’s literature.

Well, I’m out of the closet and staying out there. I will not be apologetic about being a fan of a genre which I love and want to make my career.

I have a passion for children’s literature – and in particular –  the girl’s school story. I describe it somewhat high-churchily on my CV as a genre specialism. And I hate hate hate that people expect me to view it as a transient phase. Something that I picked up as a child and then let go as I moved on to the more appropriate adult literature.


What did happen was that my appreciation of it changed and grew as I learnt to read the nuances of genre fiction. I learnt to see the subtle side-commentary on political, moral and social issues. I re-read The Chalet School in Exile and realised it was one of the bravest and best second world war books that I’d ever ever come across (and it is amazing and destined for a future blog post).

I’ll accept that some of the less brilliant examples of children’s literature are spongily written, and awkwardly put together. But that’s not a unique phenomenon; I’ve read plenty of adult texts which felt as if they’d been written by numbers.Give me a detractor of children’s literature, somebody who says they have nothing to learn from it and I’ll give them Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce which will teach them more about love, loss and heartbreak then they could possibly imagine.

I feel like I need a banner to unfurl at this point and maybe some stirring music from Les Miserables. I love children’s literature and I’m not afraid to say it. Who’s with me?

King of Shadows – Susan Cooper.

King of ShadowsKing of Shadows by Susan Cooper

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh this is good.

The protagonist, Nat Field, is a young actor who has come over to play at the Globe with his company. Somehow he goes to bed feeling ill and then wakes up in Shakespearean England. With Shakespeare. The rest of the novel is concerned with his adventures in this time period and also what happens when he returns to his ‘normal’ life.

And like I said, it’s very very good. There’s a heartrending moment when Nat almost falls in love with Shakespeare and Cooper conveys this hero worship with kindness and a light, nonjudgemental touch. There’s a lot of warmth throughout the text, Nat and his love of his work, and Cooper and her patent love for Shakespeare.

The ending is excellent, genuinely so, but I can see how it may prove divisive. It’s admittedly stagey but that reflects the topic of the book quite well so I felt it fitted. This is the only part where it lost a mark for me.

One of my pet hates with time-travel or historic books is that the side detail overwhelms the central thread of the story. Didn’t happen here. What detail there was was very seamless and nicely interwoven. Good work all round and well worth a read.

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Ice Lolly – Jean Ure

Ice LollyIce Lolly by Jean Ure

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Beware, spoilers.

I seem to be finding a lot of books these days with bereavement as their central issue. Ice Lolly is the story of Laurel and told primarily in the first person. It was a curiously unsatisfying book for me because the language, whilst realistic at times, seems to slide in and out of character. It’s almost a modern fairytale in some points (what with the wicked stepmother, the good fairy, the animal best friend) and for this it lost a lot of impact for me as I tend to seek the realism in titles of this nature. I enjoyed the imagery of Lolly blocking herself up in an igloo but this really wasn’t explored enough for my liking.

On another issue, I had some issues with the cover quote – “Funny, funky,feisty – and fantastic reads” This obviously relates to more than one book, what with being plural and all, and gave me a little concern about the validity of the statement.

However I have very much enjoyed some of Jean Ure’s other books and would reccomend seeking out some of these as they really are worth a read. It’s just that Ice Lolly promised more than it delivered for me.

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“I take it we’re engaged? Like it darling?”

So. You may have heard that a certain couple is getting married tomorrow. As I’m never going to be the one to refuse the opportunity to jump onto a bandwagon, here are four of my favourite marriages /partnerships / expressions of love from children’s literature. Love, as one great sage once said, love changes everything.

1. My first couple is  Jo March and Prof. Bhaer from Little Women. Their proposal says it all really. It’s all awkwardly blunt  and really rather resolutely stripped of romance. Yep, it’s a little cheesey now, but if you consider it in the context of the day, for a man to prostrate himself emotionally before a woman, it’s kind of groundbreaking.

“‘Jo, I haf nothing but much love to gif you; I came to see if you could care for it, and I waited to be sure that I was something more than a friend. Am I? Can you make a little place in your heart for old Fritz?’ he added, all in one breath.

2. Roy and Silo from And Tango Makes Three are my second couple of choice. This is one of the books that regularly appears on the most controversial lists. Slightly ironic really as, to be honest, it’s primarily just about Penguins. And Tango Makes Three actually is one of the most relevant picture books we’ve had recently. Families don’t come in a 2.4 scenario anymore. They come in all shapes and sizes and it’s right that literature reflects this. Plus, it’s ridiculously heartwarming. and anything that makes me cry over penguins automatically equals win in my (excuse the pun) book.

“We’ll call her Tango,… because it takes two to make a Tango”

3. This is one not between humans, but between a lot of people and a horse. I’ve spoken about my love for War Horse  before but it fits here as well. It’s ironic that a book about war and death and tragedy should feature such intense love throughout. From Albert taking solace with Joey, knowing that the horse is the only one who understands him in a changing world, through to Joey and Topthorn’s heartbreakingly beautiful relationship, this book makes me bend and break each and every time.

But any fear I had was overwhelmed by a powerful sense of sadess and love that compelled me to stay with Topthorn as long as I could. I knew that once I left him I would be alone in the world again, that I would no longer have his strength and support beside me. So I stayed with him and waited. 

4. My final choice moments are pretty much every proposal from the Chalet School series by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer. From Len’s wince-worthy capitulation to the dorkish Reg (“I take it we’re engaged? Like it darling?” NO LEN JUST SAY NO, IT’S LIKE WITH PEER PRESSURE AND THE DRUGS AND YOU’LL REGRET IT NO END) and through to Grizel finally being awarded with her doctor after being a nightmare to all and sundry for the past kazillion years (although I do have sympathy for her having to put up with Joey’s splendidly inane white bread theory). And then there’s the classic below…

Madge would have tried to console her; but Jack Maynard gave her a shock. Holding Joey very tightly to him, he said in tones there was no mistaking, “Never mind, my darling. It’s all over, and Robin is safe. . .”

And before the stunned Madge could gasp out any ejaculation, Joey sobbed, “Oh, Jack – what a – solid lump – of comfort you – are!”

Where is Binky Boo

Zoe and Beans: Where is Binky Boo? (Zoe & Beans)Zoe and Beans: Where is Binky Boo? by Chloe Inkpen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Picture books, regardless of reader-age, are able to give pleasure to pretty much everybody. As they’re often read by adults to children, there’s a subtle acknowledgement of this in the text and few small side-winks to the adult inside them. They appeal to everybody because they have to.

And this is just gorgeous. I couldn’t get enough of it. The artwork is very very lovely. There’s a double page spread involving a sandbox that is laugh out loud brilliant. I can’t wait to share this with the younger members of my family.

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Circus Shoes : Noel Streatfield

Circus ShoesCircus Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Noel Streatfield had a handle on what made “working” children tick. Her sympathetic portrayal of characters who take to the stage, the circus, the ice-rink, is consistently smart and realistic. Circus Shoes is no exception. Peter and his rather splendidly named sister Santa face an uncertain future following certain events and as a result of this, they quite literally run away to the circus. What’s more realistic for me and appealing in this story is Peter. Santa’s ultimate fate is somewhat inevitable and a little too easy (which knocked a star off for me) but I’ve got a soft spot for the awkward, irascible, bad tempered brilliantly drawn adolescent that is Peter.

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Bereavement in children’s literature

Just a quick one today. I hope to be holding a twitter chat on this issue shortly once I’ve worked out the details. It’s an emotive subject and one which I feel can’t be “solved” nor deserves a “solution”. It just deserves careful and honest thought – from both the reader and the author. It’s also something that, in my opinion,  isn’t discussed anywhere near as much as it could / should be.

To tide you over, here’s a very interesting article about Alan Silberberg and his children’s book “Milo and the Restart Button”.

The School at the Chalet

The School at the Chalet (The Chalet School, #1)The School at the Chalet by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love the Chalet School. It’s my big book crush of my life. Something about it is just so perfect and undying to me. This is one of the best books – and it’s worth trying to hunt out an unabridged version if you can. Even if it’s just to read the full scene of the Yorkshire man hitting on Madge in the train, it’s worth it for that.

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The Rhetoric of Character in Children’s Literature

The Rhetoric of Character in Children's LiteratureThe Rhetoric of Character in Children’s Literature by Maria Nikolajeva

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Spectacularly readable and accessible, I love this book and it’s defined a lot of my attitude towards character theory. Worth hunting out – and hanging on to.

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Moments like this make me love comics

Check this out. It’s ‘The Waiting Room’ by Sarah Glidden. This blew my mind a little bit. I love the artwork. The quietness of the watercolours make each panel into a curious mixture of dreams and reality. There’s such a harmony to this; the characters complement the words and the words complement the characters so beautifully. Like I said in the title, moments like this, where you see a panel, note the curve of a brow, or the soft lush colour of a cheek, and get pulled into a narrative you’d never normally read, it’s moments like this that make me fall in love with comics all over again.

TV first, book second?

A confession:

I would have never read the Silver Brumby series were it not for the AMAZING cartoon version which hit the BBC a fair few years ago. I wouldn’t have come anywhere near Alan Garner (Lord, smite me down now) were it not for the BBC adaptation of Elidor. I’ll admit a lot of my meandering towards the book was precipitated by the fact that Elidor featured a unicorn in the actual show and the most gorgeous Welsh Cob in the opening credits. Seriously, give me a gorgeous horse or a unicorn (or a dance routine but that’s a segue I’ll not take right now!) and I’ll pretty much watch anything. I am legend in my family for going “Phwoar” when Shadowfax came on screen in Lord of the Rings.

I really don’t mind the routes that people take towards a text. The important thing is that they get there eventually. I’d not have come anywhere near graphic novels were it not for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. So yeah, I can’t get on my high horse, and preach the overarching dominance of the book. What I can preach is that each version of the text complements and broadens your experience of the other. Plus, it’s just kinda cool to read the story and make your own film … you can see how it differs to the thing you just watched – and find out the bits that they missed.

The key thing to remember is that if you love the world in one medium, there’s no reason to say you won’t love it in the other. And that’s good enough for me.

KM Peyton : an appreciation

Like many other girls, I went through the “horse” phase. In real life I saved up for years to buy a tank of a gelding called Robert (with hooves the size of dinnerplates) and I devoured every horse related book I could find.

KM Peyton is one of the few writers who have stuck with me since that obsessive and occasionally desperate consumption of equestrian texts.

Perhaps the most well known of her stories is the Flambards series – four books which tell the story of Christina, Mark, Will, Dick, the roan mare Sweetbriar (God I didn’t have to Google that, I’m impressed – and slightly freaked out), and the changing wartime world. It’s a sweeping saga which covers love, loss, passion, pain and horses. I reread it recently, noting the layers of the story that I missed as a child. It moves me to tears each and every time.

Peyton also wrote a series which I’m working with at present for dissertation purposes. The saga of Patrick Pennington – told in several novels – amazes me. She has the ability to write stories that are so adult in nature and yet accessible. I fell into these following my experience with Ruth Hollis (Fly-by-night and The Team) and lived Ruth’s experience of love alongside her. It’s the mark of a good writer when a story just feels so easy to read and yet punches straight to the depths of the emotional turmoil of young love. It’s not patronising. It’s not “adult talks to teenagers”. It’s sympathetic and taught and powerful writing. I love her. She reminds me in a way of Antonia Forest – both writers have that same beguiling competency.

So a reccomendation; if you’re after a horsey novel to turn a young relative onto the classics, go to Fly-by-Night. It’s a wish fulfillment saga of the greatest kind with hidden depth. For love and loss and angst: Flambards. And for one of the most broodingly sexy Byronic heroes ever, start with Pennington. And, after that, if you’re still after a broodingly sexy hero, you can try Sebastian from the Sadlers Wells series but that’s another blog post…

I Am Number Four

I admit, I only picked this up because Dianna Agron stars in the film and I have a slight obsession with Glee. Now that that’s out of the way, it’s down to the book review.

Fantasy / sci-fi are curious genres for the adolescent reader. It’s one which very distinctly bridges the divide between “adult” and “children’s” literature. Books which are successful (I’m thinking of a Trudi Canavan here for example), gain their success on their multi-faceted appeal to both the adult and the child reader. This bi-lateral appeal also makes fantasy / sci-fi particularly pertinent to the teenage reader; not yet adult, not child, the teen occupies a textual liminality that’s fascinating to me. Or, to put it more bluntly, they’re in between a rock and a hard place when it comes to the teen themed lit. It’s Twilight, paranormal romance or it’s adult literature all the way. There are very little “in-between” texts. Writing for children is a fine art. Writing for teenagers is a very very fine art.

I Am Number Four was fun. I actually really enjoyed it. However I do doubt I’ll be able to actively defend it on literary merit. It actually reminded me of a really well written fanfic. By this I mean the female character is very Mary-Sue in her tendencies and there’s a deus ex machina that I loved at the time but made me wince when my brain actually realised what had happened. It’s a guilty pleasure. Enjoy.

The Eagle of the Ninth : news round-up

A film adaptation of Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth is just hitting the cinema and I’ve noticed a few newsworthy items about the story. The BBC have a look at what could have happened to the lost ninth legion here; the original Eagle which inspired Sutcliff lives in Reading (seriously, nothing surprises me anymore) and curiously enough more women then men “follow” Rosemary Sutcliff on Facebook.

Jacqueline Wilson to update Five Children and It?

According to this, Jacqueline (ignore the typo in the Tweet, it’s from the Grauniad) Wilson will be “updating” Five Children and It – the fabulous classic from E Nesbit. As I posted on Twitter, this news leaves me with very mixed feelings.

E Nesbit’s work sparks of a very particular vintage and is just lovely. It’s also brilliant.  Jacqueline Wilson’s work also sparks of a very particular vintage; grittier yes but no less “good”. She’s one of the defining writers of our time for a reason.

If it’s a “reboot” as opposed to an update, then yes, maybe, I could almost see something like that work. But an “update” suggests that it needs to be updated, that there’s an active demand for it to be updated, and that E Nesbit’s work isn’t accessible to the modern reader and that’s something I’d vehemently disagree with 😦

Fingers crossed this one works out.

The awkward second album

There’s a saying in music that the first album may be a smash, but the second will be infinitely more difficult.

I think the world of literature is the opposite. It’s the first book that’s the difficult one, and it’s the second – and the rest that follow that – that make an author someone special.

Consider Malorie Blackman. In the depths of my local uni library, I recently came across a short story collection of hers: “Not so stupid : incredible short stories“. It was obviously from the dawn of time (the cover told me that much) and a quick Google revealed that this was her first published book.

Huh. Cool.

And yet, I was still a little nervous.

There’s an almost fetishistic aspect towards reading the first novel of such a well known author. You read it aware of the brilliance that she’s achieved. You read it aware of the groundbreaking(ness) of the Noughts and Crosses trilogy. You read it in the context of the author you now know.

This collection of short stories, some only a page or two long, is like a blueprint for her later work. I’d not recommend it from choice. Some of the stories are oddly shaped with regards to length and depth. There’s an awkward predilection towards having a final twist in the tale.  I’d be a little uneasy about my niece (ten) reading this as she’s too young for some of the more graphic elements.

I would recommend this to those who are genuinely interested in viewing an authors early work. Very few people are brilliant first time out. It takes time to get established and comfortable in their voice. JK Rowling’s a prime example of this – compare the naivety of the Philosopher’s Stone with the wide-ranging depth of some of the later novels.

Blackman is a cracking author. Not So Stupid has a palpable sense of her finding her feet with the medium.

Thank God she did.

Happy World Book Day!

Here’s a round up of some of the best stories / articles / tweets I noticed …

Jacqueline Wilson, Charlie Higson, Cathy Cassidy and Michelle Paver all get interviewed on the fab looking new Guardian children’s book website. I can’t say how much this site floats my boat right now – it’s mediated heavily by kids that read. Perfect. Nice design and good breadth of content. And it’s not behind a paywall. Perfect. Check out Happy Birthday Dr Seuss, a fab little review of The White Giraffe by Lauren St John and a fairly nifty little quiz on Harry Potter.

Some sage advice from Twitter here, BookTrust reviews the £1 treats on offer specifically for World Book Day and Stephen Fry spends some time at the Ministry of Stories.

Anything else catch your eye today?

The importance of reading aloud … to your younger sibling

Claire Armitstead in the Guardian this week writes about the importance of elder siblings reading aloud to their younger brother and sisters.

It’s about behaviour modelling and it’s about competition. You see what the elder sister is doing and, particularly if you’re the youngest child (not that I’m over empathising at all here!), you want to do it better. I need to have a look and see if anybody’s actually done any academic research into this area. The key thing seems to be that reading aloud, regardless of who does it, is continually being shown to be an effective and powerful away of increasing literacy skills. Remember as well that it doesn’t need to be some highbrow literary thriller – it can be a comic, the tv magazine or the newspaper. The important thing is to do it together.

The UK’s top ten most borrowed authors from public libraries

Seven of them are children’s authors and that’s something to be massively proud about. Children are reading. And they are reading some damn good stuff.

That’s my official point of view. My unofficial point of view is as follows: STICK THAT IN YOUR PIPE AND SMOKE IT MARTIN AMIS!!!!

List of all ten authors available here

Ten children’s books about love

Booktrust recently published a list of ten kids books about love. The full list is available here.

I’ve not read all of them but I was instantly intrigued.

What’s love? How do we define love? How does a child perceive, experience and learn what love is? How is it represented in literature? Is love a necessary experience for a character to experience?

I’m intrigued by the representation of love in books for the very young. In this particular pre / emergent literacy age group, the texts have a duel  readership. The child and the mediating presence of the adult. Is it then, that in these books in particular,  the representation of a happy loving relationship becoming a didactic message for the child to mimic and model their behaviour on  or is it a side-wink to the adult reader that says we’re indoctrinating your child in the “right” way to think?

Ps – Regardless of all the above theoretical pondering, anything by Louise Rennison still remains Officially Brilliant and Worth Of A Read Regardless Of Age.

The influence of children’s literature on adult literature

Just got back from a really enjoyable evening at the University of Reading where I attended a lecture called The influence of children’s literature on adult literature. Delivered by the excellent Karin Lesnik-Oberstein, she talked about intertextuality and asked whether the dynamics of intertextuality between adult and children’s literature were subject to value judgements depending on their intertextual influences. It drew heavily on her experiences of research and writing around an article (of which a vast amount is available here).

The example she gave was an episode in the Mill on the Floss by Eliot. It’s the moment where Maggie cuts her hair. There are other moments in the story which supports her points but this was the key illustrative moment. You’ll have to excuse me if I make any errors here – these are all based on my interpretation of the lecture and with no experience of reading any Eliot.

This incident is accepted as being based on Eliot’s own childhood. This acceptance springs from the general consensus of scholars on Eliot – probably initially coming from Eliot’s biographers.

However there are striking similarities to this particular passage (and many others in Eliot’s text) in Holiday House by Catherine Sinclair.

Lesnik-Oberstein published on this topic, proving pretty darn conclusively that there was a connection between the texts. Her experiences around how this was received by the academic community provided a lot of her content. I’m paraphrasing here but there was a distinct apathy and reluctance to her findings – a certain “so what” attitude. What also came clear was that there was a certain value judgement applied to this connection between the texts. A retrospective connection between an “adult text” and a “children’s text” was somehow deemed less worthy of interest than a “child’s text” being influenced by an “adult text”.

The question she proposed was “why”?

I don’t think it’s a question that can be answered at all swiftly or even conclusively. But I do think that perhaps some of the following maybe play a part in formulating an answer. I’ll apologise in advance if I become a bit disjointed!

When we read books as children we engage in a collective, transitory reading experience. Literacy is something we develop – both through formal education and informally through our personal contexts. Every child reads. Every child is actively exposed to a text – be that as an animated cartoon, a nursery rhyme or a book.

Children’s literature plays a vital – and transitory role in this reading journey. Adult literature is the destination. Children’s literature is (perhaps!) viewed as a transitory step on this journey. You read children’s books and then you grow up and read adults. Therefore if an adult book actively references a child’s book, it will actively trigger memories of the readers own personal reading experience as a child. And this isn’t something we promote as a society. We are always encouraging children to read bigger and “better” books. We package Harry Potter under Adult covers to make it “okay” to be read. Because as a kids book it’s not. You’re meant to be “past” it.

I love talks like this that throw up more questions than answers. And I’d love your points of view. What do you think? Is children’s literature the poor cousin of intertextuality or is this balderdash as far as you’re concerned?

Happy Winnie the Pooh day!

Today would have been A A Milne’s birthday. A A Milne should be a name known to a lot of you out there because he’s the magic man who created one of the most iconic bears of all time – Winnie the Pooh.

You could celebrate today in several ways.

Perhaps with a game of pooh sticks? This is where you drop twigs over one side of the bridge and rush to the other side to see whose stick comes out first.

Maybe you could have toast and hunny for tea – spelling mistake MOST intentional.

Or what about just bouncing up and down like a loon whilst repeating the following mantra: “Bouncing is what tiggers do best!”

Some particularly cute e-cards are available here if you fancy giving the Eeyore in your life a little love… 🙂


Call for Chapter Proposals – Hermione Granger as Feminist Model

There’s been an interesting call for chapter proposals for a book entitled “Hermione Granger saves the world”. Whilst I have to confess that Harry Potter leaves me cold and bitter like a literary version of Gollum and that my contribution on the feminist aspects of Hermione would mainful consist of a doubtful “Hmmm” , the collection itself should be an interesting read. If you’re interested take a look at the proposal. You’ll have to be quick though – initial proposals need to be in by Jan 28th.

2011 Rainbow Project books announced

The Rainbow List is a collection of titles that explore issues around being GLBTQ and are suitable for readers from birth to age 18. It’s a joint initiative between the ALA and the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Round Table. It’s a really interesting, valid and useful list and deserves to get a lot of publicity for the thoughtful selections that it includes. The Rainbow List is available here and more info behind the project is available here. If you have any interest in children’s / YA literature I really suggest you go and check it out.

The Children’s Library : the cool Aunt of libraries

When I was growing up we lived very near to York in North Yorkshire. In the middle of York, just around the corner from the Jorvik, there was the most amazing bookshop. I still remember it with the sort of wide-eyed wonder I used to reserve just for witnessing ponies and christmas.

The thing was, this bookshop had secrets. It had a space at the back of the ground floor where children could follow footprints on the floor up the stairs to the second floor and this was where the children’s books lived. It was genuinely magical. It was one of those moments where, wobbly-legged, you’d stretch from footprint to footprint and creep into your very own Narnia (I seem to remember it was weirdly lit as well or shadowy – which of course added to the effect).

This bookshop, perhaps inevitably, doesn’t exist anymore. Last time I went up North it was a Rymans. I do kinda like Theo Paphitis (and the shadowy Mrs P) but I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of regret. The bones of the store were unchanged but the magic had gone.

It’s not an unusual tale. Sadly a lot of independent bookshops are going the same way as the onslaught of online book retailing continues. And for those that continue to survive (and good on you if you shop at them) and for the good ones and the bad ones, I just hope that there’s one bookshop out there that incites the same breathless excitement that that shop in York used to incite in me.

Until I discover that shop (and borrow my niece and nephews to go visit it) I know that there are always Children’s Libraries out there to fill the gap. If you’re poor, or broke, or cold, or wet, or have a few moments spare before you take the kids home from school; drop in and rediscover just how cool some of these libraries can be. I know there’s some hideous ones out there staffed by old harridans who stare at you if you talk louder than a shush. But there’s also some very very awesome ones. Take a look at these …

Cotsen Children’s Library, Princeton. Cotsen sounds amazing. Read more about it here. I am envious and in awe.

The Trove at White Plains Public Library. The blurb describes it as combining a museum, a bookstore and a library. Genius. Challenge the public perception of a library. I love it.

Almere Library in the Netherlands. Shelving the books through a sea of foam shapes  will drive the library assistants mental (I speak from experience) but it’s worth it. Busy bright and lovely.  It’s worth having a look at the rest of it here as the library in a whole is stunning.

Do you know of any particularly amazing libraries or bookshops that make you feel like a kid again? Let me know ….

Dick King-Smith has died

One of the defining authors of Children’s Literature has died. Dick King-Smith was one of the authors that  is, for me, indelibly linked with a very English style. Simple. Deceptively simple. He wrote stories that everyone thought they could write. But they couldn’t. Nowhere near. I remember trying to pastiche the style – choosing a farmyard animal and giving it a funny personality. Didn’t work. Nowhere near.

So thank you Dick King-Smith for being one of the spurs that made me love books so much. Thank you for giving me the habit of staring at pigs and trying to figure out if they were staring back. Thank you for making me find out just exactly what a Saddleback and a Gloucester Old Spot were.

Thank you for being such a damn good writer.

The Guardian has an obituary here and the Telegraph has one here

“We want to make strong, helpful women of them – not spineless jellyfish!”

Jo returns to the Chalet School sees the beloved headmistress, Mademoiselle Leppâtre, discovered unconscious in her room and rushed to the Sonnalpe for an emergency operation.

If it fails she’ll die.

It’s not the first time that the reader of the Chalet School series has been presented with illness. In fact there are times when the early Tyrolean books verge on pastiche with their regular occurrences of severe illness, life-changing accidents and death-defying moments.

However this is the first time that an adult becomes ill with such stunning and heart-wrenching effect. You see, adults in a school series are secondary creatures. They are rocks around which the story is built but the story is not about them. It’s about the new girl, or the girl with the secret or the antics of the lower fourths. Adults tend to populate the background.

Not so in the Chalet School. It’s a revolutionary series in many ways (the ground-breaking anti-Nazi polemic of The Chalet School in Exile being one example) and pushes the boundaries of what series fiction as a form can do.  It presents death, illness and the troubles of life with a candour which is rare to see.

And, most intriguingly, the Chalet School tells us of the adults. You can read the early books in many ways. The constant joys of Anne Seymour putting her foot in it. The growth of Joey from an obstreperous middle to a woman that even the author fell in love with a little and couldn’t let go. But then, with an even-handed touch, we learn about unsure Ivy Norman and her personal history that makes her so nervy about dealing with Joyce and Thekla. We follow the journey of Hilda Annersley from a young mistress into one of the cornerstones and – in some ways – the heart of the series.  We learn their names. I can’t stress how important this was, and is, to me as a reader. We learn that the adults – the teachers – they’re real people.

And I think that’s why the illness of Mademoiselle Leppâtre catches me every time. And it’s why, when Jacynth learns of the death of her Aunt and Miss Wilson comforts her, I sob each and every time I read that scene. Because I know Miss Wilson’s backstory – I know about Cherry –  and that adds to the moment in ways I can’t quite comprehend. It makes it real. I know how much everyone loves Mademoiselle because I love her too. And I love Miss Wilson in that moment. And I love Miss Annersley when she advises that the children should know if a family member is ill. Because I know that she’s lived through it.

It’s a series where it’s not about pure blunt didacticism. It’s not “do as I say”. It’s “do as I do”. As Matron says, when discussing whether to tell the girls about Mademoiselle, “We want to make strong, helpful women of them – not spineless jellyfish”.

And she’s not just talking about the pupils at this point. That’s a message to the reader in a book, first published in 1936, which still bears resonance today.

Elsie Oxenham, the Abbey Girls and talent vs marriage

Elsie Oxenham (EJO) and the Abbey books is one of those series I fell towards following my love-affair with Brent-Dyer. EJO is an odd writer; one who’s dated greatly and then, in some queer little moments, not at all.

I’m reading my Abbey books at present with a view towards gaining research for my dissertation – Representations of Gifted and Talented Children in Children’s Literature. Unfortunately I don’t have many EJO and those that I do need a roadmap in between them to figure out what’s happening. What with Joy and Joan and Jen to start off with and then there’s Rosamund, Rosalin, Rosabel and then there’s adults and babies and marriages and deaths and it’s a bit of hard work to figure out what’s going on at times!

But there’s a curious charm in these books and a very feminine feel to them. The few men that do appear either die or disappear swiftly, leaving the Abbey girls to form their supportive sisterhood without them. And it is a sisterhood. It’s a fascinating – and quite beautiful – example of how women support women and also – when Joy puts her foot in it – how women can bring each other down and then build each other up. The books, at their heart, are about love and how it can sustain a community through thick and thin.

And yet, EJO doesn’t hesitate to marry off her characters. Marriage is the natural evolution for them. Mary Damayris, a powerful and beautiful ballet dancer, leaves the stage for love in A Dancer from the Abbey. It’s interesting how clearly this is presented throughout the book. It’s a natural evolution for her. She leaves and her dancing becomes better because of her love. There’s a pull between the stage and her husband-to-be, explored briefly and then dispelled as the cast accept that love will make her dancing better and stronger. It’s clear though that she’s now a wife first and a dancer second.

A similar thing happens with Maidlin. Again, this is based on limited exposure to the books, she is a tempestuousItalianate artistic child with a beautiful singing voice and then she turns into just another run of the mill adult. I can’t tell you how much this made me wince upon first reading – the appealingly complex and frankly unusual child falls into a clichéd mother and adult. I’m looking at getting a copy of a few more EJO titles in the near future and will be deeply intrigued to learn if this is just a misconception of mine or whether my feelings of disappointment continue.

So is this it in the Abbey series? Is talent a childish thing? Is a gift given up when a husband appears on the scene? Is a gift a gift and never your own talent? Do you have to give it back when marriage calls? Does marriage conquer all?

Christmas hiatus

This is just a quick note to say I’m putting my feet up back at the family ranch and won’t be blogging over the Christmas break. I’ve got a lot of books to read up on as part of my dissertation whilst I’m back home so will be busy notating and scanning and wondering just how many queens Elsie Oxenham can create and keep track of! I’m planning a post on Anne Seymour (that’s one for you Chalet School fans out there) after realising in a conversation on Twitter that little Miss innocent Seymour is part of some of the worst incidents of the Chalet School early years and she gets away with it all! Obviously I won’t even consider talking about young Miss Margot Maynard who knocks somebody unconscious and gets away with it because her  devil made her! The joys of EBD!

Merry Christmas everyone!!



On the 8th December the hashtag #whyiread swept Twitter. For the uninitiated a hashtag is kind of like a classification system for posts that people put on Twitter. It allows a disparate group of people to post together under one heading.

And #whyiread blew my mind a little bit. The story of the hashtag is available here.

My contributions were …

#whyiread To live a thousand lives at once.

#whyiread Loo, Melaka, Jacynth Hardy crying in the garden, Ms Marvel, Gert, Veronica Weston + her arabesque in the wilds of Northumberland

Below are a few of my favourites …

@wholewidewords – Reading is an act of revolution. Whenever a group of people aren’t allowed to read, it’s because another group feels threatened. #WhyIRead

@A_Tusken_Raider – #WhyIRead, because telling a story wrong to the tribe, could result in death. #starwars #Fact


@revistaenie – #WhyIRead because sometimes when I read, I read something that changes the way I imagine the world (and I can never go back)


@amylibrarian – “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” -Groucho Marx #whyIread


@erintgrace – Because the two dimensions of the page give life a third #whyIread


And also this:
@NewtWittier – Oprah suggested it #whyiread

Gifted and Talented children in children’s literature

I’m working on my dissertation at present and am discussing the representation of Gifted and Talented Children in children’s literature. Following both a plea on Twitter (thanks Tweeps!) and Mailing Lists (thanks, er, Meeps?), I now have a fairly healthy list of G+T characters / titles which I thought I’d share. Anybody else you think should be on there? Let me know! (EDIT 25/03/2013: This list is now available here where you can edit / amend as necessary)

  • Ann Pilling’s “The Big Pink”
  • Lorna Hill’s Sadlers Well’s series – Sebastian (music) , Veronica, Caroline, Rosita etc etc (all dance)
  • KM Peyton’s Pennington (music) – various titles
  • Anne Digby’s Trebizon – Rebecca Mason (tennis)
  • Tol the Swimmer by Sidney Hedges
  • Constance M White
  • Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers – Amanda (sport) Irene (music) Belinda (art)
  • The Janis Project by Nancy Rue
  • The Runner by Cynthia Voigt
  • Drina Ballerina
  • Elinor M Brent Dyer – Kat Gordon, Margia Stevens, Jacynth Hardy, Gay Lambert
  • Coram Boy – Alexander
  • Piggy from Lord of the Flies
  • She Shall Have Music by Kitty Barnes
  • The Marlows books by Antonia Forest
  • Mina from David Almond’s “Skellig”
  • A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle
  • Artemis Fowl
  • Ender’s Game
  • Christopher from the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time
  • Elfrida Vipont’s Lark in the Morn books.
  • Bagthorpes
  • L’Engle, A Severed Wasp
  • The Servants of Arakesh
  • Elizabeth Bernard (Satin Slippers)
  • Hermione Granger
  • Mildred Lancaster from Angela Brazil’s “The Girls of St Cyprians”
  • The Mozart Season by Virginia Euwer Wolff (child violinist)
  • The View from Saturday by EL Konigsburg (intellectually gifted children)
  • The Magnificent Nose and Other Marvels by Anna Fienberg (stories about
    children with remarkable talents)
  • Clair de Lune by Cassandra Golds (ballet)
  • The “Evil Genius” books by Catherine Jinks (criminal mastermind turns good)
  • Making the Most of It by Lisa Forrest (swimming)
  • The Samurai Kids books by Sandy Fussell
  • Born to Bake by Phillip Gwynne (cooking)
  • Getting Somewhere by Jenny Pausacker (maths)
  • The “Alex” books by Tessa Duder (swimming)
  • Casson family children in Hilary McKay’s novels (Saffy’s Angel etc)
  • Louise Fitzhugh’s ‘Nobody’s Family is Going to Change’
  • Jean Ure has a number of books about gifted young dancers: ‘Hi There Supermouse’; ‘Nicola Mimosa; ‘A Proper Little Nooryeff’; ‘Dazzling Danny’.
  • L M Montgomery’s ‘Emily’
  • Jane Gardam’s ‘A Long Way from Verona’.
  • Tim Kennemore’s ‘The Fortunate Few
  • Cynthia Voigt’s Tillerman series
  • Pamela Brown’s books, ‘Swish of the Curtain’ and sequels
  • ‘Dancing in the Dark’ by Robyn Bavati
  • Jean Richardson’s Moth books (dance)

Book Review: The Tomorrow Code – Brian Falkner

The Tomorrow Code is a fairly solid environmental thriller based in New Zealand. Tane and Rebecca, two good friends, decipher messages sent to them from the future. Everything is about to go really rather horribly wrong – and they are the only people who know it.

The story was good up to the point when we learn what’s behind the threat. It flailed substantially at this point. I was reminded a little of Jurassic Park – pacy, interesting – and then dull as heck when it got to the science bit. Unfortunately this totally stymied The Tomorrow Code and I admit to scan-reading a fair few part of the chapters where we got the exposition.

It’s a very parochial book – the locations are resolutely New Zealand. We get street names and mentions of buildings in Auckland and around the country. I actually quite enjoyed this as I’ve been lucky enough to visit New Zealand (and would love to move there sometime soon!). I do imagine though that this could get a little draining and mean less to people who haven’t experienced the surroundings. You lose a little of the local colour if you don’t understand what the local colour is.

And, I’m sorry, but the ending about killed me. I hated it. I thought it undid everything good in the book. I won’t spoil it but if you’ve read it and agree (or don’t) I’d love your thoughts!

Libraries : an easy, but not especially wise, cut

Financially times are hard. We’re all having to make cuts. And one of the perennial public bodies which surfaces at such times are libraries.

A library is an easy thing to cut. It drinks in money for very little obvious result.

I’ve spoken before about the sad truth that the cliched old librarian still exists. And that’s another easy reason to cut libraries. They’re staffed by people who look at you funny the moment you walk in. If you walk in at all. Most libraries are placed in weird, old positions and staffed at funny hours or two days a week until 1.30pm but only on months ending with a Y.

It’s too too easy to cut a service which doesn’t appear to do much on the surface.

But that’s wrong.

I am an advocate of libraries and the power they can give an individual. A good librarian has the same impact as a teacher – you remember them for life. They give you power.

I remember talking to my father who studied night after night in a library in order to gain his qualification as an accountant. I remember the children who run up to me in supermarkets and eagerly chatted with me about what they’re reading. I remember the girl, social outcast, visibly disadvantaged, who found a warm safe and none-judgemental environment. I remember the old men, charming the ladies as they discussed the morning newspapers, before going home alone.

Libraries are important. And, in the right hands, they’re brilliant. That’s why talk of cuts makes me so sad. Because I know, that the politicians, the people behind this, they’ve never seen what a good library can do.

Book Review – Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief

It’s taken me a while to get near a copy of this (sidebar : I love my university library at times) and finally I got my hot hands on a copy yesterday morning. And I’ve already finished it.

First word: Wow. Second word: Wow. Third word: Cor (aka. wow).

This book is brilliant. I genuinely loved it. I couldn’t put it down. I love Percy and I love the fact that his ADHD is a power. He’s an incredibly believable character whom you just root and will towards his goal. I love (gosh, how repetitive!) how the classic mythological references are woven in and reinvented for a modern generation. I was brought up on myths and legends. The richness in these stories is delicious and pack a fair punch in this story. Particularly love Mr D ..

Can’t wait to get my hands on the next one!

“Gosh, odds bodkins!” expostulated Jemima : The very curious tale of the British Boarding School story

There’s something distinctly British about the boarding school story. It struck me the other day on my commute home. For some reason I had Sally from Malory Towers stuck in my head. Good old solid loyal steadfast Sally (poor sod!) was always doomed to be second fiddle to Darrell’s central role. And then I got to thinking a little further. I’m not poorly read, in fact I’m actively studying children’s literature, but it struck me that I do not know of a non-British boarding school story.

The genre itself has evolved substantially from Angela Brazil’s fixation with class and letting her girls study abroad without actually coming into contact with any of those foreigners. Even though they’ve dated (most frightfully so!), Brazil’s canon is breath-takingly impressive. Slipping away from the more didactic style of writing which had been very popular, she wrote for the reader (including plenty of thrills, and illicit tucker) and left an indelible mark on the genre of the school story.

Naturally, there were others, both writing beside her and following avidly in her wake. The obvious popularity of Brazil’s work started a boom in the genre. Sadly a lot of these writers have fallen by the wayside now but there’s still charm in these old works. Ethel Talbot is a name that I didn’t know but, noting the similarities of frontispiece and other peritextual elements, I recently picked up a copy of Jan at Island School. It was lovely. There’s a distinct pleasure in reading a book which still bears the mark of the thrill of incipient emancipation felt by these writers. They don’t quite burn the bra just yet but these books were the baby steps of a generation forced to independence by the impact of World War Two.  This sort of thing is quite obvious in the roles of characters such as Miss Theobald – a divinely wise woman who imparts pearls of wisdom to her charges.

And there is something quite splendidly British about them. Even modern reinventions such as Harry Potter have the distinctly patriotic Hogwarts (what with the latinate mottos and noble ghosts), where the train to gets it leaves from the indelibly British location of Kings Cross. Think of Trebizon with the obsession over tennis and boys, not necessarily in that order. It seems that the image of the sports mad, gung-ho girl is a resolutely British one (I’m immediately thinking of one such girl who ‘bowls across the playground’ in one of the Follyfoot novels and knocks the bullies out of the way of Callie due to her physical impact).

I hope you’ve gathered by now that I truly love these books. The Chalet School will always have my heart but there’s something about them all that I find perfect. For me it is heavily due to the distinct identity of the genre. Play up, play up and play the game and all that. I also couldn’t imagine them being produced by any other society – and come to think of it, is the boarding school a very English concept? What are attitudes like elsewhere? Do wade in and let me know – I’m happy to be corrected!

For now, I think, the words of Angela Brazil sum up the best of the genre and what made her, and her fellow ground-breaking authors so legendary in their time: “I am still an absolute schoolgirl in my sympathies”

Children’s Literature and War

It’s the 11th November. On this day at 11am in 1918, the armistice was signed between Germany and the Allied forces and hostilities were ceased. Following a few signatures between a few men the war, which had changed lives and the world irrevocably, officially came to an end.

So why am I writing about this on a children’s literature blog?

I want to take the moment to address the presence of war literature for children.

Violence. Fighting. Death. Pain. Heartache. There’s arguments for presenting these things in children’s literature and there’s arguments against it. Lydia Kokkola has written an excellent book which discusses the representation of the holocaust in children’s literature. One of her key arguments is very simple. Should children be exposed to this sort of thing in their literature or not?

For me, this sort of thing goes to the very heart of the concept of literature. One of our great gifts of being human is language. And language helps us decode the world around us. Without language we struggle and become marooned in our own private existence. We lose our identity as there is no way for us to validate this against external forces. How can we know who or what we stand for when we do not know who or what the external influences are? Can a human exist without context?

Stories, storying and language all help us understand the world we live in. They help us realise we’re not alone. They help us gain a path out of the darkness by signposting a way out. They provide us with our context for existence. And they allow us to connect with each other.

So should the story shift depending on who we tell it to? I’m drawn to the example of the Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Here’s a book, definitely orientated towards children, and yet the subject topic of the Holocaust was such that upon reading the last page I felt physically winded. Is that because of my knowledge of what the ‘striped pyjamas’ actually stand for? Is it because of the internal narrative of the book or is it because of the external narrative of my knowledge of the second world war? It also left me intrigued. Is it possible to interpret the story on a much simpler level? Is it just about friendship existing where you least expect it? Is the lesson not to be horrified but to be proud of two children and their glorious innocence of the situation they were involved in?

So yes. Children should read this stuff. Not just for the duality of interpretation that may (and just let me repeat that, may) pull a text in a different direction than their adult counterpart.

They should read it to learn of their history. They should read it to understand what makes a person a person.

War literature tells us of people who lived and died in the worst of times. Of heroes and villains. Of darkness and light.

It forces us to see past statistics and static pictures in a text book. It forces us to inhabit a situation through the cipher of a character.

War literature also makes us become moral readers. To gain some sense of ourselves, to question what we would do. And it’s okay to think I don’t know. The important thing is to ask that question.

But perhaps more importantly than all that, there’s one big reason that children should be exposed to war literature. Children grow up. Become adults. And it’s adults who get us in these messes. Children need to know what sacrifices have been made in their name so that they don’t grow up and carry out the same mistakes.

Sit down with your children. Open a book. Tell them of what these people did. And be proud that you live in a free and empowered society that lets you do this.

Never forget.

A list : nerdy, technical and just plain bizarre books

Here’s a list of my current reads. Some are very specifically related to my dissertation, some are theoretically based and some are just a little bit odd 😉 Enjoy!

  • Maria Nikolajeva – The Rhetorics of Character in Children’s Literature. Amazing. Sorry if you follow me on Twitter – my #fridayreads post has just been mainly based around how much I gushingly adore what this book is saying. I also love her style – she’s scarily readable and accessible (hurrah! An academic who writes for an audience!). Love it. Even if you’ve got the vaguest interest in narratological theory you should have a look at this as she dissects what makes a character a character.
  • Buffy Season Eight, volume 7: Twilight. So disappointed. Genuinely. I love this franchise – Buffy changed my life. I learnt that women could save the day, that women were strong and powerful creatures and that the darkness didn’t stand a chance against us. When it finished on TV I stumbled into graphic novels as I was looking for a new hero. Then Buffy season Eight came out and just slipped down the slippery slope of rubbishness 😦
  • Veronica at the Wells by Lorna Hill. I appreciate ballet books maybe aren’t your cup of tea. God, I’ve watched ballet in real life and been desperate for words (aka ‘theatre’ as my friend pointed out!). But these are something else – and particularly so because of the portrayal of Veronica. She’s funny, sharp, fabulously stubborn and fancies the socks of one of THE most notable rogues in children’s literature.
  • Zombies vs Unicorns. This was suggested to me by one of my library friends (not quite sure what’s she’s trying to say). Seriously, the title sells it to me alone. And Meg Cabot contributes!! Meg Cabot!!
  • Crank by Ellen Hopkins. Sometimes books take a long time to hit deepest darkest Oxfordshire. I almost put this back because of the style. But then it got me. Hooked me in. There’s a vicious elegance about writing a book like this because a) it happened / happens / is happening right now and b)the bravest thing you can sometimes do with writing is to delete. The less words that are there, the less you have to stand on and the more weight they have to pull. And this book doesn’t crumble in the slightest.
  • Magic Flutes by Eva Ibbotson. I picked this one up from the library to remind myself why I loved Ibbotson so. Dreamy, rich and empathetic; her writing just pulls you in and makes you WANT the characters to come out on top. She was such a sympathetic and kind writer. A wondrous talent.

RIP Eva Ibbotson

Eva Ibbotson, one of the best children’s writers ever, died last Wednesday. One of the things I didn’t know was that she attended Dartington Hall school (I attended Dartington College of Arts, same place, VERY similar ethos) and this was a lovely fact to find out about her. I love finding Dartington in stories (have a look at Michelle Magorian’s Back Home as I suspect it’s the inspiration for Rusty’s school in that book as well).

Some of her books are genuinely outstanding and elegant pieces of fiction . What’s impressive is how effortless they feel. Take the time to pick one up this weekend and salute one of the great dames of children’s literature.

Guardian obituary here , Independent obituary here and Daily Telegraph obituary here.