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Things I would like to see less (and more) of in the world of children’s books in 2018

Less…

  • Strong Female Characters Who Are Strong In One Way Only.
  • Strong Female Characters Who Are Violent And Thus Strong And That Is About All You Get.
  • “I read Harry Potter once…”
  • Looking into the mirror scenes.
  • Lists from headteachers of Approved Literature saying that they read Boccaccio when they were two days old, and why haven’t you?
  • I Write For Print Media And Bloggers Are Killing Critique.
  • Sexual agency being used as a negative character trait (tbf, this applies to pretty much all the media I consume).
  • Woe, The Children Are Not Reading articles.
  • Woe, The Children Are Not Reading What I want Them To Read articles.
  • Critical comment being legitimised from those who do not engage with what they critique.
  • The male gaze.

More…

  • Thicker paper quality.
  • Exploitation of endpapers.
  • Festivals paying authors.
  • Authors, in general, getting paid a realistic wage.
  • Regionally influenced content.
  • Illuminated first letters in chapters (my god how I love this).
  • Diversity, particularly with focus towards race, sexuality and social class.
  • Recognition of what is done well, when it’s done well.
  • Debut books.
  • Risk.
  • Poetry.
  • Public library advocacy.
  • Big, ambitious, world-shaking stories.
  • Alternative family structures.
  • Connection between the academic world of children’s lit, and mainstream publishing.
  • Unconventional heroes.
  • Pony stories.
  • Disruption of the canon.
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Overviews

5 Life Lessons Children’s Literature Taught Me (with a little help from Buffy)

1. bravery is not what you think it is

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I think, in a way, this is one of the more important and perhaps the most important message that any book can tell anyone. As Buffy says in the above gif that sort of reduces me to an emotional wreck every time I look at it, the hardest thing to do in this world is to live in it. And it’s even harder to do that as a child with all of the power and control that you lack in that position. Life is horrible, sometimes, and to live in that – to be able to be brave within that? To show your reader that there’s a light in the darkness, however dark your darkness is? That’s a gift.

Reading suggestions: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, There May be a Castle by Piers Torday.

2. it’s all about the journey

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It’s too easy to shift life into a series of moments. Of goals. And they don’t get easier when you get older, but somehow they’re more sharp when you’re a child. Exams. Grades. Friendship. The shattering moment when your friend plays with somebody else on the playground or that moment when your social media is full of people having a better life than you. So this is where the books step in to show you that there is something else out there and that’s the journey. You may be all heading towards the grim inevitability of SATS or A-Levels or university or the first job, but these books remind you to enjoy the process of getting there. To party, to laugh, to love, to live. Sometimes your destination will wait.

Reading suggestions: Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson, My Name is Mina by David Almond

3. you matter

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You’ll see it on the front of certain magazines and you’ll know it, straight away. It’s that urge to mould a million faces into a concept of perfection that, often, bears a mad disconnect from reality. It’s in the urge to deny the voice of the individual. The urge to laugh at people who get upset when their favourite band breaks up. The urge to mock otherness, to deny otherness within the world. This is the point where young adult literature comes out fighting: it is the space for otherness to thrive. It is a space for that otherness to exist.

Reading suggestions: What’s a girl gotta do? by Holly Bourne, A Little Love Song by Michelle Magorian

4. be kind

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Life isn’t about isolation but isolation is often a part of life. Anxiety, fear, terror; teenagers today face pressures that adults can’t often begin to fathom. I know it works the other way too (let me tell you about the wonder that is imposter syndrome some time), so these books work both ways. They talk to adults and to teens. Let’s phrase that a little bit better: these books talk to people. They make connections and ask you to see beyond the edges of your own world. To be kind within the context of yourself and to others. To be part of the world.

Reading suggestions: Girl with a white dog by Anne Booth, An Island of Our Own by Sally Nicholls

5. love is love is love

Image result for buffy love gif

The shape of love. To know what it is before you have it, to find it andto hold it. Questions that I still can’t answer, not wholly, not easily, but questions that exist. The limit of love. What is love? Who gets to love? How do I love? What can I love? Who loves me? What if I don’t want to love anything at all? Questions, questions, and sometimes we need to allow the space for those questions to be formed. And to not be afraid of that. The safety of the unknown is, I think, a rarity. We urge ourselves to answer the question, to find an answer and to not allow that silence. And we try to provide clarity to children, to others, to ourselves. Sometimes we can, sometimes we can’t. And this is where these books step in.

Reading suggestions:  I capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, Unhooking the moon by Gregory Hughes.

 

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8 ways to handle difficult books

I’ve been thinking about difficult books, recently, about pieces of children’s literature that are stark and unflinching or those that present difficult and controversial narratives. I am passionate about books being available to readers, always, but then there are moments when there are books that challenge that stance for me. I am honest about that, here, because I think that’s a vital thing to have. I am passionate, madly, about these pieces of literature but sometimes I struggle with that they are. And I need to understand that because I need to understand how I live with these books in the world.

I suspect that might be a commonplace thing; that urge to passionately defend, advocate and promote literature and yet, sometimes, realising that you’re standing on ice so thin that you can see the shadows underneath and the fin-tipped doubts that you have about a book are circling, ready to break through.

So here’s my way to handle that.

  1. Read the book.
  2. Seriously, read the book. I’m very upfront about this. Make time in your life to read that book that makes you wary or unsure abut it. Covers and blurbs and reviews are coded with meaning and ideologies, whether implicit or explicit, consciously constructed or otherwise, and you will never know what that book means until you read it. And until you know what that book means, what it says to you, you can’t even begin to understand what it may say to others.
  3. That may in the previous paragraph. Think about that. No book says the exact same thing to every reader. Not possible. If I were to say to you ‘cat’, you’ll think of a cat that’s unique to you. Maybe the one that’s curling around your feet right now, or sitting on the laptop and ‘helping’ you to read this post. So. Books say different things to everyone. That difference may have some commonalities, but it will be different in its nuances so be wary of predicting a general response to a book. Be wary of predicting a general blanket response to a book.
  4. So now you’ve read the book, and began to understand what your response is, here’s the part where you try and figure out why you’ve responded to it in this manner. Reflect. Be honest and true to yourself. I have difficulties with books about certain subjects. I recognise that, and when I read books about those subjects, I read them with that awareness in mind. Not everyone has the same difficulties that I do. There’s that generalisation again. Stick with that. Remember that, if you don’t remember anything else. Don’t generalise. It’s hard, I know, but try. You’re in a position of power with these books ; don’t abuse that.
  5. You’ve read the book and examined your response to it and understood that and maybe you’re still finding it problematic? Fine. Genuinely. That’s fine, and not in that passive-aggressive sense of fiiiine. I will always fight for the right to have opinions and to allow and enable those opinions. But here’s the part where you frame that opinion within yourself. Here’s the part where you look at the books that go out of your library and maybe find out that the difficult book has immense usage stats. Here’s the part where you go online and find out that it’s award winning, and teens are talking about it. Here’s the part where you recognise it’s difficult but you put it on your shelves because it’s wanted there.
  6. A final note on the difficult, truly difficult books. The ones where bad things happen, or history is presented in a way that is complex to mediate in a contemporary event. The ones where things happen that should not happen. Here’s the part where you trust yourself and your knowledge of your children, your customers, your publishers. You’re not reacting on your own part, here, you’re playing devils advocate. You’re going through the book on a case by case basis and understanding what it might say to the world. You’re researching the book in question. Checking its Goodread reviews. Doing a Twitter search on it. Maybe reading up on it in blogs. And then, you decide what to do with it, because you can justify every single step of your decision at this point. Maybe you don’t buy it after all. Maybe you put it out but keep an eye on the stats. Maybe you add it to stock but talk about its complicated and problematic representations. Maybe you talk about it, but you don’t hold it. A thousand different ways to mediate the book and to understand the meanings of that mediation.
  7. Don’t ban. Never ban. Mediate and manage and enable. Don’t ban. Ever. Please.
  8. Read. The. Book.
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Vegetarians / vegetarianism in children’s fiction

Last night I was having a chat with a colleague about representations of vegetarianism and vegetarians in fiction. To my shame, I couldn’t think of many potent examples in children’s literature of this. My instincts went to somebody like Richard Adams and Plague Dogs / Watership Down (which I have just reread btw, and am a bit entranced by how thickly layered and robust and dreamlike a story it is) and George Orwell and Animal Farm, but that was about it. So. I threw the question out on Twitter….and collated the responses below.

Thanks so much if you helped! More suggestions welcome!

  • Eustace Scrubb’s family from the Chronicles of Narnia, and Annie Whitman’s stepsister from the SVH books (Thanks @actuallyaisha)
  • Suzy Austin in Meet the Austins (Thanks @conmartin)
  • Possibly Emerence’s parents from the Chalet School series (thanks @lavender_75)
  • Nanny Fox by Georgie Adams (Thanks @flissjohnston)
  • The parents in Groosham Grange by Anthony Horowitz (Thanks @thehiorns and 8yr old)
  • Olga da Polga (thanks @thornflowers)
  • Willow Chance in Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan (thanks @lauramainellen)
  • Possibly Caddy in Caddy’s World / Weetzie Bat (thanks @effjayem)
  • Winni Allfours by Babette Cole (thanks @suzannebarton0)
  • Vlad the Drac by Anne Jungman (thanks @tamsincooke1)
  • Draculaura in the Monster High books (thanks @lbkidsuk)
  • Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli (thanks @fionanoblebooks)
  • Mia from the Princess diaries books by Meg Cabot (thanks @conmartin)
  • Scarlet McCall in The Scarlet Files : Cat Burglar (thanks @tamsincooke1)
  • Herb the Vegetarian Dragon by Jules Bass (thanks @damyantipatel)
  • Vera the vegetarian vampire in Vanishing Trick by Ros Asquith (thanks @rosasquith)
  • T-Veg : The Tale of the Carrot Crunching Dinosaur by Smriti Prasadam – Halls (thanks @potternicky)
  • Medwyn from Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series (Thanks @konallis)
  • Gemma from Cowgirl by GR Gemin (thanks @konallis)
  • Tyrannosaurus Drip by Julia Donaldson (thanks @mrsdebspatters)
  • Plague 99 by Jean Ure (thanks @huskyteer)
  • And finally, thanks @272BookFaith for the excellent suggestion below 🙂

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16 ways to help yourself and your child make the best of your public library, books and reading

 

  1.  Sometimes I think we become afraid of challenges and the potential of failure, especially with reading. I hear the phrase “that book’s too hard for you” an awful lot. If you say that: ask yourself why you’re saying that. Unpack the statement and challenge yourself about it.
  2.  The journey to literacy has to start somewhere. Everything’s been too hard for a child once upon a time – but they haven’t stopped. I acknowledge the potential of putting somebody off – but, that book’s been picked up for a reason. Maybe this time work through the illustrations together, or use it as a bed time story. Don’t make the book a source of intimidation.
  3. Hard books become easy books. Help that happen.
  4. Make sure you have more time to spend in the library than you think you need, and conversely, be prepared to leave early if things aren’t working out for either of you. Come back tomorrow. There’s still time.
  5. Don’t make reading A Thing That We Fight About And Talk About In Capital Letters. If it’s becoming a flash point, time out. Step back.
  6. Acknowledge how much reading your child really does. I suspect that we forget this, but reading isn’t just about books. It’s about shopping labels, instructions, video games, it’s about the language that’s embedded in our everyday world. So if the library is a place where neither one of you want to be, that’s fine (for today, not forever, you get back there asap please 😉 ).
  7. Make the most of the textual resources you have at your disposal. Read those. Help your child master the texts that are already in their world.
  8. Don’t be scared of the library. I get that libraries are scary places. I’ve been put off a few in my time. But here’s the thing : they are your space. You are welcome in this space, it is here for you, and if you’re scared or nervous there, than your child will get that.
  9. Model the behaviours that you want your child to see. Perform the associations that you want them to have with a space. Kids are savvy, savvy creatures. If the library is a place where you’re not comfortable, then they will know and they will consciously or unconsciously react to that. Fake it until you make it. Make the library space somewhere where they will choose to be. Why would they want to go if you don’t?
  10. Pick up a book yourself. Non-fiction, fiction, poetry, whatever.Bring it home and read it in front of the child. Read obviously. Weave books into the world. Make books something that the child will see
  11. Don’t be afraid of books. Ask for help if you need it. Seriously.
  12. If you don’t know what your child should or could be reading, ask one of the librarians. Ask them about the most popular authors. Look at the gaps on the shelves. Head to the books that the other children your child’s age do. It’s a rough guide, yes, but sometimes we need those rough guides where we don’t know where to begin.
  13. Encourage your kids to talk about reading and books. Ask them if this is the breakfast cereal that a Gruffalo would eat. Tell them you spotted Gangsta Granny on the way to school.
  14. Get your kid involved in the library. Come up to the desk with them if you can’t find what you’re after. Get the child involved in the conversation. Reserve books that the child actively asks for. Allow them the time for a long chat with the librarian.
  15. Let the child babble about books. Don’t cut them off. There is nothing better in the world than children who are almost breathless with love over a book. Passion is such a driver. Allow the time for those conversations to happen. They are perfect, perfect moments.
  16. Pat yourself on the back every once in a while. You’re doing so much better than you think you are at this. You really, really are. I have such admiration for you. Keep it up.
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On library ladders and curlicues

Last night I watched a repeat of a programme, nestled away on the depths of BBC4, about life at Windsor Castle and it featured a scene in the Royal Library. Reader, I almost wept at how lovely it was. There is something quite ferociously glorious for me in an everyday basis in a library, but sometimes, sometimes, there are libraries that take my breath away. The symbolism of these libraries. The importance of them. The richness of them. Oh, and the library ladders on wheels. These are important too.

(Library ladders on wheels are my emotional kryptonite; I long for one)

Here are three of my current favourite libraries. I’ve visited one, long to visit the other two, and there are other libraries that I can’t bear to share but they are there, silently, quietly, the curve of their leather seats and their rows of neat spines nestle alongside these choices.

The Library from Beauty and The Beast

There’s something very private, sometimes, about sharing ones passions with somebody else. These passions are instinctive things; they define us and shape us, even at our lowest points, even when we’re wordless and lost in the night, there are the things that we love and it is those that provide the light. Gaming. Food. Films. Books. This scene isn’t just about he curve of those staircases and the delicious symmetry they provide, it’s about the shy nerves of the Beast and his realisation that Belle loves the space as much as he does. It’s about realising that there’s a space in the world for him once more.

But oh, oh, those shelves. The roaring heights of them, and those staircases, and the great space of this library, oh.

The Library at Windsor Castle

This video links to the documentary about Windsor Castle and in a way, I’d encourage you to watch the whole thing if you can. There’s something so fascinatingly glorious and outlandish about it all; the way the maids unpack the luggage through to the stick they use to measure that the chairs are the right distance away from the table.

The library itself appears fairly early on and intermittently throughout the episode. What makes my heart sing about this library is the nature of its holdings; this library contains history (which, I appreciate, a lot of them do) but when combined with this location and the finery and the dancing routines that surround it, there’s something quite potent about these finely bound volumes on the shelf. Knowledge is power. Always. But knowledge is also something else, and that is something to be treasured. Never be afraid of learning and never be afraid of what a book holds. That’s the message of this library for me; the way it holds such intensely worldly things on a shelf. Just. On. A. Shelf. Oh the discussions these books must have when the light’s off and the door’s locked…

Duke Humfrey’s Library

 

Recognise this one yet? I appreciate the tiny Daniel Radcliffe (so young!) may give it away, but it’s the library as featured in Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone. The delicious thing is that you can visit this library as it’s part of Oxford University and occasionally allows in tours (check for times and dates, etc, etc). I was lucky enough to get on one of thse tours and oh, it’s such a vivid experience. You climb up the stairs from the quadrangle, passing the narrow and ornate windows as you go, and emerge into the library itself; chained books on the shelves, the dark wood, and the sunlight cutting in through the leaded glass windows. Go (and also, whilst you’re in Oxford, take in a children’s literature tour – there are quite a few locations and things of interest there…)

 

 

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54 places to begin with when thinking about children’s and young adult literature

A manifesto, of sorts, for those who are interested in children’s and young adult literature but don’t know where to start. Start here. Somewhere. All of them. One of them. Just start.

  1. Read something you remember from your childhood. Read it now as an adult. Be aware of the differences between that read.
  2. Read The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan and revel at the precision of her language.
  3. Subscribe to this blog. And this blog. Also this blog.
  4. Read Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman.
  5. Lurk (or even join in) a Twitter chat. Have a look at #ukyachat and #ukmgchat for starters. If people aren’t talking about what you want to talk about, be the one who does.
  6. Read The Green Grass of Wyoming by Mary O’Hara. Fall in love with the wilderness.
  7. Sign up at your library to help with the Summer Reading Challenge.
  8. Go to The Story Museum.
  9. Read reviews on Goodreads. Decide whether you agree with them or not. Work out why.
  10. Ask your young relatives, friends, pupils what they’re reading. And then read those books.
  11. Read Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill. Let the words scald you.
  12. Start a blog. Make it private, make it public, find your voice.
  13. Read one of the Miffy books by Dick Bruna. Any of them.
  14. Read this blog. And this blog.
  15. Give somebody a book. The idea of the giving of children’s literature is an important thing.
  16. Read Alfie Gets in First by Shirley Hughes.
  17. Go to Seven Stories.
  18. Read The Rights of the Reader by Daniel Pennac. Practice them.
  19. Write something. Doesn’t have to be good, doesn’t have to be bad, doesn’t have to be imaginative, but flex your imagination. Start to understand the space of the children’s book. Start to understand your contribution to that space.
  20. Read The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks. Understand how a book can be great and complex and challenging.
  21. Go to a bookshop. Stare at some books. Look at the colours, the descriptions, the arrangements of them. Understand the shape of these books and the contrast between them and others.
  22. Read The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. Push your fingers through the holes.
  23. Go to the library. Get some books out. If you don’t know where to begin, ask. Librarians are your friends. They are there to help.
  24. Read Artichoke Hearts by Sita Brahmachari.
  25. Experience The Game of Sculpture by Herve Tullet. When you’ve finished, experience it again.
  26. Set up a Twitter account and follow a lot of people in the sector. You don’t have to necessarily engage, but do follow. Educate yourself in what’s going on.
  27. Read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
  28. Visit the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre.
  29. Have some cake. And then read something. Read indulgently, selfishly, wholly. Stop the clocks. Lock the door.
  30. Read I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith.
  31. Read Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce.
  32. Send a book on an adventure. Track its progress.
  33. Read The Chalet School in Exile by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer.
  34. Visit Daunt Books.
  35. Attend an author event. It’s one thing to read the book yourself, but it’s quite another to hear it being read and talked about by the author.
  36. Read some Eloise.  Any of them. Sink into the exuberance of them.
  37. Read A Little Love Song by Michelle Magorian. Fall in love for the first time.
  38. Read Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill. Think about his use of colour and scale and scope.
  39. Attend Alice’s Day in Oxford.
  40. Read Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens.
  41. Read Max’s Wagon by Barbro Lindgren and Eva Eriksson. A short one this, but something quite brilliant.
  42. Go to Whitby and read The Whitby Witches series. Sit in the abbey. Walk the beach. Tread the steps of Ben and Jennet and Aunt Alice.
  43. Read My Name is Mina by David Almond. Sink into its language.
  44. Go to the woods on a bear hunt. I’m quite serious about this one. Think about what you’d need and then pack it and then go. Don’t come back until you’ve found one.
  45. Read Cowgirl by GR Gemin.
  46. Read Dog Ears by Anne Booth.
  47. Talk about books. To everyone, anyone. Don’t be ashamed. Don’t be reticent. Be passionate and vital and interested in the power of this sector of literature.
  48. Visit Barter Books.
  49. Read a book out loud to yourself. Somewhere silent, if you can, and let yourself hear the words.
  50. Read Looking at pictures in picture books by Jane Doonan. Apply some of her ideas to the next picture book you read.
  51. Read Unhooking The Moon by Gregory Hughes.
  52. Attend a literary festival. (Oxford Literary Festival‘s children’s programme is particularly wonderful).
  53. Read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.
  54. Read Pea’s Book of Holidays by Susie Day.
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Facebook’s Book Club : Children’s Literature edition

You may have heard of Mark Zuckerberg’s declaration that 2015 will see him read a new book every other week with “an emphasis on learning about different cultures, beliefs, histories and technologies.”.

Well, Mark, here’s your chance to add some children’s literature to the mix. Children’s literature changes worlds, each and every day, and you should seriously think about adding one or more of the following titles to your list. I guarantee that they’ll teach you about the world in ways you never thought possible.

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An introduction to the school story – ten titles to begin your reading journey

So you know I have a bit of a thing for school stories, right?

Just in case that comes as a bit of an awful surprise to you, you’re either new (in which case, hi!) or haven’t been paying attention (in which case, remedial prep for you and Antoinette will bring ‘anchovy’ toast to your study later).

So, to clarify, I do enjoy the school story and the girl’s boarding school story genre in particular. Here’s a thing I wrote about why you should read the genre itself but what I want to do in this post, is tell you about a few titles (nb: in no particular order) which I think will serve as an excellent introduction to the girl’s school story.

I’ve picked titles from The Dawn Of Time and also some very contemporary books and over a fair few differing age groups and I have, I know, omitted a few very popular authors. It’s one of the problems and joys of lists of this nature. What does, however, unite all of these titles is that they are great and lovely things and I have hugely enjoyed them all. I hope you have the chance to do the same.

And do let me know what you’d add as number ten?

(My thanks to @nonpratt for inspiring this post! She wrote an excellent book btw, fyi and all that.)

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Do you wanna build a library?

Do you wanna fill it full of books? Do you wanna make it so, that every child who comes in won’t know where to look?

But where would you begin? It’s hard to know how to ‘start’ a library when there’s so much in the world of children’s literature and there’s so much of it that’s good. I used to work in a public library and one of the key things I did was help break down the ‘intimidation’ of literature. Because it can be intimidating – a sea of shelves, of spines – where do you start? And where are you allowed to start?

So prompted by this (and also through a chat with the splendid @yayeahyeah ), I decided to try and break it down.

You know that every summer you get those how to pack your suitcase articles? One top that does three hundred occasions, and one skirt that acts as both skirt, beach towel, parachute, etc, etc? Well this is the textual equivalent of that. Here are ten titles which I reckon could start off as a solid core for a library.

And for emotionally traumatising them, but that’s another story (badumtish).

One last thing to note is that I’ve presupposed a mixed sex, teenage, comfortable with regards to budget (ha, I know) environment for this library. I will hopefully do a picture book / early readers equivalent post in the future so look out for that!

1. David Almond – Slog’s Dad / The Savage. One of the great things about David Almond’s work with Dave McKean is the sense of rooted magic in the texts. That’s an almost contradictory statement, I know, but it’s accurate. These books are set in real life, in the streets that we walk home from school and in the benches that we sit on in the park, but then, because it’s Almond / McKean, we get the injection of magic. The look and look again of strange unreality. The realisation that magic, that imagination and fantasy can exist with the lives we lead. Not against them. With them. And that’s something great and amazing.

2. Michelle Magorian – A Little Love Song / Back Home. Magorian’s great gift as a writer is to give you a sort of pure warmth and great truth, and to often do so in the same moment. Her female characters are beautiful; Rose in A Little Love Song and Rusty in Back Home are brave and foolish and loving and real. And it’s so important to read about women, about girls, who are like that. Who don’t spend their lives being defined by others, who learn that it’s about being defined by yourself, about what you do, that matters.

 3.Gregory Hughes – Unhooking the Moon / Summertime of the Dead. If it’s important to read about women, then it’s also important to acknowledge that the reverse is true. Boys, young men, adults, they all need to read about people who reflect and refract their life and their choices back at them. Hughes writes eloquent, fairy tale-esque, brave stories about relationships and family and love, and the men in his books (for they might not start as men, but they certainly end as men) are outstanding and heartbreaking and perfect.

4. Mal Peet – Life : an exploded diagram / Tamar. I don’t think Peet is the easiest to read at times but he is perhaps one of the most rewarding of authors to read. These two books cover substantially different topics and periods but I think that one of their common factors is this: that they do not shy away from what the world can be. The characters in both are so real, so bluntly, hardly real in moments, that they almost fall off the page. Peet is one of those authors to read when you are straining at the edges of the world.

5. Sarah Crossan – The Weight of Water; Frank Cottrell Boyce – The Unforgotten Coat. Both Boyce and Crossan write with such elegance, such deft wordmanship, that these books about finding your way in the world are a moving and wonderful joy to read. Crossan’s debut novel is written all in blank verse, wryly humorous at points and painfully stark at others. Her use of language and her restraint in the use of that language is outstanding. I think restraint is a good word to use when describing Cottrell Boyce’s beautiful The Unforgotten Coat. It’s amazingly put together, from his subtle and empathetic word pla to clever design, and hits far beyond its weight.

I think one key thing all the above books share is that they reflect the potential of literature. They take the written word and they burst in a thousand different directions. They all show what can be done in the book space – and if that’s not a great thing to use as a kernel for a library, then I don’t know what is…

And now, here’s the part where you come in … tell me what you’d add!

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How Children’s Literature Ruined My Life

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This is a picture of the sky. It is very lovely. It bears very little relation to what I’m about to tell you but, I feel, it’s time to tell the truth. And so I start with a sweetener. The beauty. The glory. The light that stretches down to your fingertips. The joy of the infinite sunset.

And now the sadness. 

It is time, my friends, to confess something to you. A sordid truth. My hidden shame.

Children’s Literature has ruined my life.

Every day, I’m shuffling suffering from at least one of the following:

(You know what? I’m in love that I could carry on this list forever. God I love books. My life without them would not be the same. They have made me what and who I am.

And I would not have it any other way 🙂 ) 

 

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Everything else

Read Your Way Around the UK (England’s done!)

Do you remember that whole mad ‘can you read your way around the UK’ idea? We got England completed! Thank you so much if you’ve been a part of this!

You can view the current state of the spreadsheet if you click on the below image. Which, coincidentally, is all the England titles and authors word-cloud-i-fied. You can also see a map of all the books in England here!

(And here’s to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland!)

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Children’s Literature and Bereavement

What I’m doing in this post is doing something that I hold very close to my heart. You may be aware that I have a couple of reading lists that I host on this blog. They cover topics that I’ve got a particular interest in or strength of knowledge or topics that I want to research further. They are lists that are constantly growing as I add to them anything I find that comes under their respective headings, titles that I’ve read or heard about or been recommended. And they’re editable by anyone, so please do feel free to add anything you think I’ve missed.

Here’s my one on gifted and talented characters in children’s literature.

Here’s my list of  titles in children’s literature that reference menstruation.

It’s now time to add a third. I’ve always had a strong interest in the healing power of books – the bibliotherapy side of literature. I’m fascinated by the way that books help us to cope with the shadowy, inevitable darknesses of life. (Here’s a heartbreaking and wondrous Storify about the healing power of YA literature, for example)

So, because of that, and because of many other reasons to personal to elaborate at this point, my third list is one on bereavement in children’s literature.

What I want this list to be is simple. I want it to cover titles that explicitly address loss. That deal with the process of grieving – of sadness. I don’t endorse these books in any way. I do not guarantee them, nor explicitly recommend them. I am not a professional counsellor in any way and that needs to be noted due to the topic of the list.

But what I do hope is that at some point, when questions are being asked that you may not know how to answer or even if you can, that one of these books may be able to help.

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Period.

I read a lot of children’s literature but I don’t read that many that feature periods. Menstruation. That time of the month. Call it what you will, but it’s not an unusual phenomenon. I was reminded of the scarcity of periods in children’s literature after reading this blog post from 2010.

The thing that struck me after reading that was that I don’t think much has changed. I mean, I certainly remember discovering Runaways and swooning with love that it actually mentioned periods. It made that series instantly so much more real to me. And feeling like that was – and is – a rare occurrence  Were it not for Judy Blume and Paula Danziger, I’d be struggling to name authors and titles who acknowledge menstruation. Lord knows it certainly doesn’t occur in my great love of girlsown where the girls magically grow up in a sort of splendid glass-housed isolation.

When puberty came, with its lumps and bumps and hairs, me and my friends found solace in Just Seventeen (and were we from today, I think we’d be weeping with joy over Tumblr). And now that I think of it, we also found a lot of solace in Lady Chatterley’s Lover but that was for, um, slightly different reasons…!

But I digress. I’m looking for recommendations of titles to read – children’s books, picture books, comics whatever. Let me know if you’ve got any ideas where I should start. And I promise to collate the titles together as a reading list which I’ll archive somewhere (here! – Menstruation in Children’s Literature)

PS – I’ll also be updating my list of books featuring gifted and talented characters in the near future – additions always welcome 🙂

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Book Reviews

2012 rewind! The best books I’ve read this year

I’m very lucky in that I have access to an amazing children’s literature library. It’s one of those places that make you skip along the shelves and want to just stroke the spine of every book on the shelf. Even the ones that have been there a little too long, those ones who have gone pale in the sun, have a peculiar appeal. It’s an addictive place to visit. It’s a place that has sourced my best reads of this year. And it’s a place that I know is going to continue to inspire me next year.

So here’s to the best reads of 2012! You’ll see not all of these books were published in 2012, but they are the best books I read this year.  I spent 2012 surrounded by books I liked, and books I loved. And some of those books bordered on utter perfection.

In no particular order, we have:

My David Almond phase with a look at the incredible My Name is Mina and My Dad’s A Birdman. These two books defined the end of the year for me and have had a massive impact on me.

The other author who appears twice on my best of 2012 is Sita Brahmachari (who, if you get to hear speak, is ridiculously charming and coped very well with my geeking out in front of her – sorry Sita 😉 ) and her books Artichoke Hearts and Jasmine Skies. Magical, evocative books both.

Patrick Ness’ multi-award winning piece of perfection A Monster Calls appears on my list and to be honest, is in a class of its own. The pairing of Patrick Ness’ spare, elegant text with Jim Kay’s illustrations is world-class.

Another award winning book that’s on my best of 2012 is The Unforgotten Coat by my book Yoda Frank Cottrell Boyce. A gorgeous, sharply heart-breaking, and beautifully produced book.

Then there’s the newcomer (to me!) Guy Bass with his reminder that good things come in small packages. The adorable Stitch Head was superb, moving, and a reminder of all that can be good in children’s books.

I came back to my other book Yoda – Michelle Magorian — and rediscovered her beyond perfect A Little Love Song. Magorian is so superbly gifted, and this book is a gift. She’s one of those effortlessly heartbreaking (and rather amazing) writers.

And finally, I read an amazing picture book and a graphic novel. Alex T Smith dazzled me with the epic and hysterical glory of Claude on Holiday. If you’ve not discovered Claude and Sir Bobblysock, hop to it because you won’t be disappointed. Graphic novel wise, I read a lot of good stuff but loved discovering the work of Gareth Hinds and his magisterial version of Beowulf in particular.

And here’s to 2013! 😀

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In pursuit of perfection

I’ve been thinking about the act of reading itself, how sometimes I long for it and need it, and I’ve been wondering why that is. In a way, it’s a sort of hunger. I’ve spoken about it previously on this blog, but I sort of think that reading is a form of addiction. It’s a never-ending search for the heartblow of perfection, delivered when you least expect it.

My highs? I remember them. My catalysts. My talismans. My addictions. The things that started me on this road.

The first ‘death-bed’ scene that made me fold, lose myself, and break down? Gay Lambert at the Chalet School. Here’s my review. EBD’s oeuvre is in one way based around the death-bed scene, but there’s something about the one in this book (spoilers sweetie) that gets me. Breaks me. Always.

The first panel that got me into comics? This. It’s from Note from the Underground and shows the moment after Buffy’s basically gone Super-Slayer and is experiencing an intervention from her Slayer sisters. The Wikipedia precis makes this sound like a hideous book, but it’s truly not. These panels are perfection; they take the Slayer stereotype, what Buffy’s been doing since the book began, and they flip it. Just like that. It’s elegant, simple, and delivers a whole  level of redemption for Buffy herself. It’s beautiful.

1. S: “Welcome Back”
2. B: “I never really went anywhere-” S: “Didn’t you?” B: “Well, if you mean to the “angry place”, then I guess I did”
3. B: “You guys wanted me to chill, huh? We all learn – sooner or later – while we’re alive or after we’re dead … we all learn it’s not about slaying…”
4: B: “It’s about saving…”

The bit of writing that made me love Lorna Hill forever and forgive her all her rubbish later books? This. “I felt that she’d have been even more pleased with my arabesque could she have seen it today. The beauty all around me did something to me inside. I can’t describe what it was, but it made me want to turn my arabesque into something better than it had been before. I wanted to express in my dancing the lovely effect of the sunlight flickering through the trees in the wood, the delicate green of the larches, the grace of the foxgloves growing on the Roman Wall that marched side by side with the road just here.” A Dream of Sadlers Wells (1972:87)

The first stories that made me? Magic, myth, and history. I remember being sat on my dad’s lap, and listening to him read aloud Roger Lancelyn Green’s entire back catalogue. King Arthur and his knights, Odysseus of Troy, and Robin Hood. Learning my stories, my myths and your legends, grounded me and gave me roots. It pushed me onto Robin Jarvis and his awesome Wyrd Museum, it pushed me to Adele Geras and her superb sagas of womanhood – Troy, Ithaka, Dido, it pushed me onto finding Richard the Lionheart’s tomb, and it pushed me to running round the city walls of York and seeing Saxons

So thanks. Thanks for getting me this far. Thanks for making me who I am, thanks for making me be able to chat about Noel Streatfield to complete strangers, to stand on the side of a lake in Austria and nerd out to immense levels, thank you for making me able to reccomend Alex T Smith to strangers, thank you for letting me stand in the bookshop and fall into discussions over the joy, the utter joy, of Herve Tullet.

Thank you.

Here’s to the high.

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An esoteric and distinctly biased list of 50 children’s books you probably really should read (part five)

Yay, we did it! This is the final list of my fabulous fifty titles chosen with no rhyme or reason save their general awesomeness! And here (part one, part two, part three, part four) is where you can see all the previous posts that got us to this point. Now, on with the show!

Little Women – Lousia May Alcott

There’s something very eternal about Little Women and I think it’s one of the rites of passage for any reader, and one that remains particularly acute for female readers. Whilst certain elements may be skippable (I’ll never have any issues with anybody who switches off during the Pilgrims Progress shenanigans), there are other moments in this book that lock you to the page.

Similar to : Eight Cousins

Mr Galliano’s Circus – Enid Blyton

Enid Blyton gets a bad rap these days and I think that’s a bit of a shame. For every ‘Six Bad Boys’, there’s a Mr Galliano’s Circus. I always sort of wonder if she was more comfortable about writing about animals then people. There’s a delight and a freshness to this story that remains appealing.

Similar to : Circus Shoes (Noel Streatfield)

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

This book is epic. There’s a perpetually late rabbit, potions, bitch-Queens, and a stoner cat. And much, much more. It’s epochal.

Similar to : Peter Pan

The Giraffe, and the Pelly and Me – Roald Dahl

Possibly the funniest story about windowcleaning *ever*, this book is an utter joy. It’s one of the Dahl titles that doesn’t seem to be as well known as some of his others, but it happily stands on a par with them. It’s ace.

Similar to : Spike Milligan’s nonsense poetry

Crank – Ellen Hopkins

Written in crystal clear and jagged free verse, this is a very unique book. It’s the story of Kristina and her slow fall into drug addiction. Hopkins writes with painful heart and truth, and actually based a lot of this book around her own daughter and her addiction to crystal meth. A hard, painful, real read full of hurt.

Similar to : Melvin Burgess

Henderson’s Boys : The Escape – Robert Muchamore

The Henderson’s Boy series form backstory behind the amazing CHERUB books by the same author. The Escape is the first in the series and a genuinely brilliant title. It’s almost violently readable and incredibly addictive.

Similar to : the CHERUB books

The Railway Children – E Nesbit

E Nesbit was pretty amazing. This book is stunning. And it’s got a part in it that makes me crumble and cry every time I read it. Plus, Bobbie is one of the most fascinating female literary heroines probably ever.

Similar to : The Famous Five

Tom’s Midnight Garden – Philippa Pearce

If you’ve not read any Philippa Pearce, here’s the place to start (and start you must). She was a very quietly brilliant author and this novel is stunning. Tom is sent away from home to live under quarantine with his Aunt and Uncle. Whilst in his new home he discovers that the house itself and the garden has a whole new side of it come midnight…

Similar to : Charlotte Sometimes

And Tango Makes Three – Justin Richardson

Adorable, gorgeously illustrated, and full of love; ‘Tango’ is the baby penguin adopted by Roy and Silo two male penguins at the zoo. It’s based on true events and is, in a very quiet way, rather amazing.

Similar to : Nothing. This is very gorgeous.

So what’s going to be number 50?

Well, I hope you’ll forgive me, but I’m not going to put a fiftieth because I sort of have a theory that the best book you’ve ever read is yet to come. That’s the joy about reading books – there’s always something really rather magnificent out there and it’s just waiting for you to find it. So what are you waiting for? Off you go … 😉

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An esoteric and distinctly biased list of 50 children’s books you probably really should read (part four)

The Princess Diaries – Meg Cabot

I love these. They’re the ugly duckling tale of Mia Thermopolis who, during that first year of awkward High School-ness, discovers she’s actually the heir to the throne of Genovia. Essentially, Mia’s a princess. She’s a funny, gorgeously engaging narrator who you can’t help but root for. Plus Micheal is *adorable* in the books and probably my first guy-book-crush.

Similar to : the rest of the series

A Horse Called Wonder – Joanna Campbell

These books blew my mind. We only got the first four or so in my local bookshop and then, on a family holiday to America, I discovered the truth. There weren’t just four books in the series. THERE WERE MILLIONS. This horsey saga of life on a racing farm spanned generations of people, of horses, and of hot jockey types. It was like Sunset Beach (look it up on Youtube) and The Saddle Club all in one. It was AMAZING.

Similar to : Sunset Beach + horses. Like I said, you really need to look it up.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar – Eric Carle

A classic. It’s the story of a caterpillar who eats loads of stuff, getting bigger all the time, before eventually turning into a butterfly. There’s a lovely simplicity to the story, coupled with lots of holes for fingers to be poked through, and it practically begs to be read out loud.

Similar to : Herve Tullet / Mr Men

The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman

Oh, this book. It’s written in tight, restrained prose full of spooky horror at every step. It’s unnerving, and it’s edgy and it’s brilliant. A family is murdered by “the man Jack” but the toddler survives. He finds himself in a graveyard, there adopted by the resident ghosts, and named Bod. Bod grows up in the graveyard but the man Jack is never far behind – and he wants to finish what he started.

Similar to : When you walk home at night, and hear a twig crack, but there’s nobody there.

Troy – Adele Geras

This is a very beautifully written book, all from the perspective of women locked in Troy during the great siege. Geras has  a gift of writing female characters very, very well and handles them with great restraint. Even though most of us already know how this story ends, you can’t help but be swept up in it again.

Similar to : Ithaka (Adele Geras)

Misty of Chincoteague

Misty of Chincoteague – Marguerite Henry

This is one of the most wildly romantic horse stories out there. The wild horses of Chincoteague Island are round up, and their colts sold off. One of those colts is Misty. I remember this book genuinely blowing my mind – and there’s a whole saga of them to enjoy.

Similar to : Black Beauty

For Love of a Horse – Patricia Leitch

So. You’re eleven. You’re stubborn. You’ve got red hair. You’re moving to the wilds of Scotland. You visit a circus. You see a wild Arabian steed. And then, just as you’re getting near to your new home, you witness a road accident – involving the circus van that carries the selfsame horse. WHAT DO YOU DO? Well, you do what Jinny Manders does and you get your horse and you fight for her. These books are stunning and quite unusual in that they dispense with the blunt practical knowledge that tends to characterise a Pullein-Thompson book and shift towards a mixture of near-pagan mysticism. Amazing books. I want them back.

Similar to : the rest of the series

The Fashionista Books – Sarra Manning

I have a love of America’s Next Top Model. And these books are the books that Tyra wishes she could write, but can’t. Sarra Manning’s series of four books, all taking the viewpoint of different characters, are brilliant. These are sharp, funny, and brilliant books.

Similar to : the Wholahay ANTM incident (aka the best moment ever)

War Horse – Michael Morpurgo

I’ve written of my love for this book before so I’ll try not to rehash things here. Essentially, if you’re at all interested in horses, families, love, heartbreak, emotionally satisfying endings, get to this book asap.

Similar to : Black Beauty (God, Black Beauty really was quite genre-defining wasn’t it!)

Bedknob and Broomsticks – Mary Norton

Mary Norton also wrote the Borrowers but I decided to plump for Bedknob and Broomsticks as my choice for this list. Whilst some elements of B and B read very poorly today for the racist connotations (viz. the Cannibals), it remains a fascinating and intensely readable book. Written in the middle of World War Two (1943), it also has a lot of intriguing social commentary (particularly about life as a single woman) tucked away in between all the hijinks.

Similar to : The Worst Witch

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An esoteric and distinctly biased list of 50 children’s books you probably really should read (part three)

The Last Unicorn – Peter S. Beagle

I came to this after watching the amazing animated film (I’m ALIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIVE) and fell in love. It’s a fantasy classic that tells the story of the last unicorn and her journey to find all the others of her kind. It shifts from pantomine, to pathos, to heart-breaking. Beautiful.

Similar to : the Last Unicorn movie (which is still a treat but is very scary in places so be warned if you watch it with littlies)

The Chalet School in Exile – Elinor M. Brent-Dyer

Although this is a few titles on in the series, it is one of the best pieces of wartime children’s literature you will ever read. Brent-Dyer’s attitude and treatment of the Nazis remains stunning and her invention of the Peace League as a way for women to fight war is ideologically miles ahead of its time. Amazing, thought-provoking book. (Ignore the hideous cover!)

Similar to : the rest of the Chalet School series. Start with The School at the Chalet.

Millions – Frank Cottrell Boyce

A ridiculously stunning book, Millions is the one book I would have loved to have written. Brothers Anthony and Damien have a whole shedload of money fall into their hands after witnessing a train robbery. Trouble is, they only have days to spend it because Britain is about to join the Euro and the money they’ve found is all in pounds. This book is very very perfect and Damien is an amazing character.

Similar to : Nothing. Perfect. Go read it.

The Animals of Farthing Wood – Colin Dann

Dann was a keen naturalist and it shows in this tale of animals banding together to find themselves a new home after their current is threatened by the encroachment of man. Writing the animals as Fox, Vixen, Badger etc, Dann carefully avoids sentiment and over anthropomorphising and creates a thrilling animal saga.

Similar to : Tarka the Otter

The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas

This was originally published in serial form and it shows. There’s a gorgeous sense of readability to it, the pacing is brilliant and it remains a classic of its time. There’s swords, swash-buckling, derring-do and some amazing intrigue going on. Last month I went to a Musketeer festival in the South-West of France where people sauntered around the centre of the village and slapped their thigh a lot and called for beer. It was amazing and this book is wholly to blame for that (and also for my obsession with ‘sturdy Gascon ponies’)

Similar to : The Man in the Iron Mask

The Silver Brumby – Elyne Mitchell 

The Silver Brumby is one of the richest books I know. Set in the wilds of the Australian outback, it is the story of Thowra – the silver brumby. The first of a massive (and gorgeous) series that sings with love for the landscape it is set in, it’s a treat for horse-lovers that remains beyond compare.

Similar to : Bambi

Persepolis – Marjane Satrapi

An intensely vivid and personal graphic novel, this is the autobiography of Marjane Satrapi, a girl growing up in Iran during and after the Islamic revolution. Full of a witty, and sharp sense of humour, and also a sardonic self-reflection on life, this book is superb.

Similar to : the film version – also very very brilliant.

Black Beauty – Anna Sewell

Nominally a book about a horses life, this proto-animal rights book remains superb and relevant to today. There’s also a rite of passage in it that every reader must go through – frankly, if you don’t weep buckets when XXXXXX XXXXXX then I’m going to come and have a word.

Similar to: Watership Down

Macbeth – William Shakespeare

Shakespeare gets a bad rap sometimes and it’s not fair. This play is brilliant. There’s death, witches, ghosts, trees and come-uppance(s) a plenty. I love this play and it is very much worth reading. Take the lines out of the book and play with the language. I still love the witches parts for example.

Similar to : The Duchess of Malfi (but there are MAJOR adult themes in that one so be warned).

Ballet Shoes – Noel Streatfield

Streatfield wrote a ton of stuff about children on the stage and exploring alternative avenues of fulfilment (ice-skating, circus(ing) etc). This is one of her best-loved and it’s endured for a reason. The story of Pauline, Petrova and Posy remains engaging, warm and very very lovely.

Similar to : Sadler’s Wells

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An esoteric and distinctly biased list of 50 children’s books you probably really should read (part two)

The Jolly Postman – Janet & Allan Ahlberg

This book is one of those that rewards persistence. Every double page spread has a *something* that can be pulled out of the envelope,  and be read. I love the layers that are at work here and how, very subtly and cleverly, the concept of story is played with and expressed to the utmost.

Similar to : The Jolly Christmas Postman

When The Wind Blows – Raymond Briggs

Possibly one of the finest and most heart-breaking graphic novels produced this century, Where The Wind Blows is full of rage and hopeless anger. Superbly, and subtly constructed, it is the story – and the painful conclusion – of a husband and wife dealing with the impact of nuclear war.

Similar to : Maus

Dear Grandma Bunny – Dick Bruna

The brilliance of the Miffy books is undoubted, but Dear Grandma Bunny is one of the finest. Dealing with the death of Grandma Bunny in quiet, clear imagery, it is superb and reaches much deeper than it appears to. Worth hunting out.

Similar to : Nothing.

Cloudland – John Burningham

A picture book made of magic, Cloudland is the story of the children up in the clouds and the games they play. Albert, out walking with his parents in the mountains, falls off the edge of a cliff and instead of falling to his doom is caught by the cloud children. Stylistically this book is incredible, told in a mixture of cut-outs overlaid on the most beautiful of images. It’s very beautiful.

Similar to : Helen Oxenbury (hee)

Stanley’s Stick – John Hegley / Neal Layton

A vivid, screaming to be read out loud, tribute to imagination and the sheer joy of play, Stanley’s Stick is a delight. Stanley goes through the book discovering everything his stick can be. A charming, beautifully constructed book.

Similar to : E Nesbit (I know there’s an age difference but hey, esoteric remember? 😉 )

Rosie’s Walk – Pat Hutchins

Don’t let the front cover fool you, this book is superb and not at all dated . Witty and sparky with a constant hive of activity in the background, it’s one which pays off the reader in slapstick by the barrel load. Brilliant.

Similar to : Laurel and Hardy

A Ball for Daisy – Chris Raschka

Poetic, wordless, lush imagery tells the story of Daisy and her ball. Raschka’s use of line is bold and thick and vivid, and Daisy herself is a gorgeously vivid creation. One of the books that makes you think words aren’t always necessary.

Similar to : The Chicken Thief

The Five Senses – Herve Tullet

I have a lot of love for Tullet’s work primarily because of the sheer, irrepressible exuberance of it. Nominally an exploration of the five senses, this book provides a journey into the act of reading (can you tell I love an interactive, active engagement with a text?!). This book’s awesome, passionate and full of joy.

Similar to : Press Here

Pride – Brian K Vaughan

A deceptively simple alternative look at the invasion of Iraq. It’s told through the eyes of a pride of lions accidentally freed from Baghdad Zoo. This book is alternatively terrifying, heartbreaking, and laugh out loud funny. It’s a visual tour-de-force.

Similar to : Persepolis

Runaways (Volume One) – Brian K Vaughan

This book  revolutionised my perception of graphic novels and the first couple of volumes in the series are stunning. Based on the simple premise, what if your parents are really evil, Runaways is awesome. Want strong female heroines? Want them to mention things like puberty? Want a dinosaur? Done.

Similar to : Famous Five meets the X-Men

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An esoteric and distinctly biased list of 50 children’s books you probably really should read (part one)

Artichoke Hearts – Sita Brahmachari

Brahmachari stormed into publication with this stunning tribute to life, love and growing up. Told in first person by the engaging Mira Levenson, Artichoke Hearts covers some difficult topics but does so with such warmth and love that it’s hard not to fall in love with this rare gem of a book.

Similar to : Itself.

Jasmine Skies – Sita Brahmachari

The sequel to Artichoke Hearts, Jasmine Skies sees Mira exploring her heritage in India. Kolkata and India are intensely drawn with a lush richness that is gorgeous to read. Mira faces some difficult decisions and, in a way, completes the ‘coming of age’ story began in the previous novel.

Similar to : Artichoke Hearts (ha, sorry but it really is!)

Who’s afraid of the big bad book – Lauren Child

Both a stunning treatise on the book as object, the act of reading and also a metatextual treatment of fairytales, this book is superb. Plus it’s really, really very funny. I adore this.

Similar to : Revolting Rhymes

Beowulf – Gareth Hinds

Adapting an epic poem into graphic novel form is no mean feat (have you seen a graphic novel version of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner for example?) but Hinds does it with brilliant skill. His book has dark, macabre artwork that is so vital that it practically sings from the page.

Similar to : The Odyssey (Gareth Hinds)

Unhooking the Moon – Gregory Hughes

Another book which deserves to be a classic, this is the story of Bob and his sister ‘The Rat’ on their way to New York to meet their long lost Uncle. If you’ve not read this, you’re missing out on one of the greatest female characters this century: The Rat. She’s adorable, gorgeous and heartbreaking.

Similar to : Jack Kerouac meets Willy Wonka.

A Little Love Song – Michelle Magorian

This is one of Magorian’s lesser known titles, this is the story the summer where Rose fell in love, A Little Love Song is one of – and perhaps – her greatest. Set in the middle of the second world war, and featuring the ‘holiday’ town from Goodnight Mr Tom, it is a stunning achievement.

Similar to : I Capture The Castle

A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

What to say about this stunning multi-award winning book? It is devestating, stunning, and deserves to be a forever classic. Based on an idea by the late Siobhan Dowd and ultimately written by Ness and illustrated by Jim Kay, Conor faces the unfaceable in the shape of a monster who visits him at night and forces him to confront the worst things in his life.

Similar to : Neil Gaiman (His ‘Sandman’ series in particular)

Life : An Exploded Diagram – Mal Peet

Sometimes we need a book to just go giddy and revel in what it is. Life : An Exploded Diagram is such a book. Stretching majestically over countries, lives, and years, this book is vividly human and alive. Alive. It’s an interesting thing for a book to be, but this one is.

Similar to : Brideshead Revisited, Flambards, Where the Wind Blows

Claude on Holiday – Alex T Smith

This is probably one of the only books which has transferred the ‘saucy British seaside’ aesthetic into a witty, astute and very very funny picture book suitable for all ages. Claude, and his best friend Sir Bobblysock, go to the seaside and naturally hijinks ensue. This book is gorgeous.

Similar to : That postcard your Nan sent you from Southend

Dead Man’s Cove – Lauren St John

Laura Marlin deserves to be on the national curriculum. A funny, brave, Buffy-esque heroine (without the actual violence!), she’s sent to the seaside to live with her mysterious Uncle and rapidly discovers there’s mysteries in her new home.

Similar to : Nancy Drew meets the Famous Five

Tune in next time for part two! It’ll be a picture book / graphic novel special 🙂

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Top Ten … Horses

Image: MarilynJane (Flickr)

In no particular order, pop-pickers, here’s my top ten horses of Children’s Literature. It trots through over fifty years of literature and doesn’t skip a stride. So – get a nice, steady tension in the reins, squeeze with your legs, and “Walk on!”

1. Topthorn

(War Horse – Michael Morpurgo)

I love Topthorn for reasons that cannot be recounted without a) being massively spoilerriffic and b) bawling into my laptop.

2. Toadhill Flax

(Fly-by-Night and The Team by KM Peyton)

I had a fascination with Welsh Cobs primarily due to the opening credits of something I remember on CBBC when I was growing up (Elidor maybe?). It had a guy on a Welsh Cob galloping along the beach and oh my God it was the best thing ever.  Toad’s neat solid workmanlike ways and the (“oh hey puberty”) sensitive riding skills of Peter McNair made for perfection.

Image: grame_newcomb (Flickr)

3. Napoleon

(Black Stallion books – Walter Farley)

I was tempted to go for the flash brilliance of the Black Stallion himself, but I was suddenly reminded of the wonderful Napoleon. Napoleon’s the one who keeps the Black calm upon his arrival to New York. Napoleon’s the one who I always imagine being quite a relaxed soul, definitely cobby and greying and raising a little eyebrow at all the Black’s antics. Napoleon ruled.

4. Shantih

(Jinny and Shantih series – Patricia Leitch)

Oh, oh, oh, fiery Shantih,  who both terrified me and entranced me all at once. Shantih was a fiery chestnut Arab mare who I could never dream of riding. To be honest, my skills probably skewed to the superbly dependable Bramble, but I never gave up hope. One day I’d be able to ride a horse like Shantih, and I lived every step of Jinny’s journey.

Image: andreavallejos (Flickr)

5. The Last Unicorn

(The Last Unicorn – Peter Beagle)

I’M ALIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIVE

(I always wanted to be a Unicorn Trainer when I was younger and this book and film are pretty much the reason why).  

6. Baringa

(Silver Brumby series – Elyne Mitchell)

Rather than choosing Thowra, who is still pretty damn cool, I plumped for Baringa. Baringa is Thowra’s grandson and he’s brilliant. He’s a bit of a player (having all the foxiest mares in his herd), fiendish (able to hide until he’s tough enough to have a scrap), and wicked smart. Thowra’s the daddy, but Baringa’s the bomb. (I can’t believe I just wrote that last sentence, I’m so sorry).

Image: gem66 (Flickr)

7. Robin

(Follyfoot series – Monica Dickens

When searching for an illustration to use for Robin I googled “Sexy Bay Horse”. The results, as you may imagine, weren’t quite what I was after. Robin is a Bay Quarter Horse x Thoroughbred and the scene which always made me fall in love with him is the moment when all the old horses queued up to enter their stables – and Robin, as one of the newcomers, is right at the end of the queue like he should be.

8. Banner

(My Friend Flicka – Mary O’Hara)

Banner was my introduction to Western horse stories and the romanticism of the horse ranch has never left me. I still have a yen to marry a cowboy, to have a ranch sign swinging over the road to my house and a chestnut stallion galloping with all his flags flying on the horizon.

Image: donjd2 (Flickr)

9. Fledge

(The Magician’s Nephew – CS Lewis)

A trusty old carthorse is accidentally pulled into Narnia due to some fairly epic circmstances. Upon his arrival he’s given wings and rechristened as Fledge by Aslan. What I love about Fledge is that even though he’s just been given wings by a talking lion, he retains all of his matter-of-fact quality and remains pretty cool about the whole affair really.

10. Shadowfax

(The Two Towers – JRR Tolkien)

Whilst maybe not technically children’s literature, I couldn’t resist Shadowfax. I was, after all, the only person in the cinema to go “OOOOH” when he nonchalantly scrolled onto the screen in the film. In the book Shadowfax is similarly stunning and a character I made the acquaintance of many years earlier. I mean, dude, the KING OF THE HORSES?? That’s so flipping cool.

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Overviews

Blanniversary (A Top Five of 2011)

I’ve been doing this blog, properly, for just over a year now. It’s my BLAnniversary! (I do so love an awkward prefix).  Thank you so much if you’ve commented, read or even glanced at one of these posts. To celebrate this auspicious occasion (and to try and gloss over the fact that I forgot to do this back in September which was the proper anniversary) here are my top five posts of 2011.

The influence of children’s literature on adult literature” This was a report of a lecture I attended at the University of Reading back in January. Making friends with your local scholarly community is vital, particularly when you’re a distance learner. The potential to feel isolated is huge and moments like these, when you’re listening to a lecture that makes your mind race with thoughts, are inestimable.

Alain de Botton discussed, in February, why books do not prepare us for love. I had a few thoughts in response.

Proving to be the forerunner of my obsession with how libraries are designed, here’s a few genuinely lovely children’s libraries. And seriously, if you happen to manage Cotsen Children’s Library in Princeton, I will work for you for free and the odd sandwich thrown my way.

Here’s a list of gifted and talented children in children’s literature. It’s not in order (the very early stages of “WHYOHMYGODWHYDOIHAVETOREFERENCEEVERYTHING” disorder kicking in) but it does cover a substantial list of genres and titles. I’ll be returning to this subject in 2012 and hopefully produce some posts with a little more sanity (and a lot less panic).

And finally this was Amanda Waller’s redesign. Still makes me a little sad.

Categories
Overviews

Tumblr love

Tumblr isn’t all about kittens or over emoting self-portraits, though there *is* a lot of them.

Here’s some of my favourite children’s literature related Tumblrs – and do add any you’ve come across and feel need a mention!

Maureen Johnson Funny, warm and vibrant stuff from the author herself. I really enjoyed the NaNoWriMo posts that she recently did.

Reasoning With Vampires We all know Twilight is a bit of a love it or hate it series. But this Tumblr dissects it on a textual level and it’s brilliant.

F* yeah Book Arts Just beautiful design related posts ranging from front cover design through to custom books. It’s a constant inspiration.

Fictional Characters Reading Books Pretty much what it says on the tin, featuring lots of appearances by nerd goddesses Lisa Simpson and my 90s spiritual heroine Daria.

The Lisa Simpson Book Club Talking of Lisa, here’s a Tumblr which features everything she’s read.

Chicago Public Library This is the Tumblr which got me hooked. I love what they do. These people absolutely get how to present themselves on the net.

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Everything else

Ten books on Iran

I have to admit that Iran is one of those mysteriously appealing places to me. That, Tibet and Easter Island (random yes I know) are some of the places I long to visit. It was with great pleasure that I discovered this list in the Guardian from Kamin Mohammadi – I’d specifically (and to keep this posting on topic with a children’s literature blog) highlight as a particularly special treat the amazingly beautiful graphic novel Persepolis. It’s also an outstanding animated film (the scene where she hits puberty is just brilliant).

 

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Everything else

Coincidence, contrivance and cheesey scenarios

I am reading some pretty damn contrived books at the moment. I think there’s something in the water.

If you’re writing your next book can you please observe the following? Thanks.

  • Do not have enemies become best friends by missing out some time in the text. It’s the most annoying thing in the world. They’re chasing each other through the streets – page turn – and then they’re best friends forever. Brilliant. You can’t invest in these characters enough to share their journey towards becoming friends so why should I?
  • Do not have your protagonist run away from home, talk to one person, and then end up staying with them for the rest of the story. I mean, really, every time I’ve been to London I’ve not seen anybody talk to each other let alone offer their handily free spare bedroom to them.
  • Do not have your protagonist look for something (oh let’s say a castle with three towers and a lake in the shape of a four leaf clover) and magically end up in the one county that has such a thing. And, even worse, could you maybe make it a little difficult for them to find it rather than some countryside cast-off from Oliver go “Oh you mean Castle Scarycliche! On the hill over there!”
  • That brings me onto my other pet peeve of the moment. I am a girl from the North of England. This does not mean I have a flat cap and a whippet. I can’t stand people writing regional dialect. There is more to a character than how they say something and I feel writing presented in dialect is just lazy characterisation.
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Everything else

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

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Overviews

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.

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Everything else

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.

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Everything else

Top five UK children’s books in 2010

These figures come from The Book Trust. And I’m so proud of the British public for their awesome taste.

  1. The Gruffalo Julia Donaldson
  2. The Very Hungry Caterpillar Eric Carle
  3. Peppa Pig Ladybird books
  4. The Mr Men Series Roger Hargreaves
  5. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt Michael Rosen
Categories
Theory

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)