2019 Nature Month-By-Month: A Children’s Almanac

National Trust: 2019 Nature Month-By-Month: A Children's Almanac

National Trust: 2019 Nature Month-By-Month: A Children’s Almanac by Anna Wilson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s the little details about this book that make me happy. The idea of a month-by-month review of the year is no new one within the world of children’s publishing. I recently have been spending several very happy hours with similar titles from the fifties, that show children how to press flowers and make pinhole cameras, and a more modern version of these books is a great and lovely thing. And as ever with Nosy Crow, it’s produced with an absolute finesse that makes the book nerd inside me very satisfied. The book has rounded edges (perfect for stuffing in a rucksack and not getting damaged), and a little ribbon (and books with ribbon are always welcome in the world), and it’s sturdily and robustly put together. This is a book that wants to be used, and should be.

Published in collaboration with The National Trust, this almanac wears its affiliation lightly. It’s not asking children to visit their nearest stately home which was something I wondered about (it’s always a worry in content of this nature). Rather the book works towards a different goal where children of all ethnicities, genders and background work to enjoy the wild world. The artwork is lovely; round and rich and stylised, and full of fun. This is the work of Elly Jahnz who’s done something very beautiful here. It’s hard to make, say, a seashell collectors guide a particularly dynamic spread, but she manages to do so. Working alongside Anna Wilson who wrote this, the two of them produce something kind of delightful. And nice. More books should be nice and talk about everything from making April Fool to how to go wild swimming.

I’m reviewing this towards the end of January for a deliberate reason. It’s about this time that the post-Christmas blues hit in. Everyone’s back at school, back at work, and the weather isn’t perhaps the best. Perhaps it’s even snowing a little bit (she says, with a look at the camera and a gesture outside her window). Books like this offer a way to navigate those blues and to pull the outside in, and to do so as a family. They deserve a spotlight of their very own.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.

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Max the Detective Cat – The Disappearing Diva : Sarah Todd Taylor

Max the Theatre Cat and the Disappearing DivaMax the Detective Cat and the Disappearing Diva by Sarah Todd Taylor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There’s been a spate of detectives in the world of children’s books over the last few years. There hasn’t, however, been a detective with four legs and a white tail. This is Max the Detective Cat who lives in the Theatre Royal and solves mysteries. There’s bold, and then there’s making your lead protagonist somebody who can’t communicate with humans bold. I’m pleased to say that, for the most part, Sarah Todd Taylor pulls it off.

There’s a little bit of scene setting at the start to get Max into position, as it were, and once that’s achieved, this book races off and merrily does its thing. And it does race. It’s sparingly put together in some nicely accessible chapters that are beautifully illustrated by Nicola Kinnear. I’d have welcome a tiny bit of variety with the images that open each chapter; there’s a mouse running across the stage and they are beautifully rendered but represent a bit of a lost opportunity with the storytelling (what would happen, for example, if the mouse’s position changed slightly as the book went on?). But I do also acknowledge that I am greedy with books like this because when they’re this enjoyable, you want more. Always.

I was a little concerned at how the resolution might be handled with the whole, you know, cats not being able to communicate intricate details of mysteries to humans thing, but it’s surprisingly convincing. I have to give Taylor a lot of credit in making this work, and making it work so plausibly. Her language is clean and direct, with a few very nice moments of character development for Max. There’s more to come from this series and I really do look forward to reading them.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.

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Sweet Pizza : GR Gemin

Sweet PizzaSweet Pizza by G.R. Gemin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have a lot of time for what GR Gemin does. His first novel, Cowgirl, was one of those great serendipitous delights; a book which sang of the unexpected and was so resolutely lovely in that singing, that I was in raptures over it. Still am, really. Good books do that. Even after the knife-sharp detail of that first read fades, they leave echoes. Beats inside you that thrum, thrum, thrum with memory. Of story. Of good story.

I was incredibly honoured to received a proof copy of Gemin’s second novel from Nosy Crow: ‘Sweet Pizza’. The facts, first. It’s out on June 2nd and I’m doing one of those slightly ahead of time review things that I don’t often do. I’m doing this because of things like purchasing and budgets and lead ins and also, basically, because I really liked the book and I wanted to talk about it. Practicalities be damned; let’s get bookish.

Sweet Pizza is set in Bryn Mawr; a town in South Wales. Joe’s family owns the café in Bryn Mawr and things aren’t going terribly well. Joe’s mother is sick of running the café and it’s up to Joe and his entrepreneurial spirit to save the day.

Told in a series of short, concise chapters, this is a delicious story full of heart. I’m starting to suspect that might be Gemin’s things; stories of society and of the goodness within people. Sweet Pizza reminded me a lot of the work of Anne Booth and I suspect there’s something in that some canny librarian teacher types might want to explore further. Socially conscious fiction. Fiction that’s rooted in space and place and people. Lovely, confusing, scared, funny people.

I struggled a little with the chapter formatting of Sweet Pizza. I’m not a fan of very brief chapters because I’m a greedy reader at heart. Short chapters do have their place, they’re a godsend to nervous or slow readers, but I am greedy and I wanted more of Gemin’s story because it is good story, well told. He’s a storyteller and this is a lovely book. I cried at the end of it; and I realised I’d forgotten about the chapters. I’d forgotten about the other things I wanted to do, I’d forgotten really about the world, because all I wanted was here.

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The Many Worlds of Albie Bright : Christopher Edge

The Many Worlds of Albie BrightThe Many Worlds of Albie Bright by Christopher Edge

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This eccentric, rather vividly compelling book is something that I think will mark its space very distinctly in the world. I’ve come across Edge before, most notably with his richly layered Twelve Minutes To Midnight series – Twelve Minutes to Midnight, and when Nosy Crow sent me a copy of The Many Worlds of Albie Bright I was very intrigued to see what it was all about.

Albie’s mum has passed away and he’s trying to figure out where she’s gone. His father, a scientist – as was his mother, doesn’t have any answers other than a vague ‘quantum physics’ and ‘parallel universes’ so Albie decides to find things out for himself. With the help of a box, a laptop and a rotting banana, Albie manages to fall out of one world and into the next and begin the process of finding his mother.

I liked this a lot; I had some concerns about the initial few chapters where a lot of scientific information is shared with the reader. But here’s the thing: it’s necessary information and handled well and once it’s done, the story soars away into some very moving and deftly constructed spaces. If recommending this to easily intimidated readers (and you totally should – I’ve not read anything quite like this that weaves quantum physics with grief and loss), they may need some support and encouragement through those initial few chapters.

The Many Worlds of Albie Bright is a gloriously eccentric and individualistic beast. I do love the individuality of so many titles from Nosy Crow and Albie Bright is no exception. It’s one that I think would sit well with those children firmly rooted in non-fiction, because there’s a lot here that has that same tonal precision. It is a very exact book, as it has to be when dealing with scientific things, I think, and there’s something rather delicious about pushing that precise tone against the raw, ragged edge of love and grief and loss.

The Many Worlds of Albie Bright is due out on January 16th. It’s one to hoard those post Christmas book tokens for, I think.

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First Pages: Cowgirl by G.R Gemin

Today’s book in the slightly-more-intermittent-than-I’d-like first pages series is Cowgirl by G.R Gemin. For those of you who don’t know what this series is about, I have a look at the first pages of books and analyse just how they do what they do. You can look at the previous posts in the series here.


Cowgirl : page one

I have a lot of love for Cowgirl. I first came across it two years ago and read in a slightly feverish burst of joy. I’m revisiting it now as part of my PhD and I was so struck by the lovely first page that I had to share some of that with you. I love this book. It’s eccentric, delightful and lovely. And yes, I shall repeat that word a lot in what follows. Do be prepared!

The first thing to note about Cowgirl is that delciious, almost abstract black splodge on the top right of the page. It’s a brave thing to do, to give half of your first page to a design note, but I think it’s very vital for this book. It clearly echoes the notes of the front cover, that focus on the pattern of a cow’s skin, and starts to bring that inside the book. This design starts to show something very distinct about Cowgirl; there’s a heart to this book, and this book is about cows. Who they are, what they are, and what they come to mean. It’s all done quite unapologetically and quite unashamedly and quite brilliantly. It’s delightful. It’s brilliant. Cowgirl is a book that revels in its distinctness and so much of it is trapped in that delightful abstraction on the first page.

So! The text. I’m struck immediately by the first sentence: “I was screaming for my life.” Loud, sound-laden sentence that it is. Not – “I was running for my life” but rather, I was “screaming”.  A vocal passivity. A contradiction. Unable to stop what is happening, but rather still trying somehow. Speaking up. Using your voice. And in its abstraction, it starts to signify something else about the book; that maybe this is about voices, and speaking up and being truthful to who you are regardless of the nature of the narratives that propel you.

It’s joined by a thick paragraph – quick, sensory developments, all of them with a sense of inevitability – until they’re stopped by that deliciously isolated, blunt, marvellous sentence of: “Then I heard a moo” The movement of this paragraph bought to such a definitive, flat halt by the presence of cows. Cows define this book and they’re all over it, even before we’ve reached the second page. I love that definitive, almost defiant air about Cowgirl. It is what it is, and it is rather brilliant.

The last bit to focus on is that little fragmentary “and I” at the end of the first page. I won’t tell you what happens, but I rather highlight it as being a beautiful – what if? moment. It’s the definition of a page turning moment; that niggling wonder in the back of your mind as you try and figure out what happens to that protagonist and just how, how the cows are involved. Because you know they are. You know that the cows are involved so madly in what happens in this book that they are part of what comes, they are embedded in what comes, and it’s just how…?

This is such a good first page. And a good book!  A very good book. Moovellous, one might say. (I’m going to stop there, my cow based puns are all out….)