Thursday, 23 December 2010

Season's Greetings

Happy Christmas to you all.

I hope that all of you who read this, follow and support Armadillo Magazine have been enjoying all our efforts this year.

We have lots of wonderful book reviews, interviews and features to bring you in 2011 so do keep an eye out for our editions and keep an eye on the Blog for the latest news and events.

Remember that the December edition is there for you to read now with some great reviews and more as well as a seasonal competition for you to enter - please do!

In the meantime I hope that you have all been surviving the snow and that you all have a wonderful Christmas and New Year. Watch this space in January for all the bright new things we have to offer you.

All the best, Louise & the Armadillo team!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Kids Lit Quiz A Triumph Yet Again!

With thanks to Nicky Potter who kindly sent the following report on the national final of the Kids Lit Quiz:

Fun and excitement were the name of the game at the Kids Lit Quiz Finals™, held in Oxford Town Hall on 30 November, when the cream of our young readers came together from 13 regions around the country (extreme weather conditions prevented 2 teams from joining in) to compete for the Kids' Lit Quiz™ coveted cup.

Children’s author, actor and comedian Charlie Higson, creator of the Young
Bond series and new zombie thriller series The Enemy, led almost 30 children’s authors to congratulate the winners from the regions and to support them as they answered questions on children's literature put to them by KLQ's dynamic quizmaster, Wayne Mills.

The atmosphere at a Kids’ Lit Quiz™ heat has been compared to “a pub quiz without the beer”, marked by high stakes – the teams knew that the UK winners will travel to New Zealand next July for a 20th BIRTHDAY INTERNATIONAL CELEBRATION QUIZ. Half way through the quiz, Wayne Mills announced that to mark the special anniversary the runners-up would also win the chance to compete in New Zealand. This was fortunate because two teams achieved exactly the same score. They then had to take part in ‘a sudden death’ competition – getting the best of three challenging questions correct – to win the finals. Two other teams a
lso had to battle for third and fourth place because they had clocked up the same number of points! It was all nail-bitingly tense!

In the end the results were:
First – Cockermouth School (UK champions)

Second – Bristol Grammar School (English champions)

Third: Litcham High School

Fourth: Glasgow High

The first and second place winner have both won a place to compete in the 20th Birthday International Celebration Quiz in New Zealand so watch this space for more information.

One of the members of the four strong winning team at Cockermouth comprehensive school said that he had not really got into reading until Mrs Farrar, his school librarian and team coach, kept giving him books to read.

Wayne Mills said: “We had a wonderfully exciting finish to the UK Final. I couldn't have written a more exciting script had I tried. The quiz is a genuine literary challenge that goes beyond what a child may be reading at school. It embraces popular culture and contemporary modern texts alongside the more established canon, including the ephemeral literature that is here today and gone tomorrow but enjoyed by children in the moment. Reading mileage is the single biggest factor in improving literacy.”

For further information about the Kids’ Lit Quiz in the UK see:

Monday, 22 November 2010

Short Story Surprises

National Short Story Week starts today.

Short stories are special for they encapsulate in a very short space all the very best elements of storytelling for they have a plot, characters, wonderful language and also some amazing settings. In the space of just a very few pages they can tell a complete story or leave the reader yearning for more.

Some short stories make up a whole narrative - think of the 1001 Arabian Nights, one story told each night so, by its very nature it had to be short! Then there is the traditional from whence they came - oral story telling - again these stories were meant to be short and succinct to appeal to their listener. Perhaps the most famous shrot story writer is Aesop. His Fables have been handed down over generations and are some of the most famous we now have. We should not however forget Kipling and his Just So Stories - also great classics this time explaining how the animals of the world came to be.

Not all short stories are 'classics' or old however. Dickens and Hardy, our great Victorian and Edwardian novelsists wrote short stories for their public audience and many of these were published in magazines of the day. Roald Dahl and Malorie Blackman have written volumes of short stories for the modern reader. there are many collections of themed stories which provide wonderful reading for all ages and my favourite short story writer of the moment is Toon Tellegan whose books have also been beautifully illustrated and are perhaps best described as a combination of Aesop and Kipling - charming moral stories that once you start you just can't put down. And being short they are very easy to finish!

An additional joy of the short story is the ability of the reader to dip into a volume at any story and read as many or a few as time permits - it is a great reading journey, a great way to be intorduced to new stories, genres and writers and a wonderful way in which to explore your imagination.

Pick up a short story this week, look at the National Short Story Week website and enjoy yourself - who knows where this adventure may take you?

Thursday, 18 November 2010

We all Love Funny Books

Well its true, I hope, and the best thing about today is that we have learnt that funny books can also be lovely books (and that Louise is obviously the name to have).

What am I alluding to? Well the Roald Dahl Funny Prize of course which was won yesterday (17th November) by Louise Yates, in the under 6 category, for her wonderfully funny (of course) and quite simply charming picture book, Dogs Love Books (Jonathan Cape).

I was thrilled to read that Louise had won, being a big fan of this story as I may have mentioned before!
Not only did Louise win this category but she also pipped to the post Quentin Blake, the long-time Roald Dahl illustrator and, she says, one of her own inspirations!

In the 7-14 category the winner was Louise Rennison with Withering Tights, a shamelessly laugh-out-loud story. Her heroine comments with wit and insight on the world around her whilst continuing to be carried along with it so there is plenty of humour in this book on many levels.

Judge and award founder Michael Rosen commented on the freshness and humour in these winning titles which were just one aspect of a wonderful and varied shortlist. I strongly urge you to visit the Book Trust website for more detail and to investigate the shortlisted as well as winning titles further.

In the meantime well done to the Louise's and thank you for bringing so much humour into our lives!

Monday, 15 November 2010

The Richness of Storytelling

Sometimes I am amazed at the speed in which word can travel with the Internet and email. I wrote about my 'Book of the Week' for the school newsletter and sent the piece to the editor for publication on Friday of last week (we have a weekly newsletter), then that very same afternoon I had a parent in the library, who having seen the recommendation wanted to borrow the book. As it was 5.30pm on a Friday afternoon and I had shut down the catalogue I could not give her the book for the weekend but one was on the go and they could wait until Monday I was assured. Today the young boy in question came to get his book and as soon as I had it on my desk another teacher and another pupil both wanted to borrow it.

Is it the cover, the author name or the title I wonder? Perhaps it was my glowing recommendation. Whatever the reason this book is proving popular with my readers already so I felt that I really must recommend it to you - my Armadillo followers.

So what is this mystery book that is attracting so much attention? It is the new title from the widely talented David Walliams. The author of The Boy in the Dress and Mr Stink has now written Billionaire Boy. Published by Harper Collins this book looks like a big novel. It is a thick hardback with quite a few pages but open the book and find that it is a story packed with the wonderful illustrations of the much loved Tony Ross and a story that could be read by readers as young as 7 or as old as 77 for it is funny, accessible and a good read. It also conveys an important message about money - it really isn't everything, as Joe, the really, really rich main character is about to find out.

So do get your hands on a copy if you can, and let me know what you think too!

Friday, 12 November 2010

More About those Greeks

Sadly much of the material remains of the Ancient Greek culture we viewed in Athens had been badly damaged over the centuries, the result of many wars, but happily ancient Greek myth, culture and stories have remained popular.

In fact it is the stories and myths which have come down to us that have extended the life of this ancient culture and continue to bring it to life in our modern world. It seems to me that children do learn about the Greeks and Romans in school but they also want to learn about them. So often when we have classes on these subjects the children are desperately keen to share their knowledge of the stories.

For all these children, and others yet to discover their love of ancient Greek stories I have two excellent books to recommend. The first is probably not for purists but The Comic Strip Greatest Greek Myths by Tracey Turner and Sally Kindberg is a wonderful introduction to the subject which contains all the most famous myths in a brand new light - through comedy and graphic pictures. Great for reluctant readers, struggling readers and anyone who enjoys taking a new angle on something old!

On the other hand a book which is most definitely for sharing and would make a wonderful gift for the enthusiast is Ann Turnbull's Greek myths. With stunning and sumptuous illustration from the pen (or pencil?) of Sarah Young this is a beautifully written and stunning collection of some of the most famous Greek myths. It is a book to be shared and treasured. With 17 stories there is something for every reader and it acts as a great introduction to the world of the Greeks and their stories - I urge you to find this, pick it up and delve in - you won't be sorry and maybe one day you too will find yourself in Athens or Greece admiring the many places where these stories are set.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

All things Greek

Now I may have been absent from your screens for a couple of weeks but I promise that I have been busy and yes, reading too!

In fact I began by being in Athens where I was awed by the Acropolis, Parthenon and more (and I have the pictures to prove it too)!!

After this it was a busy half term catching up with lots of reading for my MA and this week it has been school as well as preparing the next edition of Armadillo that has kept me from you.

However never fear for I am now back (unlike Mr Schwarzenegger who always threatened to come back) and I will be here again tomorrow to tell you more about the ancient Greeks and some books too!

Until then, have a good night ....

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Nautical Books

Whilst the weather may be turning Autumnal there is still plenty to celebrate - bright crispy mornings, lovely long walks through the woods with all the turning and falling leaves and of course the chance to curl up in the warm with a hot drink, slice of cake or even a biscuit and a wonderful book - after all it gets dark so early now ....
So I have two books with a nautical theme and a wonderfully exciting launch party to tell you about today.

Pull Out All the Stops by Geraldine McCaughrean and Worse Things Happen At Sea by Alan Snow may be two very different stories but they share a theme and they also share the wish to make their reader laugh so what better way for their publisher, Oxford University Press, to launch them than a boat trip down the Thames complete with readings and performances from the authors themselves?!

The guests were an eclectic mix of librarians, reviewers, bloggers, booksellers and family and friends of both authors. The evening began with Alan providing a very entertaining presentation and Geraldine and her fellow actors followed him with a wonderful drama performance based on Pull Out All The Stops!

Alan provided some very tasty ship's biscuits (from Botham's of Whitby) which were actually edible (not at all like those of days gone by) and he designed labels with words to that effect himself which he soaked in tea to make them stained and look old fashioned!

Copies of each title were given to all guests and the authors happily signed away whilst guests admired the sites of London.

A very enjoyable evening had by all so it seems.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Guardian Prize Winner

Linda Newbery, author and my co-editor attended the award event for The Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize last week. Linda's latest book for young children, Lob, was shortlisted for this prize and whilst it sadly did not reach the winning spot she sent this report from the event:

It seemed a high-risk strategy to me. The winners of the Young Critics competition – aged about eight and up – were each given a scroll, but told not to open them yet, as they would reveal the winner. If I’d been in charge, I’d had lined the children up against the wall, and told them to stand there and not move for the next ten minutes, but all went well and nothing was leaked.

It was left to Mal Peet – last year’s winner – to award the prize to Michelle Paver, for Ghost Hunter, the final part of her highly-praised Chronicles of Ancient Darkness sequence. She paid tribute to her editor, Fiona Kennedy of Orion, and to her agent, Peter Cox, and said something every author will recognise: when Fiona sent a text message to say that she liked the draft, Michelle had to text back to ask, “But did you really?”

It’s a great month for Michelle – her adult novel, Dark Matter, is published, also by Orion. It sounds irresistible: a ghost story involving Arctic exploration. I haven’t read her winning book, so can’t comment on it, but from what I know of Michelle’s writing I can’t wait to get hold of a copy of Dark Matter.

(I have an advance copy and it is waiting for me to read it so I will report as soon as I have done.... Louise)

From the publisher's press release:

Michelle collects the £1,500 prize for the only children's award in which authors are judged by their peers.

Julia Eccleshare chair of the judges said, “Whatever the individual judges thought about fantasy before they began Ghost Hunter – and some admitted to hating it! – they were immediately captivated by Michelle’s brilliantly created world, her wonderfully dramatic story and her powerful story telling. They loved the way she described the world she has been fashioning throughout the series saying, “The language is inventive and rich. Sharp and poetic but also child friendly”. They also adored her characters describing Wolf as “endearing” and the people as “real”. Finally, one summed Ghost Hunter up in terms of awe: “The construct of the world is amazing. I am jealous and impressed!”

Michelle Paver says of the award: “I’m thrilled and delighted that Ghost Hunter has won this award – especially given the amazing quality of the other short-listed books. And somehow, I find it particularly gratifying that it is the final book in the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness which has won, because it’s the book in which Torak and Wolf reach journey’s end.”

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Fruits of the Autumn

Recent trips to the wilds of Epsom and Ashtead have rewarded me with plenty of fruit for my autumn jam making which I must say is not always appreciated by my husband who believes we could feed an army with the stock we currently have – it will however find its way into hampers at Christmas and happy recipients I am sure.

This brings me quite nicely to my latest reading material, for Cloudberry Castle by Janey Louise Jones opens at Christmas and whilst, despite its charming name, there is very little mention of berries it remains a charming and captivating story for younger readers, fans of ballet in particular. Gently written, touching on difficult issues such as bereavement and grief as well as family tensions this story finds its young heroine, Katie, showing strength in adversity and having a great adventure at the same time. It is a charming, beautifully written story with lots of pace and great appeal.

Perhaps at the other end of the scale are two books for teens which whilst they don’t link to my opening paragraph have still featured in my reading this week and have links to Cloudberry in that they both touch on some hard-hitting themes but do so with great skill so that the reader does not feel bogged down by issues but rather that they are working with the character to face adversity and overcome it. I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have to Kill You by Ally Carter may be a long title but it is an immediate draw!

Its lead, Cammie Morgan, knows seven ways to kill a man but is about to go on her most dangerous mission for Cammie is a member of the Gallagher Girls and whilst the Gallagher Academy may look like any other highly respected girls school from the outside it is what inside that matters and here it is a school for spies and assassins. With a fast pace and gripping story line this is one book that my senior girls can’t get enough of! However as there aren’t enough copies to go round I have been able to tempt at least some of them with Joss Stirling’s magnificent Finding Sky. From its evocative cover, a barbed heart set on a black background to its distinct character this is a book that deceives. I thought I was going to be reading another Twilight spin-off but what I found was a love story with true grit and realism. Coming of age is never easy. When you are in a new country among strange people with new powers it is even harder. Effortlessly blending fiction with fantasy this is a must read for young teens this autumn.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Can I Share or Shall I do It All Myself??

Okay, hands up, I admit that when packages arrive on my desk at work and I open them up to find books spilling out that publishers want me to review for Armadillo I am actually very loathe to part with them. I want to read them all myself and as a result review them too. I love the reviewing but I have to say it is the temptation of reading them all which is the real draw! I am however good and having learnt to delegate I do actually make sure that they are shared among my reviewers and that if they look really good I buy copies for the school library too.

The temptation to read all these wonderful books is just one temptation in my life, the other is to want to do everything at home myself, that way I can be sure it is done to my exacting standards!! Well not quite but at least I know that things have been done…

So when I opened up yet another exciting parcel to find the latest title from Andersen Press and Tony Ross, A Little Princess Story with the title ‘I Want to Do It Myself’ I just had to keep this one back! Imagine my sheer joy and surprise then when the next book to come out was Share! a glorious new title from the pen of Andrea Simmons and the drawing board of Georgie Birkett. A better combination could not have been planned!

You are probably wondering by now what the Little Princess wants to do all by herself … well … she wants to go camping! Off she sets with bags packed but, on finding the perfect spot it appears that the little princess has forgotten the tent, and the cooking equipment and … well the list goes on. luckily there are some quiet and secretive helping hands to ensure that all goes smoothly, the only trouble is that on the way home the bags do seem very heavy! A story in which lots happens as if by magic which is how I often feel myself! If you love the Little Princess stories then you will also love A Little Princess Trilogy which also landed on my desk recently and is a great collection of 14 wonderfully hilarious stories along with puzzles to play - so go on, indulge!

Share on the other hand finds a brother and sister having to do just that – learn how to share. From toys to food and even bathtime whatever one sibling loves the other automatically desires to share and after all that is what Mummy wants them to do. Delightfully cheeky this picture book is the perfect size for sharing, will bring a smile to all faces and will make the perfect shared bedtime book. It is also a very important message to children about how to share.

The wonderfully bold, bright and vibrant pictures in both these books are a testament to the skill of the illustrators who know just how to appeal to young eyes, theirs is a skill I would love to share but I remain content to know that I can share in other ways as can we all.

And now I am off to enjoy the late Sunday afternoon sun and check that the rabbits and chickens are sensibly sharing the garden and perhaps even some lovely fresh eggs for the soufflĂ© dinner….

Friday, 1 October 2010

Far from Reckless...

Cornelia Funke is far from Reckless unlike the title of her latest book... she is in fact charming, eloquent and highly talented.
Making a stunning entrance in a stunning dress at the sumptuous and very Gothic Beach Blanket Babylon in London's Notting Hill last night she certainly proved that she is a tour de force! The assembled guests were awed by her dress and thrilled to be able to share an evening in her company and of course that of Lionel Wigram her co-collaborator for this story.

Working for over two years on this story Cornelia and Lionel have had many disagreements, all of them friendly, about where it should go and how it should develop but their shared vision of a dystopian fairytale remained true and they have created a story within a story. A world found through mirrors evocative of Grimm's Fairytales and forever sleeping beauties nearly exploded Cornelia's storytelling brain but it has certainly been worth it.

If you thought that the power of Cornelia's imagination had reached its peak in the Ink trilogy think again for here is the beginning of a new, more thrilling and perhaps, to some, an even more exciting series!

Reckless features an adult main character yet it is a children's book. Upon being questioned about this approach by the equally wonderfully dressed Nicolette Jones, Cornelia replied that she had learned from the Ink stories that it was the adult characters who were favoured by the reader and that if the story did not ask for a child it really wasn't necessary to put one in. After all children hear and see the adult world around them constantly, they want to understand it and know more about it - books are a perfect way of allowing this to be in a safe way.

Reckless may be a dark and haunting tale but Cornelia's writing style gives it a warm tone. Working with Lionel she explained gave her a new perspective on the story - a male one. As a film producer he would obviously like to see the story on film and we would all love to see the dress once again but this time on the red carpet!

A wonderful evening in the most perfect setting. Thanks to Barry Cunnigham and his Chicken House team not only for this but also for sharing with us all Cornelia and her talent. I am already longing to read book 2!

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Afraid? You could be soon....

Have you ever been afraid of things that go bump in the night? Go on admit it, most of us have been alone in a house overnight and imagined creaky floorboards or squeaky hinges and thought more of ghouls and ghosts than the natural sounds of a house. What about walking through a dusky forest or overgrown garden at twilight, does that ever give you the creeps? Well if none of this has before it will do soon for it is exactly the type of setting that the novelist Susan Hill likes to use for her stories and having read them I can guarantee that you will never feel the same about any of these places ever again.

Susan was speaking to Mariella Frostup on Open Book this afternoon, essential Sunday listening for me, after the dramatised Sunday afternoon novel of course. She provided a fascinating insight into what makes a book into a spine tingler, but she was of course talking about books that are intended to be spine tinglers and I have to say that whilst I am not a fan of horror her stories do have a lure for they are less about horror and more about the power of the imagination.

Stories such as those written by Hill, Henry James and of course some of Dickens short stories are primarily aimed at an adult audience. Adults tend to be divided into those who like a little fear and those who like full-blown horror. Children on the other hand seem to prefer horror full stop. I am often asked for recommendations of good horror stories and constantly amazed by how much children love to be scared but there is in fact a safety in this fear for them it is not real - it is on the pages of a book. It is from the imagination of the writer. Do adults know differently? One day I may find a horror story that I enjoy and it will probably be a children's book though I have to say I am enthralled by Joseph Delaney's Wardstone Chronicles which to me do seem to be complete fantasy and a ghost rather than horror story though I have abided by the jackets warning of not reading after dark!

I have also found that there are stories out there which can instill in their reader a sense of fear without falling into the horror category at all - Carol Lynch Williams The Chosen One is one such book. I read it following a recommendation and whilst I found it very easy and accessible, she has a very pithy and punchy style of writing it also leaves so many questions unanswered and instills in its reader a sense of bewildered amazement and horror that it did actually leave me feeling scared, unable to put the book down for fear of what may happen to the characters if I was not there and also afraid of what was being described. This powerful story plays on the imagination, draws the reader in and is unforgiving in its bluntness.

Horror is a genre that casts a wide net and is open to definition. It is well worth exploring and learning more from some great writers such as Susan Hill and writers who show the promise of great things to come such as Carol Lynch Williams. We all need something in our lives, a way of explaining the unknown and for some it may be horror that does this, for children horror is a safe way of being scared - perhaps we all need to be more childlike!

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

A Love of Picture Books

As promised here I am with my musings on some of the very latest and most wonderful (in my humble opinion of course) picture books for you to share and delight in as I do....

Picture books range from those with no words to full stories with plenty of text and there really is everything in between. Perhaps this is what makes them so adorable and irresistible, one never knows on opening the cover what will lie within. With the selection I have here for your delectation there should be something for every taste, style and even occasion.

I shall begin with FArTHER, (Grahame Baker-Smith, Templar Publishing) not because the title reminds me of being last but because it is an intelligent and serious story. This is perhaps one of the more unusual picture books I have read and it is one that I would actually be tempted to share with much older readers as much for its angular and collage style pictures as for its sophisticated and philosophical story. It addresses the relationship between father and son, obsessions, hobbies, love and loss. It is a very grown-up story, a magical fairytale and a story of families. It is a worthy picture book that may have a more limited appeal than most but is an excellent resource for teachers.

On a lighter note I move on to Stan and Mabel (Jason Chapman, Templar Publishing) a story
that will be loved by all children for all children love animals, especially those who do the most human of actions. Children are able to suspend belief more easily than adults. The world around them is far more fluid and many more things can happen in their imaginations. So this story is perfect for little ones for Stan and Mabel are a cat and dog, somewhat unloved by their owners take it upon themselves to audition for The Greatest Orchestra in the World and this endeavour takes them on a wonderful journey and involves a great number of new friends being made! As the official artist for Battersea Dogs and Cats Home Jason has the perfect models for his story. Add to this a rather large sprinkling of story writing talent and the perfect ingredients of a great story are mixed.

Staying in the city readers must once again find the ability to suspend relaity, this time in favour of magical fantasy for Ruby Nettleship and the Ice Lolly Adventure (Thomas Docherty, Templar Publishing) invloves a fairytale-esq flowering shoot that can read Ruby's thoughts and provides her and all her friends with the most exciting adventure through the city. This story focuses on poor quality children's playgrounds, how children can use their imaginations for positive results and how, with a little persuasion and a few kind words, great deeds can be done. A charming, classic and clever story. Most definately one to be shared.

I hope that your imagination is not in overdrive just yet for my next title certainly needs some
and a story telling talent too. Foxly's Feast (Owen Davy, Templar Publishing) is a tasty and wordless feast. Featuring the young Foxly readers are guided through his search for the most fantastic feast, one that will satisfy his rumbling tummy (just like the one my husband appears to currently have!) Foxly has big ideas but no words, out of his mouth in wonderful speech bubbles merely appear a knife and fork. With pages full of colour and very simple illustartion this book will takes children on a journey as wild as their imaginations and is quite simply wonderful for encouraging creative writing and story telling. Deservedly highly commended for a student illustration prize this is a charming and clever picture book from a new talent.

Finally I have saved for last a modern fable and fairytale from one of my favourite authors and illustrators, Mini Grey. I have to admit a bias towards all her books which are equally intelliegnet and all take on a fable or fairytale with a modern twist. This latest Three By The Sea (Mini Grey, Jonathan Cape) tells the story of three very disperate friends, a dog, cat and mouse who live happily until a stranger drops into their lives and whispers into the harmony. The result of his mischief is actually a very important lesson about friendship. Full of the wit and detail that one has come to expect from all the Mini Grey does this is a book that can be poured over for hours by children and adults alike. There are many subtle messages contained within its pages and some wonderful recipes too... anyone for cheese?

So here ends my picture book selection, I hope that you manage to enjoy some or at least one of these titles nearly as much as I have and I would of course love to know your thoughts on the books or my musings!

Sunday, 19 September 2010

We Are Surrounded....

It seems that the adult world is completely suffused with children's books and stories. I knew this to an extent but the fact was bought home to me this afternoon having listened the A History of The World in 100 Objects from this last week I was surprised when a programme on Chinese bank notes began with an excerpt from Peter Pan. The link was promises and wishes, yet further references were made throughout the programme about the importance the Chinese Ming emperor conferred on children's literacy. hie motives were perhaps selfish, to ensure that they were able to read excerpts from the I Ching and also the writing on his new bank notes, yet he understood the importance of literacy. Later, Pick of the Week began with an excerpt from a programme presented by the singer Cerys Matthews on her favourite childhood story, Pippi Longstocking. I was charmed by her programme and quite amazed at the way in which there was such a split between lovers and detractors of the story - the detractors being those who did not approve of the strong minded, strong willed character!
It is however heartwarming to know that adults are as exposed to children's literature as children themselves and it is perhaps more important for adults to be reminded of its importance for it is they who encourage children to read and yet do little of it themselves. This week I feel that I have been guilty of this - encourgaing the children at school to read whilst not always finding enough time to read myself. Though I have read the newspaper every day. Having thought about this I realised that I have in fact been able to read a number of books in this last week from picture books to junior novels I have been charmed by a whole variety of titles. Today however I really want to tell you about the novels for younger children, come back later this week for picture book musings!
Rupert Kingfisher loves France and French food and as a result Bloomsbury have just published his third Madame Pamplemousse story - Madame Pamplemousse and the Enchanted Sweet Shop. This book tempts the reader with its candy coloured cover and delicious title into a story that will hook from page one! Madeline is feeling low and is tempted into the most wonderful of sweet shops - one which sells mouthwatering chocolates - who wouldn't be tempted by that? The problem is that all is not what it seems in this shop and the food, as delicious as it may be, is also rather sinister. I don't want to reveal too much rather to say that Rupert Kingfisher weaves a magic through his writing as much as Madame Pamplemoussse does with her food. This is a magical and charming story with a very important underlying message - not about about the evils of chocolate!!
Two other wonderful titles that I have very much enjoyed are Kate Davies second book - The Great Rabbit Rescue which sees the return of Anna and Suzanne with their infamous detective skills.... In this story they attempt to save their freind Joe's bunny who becomes mysteriously ill after they take charge of his care. A brilliant detective comedy follows , one which finds the children determined to pull of a brilliant rescue. Written in a semi-autobiographical style, told through the eyes of Anna, it is a very accessible and hilarious short story for animal lovers and rabbit enthusiats as well as amateur detectives!
Finally the Frightfully Friendly Ghosties have a Ghostly Holler Day in their second outing courtesy of Daren King. The Ghosties decide they are lonely and need a holiday, this, along with a postcard from Headless Leslie who went away and cannot remember how to get home helps them to decide that the time has come for a holler-day. So they take themselves off, one cold winters day to Frighton-on-Sea! What they get is not quite what they bargained for and they soon find themseleves embroilled in an exciting ghoslty caper featuring crooked magicians, ghost trains and more. A funny, exciting, charming and not too scary story of ghosts and ghouls!
Take your pick from the above, find some great new stories to read and share and remember that above all else there is nothing better than sharing a good story now that the evenings are drawing in!

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Annexed Book Launch

Today's blog entry could be considered a little somber, focusing as it does on a new novel from Sharon Dogar, Annexed. This book tells the story of Peter Van Pels, the boy who lived in the same Annexe as Anne. It is a compelling and fascinating story which attempts to answer some of the questions left by Anne's diary and fill in a few gaps. Sharon has handled the subject with great sensitivity and I am sure that whilst this is always going to be a book that many find difficult to read it will win a loyal fan base who appreciate the effort Sharon has contributed and her reasons for writing it.

The book was lauched last week by Andersen Press and Armadillo reviewer Shelly Instone attended, sending this report;

On Wednesday the 8th September I attended the book launch of Sharon Dogar’s Annexed. The narrative follows the fictional story of sixteen-year-old Peter, the boy who lived with Anne Frank during their incarceration due to the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. The launch was chaired by Julia Eccleshare who provided many searching questions forSharon to consider.

The owner of Anderson Press, Klaus Flugge told the audience how the book had received a mixed reception by critics. He felt this was because “Sharon had stepped on a button that we feel uncomfortable with.”

However, Julia interjected that the novel provided “an incredibly warm view of adolescence. We don’t celebrate it enough: the warmth and passion of it.”

On the question of writing a novel that follows Anne Frank’s diary, Sharon disclosed that she had had read it obsessively. “I felt I had a personal relationship with her. However, after re-reading it in my thirties I felt that Anne’s views were questionable. I was more interested in the views of Peter. What was it like for him? Anne’s descriptions of him are brilliant! What most upsets me is the way Anne’s diary ends: the suddenness of it. I felt quite cheated.”

Julia’s question for Sharon regarding the process of writing gave the audience an insight into how a writer begins the task of building a narrative. “I started writing vignettes of Peter and Anne and Peter’s voice grew from that. Peter’s story gives the reader a clear sense of how the Nazi system worked and how it dehumanised him alongside many other Jews.”

Julia also asked why modern children need to know Anne’s story. Sharon responded by telling the audience that she was: “writing for myself and mydaughter and the many unanswered questions we had of Anne’s diary.”
On that note the evening ended with Julia thanking Sharon for an excellent and thought provoking evening.
For more information the Andersen website is worth a visit.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Reading Cooks!

You have probably heard people trying to promote reading use slogans such as Reading Rocks but I have decided this evening that reading cooks!

I realise this might sound very abstract and off-the-wall but its true, reading does cook, for without being able to read we would not be able to make use of recipe books that new institution that no self-respecting household, we are told, should be without. Cookery is everywhere now, with the advent of celebrity chefs, celebrity masterchef and more it is no longer just in the kitchen but on the TV in our books and very much in our lives.

Having recently watched the film Julie & Julia I learnt that cooking can inspire, it can change lives and fortunes but only if the cook can read and possibly even write. Cookery books are full of wonderful, mouth-watering recipes and they are also full of fascinating information. When a teacher returned a book on ice cream making to me today with the loaded question "Does this actually belong in the library" I thought it was a real shame they did not appreciate that to get children reading we must encourage them in any way possible. Cookery books are forever popular and we can even read stories about the joy of food and cooking - so Reading Cooks!

Until I came up with this idea I was upset that I had spent most of my weekend baking for birthdays and parties and not relaxing with a book. I realised this evening as I baked once again that I had enjoyed the experience of searching the books, reading the comments of the authors and following their advice. Delve into a cookbook, be amazed by what it can teach you, enjoy the reading experience and the end result, not many books can do this so lets treasure them, use them and enjoy them!

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Summer School & dinosaurs!

Well I just don't know what has happened to the wonderful summer we have been promised, nearly the end of August and it feels more like the end of October - I can guarantee though that just as we all head back to school for a new term the sun will come out and the weather will be gorgeous, an Indian summer let's hope!

In the meantime whilst I am trying not to think too much about going back to school as I still have another week and a bit until I have to be there I have been thinking about all the new children I will be meeting who will be starting at 'big school' for the very first time. Whilst I don't actually remember my first day at 'big school' I do have lots of great memories of school and how much fun I had there at a young age. It seems these days, or perhaps it is just the angle I can now take, that children have more worries as they begin their school life. However not to fear for there is help at hand, friends, families and siblings can all help but so to can stories. We often read stories to escape from the real world around us and be transported into wonderful worlds and lives completely separate from our own. These stories can also help us to deal with worries and concerns, working on many levels without obviously doing so.

So you must be wondering what exactly I am getting at here? Well two charming books that I have just read and that I know my nephews will adore - as will any young boys who are dinosaur fans - and let's face it most of them are!

The two books in question are Benedict Blathwayt's Dinosaur Chase! Perhaps better known for his stories of a certain Little Red Train, Blathwayt has now turned his attention to the dinosaur and with wonderful attention to detail has created a charming, funny, fact-filled story. This edition, published by Red Fox comes complete with a story CD too. The story centres on Fin, a dinosaur who is different - he doesn't quite fit the macho dinosaur image and to top it all off he is fluffy so he is a brilliant target for bullies. During a rather long chase Fin soon discovers that whilst he may be different it is in fact very important to be different and he finds a skill that only he has meaning he can outwit the bullies! A great story, beautifully illustrated that will teach children all about dinosaurs and also help them to overcome any fears of bullies.

To accompany this ex-primary school teacher Sheryl Webster has used the skills gained from working with a young age group to become a writer of great stories for them. Workng with the ever popular and inspiring illustrator Jan Fearnley the end result is Tinysaurus. Published in September by Andersen Press, Tinysaurus also features a young dinosaur who is trying to fit in. Tiny's problem is one of size - he is desperate to be bigger. He soon discovers that actually being small isn't so bad after all for even small animals can be heroes! This is a charming story that will endear itself to young readers and dinosaur fans alike, it also has a great message and whilst it may not have a story CD there are teacher resources (from the publisher's website) available making it perfect for use in the classroom - a great start to a new year perhaps?

So if like me you are trying not to think about school starting soon but know it is about to come round all too soon why not try sharing these books with the young children of your acquaintance or even those in your household and teachers take a look at the accompanying notes to provide yourself with a perfect start to the new year!

Happy reading and lets hope these bright and colourful books encourage some sunshine into our lives for the last week of our holidays!

Friday, 20 August 2010

History in the Making

Well, back from a fantastic holiday which involved two weeks of camping, walking and very hard work on the archaeological dig at Vindolanda Roman fort on Hadrian's Wall. The weather was kind to us for almost the entire two weeks, the scenery was breathtaking and the experience one that I would highly recommend and am planning to do again (though my husband wants a proper bed next time!)

I didn't have much time to read whilst I was there, tiredness and lack of light in the ten after about 9pm precludes much activity other than curling up in a sleeping bag with a mug of Horlicks working out which bit hurts the least!

However there are two books that I would like to tell you about and which connect me in some ways with the experience. The first is Under a Silver Moon by Anne Fine. It is the title of this which resonates for me. The story is set in an unknown location which is very middle eastern and it is the tale of two boys, Haroun, the Sultan's son and Akil, the gardener's son - inseparable friends until Haroun has to learn how to be a prince. the result is more aches and pains than I experienced but ones that I can relate to (not for the same reasons). The outcome is a realisation that fresh air, the outdoors and some hard work can be a good cure and very good for your health. This resonates for me because the title reminds me of the beautiful Northumberland night-time sky with the stars and moon so clear. The story itself helps me to recall the outdoor hard work of every day which has left me with a wind tan to envy!

The second story is more relevant, in some ways to the nature of the digging I was doing for we
were delving into the past. In our case it was a Roman past and we were discovering, though the finds a little more about the life of the Roman soldiers posted at this furthest outpost of the empire. The book that I can link to this is Lady Jane Grey: Queen for Sale by Caroline Corby. Lady Jane may have lived some 1500 years later but the story told here is of before she became famous. I t is a story that required research for uncover the facts and presents an image to its reader of how she may have lived - just as the artefact's I was finding helped me to see how a Roman soldier may have lived. So if you are interested in history and love a good story this could be the book for you.

I am off now to catch up on some good books, sitting on a comfy chair in a garden with no deep trenches and no wind!

Friday, 30 July 2010

Summer Holiday Fun

Bored already? Children declaring there is nothing to do? Need some useful ideas for activities to keep the kids out of trouble for the remainder of the holiday?

The most recent Armadillo Magazine competition challenged readers to submit top tips for keeping the family entertained this summer, from the great entries submitted I have selected winners whose books are on the way to them. In the meantime, because some of the ideas were just so good I am featuring them here.

I hope this keeps the kids and family entertained for a couple of weeks as I am off on my summer holidays tomorrow so you won’t be hearing from me for two weeks!

Anyway back to those tips, here are samples from the top three:

Pay a visit to your local library and select a book, this book will provide the family with a theme for the week and each member of the family must then use this theme to create or organize a related activity.

An example of this may be the book of choice being Gilbert in the Deep by Jane Clarke. This is a book about a giant shark and as such activities could include:

Having a fish and chip supper

Going for a swim

Investigating shark infested rock pools at the beach

If it is raining making a fish mobile to hang in the house

Theme around the family summer holiday. If it happens to be camping then hunt second hand and pound shops for camping accessories and create a mini camping adventure in the park or garden to get the kids in the mood. Then afterwards make up a scrap book to remember the day. This is a great idea that could be applied in lots of different situations.

Write activity ideas on scraps of paper, fill an empty jar with them and then when the kids are bored pull one out and endeavour to do it!

Have fun and do let me know how you manage to keep those kids entertained!