Wednesday, 30 June 2010

And the winners are...

This is not to do with the tennis which is now completely wide open, but with children's book award winners - certainly not a simpler set of awards to predict!

Now many of you will be aware of the winners already, I am rather late with my report due to an arm injury making typing rather a challenge!

Nevertheless the Carnegie and Greenaway awards have been announced for 2010 with Freya Blackwood winning the Kate Greenaway Medal for her picture book illustrations in the gorgeous Harry and Hopper whilst Neil Gaiman won the Carnegie Medal for his deliciously dark Graveyard Book.

These awards are for some, the highlight of the year and they are certainly very highly regarded by authors, publishers, librarians and even children as well as a wide reading audience. The difference with these awards is that the winners are chosen by adults, librarians, whilst children form shadowing groups to read the titles for themselves and discuss the pros and cons of each, selecting their own winners.
Gaiman and Blackwood are both very worthy winners having produced exceptionally good stories that have a strong and wide appeal. Gaiman's Graveyard Book follows the adventures of Bod, a young boy who would be completely normal if it were not for the fact that he lives in a graveyard being raised and educated by ghosts! His adventures and the dangers that he faces, particularly from the man who murdered his family make turn this from a good story into a gripping and exciting adventure. Neil Gaiman has done a double with this book, also winning the prestigious Newbery Medal in America. He explained that he was inspired to write this story when his young son rode into a graveyard on his tricycle yet the echoes of Kipling's Jungle Book must also have been an inspiration. It was certainly an inspired and unusual choice for a story and Gaiman has applied his undoubted skill making it into a brilliant and exciting story.

Freya Blackwood's illustrations in Harry & Hopper on the other hand are based on personal childhood memories. She says that when she read the story she was in tears, it bough back memories of her own whippet dog who met a very sad end. This on its own proves that picture book stories are powerful and have the ability to move even adults before the pictures are even added. Blackwood was certainly inspired in her illustration and was the ideal choice of illustrator for this story. Her illustration is muted in colour, suiting the story. It makes excellent use of space and perspective, drawing the reader in and helping them to connect personally to what they are reading and seeing. The story is handled in a very sensitive style and the visual is strong.

Two excellent and very worthy books have been awarded prestigious medals that are well deserved in the 2010 Carnegie Awards. Features on both will appear in the September issue of Armadillo magazine, int he meantime there are two very good books to read and an author as well as an illustrator to investigate further. Enjoy reading and sharing these stories, whilst we offer congratulations from all at Armadillo.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Dairy of A Wimpy Kid hits the Big Screen

Sophisticated, funny, contemporary and timeless.

The Diary of a Wimpy Kid, set to come to the big screen in the UK on August 27th this year, is a film not to be missed so put the date into your diary now!

Last night I was among a lucky few film journalists and young reviewers invited to an advance preview screening of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I can happily report that the film's producers, along with the book's author Greg Kinney as executive director, have bought to life Greg, Rowley, their friends and families with some brilliance.

Opening with animated verisons of Jeff Kinney's comic strips from the book the film leads with a strong narrative throughout. Greg's voice guides the reader through the expression of his pre-teen angst and emotions with pleny more animated comic strips to come. We laugh with Greg and his friends as well as at them, want to shout at them and cry for them as they progress through their first year in Middle School with all its ups and downs. Knowing the stories inside out kids going to watch this film will not be disappointed, casting has been intelligent, the actors may not quite resemble their stick-like comic strip creations but they have certainly found wimps, geeks, nerds and actors who capture the essence of each character.

The beauty of a film is being able to use artistic licence. This may not always be a popular option but in this instance it works. The producers have been able to give prominence to characters who in the book may only have one or two lines. Bringing them to life in the film adds a new dimension to the story and provides a whole cast for film-goers to identify with. Add to this a brilliant soundtrack and a storyline that is faithful and the necessary ingredients for a great film that will no doubt thrill many, if not all of the readers of the 28 million books sold to date.

A film for the whole family with a timeless and enduring quality. Make sure 27th August is a date with the Wimpy Kid in your diary, oops, should that be JOURNAL?

With thanks to Twentieth Century Fox for the opportunity to see this film and report it to you.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Series or Sequence?

When does a series cease to become a series an instead become a sequence? This is a question that I have been pondering in the last few weeks as I have been reading a number of books that to my understanding were part of a series. I then noticed, in Mary Hoffman's Stravaganza books that they are described as a sequence.

I have no answer to my question, but would love to know if anyone else has any thoughts. I imagine that a sequence of books is one that follows the same characters sequentially through a series of events whereas a series is a set of books linked by characters but each with a stand alone story - I wait to be stand corrected on this!!

In the meantime here are some of the books I have been enjoying recently...

To begin I was very excited to see Jess Jordan back on the shelves in another fun packed Girl 16 story - she has grown a year older since we first met her in 2004, wouldn't that be wonderful if it could really happen! In Five Star Fiasco she is her usual self, getting into muddle over boyfriends, friends and this time a charity Valentine's do as well as her mum's online dating plans. Sue Limb's writing is wonderfully easy for teenagers to get lost in and to connect with. Her characters are very real and funny. Readers (most probably girls) will be laughing and crying with Jess, enjoying a good story and also learning, unconsciously about the themes of loyalty and friendship as well as love, romance and families. A great read.

For anyone who may just happen to be a football fan - can't imagine why this would be topical - there is the fourth Jamie Johnson story - Man of the Match by Dan Feedman which sees Jamie, now at the top of his game as the highest paid teenage footballer, threatened by a new recruit. tackling tough and interesting themes this is a great story for boys to get their teeth into.

Fantasy fans are spoilt for choice and will have a groaning bookcase as they find themselves drawn to the third and final Perfect Fire book, Paradise Red from K M Grant - an exciting and gripping end to this trilogy. Then there is the fifth installment from the Dragonfire series by Anne Forbes. Witch Silver is a dark and nail-biting adventure set in Scotland and ideal for young fantasy fans.

Just by way of a change Philip reeve has managed to create a second prequel to his Mortal Engines fantasy world. Web of Air continues the story of Fever in a wonderfully imagined epic world.

Finally for younger readers back to the world of fantasy and magic with Philippa Fisher and the Stone Fairy's Promise Philippa's New Year celebrations are put on hold with a warning that something very bad is about to happen... they could of course dive into a magical underwater adventure with one of six new Secret Mermaid stories from the seemingly unstoppable Sue Mongredien.

Now having given you plenty of food for thought it is time for me to leave you deciding where to start and if there is enough room on the bookcases for yet more books - you know there always is!!

Sunday, 13 June 2010

A Celebration of Mourning

That may sound a contradictory title for this blog entry but one which will have plenty of meaning for fans of Mary Hooper. Mary's latest novel, Fallen Grace, was published by Bloomsbury last week and I was lucky enough to join Mary, her Bloomsbury publishers, friends, family, librarians and reviewers at the launch event.

In the glorious Bloomsbury boardroom we toasted Mary's latest novel, wished her every success and were treated to a short two minute trailer made by her son in law in exchange for babysitting duties! Introduced by her editor, Emma, as a lady who has gone full circle from teenage pregnancy to bridesmaids and now Victorian mourning Mary then explained for those who had not yet had the opportunity to read the book that she was appropriately dressed in three stages of mourning garb and proceeded to read an excerpt from her novel choosing the moment when Grace discovers some of the awful truths about her new employers.

I was lucky enough to chat with Mary before the launch and she revealed
that she loved writing this story and cannot see herself moving away from historical fiction now that she has found it for it is such a rich source of material and inspiration. The story, one of poverty and richness, bereavement, friendship and love is moving, compelling and harsh. It defies the reader to not develop strong feelings towards its characters and at the same time requires them to read aghast at the conditions even children were forced to live it. Yet it is uplifting too and when Emma regaled me with the story of the cherub in the film who was taken to the cemetery for the filming, forgotten and retrieved the following day amid some curious looks, the evening took on a lighter note!

If you have not yet found Mary Hooper then this novel is a wonderful place to begin. A story perfect for teens and adults alike this it offers a compelling and fascinating insight into Victorian life that many will have never seen before and the launch event was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate fantastic writing and toast the continued success of a talented author.

Thank you Bloomsbury and most of all thank you Mary!

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Crime Meets Slime!

The first visitor's to my library this morning are regulars. A charming pair of girls who are incredibly keen readers but really made me smile this morning when, on reading the blurb of the latest book, Millie gave Sophie the go ahead to read it with her full approval. When asked why this was needed she responded well I am her brain!

This seemed to be a wonderful concept, walk around with a detached brain that can be put to use at any time - surely the perfect idea for a wonderfully funny story.
This leads me perfectly of course to the latest incarnation from the apparently unstoppable pen and imagination of Steve Cole - Slime Squad. the first two books, The Fearsome Fists and The Toxic Teeth introduce us to a whole host of new characters, good and bad of course!

The Slime Squad are born from the discarded work of a "SUPER-BONKERS scientist" who in despair at his failure to create "mutant mini-monsters"to clean up the planet discards his lifetime's work all over a rubbish dump. Born from this are some "bold, inventive monsters" who create a home and a world in the dump. All is not well however for whilst there were some monsters born from the good waste still others were born from bad, thus is born the Slime Squad.

From this premise adventures are formed and the first finds the squad battling a team of evil monsters who are stealing teeth in order to create new life. They have already met the villain, Lord Klukk, in the first story when he creates a gang of fists designed to steal as much money as possible...

The Slime Squad, along with their "mega-mechanical boss" PIE must fight the bad guys and show the world that they, and their good deeds are here to stay.

With the usual brand of Steve Cole humour "We must get tooth the bottom of this mouthy mystery" which will have grown-ups cringing Steve Cole will find himself a new legion of fans clamouring to read these accessible and funny stories. Of course the addition of more brilliant illustrations from Woody Fox makes this team almost as unbeatable as their characters!

Perhaps some readers will even be spurred on to do their bit for the environment and ensure that no more baddies are created from discarded toxic waste...

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Babies galore!

Very young children have been the focus of my life recently for there have been two additions to my growing family – both of my sisters have very recently had children. My youngest sister has had her first, a little baby girl who is now one month old. My other sister has had a third, a little boy who is now two weeks old. This is a perfect excuse of course to need to read and review yet more books for babies and toddlers for they are always in need of recommendations and just to prove that no-one is ever too young for a book the youngest sister and her husband have been reading Room on the Broom and the Gruffalo to their daughter already whilst they are now in need of a book of nursery rhymes having making the shocking admission that they know none!

I don’t have a nursery rhyme book to recommend to them here but there are two books that I think they will love!

The first is Sing a Song of Bottoms by Jean Willis & Adam Stower (Puffin) is a wonderfully bright laugh-out-loud, rhyming, read-along story of bottoms from a hugely talented team! Bottoms are one thing that we are all closely acquainted with, especially new parents! In this book bottoms of all shapes and sizes are celebrated with joy whilst the narrator tries to establish exactly whose bottom should win aprize. I won't give away the wonderful ending but encourage you all to read this charming and hilarious story with its brilliantly clever and witty text as well as hilarious and cleverly captured bottoms in all their glory this book is a riot of colour and life, perfect for the eyes and ears of all little readers and listeners!

At the other end of the body there is of course the head and whilst many of Adam Stower’s bottoms have pants, Millie’s head has a hat. In Satoshi Kitamura’s Millie’s Marvellous Hat we find hats of all shapes and sizes varying depending on…. well the imagination of their wearer of course!

Millie falls in love with a beautiful hat and its perfect fit encourages her to decide to make a purchase, its “five hundred and ninety-nine pounds and ninety-nine pence” price tag is somewhat prohibitive but the shopkeeper is certainly resourceful and the wonderful box with its empty potential certainly inspires Millie. I loved the title of this book – reminding me as it does of my own sister Millie. All about using the imagination and being a little bit daring this is a book for lovers of distinctive and colourful illustrations, great stories and a little thought will enjoy the journey this book takes them on through parks, streets and interiors.

Creative, comic and fun both these books are about being an individual and having fun – what better message for two new mums and their growing families – plus two great books to read!