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!