Friday, 23 December 2011

It's Chritsmas ...

What is it that springs to mind at Christmas – well yes there is the obvious, tree, food, presents, family time and so on. But then come the thoughts of nativity, animals, activities, snow, classic stories and this is where the collection of books to follow fit in.

Starting with the classic nativity story in a novel format I have the pleasure of telling you about Rod Campbell’s Book and Nativity Set – My First Nativity, (Macmillan, 9780230756106). Packaged in a hardback, tied up with a ribbon and with a charming cut-out window featuring the stable scene this is a lovely book for the youngest reader, a great way of introducing them to the nativity story. There is a very simple story book and a set of nativity pieces to assemble (complete with instructions). Bright colours, bold pictures of cute animals and a sturdy scene, this is the perfect set for young children.

If it is the story of a time before the baby Jesus was born that is of interest then The Animals’ Christmas by Elena Pasquali and illustrated by Giuliano Feri (Lion, 9780745962498) may be of interest. This is a retelling of the Bible prophecy that there would come a time when the lion and the lamb would lie together in peace. It has been woven with the nativity and combined with charming illustration for a simple story for younger readers with an important message.

The Shepherd Girl of Bethlehem by Carey Morning and illustrated by Alan Marks (Lion, 9780745962320) invites its reader into the stable in Bethlehem to share with the daughter of one of the shepherds her version of the nativity.

My Carry-Along Christmas with crafts by Jocelyn Miller (Lion

Children’s, 9780745962597) is a book that, thanks to its carry handle, can be taken wherever its owner wants to go over Christmas which is perfect if they are craft loving children. It has puzzles, stickers and crafts to enjoy. Try making a fan, a card or even a garland this Christmas. This is a book certain to keep little ones, and probably a few adults too, nicely busy.

Last but certainly not least there is Muddle Mountain by Ag Jastkowska (Campbell Books, 9780230753938). This magnetic play book with 16 magnetic characters allows the reader to join in the fun of the story taking the skiers and skaters out of their mountain chalet and moving them around the magical scene, creating their own story or following the simple text in the book. A lovely interactive, entertaining and fun book for Christmas enjoyment. Lets hope for some snow of our own now!

Have a Happy Christmas with whichever books you choose …

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Sally Gardner Teaser

We are lucky to have the brilliance of the author Sally Gardner in a guest spot today.

Perhaps not so in person, but fittingly, here is a sample of Sally Gardner, a sample of the first chapter of 'The Double Shadow' her haunting, moving and compelling new novel.

Sally will feature in the winter edition of Armadillo, coming to a web page near you in a matter of weeks. For now enjoy this sample of her brilliance and then go on out and get the book for yourself and be enthralled ...


Once there was a girl who asked of her reflection, ‘If all I have is fragments of memories and none of them fit together, tell me then, do I exist?’

There was no answer, only the silence of the room and the hum of the green light that oozed from the television in the corner. She had no idea how long she had been standing there, maybe an eternity. Her name, her age, beyond recall. All she knew was there would be no tomorrow if she couldn’t work out the riddle of yesterday. She wondered often if she was going crazy, but it was hard to remember what crazy looked like. In the apartment, on the windowsill before her, lay a dead butterfly. Its wings and its beauty disturbed her. It was familiar, it had an echo of another time.

Softly, she sang a few words, her breath misty on the cold night-time glass, her reflection the only silent proof of her existence.

If you go down in the woods today

You’re sure of a big surprise.

If you go down in the woods today

You’d better go in disguise.

She was certain there were more verses but, like so much, they twinkled on the brink of things lost.

High up in a dark tenement block, the girl looked out of the window to a wasteland. In the middle stood one building. A picture palace. She imagined that once it must have been fabulous, with its mirrored facade built of thousands of reflective squares. How it came to fall into such decay was a mystery. As so much here was. The girl could see that the movie house had three grand silvered steps leading up to diamond-paned glass doors. Now all smeared with the grime of neglect. The place looked haunted, having scared away every other building that might have kept it company, leaving

it isolated. There, at the very edge of the world, the other buildings formed a protective circle, shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm, joining with rows of tall houses and one black tower to make an impenetrable wall, a mix of apartment buildings and tenement blocks whose fronts were laced with a spider’s web of fire escapes, water tanks and balconies. Behind this barricade she could see skyscrapers turning their Venetianblinded eyes away. There was no way out. This was landscape with no colour, no trees to break the endless monotony of grainy black and white, just the ever-present eerie hum of the green light. It was this light that, in the darkness, filled her

nightmares. Perhaps it was the sound of crazy, perhaps it was the end. How was she to know?

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Murderous Envy

At last – a proper murder story for YA readers – no vampires, no werewolves, but just a little bit of something slightly spooky! I’m a long-standing murder story fan, and I was gripped from the first page to the last.

The book is Envy, the first in a series of thrillers about Port Gamble, or Empty Coffin, as its original name translates. The author is Gregg Olsen, an American writer with several novels for adults as well as real-life crime books to his name, who sets his books in an area he knows well, the Pacific north-west, and one probably little known to British readers. Here he makes full use of the rather British weather to create a damp, cool, dark environment in which dark deeds somehow seem so much more chilling!

Hayley and Taylor Ryan are twins with a special gift, which provides them with that little bit extra when they search out the real story behind crimes. We are promised that they will appear in more Empty Coffin stories, and the first chapter of the next instalment is tantalizingly added as a postscript to Envy. As five-year-olds they suffered the trauma of a coach accident on the bridge nearby their town, an accident from which killed some of their classmates, and which has scarred the community ever since. Ten years on, it appears that another survivor, Katelyn, has taken her own life, but the twins’ determination to find the truth uncovers some deeply disturbing incidents, and some even more deeply disturbed inhabitants of this sleepy town.

This is really good stuff, with a thrilling story and convincing characterisation, and it also has some serious messages underlying the narrative, about envy, about friendship, about revenge, about mental health and bullying, especially particular type of bullying which is on the increase among young readers: cyberbullying. The invasive nature of this, often totally unexpected, and preying on the hopes and fears of the recipients, makes it particularly vicious and private, and it eats away at the self-image of anyone who falls victim to it.

Knowing that his readership will spend much of their time glued to their computer and their smartphone, Olsen has a website devoted to Empty Coffin, and to Envy with additional material. There’s also a link to advice, discussion and resources about cyberbullying. He also outlines the real-life cases behind Envy, and links to find out more about those. I can’t wait for the next book, and I’d recommend it to anyone who likes a well-written mystery with a twist in the tale!

Envy is published in the UK by Splinter, ISBN 978-1402789571

With huge thanks to Bridget Carrington, Armadillo Reviewer, for this Blog contribution -ed

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Halloween just happens to fall at one of the darkest times of year when it is also beginning to get cold and thoughts turn to warm crackling fires as well as fun and games around them, so what better way to entertain yourself this Halloween than with a selection of great books which can be read in the warm and in the light (if you so desire)!

To begin with we must cater for the youngest children who will be going to bed the soonest and will need a story to send them off happy into dreamland. The best book for this, in my opinion at least, is Mouldy Monsters (Campbell Books, 9780230753954) by AnnaLaura Cantone. This book takes the fear out of monsters, after all some of them are afraid too, and shows that most of them are also very silly! In addition to a funny story there are touch-and-feel elements on every spread - I love the ‘Mello Jello’s’ with their pink tutus and the ’Fuzzy McWuzzies’ with their blue fur, though by far the most popular with children is the green bogies from the ‘Booger Beloogas’!

Then comes the wonderful Debi Gliori who has provided us with just the title for sharing with toddlers. The Scariest Thing of All (Bloomsbury, 9780747599692) from its cover of purple hues and red spiky writing, with the exception of the cute bunny, one gets a sense of mystery before opening up to a bright and colourful meadow of long grass … Lots of larger than life scary things BIG spiders among them, are counterbalanced by a vibrancy and cute factor that is very reassuring. This book is the perfect read for little ones afraid of the dark and just a little scared this Halloween.

If you are story telling to a party of little ones then Elizabeth Baguley and Marion Lindsay’s Ready Steady Ghost (Oxford University Press, 9780192792648) is a good choice with its rhythmical text, swirly ghosts floating across blue pages and a very funny story about a ghost who isn’t actually much good at haunting!

Next come the younger readers who will adore the latest Horrid Henry and not only for its 3D moulded cover allowing curious fingers to prod the torch in awe! If you can believe it Horrid Henry has reached the grand old age of 20, he has a film, a TV series and now a very special book too. Horrid Henry and the Zombie Vampire by Francesca Simon (Orion Children’s Books, 9781842551356) finds Henry up to his usual tricks, scaring everyone, including himself, with some monstrously funny results. Read this one if you dare, for Halloween!

More advanced and older readers will love the second Bansi O’Hara title. Bansi O’Hara and the Edges of Halloween by author and Armadillo reviewer John Dougherty, (Random House, 9780440867920) may have been published back in April but is the perfect read this Halloween for its fast paced and frightening adventure story. Bansi is longing for a quiet life but life has other ideas and this adventure finds Bansi back in Faerie to rescue her mum from the Dead Cruach whilst trying to cope with Granny and Nora Mullarkey. One wonders which will be more difficult! A great adventure with lots of humour, the perfect cheering read for this Halloween.

So get your teeth stuck in to one of these great stories rather then a toffee apple this Halloween and you are guaranteed to have a great time!

Monday, 24 October 2011

Half Term Fun with Jacqueline Wilson

Fancy a good day out for half term then look no further than Seven Stories (if you are in or near Newcastle of course). For those of you in other parts of the country the website is packed with fun and there are of course always plenty of events taking place. The Internet is a great place to hunt for children's reading activities, or try your local library. In the meantime back to Seven Stories ...

Daydreams and Diaries, the Story of Jacqueline Wilson is the first ever exhibition dedicated to this author and her work. The good news is that there is plenty of time to see it as it runs until September 2012.

In this new exhibition Jacqueline herself (though sadly not in person) guides the visitor through her favourite stories, characters and daydreams as well as proividing an insight into her working process, providing inspiration for budding writers. See how ideas become text and find out more about working with an illustrator. This is a chance to sit and daydream as well as be inspired.

These wonderful pictures will give you a taster of what to expect ...

Jacqueline Wilson with 10 young people from the North East who took part in a Creative Writing project at Seven Stories.

Jacqueline Wilson relaxes in a replica of her 1950's bedroom.

Jacqueline Wilson in front of the Dumping Ground from Tracy Beaker.

Jacqueline Wilson and Nick Sharratt meet their fans in the set of Tracy Beaker at Seven Stories.

With thanks to Lauren Regan, Marketing and Communications at Seven Stories

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Party Barefoot Style

Linda Newbery reports from the Barefoot Books party celebrating their move to new offices in Oxford.

Barefoot Books celebrated their move to Summertown, Oxford with a launch party on Friday (7th October), followed by a packed weekend of family activities. They've taken over a former Co-Op, architecturally mimicking the chapel next door, which in previous lives has been a bathroom showroom and an artists' shop and gallery. These are spacious premises which lend themselves well to their new role, with various nooks and corners for storytelling and activities, a cafe, and another floor upstairs with space to seat small or larger audiences. It's a bookshop with lots of face-out display combined with community and family centre, offering weekly activities including yoga for children and adults, drama, dance, crafts and of course story times.

The decor, both inside and out, is colourful, inviting and stylish - it would be hard to pass by without having at least a look inside. Lucky Summertown. See the website, www.barefootbooks, for details of books and events.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Back - Finally - Into History

I am very sorry that I ahve been away for so long, I had not realised the start of a new term would be quite so nusy. I ahve however not been away from books and if you have been following me on Twitter @Armadillomag, you'll see that I;ve been busy with my daily reading diet!

So what have I found to enthrall you all with today - some wonderful new titles fromBarrington Stoke. Having been asked to cover some history lessons at school last week - two on the Tudors and one on Victorian factories - I was thrilled to find in my post two new Barrington Stoke titles set in history.

Anne Perry is busy writing a series of time-slip or time-travel, depending on your preferred phrase, stories. The series begins with Tudor Rose in which the heroine, Rosie, finds she has been given a very special time piece, one that will send her back to the court of Queen Elizabeth, find her in the Queen's court assisting her as she stands firm against the Spanish Amarda.

Rose of No-Man's Land takes our heroine to the hospitals of Flanders in the First World War where Rose meets Edith Cavell, a nurse executed for her bravery and courage in helping soldiers escape.

The reader learns some interesting historical lessons, as does Rose, who also learns how to stand up for herself at school, learns courage and meets some of history's most important women in their darkest hours.

Exciting new fiction from an award-winning publisher and something for teen girls who may be a little reluctant to read, to really get their teeth into.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Philosophical Places

There has been a burgeoning of interest in philosophy for children in recent years, all part of the process of seeking to develop children’s thinking skills. Many of its advocates have argued for a fourth ‘R’ in the school curriculum in which Reasoning is taught alongside Reading, Writing and Arithmetic.

Stories are an important device for engaging children, not only do they provide enjoyment they also help children to begin enquiring and exploring philosophical ideas.

As a secondary school teacher I run a philosophy club and my group of philosophers all of whom started in Year 7, aged 11, seem to have grown up very quickly. Too young for Gaarder’s brilliant Sophie’s World and too old perhaps for the philosophical stories for children, Bernard Beckett’s Genesis and August are possibly the answer to my question of what can they read?

Genesis takes the reader to Plato’s Republic -- a post-cataclysmic world isolated away from the rest of humanity -- and puts them into a Socratic dialogue between a board of examiners and a young student - Anaximander. In the claustrophobic context of the examination, Anaximander questions the official history of the Republic and the role of her long-dead hero, the philosopher-soldier Adam Forde.

August puts the reader into a different philosophical rule, that of St Augustine’s City of God in another post-cataclysmic world. This time the dialogue is between Tristan, a philosopher struggling with questions of freewill, and Grace, a street prostitute, whose life is more of a question of survival. Trapped upside down in a car wreck, alone, hours away from daybreak and the chance of a rescue, August’s dialogue tells the alternating stories of their lives.

It is tempting to brand Genesis and August as ‘Philosophy for Teenagers’, but there is a subtle difference in resisting this and identifying these books as Young Adult Philosophy. The books are written to be accessible to teenagers, with the length of story and the choice of language. The dialogical format of the books and the pace of the story however requires a more patient reader and at times, important passages need to be re-read. In fact I want to re-read Genesis and August and refresh my knowledge of Plato’s Republic and St Augustine’s City of God to fully appreciate the subtly of the books. The philosophy is the foundations upon which the story is written, shaping the story rather than it being a story with some philosophical insights. Moreover the books, particularly August, include more adult content.

Unfortunately I do not have my answer for my teenage philosophy group. Some members I can identify as having the maturity to read and fully engage with Genesis and August. Others may not. Perhaps I am missing the point. Whether you are a child, teenager, young adult or adult, the joy of philosophy is always to read a story and ponder for any amount of time, whatever philosophical musing it stirs, great or small.

Genesis and August by Bernard Beckett are both published by Quercus.

Theodore Boone, Strattenburg’s youngest lawyer ...

13 year-old Theodore Boone comes from a family of lawyers. When he is not in school, and often when he should be in school, Theodore can be found in the town’s court rooms. His friends and even teachers ask him for legal advice.

The first book in the Theodore Boone series has deservedly attracted much praise. Brilliantly written both books have compelling plots and great characterisation. Taking crime fiction in a new direction, possibly even introducing a new literary genre - the legal thriller for teenagers. It is however the moral ambiguity in John Grisham’s writing which, for me, makes the stories refreshingly different from my own childhood reading material of great young sleuths like Nancy Drew and The Secret Seven.

In Theodore Boone’s self-titled debut novel for example, the perfect murder seems to have been committed in Strattenburg and a guilty man could go free. Theodore has to wrestle with his conscience, torn between keeping his promise to an illegal immigrant and ensuring justice for a murdered wife. Whereas in The Abduction, the latest novel, Theodore’s best friend April is kidnapped supposedly by a notorious criminal just escaped from prison. Theodore must find a compromise. Does he telling the police and his parents the truth in order to save April?

The moral ambiguity in the story is exemplified by Theodore’s uncle Ike. Ike had been a practising lawyer in the Boone family firm before committing a crime for which he served a prison sentence over several years. No-one will explain, to Theodore, why. Disbarred Ike makes a living as a tax accountant but likes to use his friends to keep himself in contact with the law, friends he describes as “closer to the street”. Characterised as an aging hippie, living alone and needing a caffeine fix every morning Ike is an unlikely, but fallen hero. He also seems to represent the slippery slope that Theodore himself could easily fall down: someone prepared to justify the means to satisfy the end.

Theodore Boone is a great new series, presenting young adults with a more complex and subtle understanding of the law. It is a game with rules, not necessarily to follow, but to be played.

Theodore Boone is out now, published by Hodder. Grab yourself a copy and be prepared for a thrilling read.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

A further taste of history ...

Wow what a challenge! Have you decided which faction to follow? If not then I urge you to read Mary's book, David. It may help your decision but above all else it is a gripping read.

How do I follow an author who is such a talent? Well I love historical novels and David put me in the mood for reading some more so here is just a taster of some of the books I have been enjoying in the last week and that, with the summer holidays upon us, you may enjoy too.

First of all there was VIII by Harriet Castor, then came Wickedness by Deborah White, Jake Ransom and the Howling Sphinx by James Rollins and I have just finished Emerald by Karen Wallace.

Some of these names may sound familiar, others shouldn't as they are new to children's fiction! Harriet Castor is one, her brilliant and insightful portrayal of the young Henry VIII is a real eye-opener and a great page-turner too. This is a very exiciting concept, looking at historical figures and considering how their childhoods shaped their adult lives.

In Wickedness Deborah White brilliantly weaves past with present, 400 years separate her two heroines but they have much in common not least the mysterious Doctor an Egyptian mummy and a curse. An engaging read to look forward to.

Jake Ransom is no stranger to trouble having already battled the evil Skull King he now has to battle him once again in order to gain control of the Eye of Ra, save his sister and an ancient civilization. Just in case you are thinking that I have got stuck in Ancient Egypt too (it has certrtainly felt that way the last two weeks with my MA work) ...

Emerald brings me back to the Tudors and this time Elizabeth I, a plot to kill the queen, bear baiting and some good old traditional romance. Karen Wallace is a well established and well-known author but this, her first foray into historical fiction is fascinating and a brilliant read.

So get stuck into some great historical ficition and be prepared to be swept away!

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Are you a Republican or a Medicean?

‘I am all in favour of a single ruler if that ruler can be a Lorenzo de’ Medici,’ he said at last. ‘But there are few men like him. Even his own son had none of his quality. So in general, yes, I’m now a republican.’

That’s what Michelangelo says to Gabriele, the hero of my book. And I think that’s what I believe too. I’m not in principle against the idea of a single unelected ruler, though it strikes me as dangerous, but democratically elected rulers can be terrible too. And it is possible to have a just and charismatic unelected ruler if you are lucky.

I must admit to having a bit of a crush on Lorenzo the Magnificent, the de’ Medici who was Michelangelo’s first patron. Yes, he was both ugly and unfaithful to his wife and he took a hideous and violent revenge on the conspirators who killed his brother and nearly killed him at High Mass in the cathedral in 1478. But he was the very personification of Renaissance Man – he could equally well write poetry as fence, ride a horse, talk to a philosopher ... How many monarchs or politicians are like that today? And he loved art and valued it and commissioned great works, like Botticelli’s Primavera and the Birth of Venus, as well as Michelangelo’s early marble reliefs.

The Republicans in my book are opposed on principle to families ruling a city just because they are the richest men around and I can sympathise with them too. For some of them – the frateschi – the great alternative to that kind of Plutocracy (= rule by the rich) was the teaching of Savonarola. He was a fiery preacher and Dominican friar, who held the city in thrall for four years with his passionate sermons and austere convictions.

I part company with him over the Bonfire of the Vanities though. All Florentines were encouraged to throw fripperies like jewellery and personal items of adornment into the flames, along with books, combs, mirrors and anything else that distracted them from the worship of God and encouraged personal vanity. But among these were what might have been great paintings and that I can’t forgive.

Just a few years afterwards, Savonarola himself was burned in the same spot, after being tortured and hanged. His followers in David are still mourning that event and it makes them dangerously fanatical. Trust Gabriele to get involved with them! When Michelangelo tells him what he thinks about politics in the passage quoted above, Gabriele says that he is a Republican too and although the sculptor says he has to think for himself, it is one of the themes of the book that you have to know what side you are on in Florence.

Gabriele ends up on both sides in a way and it is very nearly his undoing.

Follow Mary and find out more about her books here:

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Perfect Picture Book Picnics

As my mother fondly calls them 'pic-in-ics' are the perfect way to enjoy the outdoors ... or as we learnt on Thursday evening at Walker Books picture Book Picnic they are the perfect way to enjoy any space for a picnic can be held anywhere, including in the lovely lofty space Walker Books are lucky enough to have in their building. So it was that librarians, booksellers, bloggers and representatives from many groups with an interest in picture books gathered on a balmy Thursday evening for Pimms, sparkles, nibbles, strawberries & cream, as well not forgetting the ice cream with a flake - traditional British picnic fare and of course we were in the company of some of Walker Books rising stars - Viv Schwartz and others, watching them sketch on the picnic grass, chatting to them about a new range of floor mats and more ...

It was the perfect way to spend a lovely evening, the perfect way to celebrate picture books and remind ourselves that just a a picnic can be held anywhere there is a picture book for any place and any time ... picinics are the perfect way to enjoy the outdoors ... or as we learnt on Thursday evening at Walker Books picture Book Picnic they are the perfect way to enjoy any space for a picnic can be held anywhere, including in the lovely lofty space Walker Books are lucky enough to have in their building.

So it was that librarians, booksellers, bloggers and representatives from many groups with an interest in picture books gathered on a balmy Thursday evening for Pimms, sparkles, nibbles, strawberries & cream, as well not forgetting the ice cream with a flake - traditional British picnic fare and of course we were in the company of some of Walker Books rising stars - Viv Schwartz and others, watching them sketch on the picnic grass, chatting to them about a new range of floor mats and more ...

It was the perfect way to spend a lovely evening, the perfect way to celebrate picture books and remind ourselves that just a a picnic can be held anywhere there is a picture book for any place and any time ...

Monday, 4 July 2011

An Awfully Big Blog Adventure

Many Armadillo reviewers are also brilliant writers of literature for children and having teamed together for An Awfully Big Blog Adventure three years ago they are proudly celebrating their third birthday this weekend, the 9th and 10th July!

To celebrate they are hosting the very first online literary festival organised entirely by children's authors. The line-up is incredible, with authors popping in every half an hour to share insights, tips, book news and giveaways. The full programme is listed below and all the posts will be archived so make sure you find some time to take a look.

Saturday 9th July
9.30am Anne Cassidy Post: To Blog or Not To Blog?
10.00am Jo Cotterill
10.30am Anne Rooney & Mary Hoffman Video: Italian Inspiration
11.00am Celia Rees Post: Scattered Authors, the Beginning
11.30am Elen Caldecott Competition: Win 'Operation Eiffel Tower'
12.30pm Gillian Philip Competition: Win 'Bloodstone' and 'Firebrand'
1.00pm Liz Kessler Competition: Win 'A Year Without Autumn'
1.30pm Sam Mills Video: Interview with Tyger Drew-Honey
2.00pm Adele Geras
2.30pm Jane Eagland Post: The Ups and Downs of Research
3.00pm Enid Richemont
3.30pm Malcolm Rose Post: Reader Gregor Kelly questions Malcolm Rose over Forbidden Island
4.00pm Lucy Coats Video and Competition: Going to the Dogs--Tackling a Tricky Audience
4.30pm Susan Price & Katherine Roberts Post: Kindles and Kids Books
5.00pm Wendy Meddour Post: On Not Being a Famous Actress
5.30pm Miriam Halahmy & Savita Kalhan Video drama and discussion about Edgy Fiction
6.00pm Catherine Johnson Post: Rastamouse, the Moomins and Me
6.30pm Penny Dolan
7.00pm Linda Newbery & Julia Jarman

Sunday 10th July
10.30am Emma Barnes
11.00 am Dianne Hofmeyr & Miriam Moss On Picture Books
11.30am Kath Langrish Post: Secret Rooms in Children's Fiction
12 NOON Nicola Morgan Competition: Win 'Write to be Published' and a crabbit bag.
12.30pm Julie Sykes Post and Competition: My Favourite Bears
1.00pm Leila Rasheed Competition: Win a critique
1.30pm Joan Lennon Post: The Flamingo and the Writer
2.00pm Hilary McKay Competition: Win 'Caddy's World'
2.30pm Fiona Dunbar & Keren David Video: In Conversation
3.00pm Josh Lacey Competition: Win 'Island of Thieves'
3.30pm Marie-Louise Jensen & David Calcutt
4.00pm Candy Gourlay Video: Creating a Legend
4.30pm Karen Ball Competition: An Inspiring Giveaway
5.00pm Linda Strachan & Cathy MacPhail Video: In Conversation
5.30pm Malachy Doyle Post: The Happy Book
6.00pm Michelle Lovric Competition: Win 'The Undrowned Child'
6.30pm Sue Purkiss Post: What the Dickens?
7.00pm Julie Day
7.30pm Lynne Garner
8.00pm Nicky Browne Video: Finding history and herstory

This schedule may be subject to change as a result of circumstances beyond the organisers' control. They'll do their best to be control freaks and not let that happen!

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Words and Pictures

A blog post from Bridget Carrington

When my children were small, picturebooks (so now you know which I prefer), were just emerging from their thick, yellowish paper with smudgy, stark, limited colours, into the glorious products we know today. Because they’re picturebooks, I think we often regard that element more highly than the words, but three picturebooks I’ve just read show how both parts of the book should interrelate and enhance the other.

I thought the days of overtly moralistic writing had long vanished, until I picked up Diana Mather, Avril Lethbridge and Mary-Ann Mackenzie’s Please Bear’s Birthday (Maverick ISBN 9781848860674). According to the blurb, ‘the series teaches children the importance of good manners through nice and naughty bears’. Oh dear, these adjectives don’t inspire enthusiasm – even KS1 readers would recognise their weak and non-pc nature I think – and neither does the book, despite this being the Daily Mail ‘You Magazine’ Book of the Week. The lengthy rhyming text lumbers along with all the grace and effortless ease of William MacGonagall, while the illustrations do nothing to help, unexciting, humourless and truly reminiscent of picturebooks of the past.

Compare this with two other Maverick publication, Julie Fulton’s Mrs MacCready was ever so Greedy (ISBN 9781848860650), with pictures by Jona Jung, and Giles Paley-Phillips The Fearsome Beastie ISBN9781848860667), illustrated by Gabriele Antonini, and you see what twenty-first century rhyming picturebooks can and really should do.

Fulton’s text is more accomplished than Paley-Phillips’ which falls into the all too common trap of over-inverting and contorting word order so that it scans (and in fact it doesn’t always) and so that the rhyming word ends up at the end of the line. Generally Mrs Macready’s story has a far smoother, natural rhythm and rhyme, and the cautionary tale which emerges – exercise as well as eat, or else the consequences will be dire – is handled in a humorous, non-moralistic way so totally absent from Please Bear. The illustrations are big, bright and funny, and the whole book fits together seamlessly, promising to become a favourite with young readers who like to join in as the text is read to them. In contrast, although clearly a twenty-first century text, Antonini’s style of illustration in The Fearsome Beastie reminds me of a 1950s American cartoon, with children, houses and streets which are more US then UK. The author acknowledges Roald Dahl as an influence, and certainly the poetic style reminds me of Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes, while the illustrator was clearly a fan of Sendak as well as Hanna Barbera.

Sharon Rentta’s A Day with the Animal Doctors (Scholastic ISBN 9781407116440) certainly lives up to its advertising, ‘a hilarious trot round the wards’ it certainly is, as Dr Terence the baby tapir goes to work with his mum. Unlike Please Bear, every page is buzzing with activity, with lots for children (and adults) to find in the pictures, as well as a text which offers information on clipboards drawn onto the pages, and a thoughtful, funny look at why we end up in hospital. This makes a lovely book for bedtime reading, as it invites additional questions from young readers, and can also be ‘read’ without any of the words. How nice that Mum’s the doctor and that the nurses are male and female, and that the elderly animals are being cared for so thoughtfully. My favourite pages are the animal babies in their cots, and the children’s ward, where the patients ‘often need to do a lot of Bouncing’!

Altogether an interesting collection, inviting reflection (can’t stop myself rhyming now, though clearly I’ve not got the hang of scansion either!) on what makes a successful picturebook. It’s not just the pictures, nor yet just the text… there needs to be that special something which knits it all into one highly entertaining whole.

Can the Wardstone protect you?

Having had the lighthearted fun of a birthday celebration Armadillo reviewer Simon Barrett now brings you some dark horror, a theme that must appeal to him for he is currently deep into Lindsey's Barraclough's Long Lankin (brilliantly reviewed by Louise Stothard ina recent edition of Armadillo Magazine) and declared it was most certainly not a book to be read after dark, but before we get too immersed in that let us delve into the phenomenon that is:

The Wardstone Chronicles
Joseph Delaney’s seminal series The Wardstone Chronicles which began with The Spook’s Apprentice was always intended to take up a lot of bookshelf space. It is a credit to the strength of the story and the empathy between readers and characters that the Bodley Head has just published the eighth book, The Spook’s Destiny.

Tom, the Spook’s Apprentice, has certainly grown-up since the first book and has travelled far beyond the boundaries of his home, the County. Whilst the dark has at times seemed invincible, Tom, his family and his friends have always shown the courage to win through.

As a Religious Education teacher with an interest in philosophy, the Wardstone Chronicles provokes two enduring questions for me. Is the universe a dualism of two separate, distinct entities: light and dark? Can the means justify the ends?

The Wardstone Chronicles began with the opposing forces of light and dark. This is perhaps typified by the character of the Spook himself, shunning all compromise with the dark and those who would use the dark. The universe however has become far more complicated. Tom’s best friend Alice was unwillingly trained as a witch, but willingly uses magic, sometimes for dark purposes. Even Tom’s mother is a reformed creature of the dark. More compelling in the series is Tom’s own nature, in which a sliver of darkness now exists deep in his being. In the latest book, Joseph Delaney hints that there is more to the universe than light and dark. Tom meets the Old God Pan who intriguingly refers to a shadow world, separate from the dark.

Can the dark be used to fight the dark? This question has come to dominate the books with the servants of the dark co-operating in the fight against the dark. This fight is epitomised for me in the character of Grimalkin, the Witch Assassin who has saved Tom in the past, and fights alongside him to try and bind the Devil in The Spook’s Destiny. The Spook is of the mind that the means must justify the ends and only light should be used to destroy the dark. Tom and Alice challenge this, and the world might have ended before now, if they hadn’t. I am eagerly awaiting Joseph Delaney’s next story, one that promises to reveal much more about Grimalkin....

Only to be read after dark if you dare ...

Thursday, 23 June 2011

The Hay Diaries Part 4 ...

Saturday 4th June – Trumps, time travel and trudging

At the crack of 10am – in the Starlight Tent

When an author begins an event by inviting the audience to shout BOGIES, you know you are in for a treat. David Roberts is the children’s illustrator responsible for The Troll and Tyrannasaurus Drip by Julia Donaldson, some super retellings of fairytales and, most filthily, Dirty Bertie.

Bertie was the star today. And the challenge was on to see if anyone in the audience could ‘trump’ him for dirty habits. They certainly had a go. One girl who is probably in with a shot is a girl that approached David Roberts at a previous book signing and said ‘I like to pick my nose’. She then proceeded to demonstrate, and was about to EAT it, when she saw David’s shocked face. ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘would you like some?’

After reading the first Dirty Bertie book, David Roberts gave some tips on drawing Bertie. You can see my very average attempts here:

The audience helped David to create a picture. It started as Bertie eating some candyfloss, but gradually more and more horrible things – bugs, worms, dog poo, a plaster, a lobster (?!) – were added and it looked a lot less appetising.

The ‘interesting’ imaginations of some audience members were also revealed when David asked for ways to prevent your parents from moving house (as Bertie does in one of the books) and one girl immediately replied ‘go to the toilet on the bed’. I’m quite glad I don’t live with her.

Overall, this event was very funny, and perfectly aimed at its 5-7-year-old audience, while allowing parents to laugh secretly at the toilet humour too. There were also some drawing tips to pick up for those of us who aren’t artistically challenged. And even those who are can have a go…

1.30pm – in Sarajevo 1914/Elizabethan England

I appear to have time travelled. I think that Johnny O’Brien, author of the Jack Christie adventures, is to blame. His event, like his books, is centred around how fun it would be to actually find yourself in another time.

The hero of the books, Jack Christie, finds himself at some of the major turning points in history and must decide whether to intervene. The first – in Day of the Assassins – is the shooting of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which was the trigger (geddit?!) for the first World war. Through some super role play involving audience volunteers (who made worryingly good assassins) Johnny showed us how the Great War was actually caused by a sandwich.

Johnny told us he is quite keen on the gruesome side of history (and, as a Horrible-Histories-reared child, so do I). From the books he read us a rather violent encounter in the trenches and later an eye-witness encounter of the execution of Mary Queen of Scots.

4:00pm – On the sad trudge home, being rained on

My whirlwind visit to Hay has whirled and winded (and now rained) and I am on my way home. I bid goodbye to the cat and she watched me go with a cool and steady hatred.

But I leave with a feeling that there is much to be excited about – there are still kids who love reading books and authors who love writing books and events where these people can come together and bang on about how much they love books. To me, that is rather exciting.

Roll on next Hay!