Category Archives: Humour

Diverse voices

One more list, and then I’ll be done. (Or possibly not. You never know.) Seven Stories and the Guardian have got together and listed the 50 best children’s books on cultural and ethnic diversity. It’s a really good list,

and I was really pleased because I felt I had read so many of the books on it. Until I counted them and it was about a third, so maybe I have some way to go. I still like the list, though:

Amazing Grace Mary Hoffman Illustrated by Caroline Binch. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books. The classic picture book about the little girl who loves stories and shows us that we can be anything we want to be.

Fruits: A Caribbean Counting Poem, Valerie Bloom Illustrated by David Axtell. Macmillan Children’s Books. A rhythmic counting poem that describes all manner of delicious Caribbean fruits as a little girl tries to eat as many of these as she can in a single day.

Stephen Davies and Christopher Corr, The Goggle-Eyed Goats

The Goggle-Eyed Goats, Stephen Davies Illustrated by Christopher Corr. Andersen Press. A vibrant and colourfully illustrated tale about Old Al Haji Amadu’s five extremely naughty and very hungry goats who gobble and gulp through whatever they find.

Handa’s Surprise, Eileen Browne. Walker Books. A mouth-watering story about Ayeko who puts seven fruits into her basket, but one by one these disappear as all manner of creatures snack upon them.

Hue Boy, Rita Phillips Mitchell Illustrated by Caroline Binch. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books As much as Hue Boy longs to be bigger, he discovers size isn’t everything in this uplifting village-based story about a small boy with a very big personality.

Leon and Bob, Simon James. Walker Books. A quiet reflective book about the unusual friendship shared by Leon and Bob and the sense of fun and fulfilment others can bring into our lives.

Not So Fast Songololo, Niki Daly. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.
An African town is brought to life through sight and sound in this touching story of young and old where Grandmother Gogo and grandson Songololo set out on a stroll together.

Over the Hills and Far Away, Elizabeth Hammill Illustrated by 77 artists. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books. A stunning collection of 150 rhymes from countries all over the English-speaking world, including Great Britain, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ghana, South Africa and the Caribbean compiled by Seven Stories co-founder Elizabeth Hammill. The collection contains best-loved nursery rhymes, but also new discoveries, and vibrant rhymes from Native American, First Nation, Inuit and Maori cultures.

Ramadan Moon, Na’ima B. Robert Illustrated by Shirin Adl. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books The festival of Ramadan and its celebration across the world is explored in this thoughtful book which looks at the role faith plays in many children’s lives.

Rastamouse and the Crucial Plan, Michael De Souza Illustrated by Genevieve Webster. Little Roots. A cheeky, cheese-filled tale about super bad thief Bandalulu who has stolen all the cheese from Mouseland.

So Much, Trish Cooke Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury Walker Books. A fun, feel-good and familiar story about the different generations of a family brought together by their love for a new baby.

Where’s Lenny? Ken Wilson-Max Frances Lincoln Children’s Books. An ideal first picture book by an award winning author/illustrator in which Lenny and his dad have a game of hide and seek in the house, enjoying fun and games together.

Azzi In Between, Sarah Garland. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books. A powerful graphic novel about Azzi and her family who seek refuge, filled with drama and tension it shows just how dangerous some people’s home lives can be and the difficult decisions needed to reach a place of safety.

Betsey Biggalow is here, Malorie Blackman Illustrated by Jamie Smith. Random House Children’s Books. Somewhere between Pippi Longstocking and Tracy Beaker, Betsey Biggalow, who stars in these short, pacey stories, is an imaginative and enquiring girl who is sometimes mischievous but always endearing.

The Colour of Home, Mary Hoffman Illustrated by Karin Littlewood. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books. Hassan feels out of place in a cold, grey country so different from his colourful Somalian home, which he was forced to leave because of war. But gradually things change… and he sees the new colours of home.

Fly, Eagle, Fly! Christopher Gregorowski Illustrated by Niki Daly. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books. A story of fulfilment and freedom shown through the parable of the baby eagle who is reared with chickens. This simply told yet dramatic story from Africa will delight children everywhere and encourage them to “lift off and soar,” as Archbishop Tutu puts it in his foreword.

Wendy Meddour, A Hen in the Wardrobe

A Hen in the Wardrobe, Wendy Meddour. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.
This is a funny, heart-warming family story set in Britain and Algeria, with fascinating glimpses of traditional Berber culture and lots of colourful characters.

Kasia’s Surprise, Stella Gurney Illustrated by Petr Horacek. Walker Books. A moving and hope-filled book about Kasia and her mum who have moved to the UK from Poland, it looks at the importance of the people we are close to and the gradual acceptance of change.

Mirror, Jeannie Baker. Walker Books. Although thousands of miles apart, there are many similarities between the homes and daily routines for the two boys in this book, its minutely detailed illustrations inspire readers to see that, in spite of surface difference, there is often more similarity in our lives than might, at first, be recognised.

Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, John Steptoe. Puffin Children’s Books. This special book has a fairy-tale like charm as a King takes on the search for a wife. Mufaro has two daughters, one rude and mean and the other generous and thoughtful, which will win the hand of the King?

Number 1 Car Spotter, Atinuke. Walker Books. A witty story about the hugely appealing Number 1 who sets about searching for and solving problems and carrying out chores for his family.

Under the Moon and Over the Sea: A Collection of Caribbean Poems, ed John Agard and Grace Nichols. Walker Books. A lyrical and lively collection of poetry that captures the sights, sounds, tastes and tales of the Caribbean and its people.

Walter Tull’s Scrap Book, Michaela Morgan. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books. The inspirational true story of Walter Tull’s life is vividly reimagined here in scrapbook form, drawing on photographs, documents and records of his life. Born in Kent, in 1888, Walter Tull became not just the first black British professional outfield football player – for Tottenham Hotspur and Northampton Town – but also the first black officer in the British Army.

Boy Overboard, Morris Gleitzman. Puffin Children’s Books. Jamal and sister Bibi want to lead Australia to victory in the World Cup, but that entails a journey from their homeland, Afghanistan where their family has upset the authorities, and a lengthy voyage overseas.

The Island, Armin Greder. Allen & Unwin Books for Children & Young Adults. The poignancy of the pictures in this story about a man washed up on an island beach and outcast by its community explores intolerance and is a powerful and moving conversation starter for discussions around acceptance.

Journey to Jo’Burg, Beverley Naidoo. Macmillan Children’s Books. A deeply affecting modern classic about a brother and sister who journey through the South Africa of Apartheid in a race against time to find their mother thereby saving their poorly baby sister, Dineo.

The Life of Stephen Lawrence, Verna Allette Wilkins Illustrated by Lynne Willey. Tamarind. Full of life and potential, Stephen Lawrence was a boy with huge hopes for the future. Murdered in 1993, the book looks at prejudice, injustice and a family’s fight to uncover the truth.

Little Leap Forward, Guo You Illustrated by Clare Farrow. Barefoot Books. This semi-autobiographical tale looks at Little Leap Forward, a boy who grew up in the hutongs of Beijing during the Cultural Revolution in China.

Oranges in No Man’s Land, Elizabeth Laird. Macmillan Children’s Books.
Ayesha lives in war-torn Beirut, a city divided by conflict. When Ayesha’s granny falls ill, she must cross the barricades into deadly no-man’s land to try to get the medication that is so badly needed.

A Nest of Vipers, Catherine Johnson. Random House Children’s Books. The youngest member of a collective of pick pockets and con-artists in 18 Century London, Cato Hopkins appears at risk of paying penance for his crimes with his life…

Talking Turkeys , Benjamin Zephaniah. Puffin Children’s Books.
A thought provoking and wide reaching collection of poetry for children that explodes from the page, begging to be read aloud.

Tall Story, Candy Gourlay. David Fickling Books. Quirky, unusual and filled with affectionate humour, this story looks at the relationship between Andi, who is short, and her long lost, enormous half-brother Bernardo who comes to live in London from the Philippines.

Too Much Trouble, Tom Avery. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books. A fast-paced read about brothers Em and Prince who struggle to make a life and home for themselves on the streets of London. Winner of the Diverse Voices award 2010.

Trash, Andy Mulligan. David Fickling Books. Raphael is a dumpsite boy whose days are spent sifting through rubbish and whose nights are spent sleeping beside it. This deeply affecting story tells how one fateful moment – the discovery of a small leather bag – can radically change one’s fortunes…

The Trouble with Donovan Croft, Bernard Ashley. Oxford University Press. Children’s Books Keith’s new foster brother, Donovan, won’t speak to anybody, will Keith be able to uncover the reasons why and help Donovan to open up?

The Unforgotten Coat, Frank Cottrell Boyce. Walker Books. This acutely perceptive, gem of a book recounts how Julie tries to help two Mongolian refugees who are struggling to fit in with their new classmates in Liverpool and movingly describes why their friendship ended unexpectedly…

Jamila Gavin, The Wheel of Surya

The Wheel of Surya, Jamila Gavin. Egmont. The violence and danger of India during the Independence movement and its partition from Pakistan acts a catalyst for Jaspal and Marvinder to flee from their village in an effort to reunite with their father who is a student in England.

Apache, Tanya Landman. Walker Books. Following the vicious murder of her brother, orphan Siki vows to become an Apache warrior to take revenge upon her brother, Tazhi’s, killers.

The Arrival, Shaun Tan. Hodder Children’s Books. This wordless graphic novel explores the many reasons that lead people to leave their old lives and homes behind and set out upon the journey entailed in starting afresh.

Artichoke Hearts, Sita Brahmachari. Macmillan Children’s Books. Aged twelve, Mira’s life changes when her Nana Josie becomes ill and Mira begins to learn about the secrets of her family and loved ones in this emotionally honest novel.

Blood Donors, Steve Tasane. Walker Books. A skin-crawling novel about Marshall O’Connor who lives in the ‘Finger’ a block of flats with a deep, dark and deadly secret. This distinctive, fresh and decidedly creepy novel explores stigma and prejudice.

The Breadwinner, Deborah Ellis. Oxford University Press Children’s Books.
Kept house-bound by the Taliban’s law that women and girls should not leave the house on their own, Parvana, her mother and sisters are in danger of starvation when their father is arrested.

Half-Caste & Other Poems, John Agard. Hodder Children’s Books. The poems in this highly original collection, penned by John Agard uncover a wealth of human experience and on differences in race.

Moonfleece, Philip Ridley. Methuen. A playscript that explores the tensions between two groups of teenagers who come to learn the way party politics influence the everyday lives of individuals and the devastating impact this can have.

Noughts and Crosses, Malorie Blackman. Random House Children’s Books. Sephy and Callum live in a world of split communities and civil unrest, can their feelings for one another grow and blossom against this backdrop and what will occur if those feelings are discovered?

Palestine, Joe Sacco. Jonathan Cape. An extraordinary piece of current affairs reportage told in graphic novel form and recounting the conflict in the West Bank and Gaza strip.

Persepolis 1 & 2, Marjane Satrapi. Vintage. This eye-opening graphic novel about author Marjane Satrapi’s childhood growing up in Tehran uncovers the way a country’s politics, religion, history and traditions, influence a sense of identity.

Refugee Boy, Benjamin Zephaniah. Bloomsbury Children’s Books. Thrilled to have left his home country of Ethiopia for the first time, Alem is excited to be spending a holiday with his father in London. Happiness turns to despair when he discovers his father has left him alone in an unfamiliar country…

(Un)arranged Marriage, Bali Rai. Random House Children’s Books. This highly personal story was partly influenced by Bali Rai’s own experiences, it looks at the impact cultural traditions can have on young people growing up in modern times and the book will resonate will all who have experienced the pressure of expectation at the hands of their family.

The Weight of Water, Sarah Crossan. Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Poetic and reflective, the story tells how Kasienka comes to England from Gdansk in Poland with her mother, a suitcase and a laundry bag full of clothes, desperate to search for her father.

I shall have to magic up some extra reading time for a few more of these. I strongly suspect none of the books have wizards or vampires in them. (Although, I would – obviously – welcome corrections from my well informed readers on this.)

Sorry for copying in the whole list. I simply felt it was important. And it made me feel better, after not having been able to join many of the authors on the list at the Guardian’s HQ on Monday.

Skulduggery Pleasant – The Dying of the Light

The people at Volvo might want to sue, but the rest of us will be more than happy with the last of Skulduggery Pleasant. Because I take it this really is the end. It’s been a good seven and a bit years, except for those who died. There were a lot of people dying here. Painfully, mostly, and often unnecessarily. It’s what we like.

The tenth book in this nine-book series had to reveal whether what we’d been seeing all this time would come true or not. We have ‘known’ what Darquesse aka Valkyrie would do to end the world. It’s confusing when you have two people the same, but different. Add the reflection, and you have three. And was that a fourth Stephanie Edgley, in Colorado?

Derek Landy has kept this up magnificently. The relationship between Skulduggery and Stephanie/Valkyrie has remained as fun and interesting as it ever was. You enjoy their banter so much you almost wish it was you, until you remember that there’d be a lot of pain and death and danger and suffering if you were. Hmm, better not be them. Probably.

So, the end of the world. It’s coming. Will anyone survive? Well, I’m obviously not going to tell you.

I like the Edgleys. All three brothers are quite fun, when it comes down to it. I like that. There were more ‘Aunt Petunia’ moments in The Dying of the Light, and it’s good when people turn out to have more than one side to them.

Most of the characters in here have plenty of sides. They keep changing their sides and their allegiances the way some people change socks. I’ve never wanted to be Valkyrie, but always Tanith. However, I’ve grudgingly come to the realisation that I’m more Vaurien Scapegrace than anyone else… Sigh.

Seven years is a long time in the lives of young people. I hope most readers have remained fans for the duration. The reader in Year 7 back then has just gone off to university. Will he feel that The Dying of the Light is as much fun now as the first books was?

Derek Landy, Skulduggery Pleasant - The Dying of the Light

This looks pretty bleak, doesn’t it? I mean, for a fun book.

Skink No Surrender

‘Don’t fart on my Steinbeck.’ Who could not love a book with a sentence like that in it? It is genius in its simplicity. The phrase, not the book. Well, that too is genius, but not simple. Carl Hiaasen’s book might appear simple, but is really very complex, and in that respect Skink No Surrender is no different from his other fantastic novels.

I was looking forward to reading it from the moment it arrived, in all its anonymous glory. Would you believe, they didn’t put his name on the book? At first I was outraged by the description of the plot and the characters, because it was a total Carl Hiaasen rip-off. And then I twigged that it was Carl, and his finest creation, Skink himself.

Carl Hiaasen, Skink No Surrender

This is about the danger of strangers, and in particular going off in a car with a man you don’t know. Richard’s cousin Malley has done exactly that. She seems fine at first, but soon it becomes apparent that things have turned bad. And to help Malley, Richard goes off in a car with a man he’s just met. So, parents might not approve of this scenario, and they’d be right not to. In a way.

Skink would agree with them, and he’s the one who drives off with Richard to find Malley. Hiaasen aficionados will know Richard is perfectly safe with Skink. And Richard feels safe, despite his new friend’s lunatic behaviour. But he can’t actually know that!

Skink No Surrender is yet another mix of crazy, kindness and saving the environment. It’s an odd mix, but it works so well. Skink can’t tolerate people who steal turtle eggs or shoot at herons. Or throw drinks cans from their cars. So don’t. Just don’t, if there is any possibility of Skink being in the vicinity.

The adventure of finding Malley, and saving a little bit of Florida, is as fun as you’d expect, and you sit there laughing helplessly, or seething over human folly. And you know Richard will be fine, and that Malley will be found, safe and sound.

With a bit of luck, Skink will survive the tale too, with most of his body parts almost intact and not too much missing.

The Case of the Bogus Detective

Imagine the joy of finding that the trilogy you liked so much didn’t, in fact, end with the third book. There is a fourth! The last one, from what I’ve heard, but very nice all the same. (And I don’t think we should rule out more from the way things were left…)

Caroline Lawrence, The Case of the Bogus Detective

Caroline Lawrence’s very likeable aspie detective PK Pinkerton is back, in The Case of the Bogus Detective. We now know what sex Pinky is, but that only adds to the fun. PK’s long lost dad, the famous Pinkerton detective turns up, and together they set out to solve the robberies on stage coaches carrying valuables. Pinkerton Sr wants PK to dress as a girl, and goes so far as to teach Pinky how to act like one, how to walk, and so on. He doesn’t appear to have much dress sense however, which is so like a man.

Jace seems to have let PK down and the relationship with Ping sours somewhat, and Mark Twain, as he now calls himself, sets off for San Francisco. Pinky isn’t far behind, on the trail of the stage coach robbers.

So this time we have a true western adventure on a stage coach, followed by more adventures in San Francisco. We’ve heard so much about the city, and now PK can see what it’s like, as well as solve a mystery. Things are tied up most satisfactorily.

I have loved these westerns with a difference, and would happily read more. And I’ll have my own Sioux outfit now, thank you. I’ve always wanted one.

Demon rules and the Glasgow underground

Did you know there are rules for summoning demons? And that crime writers all refer to the same rules?

I trust I didn’t imagine this. Michael J Malone chaired the Bloody Scotland Sunday afternoon supernatural event, talking to Alexandra Sokoloff, Gordon Brown (the other one) and James Oswald. Actually, I don’t suppose the event was supernatural. It was the topic. Although, Alexandra was described as the daughter of Mary Shelley, so I don’t know.

After a ‘warm bloody welcome’ Michael asked the three to blame someone or something for what they are doing. Gordon Brown didn’t know he wanted to write crime, but worked out that he could do a lot of horrible things to people if he did. He described a Glasgow pub fight he’d witnessed once, where one man was sitting reading a book, completely oblivious to the fighting going on around him.

Alexandra Sokoloff

Alexandra said that although she had a past working with juvenile crime in Los Angeles (where she’s from), it was the Scottish who led her to crime. Hearing Denise Mina and Val McDermid talk at BoucherCon one year, she realised that crime writing was the best way to address social issues, tired of the endless slaughter of women in books, and she wanted to turn that around, writing about a female Jack Reacher type.

James blames (hey, that rhymes…) Stuart MacBride. James was writing his epic fantasy series when Stuart told him to stop doing that. So James wrote a few short stories to see if he could write crime, but he hasn’t been able to totally shake off the fantastic element. Hence the demons.

James Oswald

Is evil a noun or an adjective? It can be both, but James uses it as an adjective. And he says that publishers want something different, as long as it’s the same as everything else. Gordon has a plan for putting two politicians into the same room, having the First Minister murder another Minister…

Sex? Well, Gordon doesn’t think he could write it very successfully. And can you let your mother read it? James doesn’t believe the reader should know about the detective’s sex life. They can have one, but you don’t need the details. Whereas Alexandra likes sex and so do her characters. She wants the stories to have erotic suspense, and besides, the books go on for too long for the characters not to have sex. But James said he feels the suspense can still be there with clothes on.

Have they met evil people? Gordon said you can’t possibly know. Alexandra thinks you can, and she has encountered many evil people in the past. James has led a sheltered life, but has come across evil intent, even if people are not evil.

Gordon Brown

Gordon said that if something feels gratuitous, then it probably is. It’s better to imply than to describe. It’s harder, but better, to get inside people’s heads. Alexandra gave up screenwriting because she didn’t like the ‘torture porn’ she was expected to write. She writes about violence, but doesn’t like to read about extreme violence. Humour, according to James, is true to life, so you need it in a book. If there is none, it makes the book hard to read.

Writing series – Alexandra has written two books, and is working on the third, but doesn’t know how long she would continue. Feedback from readers is a good thing. Gordon will write more if he likes the characters, but if he tires of them it’s hard to make it fresh. James doesn’t know. He’s got a contract for six McLean novels, and since his detective doesn’t die at the end of book six, there is scope for more. He gets to know him better with each book, so could go on forever.

Have they researched the supernatural? Well, there seems to be some ground rules about demons. Alexandra has read up on the rules. James relies on Buffy, and Gordon talked about getting the Glasgow underground wrong. The trains might go round and round, but you could still be on the wrong platform.

Poppy the Pirate Dog and the Treasure Keeper

It’s lampshade time for Poppy the Pirate Dog. Oh, the shame of it.

Poppy and George the kitten, and the children, are preparing for Mum’s birthday. Things go a bit wrong, before they go a bit all right. And in the end it is actually thanks to the dreadful lampshade Poppy has to wear, that the all right bit happens.

You know me; I adore Poppy. This is another of Liz Kessler’s Early Reader stories featuring her own Poppy. And I know that Liz tried to interest her Emily Windsnap fans in telling their younger siblings about the Poppy books, but you can never be too old for Poppy. (OK, so I read it rather quickly, but it’s 100% enjoyment.)

WARP – The Hangman’s Revolution

I almost, or very nearly, thought the unthinkable. Like, ‘I know Eoin Colfer’s latest WARP novel will be good, but perhaps I don’t need to read it. There are many other books to read.’ Ouch! (My knuckles really hurt. But I was asking for it.)

What I am saying, sister, is this: Eoin writes great books. They don’t deteriorate for being so many. A sequel is still an Eoin Colfer novel. Thinking that there is no need to read, is a very stupid idea to have. But it’s nothing that a good rap over the knuckles won’t cure. Sister.

And of course, time travel is a useful subject to pick. Time travel messes with the system, and you will never be quite the same again. And since yesterday’s future is no longer today’s future, you can – in theory – write as many books as you want. There will be something a little different in each reality. But preserve us from the horrible possibility that there will be no Harry Potter. That would be too much.

Eoin Colfer, WARP - The Hangman's Revolution

So, where was I? Good question. I could barely remember where we left off. Riley was in his own Victorian times, I believe, and FBI Agent Chevie returned to her own present London. We thought. So we did.

But it was only another London. A nightmarish other London. So it was.

‘scuse me. Eoin does Irish so well. (I know. There is a reason for that.) So he does.

(Sorry, I really must stop.)

So, Chevie’s life isn’t going so well. It’s about to end pretty soon. Or is it? Depends which life, perhaps. She is reunited with Riley. So she is. (Oops.)

Victorian London is full of modern-day men, and now a few modern-day women, too. Sister. Queen Victoria is at risk. The man who runs Chevie’s most recent life has plans for the future. Chevie and Riley must put a stop to them, if only to safeguard Harry Potter’s existence-to-be. Enemies become allies and vice versa. There is an astounding romance, and Missus Figary’s son does well. Some other people don’t. On the whole that’s good.

So it is.

And that goes for The Hangman’s Revolution, too. Don’t be fooled into thinking that humorous Irish children’s adventures that are lightweight are, well, lightweight. If they have anything to do with Eoin Colfer they will be must-reads. I hope I’m never again afflicted by such treacherous thoughts. So I do.