Category Archives: Reading

Migs and Pig

So. Going to school is upon us again.

Jo Hodgkinson, A Big Day for Migs

Migs is starting, for the first time (yes, I know that’s what starting means), and Jo Hodgkinson shows the reader what a typical first day at school might be like.

You worry at first, but then, like so many children, Migs discovers that this school thing isn’t bad at all. He might even want to return tomorrow.

Charlie Higson and Mark Chambers, Freddy and the Pig

Whereas Freddy in Charlie Higson’s and Mark Chambers’s Freddy and the Pig, isn’t too keen on school. He wants to stay at home and play computer games. (He’s rather lazy, truth be told.) So one day he sends his pet pig to school instead.

The thing is, in this dyslexia friendly book, that the pig actually likes school. He gets better and better at it, and by the end he’s got himself a university degree and everything.

Freddy? Er, his mother sold him.

Project Firebird

I can’t help it. I like what Nick Green writes. Very much. His books are precisely how you want children’s books to be; exciting and fun, and just that little bit different.

Nick first offered Project Firebird for me to read when he’d finished it a few years ago, and I loved it. But I knew he had edited it substantially, so felt it was best to re-read the new version. Nick is about to publish Project Firebird as an ebook in September, along with its two sequels.

It’s a dystopian adventure, with a twist. We first meet the main character – Leo – in his joy-riding days, in Salford of all places. His actions cause him to end up as one of a group of 25 (ish) young teenagers at a centre in the Lake District. They are there because they have all done a ‘good’ deed. They are different.

Events unfold in a way I don’t want to give away, but let’s just say that the plot changes dramatically several times. When you think you know, expect to be surprised, again.

The teenagers learn new skills and how to cooperate with each other (well, they are meant to) and to prepare for a bad future.

(When the Resident IT Consultant first read the book he asked if it really was all right for adults to do what they do in this story. I reckon it is. It adds to the thrill and the adventure.)

Project Firebird isn’t one of those books where you are dismayed to learn there are two more. On the contrary, you won’t want to wait to start on the sequel.

Scottish Children’s Book Awards shortlist 2015

The latest shortlist for the Scottish Children’s Book Awards has been announced today, and from now until next year young Scottish readers can vote for their favourite books.

FREE TO USE - SCOTTISH CHILDREN’S BOOK AWARDS SHORTLIST ANNOUNCED

Bookbug Readers (3-7 years)

Princess Penelope and the Runaway Kitten by Alison Murray (Nosy Crow)

Robot Rumpus by Sean Taylor, illustrated by Ross Collins (Andersen Press)

Lost for Words by Natalie Russell (Macmillan)

Younger Readers (8-11 years)

Precious and the Mystery of the Missing Lion by Alexander McCall Smith (Birlinn)

Attack of the Giant Robot Chickens by Alex McCall (Kelpies)

Pyrate’s Boy by B. Collin (Kelpies)

Older Readers (12-16 years)

Dark Spell by Gill Arbuthnott (Kelpies)

The Wall by William Sutcliffe (Bloomsbury)

Mosi’s War by Cathy MacPhail (Bloomsbury)

What’s nice about this – among many other things – is that small publisher Kelpies have got three books on a list of nine. Another nice thing is that this is for Scottish authors and illustrators. And then there is the handing out of free books to readers; ‘Scottish Book Trust will give a free copy of the three Bookbug category books to every Primary 1 child during Book Week Scotland.’

FREE TO USE - SCOTTISH CHILDREN’S BOOK AWARDS SHORTLIST ANNOUNCED

As Jasmine Fassl at Scottish Book Trust says, ‘The Scottish Children’s Book Awards are much more than a celebration of Scottish literature – they are about expanding children’s horizons far beyond their physical boundaries and barriers. By simply reading just one of the shortlisted novels in their category, a 5 year old can imagine what it’s like to have rampaging robots as babysitters, a 10 year old can hop aboard a pirate ship, and a 15 year old can be transported into the mind of a teenager in a war zone.’

I’ll read to that! I can’t vote, but we will find out who wins on 4th March next year, after Scottish children have had their say. And the rampaging robots.

Superpowered

Sunday morning’s first event was Liz Kessler being all low tech (it seems last year she went more high tech than she liked) with a bunch of fervent fans, and a couple of children’s authors, and ‘oh, hello’ a witch at the back. Liz wanted us to keep talking, ‘no, seriously, keep talking,’ while she rustled with paper bags and got herself sorted out with her low tech goods. When we were too well behaved to obey, she asked for someone to tap dance, but no one came forward for that either.

Starting off by interviewing her audience, because she likes knowing who is there, she was pleased to find a fan who treats books on fairies as non-fiction. Liz herself writes about mermaids, fairies, time travel and superpowers.

Then it was time to pick items out of her little box, and the first was a pair of sunglasses; her friend Fred, the Invisible Man (if covered in bandages and wearing sunglasses it had to be him, but we know it’s really Steve Cole). This led to Liz’s brand new book, Has Anyone Seen Jessica Jenkins? and she read the bit where the recently made invisible Jessica goes into a department store where she ‘misbehaves’ in an amusing sort of way. (Jessica became invisible during a boring geography lesson, but I suspect Liz remembered the event where there was a geography teacher in the audience, and she had to do some hasty backtracking regarding the merits of geography… Oops.)

Her tiniest book is a German edition of Emily Windsnap (which made Liz read some Emily to us) and then it was story cube time (which is where you throw dice with pictures on, to get the creative juices flowing, or in this case, Liz threw them at her audience). I mean how can you fail to write some epic work with props like torch, bee, beetle, arrow and fire? Especially with lightbulb thrown in as a valuable extra.

She is very funny, actually, this ‘work-shy tearaway’ from Liz’s old school reports. Her box holds a bouncy ball because it looks nice. Her notebook (this is where I dropped mine) means she loves stationery, and she showed us some old paper napkins and a restaurant menu on which she had in the past written really important things to incorporate into a book.

Liz Kessler

Her best book is one she hasn’t written yet. There will be no more Jessica Jenkins books, but Emily Windsnap 6 is on the way, and so is her YA novel Read Me Like a Book, which will be out next year.

Having stolen Cathy Cassidy’s idea of throwing sweets at her audience, Liz finished by off-loading her remaining sweets. Her own I hope, and not Cathy’s.

And if I’d not lost my touch – or my mind – I’d have been first in that signing queue afterwards. Not all Liz’s fans outgrow her books.

Ghost Soldier

This week’s war events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival have got me started on the war books again. I read and enjoyed Theresa Breslin’s Ghost Soldier, which is aimed at younger readers. That in itself is an indication that some good things need to happen before the end, but it is still about WWI and things are bad as well.

9780857533050-large

Set in a small village in Scotland, Rob’s and Millie’s father has been away for some time and his letters have stopped coming, when there is a telegram to say he is missing in action. Their mother falls to pieces and it’s up to Rob to look after things.

He gets the idea to search for his father, and while this sounds an improbable action to take, considering the war is abroad and he is in Scotland, it works much better than you’d think. His little sister Millie turns out to be just as determined, and she’s a real asset in their fight against adults who don’t understand.

Witnessing friends and neighbours finding out about their lost ones brings home the horrors and realities of war. Someone somewhere is always finding out that their soldier is dead. At the same time normal life goes on.

If a WWI story can be lovely, this is it. It’s not just a re-hashing of the same old facts, and the Scottish rural setting brings something to the children’s efforts to find their dad. Lots of brave acts from lots of people, and much kindness.

But people still die, or are wounded.

Breaking down barriers to books and reading

You can’t help but feel dreadfully inspired by talks on how to help more people to read! In this case it was dyslexia and – primarily – Barrington Stoke who told a packed theatre on Tuesday about what goes wrong and what can be done to make reading better. I know it’s stupid, but you sort of come away from an event like that wishing you were dyslexic.

I’m not and I’m very grateful that I’m not, but it’s the sheer inspiration you get and the feeling of hope that you can make reading easier.

Mairi Kidd from Barrington Stoke talked about how you read. There are two ways; recognising the whole word, and working your way through a word letter by letter. It’s important the letters don’t look too similar, so they go out of their way to make b and p and q look different from each other in as many ways as they can.

She teased us with English words and names that just don’t do what you expect, like victual, epitome and Milngavie. Serifs are good and so is line spacing of 1.5, tinted background, and thicker than normal paper.

Many boys have not seen men read. That’s a dreadful statement, but probably more true than we can imagine. Good role models are important. Many books are too long (how I agree!). And then there are the must reads, like Harry Potter. Also too long.

Lucy Juckes founded Barrington Stoke 16 years ago with her mother-in-law. Lucy’s husband is dyslexic, as well as one of their four children. Now that their son is 16, his father is no longer allowed to cheat at Scrabble. She told us how they tried to help with reading, and how they have resorted to bribes when necessary.

Removing the pressure to read and using common sense are other obvious tips. And picture books! They end far too soon. There should be no reason why every age can’t have picture books. It’s like you are punished for learning to read books with only words in them. Barrington Stoke will have an app out in October, which should be another useful aid to reading.

Among the suggestions during the Q&A session were to invite authors to school libraries, to make potential readers more interested. Asking an author to become patron of reading at your school is another way. Vivian French who chaired the event said she had successfully introduced scribes who write down stories that young people come up with, in effect making them authors’ peers, which gives them new status.

Someone complained that there aren’t enough girls’ books in the Barrington Stoke range. Mairi agreed that more effort had been used on getting boys to read, but that they are now looking to publish more books for girls.

After the event they offered a workshop in the adjacent theatre for those who wanted to discuss this some more. For the rest of us there was a guided talk in the bookshop, showing us all the latest books. (It was a little crowded – which is good – and I returned later that evening for a second look. Lots of excellent books. You don’t need to find reading hard to want to try them.)

The Siobhan Dowd Trust Memorial Lecture #1

Having been – sort of –  ‘in’ on Siobhan Dowd’s memorial trust since its start, there was no way I wouldn’t go and hear Patrick Ness deliver (such a posh word) the first lecture in aid of the trust. He is well known for calling a spade a spade, so my feeling was that it wouldn’t be boring.

Tony Bradman

It wasn’t. Introduced by Tony Bradman, Patrick got his usual superstar greeting from the audience (I’m trusting there were lots of young people in the theatre…), before offering us his 90 minute talk in 28 minutes. He talks fast when he gets nervous. Apparently. He reckoned there would probably be time left for some Q&A at the end.

The end. Yes, for him that was meant to come at the age of eight, in 1980, according to the pastor in his pentecostal church in Washington (state). They were all going to die.

Patrick fiddled with his stopwatch as he told us about Siobhan’s first short story, which she offered Tony Bradman for his collection Skin Deep. Just hearing about it again made my hairs stand on end. It’s that good. Siobhan was that good. ‘Just plain damned good’ as Patrick said.

Children have always suffered in silence. Not just being condemned to death by their pastor, but he told us about the poor girl who was certain she’d die a death by artichoke. Being young is ‘impossible.’

And it’s wrong to use the word ‘them’ for children. We’ve all been children. Patrick sees himself as one big warehouse, storing all his previous ages, because he is all those ages at all times. He at least had Judy Blume when he was young. And whereas he wanted to write, his understanding was that only famous people become authors.

He wanted to write about being young and gay in Washington, because there is a lot of shame involved in being young. And Siobhan Dowd was the writer Patrick always wanted to be. ‘Stories told with love.’

On the calling a spade a spade, Patrick felt that the first question put to him on Saturday evening was more of a comment from the member of the audience (How I resent those who use vaulable time voicing their own opinions at times like these!) The next question was more a ‘Patrick compliment’ kind of question, about what message he’d leave his eight-year-old self if he could.

Patrick Ness

Adept at avoiding tricky corners, Patrick wriggled out of a favourite list of books, which was the third question. On that note we ran out of time and Patrick attempted a fast escape out the fire exit, at which point he discovered a witch sitting nearby, so he said a quick hello, waved and ran.

The queue for his book signing was long and I’m sure he was there for a while. If people will insist on being photographed with their favourite author and can’t get the camera to work, queues like these will take forever. Although I saw Patrick later, so he must have escaped eventually.