Tag Archives: Quentin Blake

You’re Only Young Twice!

At last a book I am still too young for! It’s ’60 and up’ and I’m not there yet. Hah.

Quentin Blake, however, is very surprisingly 80 this year, and his book is here to celebrate that fact. Some years ago Quentin was invited to come and paint pictures on someone’s hospital walls, in the ‘elderly wing’ and now those pictures have become a book as well.

Quentin Blake, You're Only Young Twice!

I would almost want to go and live in that hospital wing, or let’s say that if and when I do need to be carted off, that’s the kind of wing I’d be after.

Every page, and one assumes, every wall, is full of happy wrinklies, doing fun things. Peeling apples, juggling fruit, sitting on tree branches. In fact, they are doing quite normal things like arm wrestling and playing football and reading books. So that looks hopeful enough, for when the time comes.

You’re Only Young Twice! is fabulous. It shows us that old people are normal people, doing what we should all do if we could; enjoying life. Best done now, if at all possible. In case some of us don’t qualify for the recommended reading age.

Rosen on Dahl

I wonder if Roald Dahl caused Bookwitch to be born? (Yeah, I know. It was Meg Rosoff.) But even so. It’s because I am old. So old that I never read Roald Dahl’s books as a child, and it was this deficiency that made me read some of them when Son was Dahl-age. I had to know if they were any good, because you can’t leave it to those little boys who read nothing but Dahl.

And if I hadn’t done that bit of catching up, I might not have continued on a life of reading children’s books, third time round.

Michael Rosen, Fantastic Mr Dahl

For Roald Dahl day this coming week, there is a new biography by Michael Rosen, Fantastic Mr Dahl. To me this is one funny man writing about another funny man. And in a way there is nothing new here. Michael says he has based the book on what you find in those other biographies, which I have also read. But he writes in his own kind and thoughtfully funny way, adding his own experiences at times. (Like when Dahl talked to Rosen Jr about his dad’s beard. Or comparing his own father’s life with Roald’s.)

Because Michael is writing for young readers, this biography is probably more accessible to fans than Roald’s own Boy, for instance. And as befits a Dahl/Rosen book, it has been illustrated by Quentin Blake. Obviously.

Michael likes the way Roald (as I write this, I find myself saying Roald in my head, the Norwegian way, and not ‘in English’) made up his own words. I wonder if it is actually less strange than he thinks. It feels natural to me, and perhaps also to a fluent Norwegian speaker?

There are Roald’s letters home to his mother, both amusing and a little heart-breaking. I remember feeling desperately sad when reading his own book about his time at school, but Michael has thought about this, and has some comfort to offer.

Divided up into three parts, boy, man, writer, Michael finishes by teaching his readers literary analysis. It might not be necessary, but it happens so rarely that I found myself quite fascinated by it all. And it goes well with the way Michael and Roald both treat their young readers as intelligent individuals, with feelings, and a sense of humour.

Five new Famous Five covers

I suppose we all have them; ‘our’ cover for a classic book. I suspect that just as we seem to be programmed to react favourably to the music at the time we’re the ‘right’ age, so I believe a book cover needs to be from our own period.

Famous Five 70th 01

Famous Five 70th 05

Famous Five 70th 03

Famous Five 70th 02

For me the correct cover of Five On A Treasure Island is the Swedish one from the early 1960s. It doesn’t matter what else I see, because nothing can change that. I quite like one of the old (original?) British covers, but it’s not mine in the same way.

Sometimes I have found that the copy of a certain book which I owned was older or newer than it ought to have been, and I’ve had to make do with the wrong period cover, and if I come across the right one, I go all soft and nostalgic.

And now when I see so many covers, I occasionally experience a ‘must have’ moment when something new and delicious comes along. Never mind that I already have the book. The new cover is just the best.

(Yes, I know. I’m sounding a bit inconsistent here. I’m allowed to.)

It would seem that the Famous Five are 70 this year. Wow! That makes someone like Julian a gentleman of over 80!

Anyway, we can’t all do what John Barrowman does, which is to go round buying expensive first editions of the Five, so it’s nice that Hodder Childen’s Books are celebrating their 70th birthday with new covers. Five new covers, by five top artists. They are Quentin Blake, Helen Oxenbury, Chris Riddell, Emma Chichester Clark and Oliver Jeffers. And their covers are really very nice.

Famous Five 70th 04

If I’m allowed to have a favourite it’s Five Go To Smuggler’s Top. And Five Go Adventuring Again. That’s because Helen Oxenbury’s cover is nicely old-fashioned the way the books used to be, and Oliver Jeffers’s is just so Oliver Jeffersy. But setting aside my peculiar ideas, they are all great covers.

The marvellous thing about them is that if a new reader already has a favourite illustrator, they might be tempted to try the Famous Five if they happen to see it. And I’m sure Chris and Oliver can count, really. They just won’t have seen the need to have all five Famous Fives in the picture.

Blue about bestselling books

The list of bestselling books up for the vote on Blue Peter has left me feeling anxious. I don’t know why. I trust Blue Peter. Well, reasonably anyway. And Booktrust is a good organisation, working on worthy awards and various reading schemes.

Below is the list of the – apparently – bestselling books of the last decade. That’s 2002 to 2011, and it’s number of books sold, rather than in monetary terms. And an author can only appear once. Under 16s can vote for their favourite, so at some point we’ll have the overall winner.

Alex Rider Mission 3: Skeleton Key by Anthony Horowitz, Candyfloss by Jacqueline Wilson, illustrated by Nick Sharratt, Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J K Rowling, Horrid Henry and the Football Fiend by Francesca Simon, illustrated by Tony Ross, Mr Stink by David Walliams, illustrated by Quentin Blake, Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo, The Series of Unfortunate Events: Austere Academy by Lemony Snicket, Theodore Boone by John Grisham, and Young Bond: SilverFin ─ A James Bond Adventure by Charlie Higson.

Most of these books are really good. The question is if they are the best, and the question is whether it makes sense to have a list based on sales, which is then voted on. If we go for sales, there must be an overall winner already. Why not just announce who that is? (I can guess. So I can also guess why there needs to be a debate in the form of a vote.)

Many of these titles are obvious for anyone with any understanding of book sales versus other ways of measuring worth and popularity. The one that I am still surprised and vaguely pleased to find on here is the John Grisham. I’m glad that a book the reviewers didn’t seem to go for has sold. Unless it’s the Terry Pratchett phenomenon. Do Grisham fans buy everything – even children’s books – when it’s by their favourite author? Perhaps the sales weren’t caused by child buyers, or buyers for children?

Anyway, Theodore Boone is up against many solid favourites, so will most likely not win. I wouldn’t like to bet on who will, though.

Blue Peter

Along with the competition for book of the decade, Blue Peter announced the shortlist for The Blue Peter Book of the Year 2012:

Discover the Extreme World by Camilla de la Bedoyere, Clive Gifford, John Farndon, Steve Parker, Stewart Ross and Philip Steele

The Official Countdown to the London 2012 Games by Simon Hart

The Considine Curse by Gareth P. Jones

A Year Without Autumn by Liz Kessler

Only two of those are fiction, and I suppose it fits the Blue Peter image to include non-fiction books. I just don’t feel they are competing on a level playing field, somehow.

But don’t mind me. It was probably something I ate.

Funny Girls

I drank my tea and ate my toast while watching some breakfast television show with Philip Ardagh doing his utmost to avoid mentioning that the Louises had won the Roald Dahl Funny Prize. I kept thinking he’d slip up. (Sorry, P.)

Glad to hear that many children’s authors are both short and funny. Like their books. Which would make a certain person’s books extremely long… (Or is that a tall book..?)

Last year’s winner (that’s Philip again) looked quite presentable (this is turning into some lowlife glossy magazine) with freshly trimmed beard and hair and he seemed to have the tickling of small children down to a fine art. I don’t know where they could have found quite such tiny and cute children. And getting them out of bed even earlier than I had crawled downstairs. The little boy favoured Where’s Wally, which was not on the shortlist, but if you ask a child a question, you get an answer.

Philip wrote in the Guardian on Saturday about the trials (and the odd bit of fun) of judging the prize. It’s a relief to learn that not all funny books are funny. And just because you think you are Julia Donaldson and believe you write like her, doesn’t mean you are or that you can.

Louise Rennison

Louise Yates and Louise Rennison can. Write funny, if not necessarily Gruffalo style. Louise Yates won the younger award for Dog Loves Books, inspired by one of the other shortlistees, Quentin Blake. And Louise Rennison triumphed with Withering Tights, which is such a delicious title.

I have adored the Rennison (here I thought it was going to be labour saving having two winners with the same name, whereas I now have to resort to surnames…) titles for years. I’ve never read her books, but each time I spy a new one I pause and enjoy the sheer wittiness of the title.

As a girl who likes humour, I’m more than satisfied with this double female win.

Bookwitch bites #27

I was about to say something hasty – and incorrect – like we seem to have left the shortlists behind and it’s time for award winners, but stopped myself in time. The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award ‘shortlist’ was made public this week. It’s a jolly long shortlist, but since it’s the last list, I suppose it has to count as the shortlist. It has the usual names on it, like Michael Rosen, Quentin Blake and David Almond, among the British. Also Mary Hoffman for – I think – the first time, which is nice. Lots of organisations, and I do feel that they are perhaps worthier recipients of so much money. But if Mary wins I hope she remembers me.

Thursday must have been a Swedish announcement sort of day, with this year’s Nobel Prize winner, Mario Vargas Llosa. The Resident IT Consultant inquired if I knew him. Not personally, obviously, but with Spanish literature deep in my past, I do ‘know’ him.

Another winner this week was Michelle Paver who was received the Guardian children’s fiction prize, also on Thursday. Busy day, clearly. As I mentioned earlier, I never got started on Michelle’s books, so have long felt the uphill effect of even trying to catch up. But if everyone will insist on saying quite how excellent the books are, I will have no option but to dive in. Wouldn’t have minded being there for the award, but couldn’t make it. Not that I was asked, but you know…

More failure to attend for me with Cheltenham having got under way this weekend. Wonderful programme as always, and lovely town. Must work on returning some time soon.

Doing quite well on the new book front, however. My recent visitors were taken aback when they realised the postman staggers up the drive and rings the doorbell (once only) on most days, delivering books and more books. Yesterday I received six, and the bad news for me was that I liked the look of all but one.

I know I mentioned Alan Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamen last week, but must return to it today. The hardback has arrived and it’s gorgeous. I found myself sitting there stroking it, and gazing at the names of the great and the good who sing its praises on the back.

Had an uncharacteristically successful reading day as well, finishing three books. I’m sure that means I won’t get anywhere near my reading chair for a while.

And Norm Geras loves his books so much he wouldn’t ever consider a Kindle.

Play the shape game

This is actually a book which encourages you to draw in it. I should have had one when I was the right age to draw in books.

The age I was when I really did look at the shape – and size – of things. In detail. It was January 5th, 1959 and I didn’t have a toy like these newfangled ‘fit the round peg in the square hole’ ones. Didn’t matter. I had a raisin. And a nostril.

You get the picture?

There I was, sitting on the windowsill in the kitchen of Grandfather-of-witch. It was Twelfth Night and he was babysitting. All the others were out making themselves beautiful for the big dinner and dance that night. I wasn’t invited, as I was only two. And a half. Old enough to be annoyed at the lack of inclusion.

Anyway, I realised that the raisin I held in my hand was just the right size and shape for my nostril, so up and in it went. And that’s all. It wouldn’t come out and Grandfather-of-witch was not happy.

When Mother-of-witch returned from the hairdresser’s we had to go straight out for some emergency raisin-removal by some doctor or other who was still on duty on this public holiday eve. Him and his half dozen nurses who held me down. I’ve never been particularly brave.

But you can’t fault my eye for shape matching.

Play the shape game

Back to Anthony Browne, who came up with these shapes that he asked various famous people to do their own picture from. Lots of authors, as well as actors and other celebrities too numerous to tag here, have drawn and played, all in the name of charity.

Bookwitch bites #24

Book launch sign

It’s lists and launch time at bookwitch towers with my bites one day early.

Last night Keren David had a launch party for her second novel, Almost True. I wasn’t present as unfortunately there’s a limit to how frequently I can do the commute to London. And I’m afraid I’m on my way there today, although not to see the Pope if I can help it.

Keren David at her Almost True book launch

Gillian Philip

Gillian Philip has been shortlisted for the Royal Mail’s Scottish Children’s Book Awards, along with Barry Hutchison, Julia Donaldson, Debi Gliori, Elizabeth Laird, Cathy MacPhail, Lucinda Hare, John Fardell and Simon Puttock. Luckily there are several categories so more than one of these lovely people can win. I hope they do. Not sure what they win if they win. Stamps?

The Roald Dahl Funny Prize 2010 judges have also come up with a shortlist, or rather two shortlists, because you can’t have too many lists of whatever length:

The Funniest Book for Children Aged Six and Under

Angelica Sprocket’s Pockets by Quentin Blake

Dogs Don’t Do Ballet by Anna Kemp, illustrated by Sara Ogilvie

Dog Loves Books by Louise Yates

The Nanny Goat’s Kid by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Tony Ross

One Smart Fish by Chris Wormell

The Scariest Monster in the World by Lee Weatherly, illustrated by Algy Craig Hall

The Funniest Book for Children Aged Seven to Fourteen

The Clumsies Make a Mess by Sorrel Anderson, illustrated by Nicola Slater

Einstein’s Underpants and How They Saved the World by Anthony McGowan

The Incredible Luck of Alfie Pluck by Jamie Rix, illustrated by Craig Shuttlewood

Mr Stink by David Walliams, illustrated by Quentin Blake

The Ogre of Oglefort by Eva Ibbotson

Withering Tights by Louise Rennison

I gather Philip Ardagh, who is one of the judges, may almost have read too many funny books in the course of duty. I believe it was something like 130, which is enough to put you off even that which you like best.

Right, I have a train to catch. See you tomorrow.

Vamoose, elk, älg, whatever, and other books

Funny how it’s almost possible to miss a new book by Meg Rosoff. When you’re me, that is. And I know the rest of you aren’t me. But, you know… And it is funny. The book. Vamoose, as it’s called. It’s about a young couple who become pregnant, and the baby turns out to be an elk. (Now, I absolutely refuse to refer to it as a moose, except I know the title sort of loses it’s pun factor this way.) And because that’s impossible in the first place, it’s obviously not true. Is it?

But it’s funny, with Meg’s sense of humour.

Infinity by Sarah Dessen is another of Puffin’s pocket money books. It’s all about roundabouts, and at first I thought it was the fun kind, but it turned out to be the road kind. Although the story does have a ferris wheel, so it all comes round, in a manner of speaking. As a big Sarah Dessen fan, I was a little disappointed in this tale, to be frank.

Roald Dahl has not been writing a new piece for the Puffin series, so what you get in Spotty Powder and other Splendiferous Secrets is a previously un-published chapter from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, plus a sort of annual diary by Roald and lots of snippets about him and Quentin Blake. So, not a lot of new stuff, but if you know what you’re getting, then it’s a must for the Dahl collector.

The Cathy Cassidy contribution to the series has yet to arrive, as it is being reprinted. I presume that means it’s a great hit already.

From the small selection I have been sampling, the best by far is Jeanne Willis’s Silly Cecil and Clever Cubs, for younger readers. But you don’t have to be young to enjoy this silly cat tail. It’s about posh cat Cecil, who is very grand, and the distinctly un-posh Cubby who simply moves in with Cecil and all his lovely food. At first Cubby isn’t good enough for Cecil, and then Cecil the crazy fat cat wants Cubby to kill him. And that’s when things get to be really amusing. Highly recommended.

To live up to the label ‘Pocket Money Puffin’ these books could have done with being cheaper than £3.99. I know children are given a lot of pocket money these days, but whereas Jeanne’s book is well worth the money, it’s not something I see a child of seven going out to buy on their own or with their own money. But as a regular book bought by an adult it’s fine.

The Dahl is OK as long as the child spending his pocket money knows it’s not new fiction. Whereas Vamoose is only half the book, with the rest of the 95 pages extracts from Just In Case and What I Was. Same but worse with Infinity, where only a third of the book is new, and 61 pages are extracts from two previous Puffin Sarah Dessen novels. For someone coming fresh to Sarah and Meg it could serve as Puffin must have intended, and is an OK introduction to some great books. For the avid fan who already owns these books, they’ve spent £2 on something they didn’t need. And I reckon that matters, especially for children.

Nominations for the 2010 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award

The ALMA people have a long longlist of 168 nominations for next year’s award, and I won’t write them all down here. I had a little look for individual authors that you may know and be interested in:

David Almond, Quentin Blake, Aidan Chambers, Morris Gleitzman, Margaret Mahy, Michael Morpurgo, Walter Dean Myers, Axel Scheffler, Kate Thompson, Tomi Ungerer, Jacqueline Wilson and Diana Wynne Jones.

There are absolutely masses of Scandinavian writers, as well as others from countries we rarely pay attention to in the English speaking world. And then there are the organisations. Boring as it may seem to vote for a group that brings books and reading to many children, I wonder whether that is what they should do after all.

The above writers are all good and worthy, and as Sonya Hartnett found last year, five million kronor will do a lot for a person. But the good the money will do through an organisation is very different.

I also wonder why these particular authors are on the list. Presumably because they have someone who campaigns for them and who are allowed to nominate. I need to find out who does get to nominate. I can see myself nominating, you know.