Monthly Archives: May 2007

Roman Mysteries and the BBC, again

According to Caroline, who was met by 88 emails when she got to an Egyptian internet cafe, the BBC postponed the Roman Mysteries because of the disappearance of the little girl in Portugal. The next episode is about kidnapped children. I can’t help feeling that they could have announced this decision to let the viewers know.


Hostage taking

As I have mentioned on occasion, Son has been threatened with being disowned if he does not read a certain book, “now!”. Daughter works differently and threats do not work so well. Taking her hostage can work. I say can, not necessarily that it will.

A couple of years ago I really wanted her to read How I Live Now, my favourite favourite book at the time, and still, in fact. I put us on the train to Scotland (we did have a reason for going to Scotland, other than reading) with only HILN available. What Daughter did not finish reading on the train, she continued with at our destination, long after the tired old witch had fallen asleep.

Holidays can work well, too. Daughter is currently marooned in the beautiful Swedish countryside, and on Monday she finished two books and read an entire third book. All without me even suggesting reading.

If you want to know what books Daughter read, they were a new Michael Morpurgo which has not yet been published called Best Mate, Does Glitter Count as Camouflage by Helen Slater, and Frozen Fire by Tim Bowler.

The reason Daughter had two books on the go at once, was that Frozen Fire was not really a book she could read at night, which is where DGCaC came in as a safe option. And Tim, I will have you know that if that book had been less exciting, Daughter might not have bitten her lips quite as hard, drawing blood. Just so you know.


I would never have chosen this book. So it’s a good thing the Resident IT Consultant discovered this new branch of Oxfam bookshops in Bloomsbury, just as he had a pressing need to buy Christmas presents. Cynthia Kadohata’s Kira-Kira became mine. It’s a Newbery medal winning book from a few years ago, about two Japanese sisters growing up in 1950s Georgia.

Why do we read so few American children’s books here in Britain? I feel incredibly ignorant as I struggle to come up with more than a few examples of good writers. They must exist, surely?

Anyway, the cover is boring and with an odd title as well, it would never have been picked by the bookwitch, who’s a fool and should know better. It’s an absolutely wonderful book, about childhood innocense and hardship and illness. Last year I read a Canadian writer on a similar subject, retro childhood kind of thing, which I really didn’t like at all. But Kira-Kira felt just right. I’d never considered the Japanese in America, so it was interesting to learn about them too. Curiously, the descriptions of the factory in Kira-Kira reminds me of several of Sara Paretsky’s books. Something about American factories, maybe?

Half term flying

As a witch I ought to know. But I don’t. And as a witch I could always fly on my broomstick instead. Too much luggage, though. Daughter and I are intending/hoping to go away for half term. But the airline’s cabin crew might go on strike. “We can’t say yet”, said Danish call centre yesterday. “What strike?”, said same call centre today. Quite.

If we do manage to go, there might be somewhat fewer postings on here for a week. Thunder hit the holiday modem last August, so no Internet, except in the library. The local authority’s, not my personal library. But at least it’s fitting that a bookwitch should be forced to go to the library. It’s a lovely new library, so no real hardship. Very stylish and spacious, floating over the river. But the computers; I can do @ and å, ä, ö here at home. But can I find the right keys on this foreign keyboard? Very embarrassing having to go and ask librarian where she keeps her @.

So, we’ll see.


Write about what you know, is a good piece of advice, which I will now proceed to ignore.

Today I met Gwyneth Rees who writes about fairies. And for once I had not managed to read a single word beforehand. I hear she has bookfairies, who must surely be a little bit related to bookwitches. And she described a Scottish one that has pink and hairy knees. Now, who does that remind me of? With a thistle on his head.

I’m sort of on the old side for fairies, but I found it fascinating that so many little girls wanted to dress up as fairies to come and meet the author of the fairy books they like so much. Did you lot even realise there is a tremendous number of different kinds of fairy wings?

Gwyneth signs her books with what I’m sure is a pink peony. The fairies thought it was a rose, but roses don’t come that fat. I think.

What, no Roman Mystery today?

Sorry, but I don’t know either why there was nothing on television this afternoon. I have asked the BBC, but they may take some time to answer. And Caroline is currently floating away on the Nile, so may not know. This is no way to treat us, though, is it?

Linda Press Wulf’s new book

I have a fascination for what I’ve begun to call “Jewish books”. A new one out recently is The Night of the Burning by Linda Press Wulf. It’s unusual in that it’s not a World War II story and it’s not about Germany.

This book deals with the persecution of Jews in Poland in the early twenties, with flashbacks to the first World War and the years just after. Linda’s story about two orphaned sisters, Devorah and Nechama, tells of their journey from their Polish orphanage to their new homes in South Africa, as well as explaining what happened to their family before they were orphaned.

I find it hard to decide whether this really is a children’s book. It clearly appeals to the adults who have read it, but I would hope children will also read the book and learn from it. With modern hindsight it’s interesting to see South Africa as a haven for poor Europeans, and it’s certainly taught me things.

Can we have too many of this type of story? I’ve seen suggestions that the Jewish market is full and writers should look elsewhere. But we are not tired of love or crime or magic, so the idea that a genre can be too full seems a silly one.

Fowl deal

This is another instance of the paperback being different from the original hardback. I mean apart from the obvious difference of hardbacks and paperbacks.

Eoin Colfer’s fifth Artemis Fowl book is just out in paperback. And the slow cheapskates who waited this long get more. For less money. Artemis Fowl and the Lost Colony has a picture of Fowl Manor and one of Haven City. There’s a spotter’s guide to “the people” and a page of the gnommish alphabet. I’d always thought you had to work it out yourself. Hah!

Like the four earlier Artemis Fowl books, this one is great. (Though I don’t entirely recommend reading it just after an episode of Doctor Who. I’m still shaking.) There’s a hint we may not have to wait too long for the next one. And there’s a sneak preview of Artemis Fowl, the graphic novel.

The photo of Eoin has persuaded me that I could (possibly) have been wrong last year when I didn’t believe Eoin’s claim to owning only one jacket. Read my interview here for more information on Eoin’s shirt and jacket status, and a few other irrelevant facts.

Made in Heaven

Adele Geras’ Made in Heaven is out on May 18th in paperback. I wouldn’t always mention something turning up in paperback, but for the real collector this is an opportunity to have a book that has been altered since the hardback came last year. The beautiful dark green bridesmaids’ dresses have gone pale green. Blame it on the book cover artist who made Adele change it all.

The book is a romantic tale about wedding plans and family secrets. What I’m most interested in, though, are the goings-on in these writing courses where people go to improve their writing skills. I will have to go somewhere like that. To improve my writing skills.

Now stop them from reading

On the Guardian’s blog last week Dina Rabinovitch put forward some suggestions on how to help younger boys to continue reading. Unlike many other blog posts this one got few comments. So, do we assume that children’s reading is a dead boring subject? Not something you can make clever comments about, to show off with?

The mobile library started coming to our street when Son was ten. Wanting to be supportive of the service I went religiously every time, laden with books for all the family. Son wanted audio books to listen to in bed. The child ones quickly turned into more grown up ones, like Agatha Christie, Bill Bryson, Douglas Adams, Wodehouse. Cassettes cost less for children so I always took them out on Son’s library card. Until the day the librarian said children couldn’t borrow adult cassettes. “But I’m his mother” I said, “and these are very innocent ones.” No, it seems there were rules. Closer interrogation of the librarian revealed that the worst possible author for under sixteens would be Terry Pratchett. I had then just visited Son’s future secondary school and vaguely remembered seeing a shelf full of Pratchetts in the school library. A school for under sixteens.

I went on to buy my own audio books instead, and Son still falls asleep to a good selection of books. Kim, The Riddle of the Sands and The Moonstone are favourites, nearly worn out. And he’s read an awful lot of Pratchetts over the years. So, well done librarian, for wanting to censor a child’s reading. I thought your job was the opposite, but disapproving is so much more fun. After all, that’s what I’m doing right now. The mobile library no longer comes this way.

Talking to my bookshop last week about Horrid Henry, I learnt that whereas children love him, many (insecure?) parents come in and complain. They are presumably the ones I used to observe at home time eagerly checking school bags for new reading books. The ones (unlike me) who sat down every day and made their children read the reading book. And once they’ve learnt, they disapprove of what they like to read.

Some years on, when Son was fourteen, his school was visited by Tim Bowler. Generously, Tim spent a lot of time talking about his friend Melvin Burgess’ latest book Doing It. This was shortly after Anne Fine had wanted to burn it for being too filthy. Tim persuaded the three adults present that we wanted to read the book, and we all did. I’d say it’s not the ideal book for a middle aged woman, but that wasn’t Melvin’s target group. The school’s copy of Doing It is still sitting on the shelf in the office, as very few parents would allow their child to borrow it. So why do all these parents and teachers work so hard at getting young children to read? Just think how many unsuitable books could be avoided, really easily, if the child doesn’t learn to read in the first place.

On of my most recent reads was Susan Patron’s The Higher Power of Lucky, which won the Newbery medal. Except I gather many libraries in the US banned the book because it has the word scrotum in it. Shock horror. If I hadn’t known, I’d have thought it was a sweet and enchanting story about a young girl. But then I grew up with a mother who had Lady Chatterley on her shelf. Very bad.