Monthly Archives: April 2008

Abominable snowmen v ponies

There really must be something about children’s books that turns even quite pc journalists somewhat less pc. And I don’t think it’s all right.

Congratulations to Francesca Simon and Horrid Henry for winning the Children’s Book of the Year in the Galaxy British Book Awards this week. Unfortunately the Guardian seemed to think that Horrid Henry’s only achievement was beating Katie Price’s Perfect Ponies. It’s time for grown-ups to stop sneering at Henry as though the Horrid Henry books aren’t real books. Henry is lovely. The books about him are real, and fun.

And Henry’s older pal Harry Potter did well, too. Again, no reason why he shouldn’t. You can be too cool and literary when commenting on children’s books. Or did I already say that?

Horrid Henry

Max Pemberton

It wasn’t like the witch at all. I didn’t actually get a copy of Max’s book last night, when I went to listen to him at the local bookshop. What he read from his book Trust Me, I’m a Junior Doctor, sounded really good. And I think I’d come across some of his columns before, which puzzles me, as I don’t read the paper he writes for.

This was a popular event, with the shop crammed ready to burst, and shop staff wearing scrubs and sexy nurses outfits, and featuring a friendly skeleton. What I think I’m wondering, is why more people come to hear funny doctors, or famous chefs, or whatever, rather than, well, “more real” authors. I certainly enjoyed it, and very nearly helped myself to a copy of the book, before deciding I have too much else to read.

Trust me, I'm a skeleton

Max may have very hazy ideas of the geography of his country, due to having lived his life in London, but I suspect he’s a good doctor. He can write. And he has visions and positive thoughts about the NHS. He even reckons that if he had to choose between writing and doctoring, he’d continue to doctor, which is very earnest, and not what you’d expect.

There won’t be a book from the witch anytime soon. Never, most likely. I’ll just witch on, here at the kitchen table.

Think pink

I have, and the jury is still out. Fiona Dunbar has a new book called Pink Chameleon, and it’s very funny and a good read.

The plot is of the “new boarding school and horrible uncle” variety, with some futuristic fashion on the side. Two sisters, mysteriously disappeared parents, chameleon pet, aforementioned uncle, an unusual great grandmother, and a fashion show make for an interesting mix.

I’m about forty years too old for Pink Chameleon, really, but I enjoy Fiona’s sense of humour. This is a perfect book for someone the right age. There’s a sequel on the way, too, so hopefully the ghastly uncle will eventually get properly sorted.

Pink chameleon

What I’m not sure about is the whole idea of books as products; in this instance a very pink product. I hasten to add that Fiona has written a book, not a product. But I wonder if the publishers are thinking product, rather than literature.

I’d like to know if they sell more books with pink or lilac covers (glitter optional) because they are pink or lilac, or if the pink and lilac puts more prospective buyers off? Not all girls love pink and lilac. Lots of parents are allergic to pink and lilac, after years of nothing but.

The cover of Pink Chameleon is artistically attractive. But I still suspect it does the story inside the covers a disservice. Though a quick, unscientific poll with some 8-9 year-olds the other day left me with the feeling that pink sells. And let’s face it; I saw some almost irresistible boots with pink flowers on, earlier this week.

Message in a Bottle

A title like Message in a Bottle is both sad and sort of hopeful, I think. So is this book by Valérie Zenatti, which has just been translated from the French. It’s a marvellous book, and yet another one for schools to put into the hands of all their students.

Valérie has written a short, but beautiful, tale about two young people exchanging emails. One lives in Jerusalem, the other in Gaza. It starts with an exploding bomb, and Valérie doesn’t shy away from spelling out the devastation that is caused in this way.

This is a book for everyone.

And as I happened to study the cover of the book more carefully, I discovered it comes recommended by someone I know. Small world. And we’re in agreement on this book.

The story of Glasgow

I’ll take the Resident IT Consultant’s word for it. Or maybe Julie Bertagna can put me right, as it’s her book Exodus we’re talking about. Is there a THE story of Glasgow? Or is this A story of Glasgow?

Whatever. It’s very good. But before anyone gets too excited, I’ll point out that Exodus finishes, if not with a cliff hanger, then, well, unfinished. There’s a second book already out, and a third that I think Julie is almost done with writing.

Julie has flooded her home city of Glasgow, and most of the rest of the world as we know it. It’s the year 2100, and it’s all our fault that the future is this extreme. So one lesson is to start thinking about the environment a bit more.

This is quite simply a very touching and exciting and, above all, thought provoking story about some young people in the future, who have to try and survive in the world we left for them.

It’s not all dread and horror, though. A lot of fun touches, like pickled brains, antique Irn Bru and new uses for a MacDonalds arch. And love. Very romantic. I like that.

The description futuristic almost put me off reading the book, much the same as fantasy is a red rag to many readers. Exodus IS futuristic, of course, but more than anything it’s simply a good, really good, story.

I’ve got Zenith, which comes next, sitting ready and waiting, but can’t decide if I need to pace myself, as the third installment isn’t out yet. But I thought it was a nice touch on my part to accidentally start reading Exodus the day it finally was published in the US.


Seeing as it was the Easter holidays you’d be forgiven for expecting something good on at the local cinema. Daughter needed to take her new haircut to the cinema, so with the nearest one a disappointment, we went to Manchester instead. The train fare there was also cheaper than the bus fare locally. Britain is such fun.

We saw Juno, which at least the witch had read good things about. And I think it was a very good film. American, but not glossy. It’s about a pregnant teenager, and the ending in particular reminded me so much of a Sarah Dessen book, that I needed to get it out when I got home.

Someone Like You is also about a teenager who gets pregnant, and being a Sarah Dessen story, it makes for a good read. As is to be expected, there is a child birth at the end of the book, and it’s sad and funny and wonderful.

Babies have preyed on my mind recently, with the addition to the Crime Always Pays family. This otherwise hardened crime blog is awash with the cutest baby photos, which just goes to show what a softie Declan really is. The witch and Daughter ooh and aah regularly over at CAP. And not a nappy to change at this distance.

More about Siobhan

You simply must read this. I’m not an Independent reader, so thanks to Declan on Crime Always Pays for the link.

Unchartered waters

Have I mentioned before that I’m a bit of an idiot when it comes to computers and anything related? Let me just repeat that, if you missed it. I’m an idiot.

WordPress is very easy to use. Most of the time. But they have just gone and changed nearly everything, behind the scenes. It looks good. I can even find some things. But some things either don’t exist any longer, or have been renamed to the extent that the idiot can’t find it.

The Resident IT Consultant has, of course, gone off to Germany, leaving the witch to face meltdown alone. He’s spending the weekend with another blogger! Not only did I recently travel to meet Lowebrow in Oxford, but now she has decided to look after the lost IT Consultant in foreign lands. I’m sure it will be great. For him.

Meanwhile I’m trying to get a grasp here. And praying. I think that what’s happening is that the blogging software does my work for me. Well, not writing the high quality blog entries, but the rest. How can I be sure, though?


And I really do hope he’ll remember the Raffaellos that Daughter and I need.

PS There is an interesting debate going on here about reviews in blogs.

Run Armadillo?

Anyone out there who fancies running a children’s books magazine? A year ago I might have put my hand up, but somehow the witchery takes too much time.

This is from Mary Hoffman in the latest Armadillo:

“The Future of Armadillo
Armadillo looking for new owner

After ten years – five on paper and five online – by the end of this year, Rhiannon and I will be happy to hand over the editing and coding of Armadillo magazine to new hands.

We hope very much that the magazine will continue and that someone will come forward to take it on. But our own workloads are making it increasingly difficult to spare the time that it takes every quarter.

Please contact me at: if you’d like to talk about this. Rhiannon and I will be happy to remain as consultants to anyone who wants to take the magazine over.”

Could be fun?

The Falconer’s Knot

I found to my great surprise that I never wrote a proper review of Mary Hoffman’s The Falconer’s Knot when it was published a year ago. Very remiss of me, for such a wonderful story. Now it’s out in paperback, with a great new cover, so anyone who missed it can have a go at an excellent read.

The Falconer’s Knot has everything. It’s beautifully romantic, with more than one loving couple encountering obstacles along the path to true love. There is a good crime story as well, with the main teenage male character being suspected of murder and having to go into hiding. I never knew 14th century monks could be so interesting.

And if love and sudden death (lots of it) isn’t enough, Mary has added some fresco artists as background, who are interesting, while never getting boring. There are some good examples of girl power as well.

I do like Mary’s Italian settings. It’s nice with someone who has an interest and can use it so well for their fiction.

This is Romeo and Juliet, but it’s not a tragedy.