Monthly Archives: November 2012

The Moomins and the Great Flood

Moominmamma is definitely me. In this new version of Tove Jansson’s first Moomin story, The Moomins and the Great Flood, both Moomintroll and Moominmamma are slimmer than ever before. It’s almost to such an extent they don’t yet look as lovable and friendly as they do in later incarnations.

But whereas the illustrations still have some developing to do, as people they are definitely themselves. I mean, as Moomins, they already are what they have always been. The book was first published in 1945, and here it is in a fresh new English translation by David McDuff.

The images of these slimmer Moomins are in black and white or in sepia, and are a far cry from the plump and colourful television cartoon creatures. But they are still the same on the inside. And it’s fascinating meeting Moomintroll and his mother and Sniff at such an early stage, before they have even found their lovely tall house, and before they know all the people they are friendly with in the later books.

Tove Jansson, The Moomins and the Great Flood

I suspect the book will appeal more to adult fans than to children. Some of the illustrations are a little scary, and a young reader could feel as intimidated at times as Moomintroll does. In fact, Moominmamma feels scared too, except she needs to put a brave and calm face on for Moomin and Sniff. And, when you look braver than you feel, you might find that you become a little braver after a while.

Moominpappa has disappeared and Moomintroll and Moominmamma have gone to look for him. There has been a great flood and lots of creatures have been displaced and are (feeling) lost.

This is the most wonderful Moomin-journey tale, and even someone as jaded as I am, found it both charming and strangely soothing. I am more than a little scared of the Great Serpent, and almost wish it hadn’t been given such a prominent position. But you can always turn the pages faster.

Preface by Tove herself, from 1991.

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Wednesday – in two parts

When Ruth Eastham texted me to say she and Ally Kennen had arrived at Manchester Piccadilly, I looked carefully at the people coming up the escalator and found myself staring at Philip Caveney instead. The ladies were not far behind, but I think it was Philip’s job to identify one lone Bookwitch from the milling crowds. He did, and then left for home.

Ruth and I had been plotting for weeks to meet up, and when she told me Ally was coming along it made the deal even better as far as I was concerned. I’ve seen Ally several times without plucking up the courage to say hello, and here she was, actually wanting to meet me.

I had to do that thing I hate; admit to not having read a single book of hers. She, and her books, have scared me somewhat, but Ally assured me nothing bad happens in her books. So maybe..? Certainly, Ally the person is very nice. Believe me. She had gone along to the Oldham Brilliant Books for the fun, and to have a night’s un-interrupted sleep.

Ally Kennen

She was a bit green, however. The taxi they’d come in had not been of the steadiest sort. So Ally drank a glass of water, and watched as I had some pretty good gnocchi while Ruth showed what she’s made of by going straight for the tiramisu, the taxi ride notwithstanding.

Gnocchi

Now, I’d obviously planned to talk about Ruth and Ally and their books, but the tables turned quite early on and they found out more about me than makes sense. Although we interrogated each other to a suitable degree, and I reckon both Ally and I want to gatecrash Ruth in Italy, where she lives.

Ally had a train to catch (we all did, but hers was the first), so she left Ruth and me to discuss Ruth’s next book. (Speaking of next books, I think Ally’s next one sounds relatively safe.) I warned Ruth about all the things she doesn’t want to put in her book, and she took notes…

Ruth Eastham with Tiramisu

We enthused about war, which we both like. In books, if not in real life. And because Ruth was going off to spend 24 hours being an ‘exciting and famous aunt’ I dispatched her to a train leaving from the furthest away platform, with a mere five minutes to spare. Hope she made it.

I had more on the agenda, so went for my own train and spent a little time resting at home.

Caryl Hart

After some tea I gathered my camera and current book and walked over to the hotel used by the authors coming to the Stockport Book Award to see if I could catch up with some of them, since Wednesday was awards night at the Plaza. Using the same list of books as Oldham, it meant that some of the winning authors were also the same.

Ed Eaves

Hence I saw Caryl Hart again, looking fabulous in her ‘partydress’ complete with crown and everything. (This year’s theme was crowns and coronets.) She was accompanied by Ed Eaves, the illustrator of How to Grow a Dinosaur, and he wore a fantastic crown that he’d made himself. It’s that artistic vein.

The other winner waiting to catch a taxi to the Plaza was Clare Chambers, author of Burning Secrets. This year there have been many winners in Oldham and Stockport who I don’t know at all. It’s good to meet new people, but above all, it’s great that more than the obvious, well known books get an audience and new readers.

Clare Chambers

As far as I know, the other winners were Patrick Ness and Jim Kay, again, with A Monster Calls, and Clive Goddard and Fintan Fedora the World’s Worst Explorer. I hope neither Clive nor publicist Sarah, representing Patrick and Jim, had got lost. I understand they were coming direct from Oldham. And I believe Philip Caveney – Stockport’s very own author – was also at the Plaza.

The library representative bundled ‘my’ three into a taxi, and I walked home, having narrowly avoided the Market Research event at the hotel.

Brilliant Books

It was Oldham’s first book award last night, and what a brilliant name Brilliant Books is! Queen Elizabeth Hall was teeming with beautifully dressed school children of all ages, and I must say that those authors who usually spend their days in lonely garrets scrub up really well, too.

Queen Elizabeth Hall, Oldham

As for your shabby looking witch, she was given her very own escort who did some excellent looking after. His name was Snape. Keith Snape. Not Severus. But anyway. (He’s older than he looks. Apparently.) He told me about the wonderful libraries in Oldham, and he is dreadfully enthusiastic about all sorts of things.

Twenty schools have participated in reading this first year, and the children came for a glittery night out at the round tables in the beautiful ballroom. The Mayor of Oldham spoke, and then it was Dave’s turn to look after things on stage. At least I think he’s a Dave. I didn’t catch his surname. He did a great job, ably assisted by young readers.

The names of the shortlisted authors for each category were read out by readers of that age group, followed by some very nicely done recorded readings from each book, along with an opinion on why that particular book was the best. (Like because the character had orange hair.)

Caryl Hart

Caryl Hart and Ed Eaves won the Early Years award for How to Grow a Dinosaur, and Caryl was there to receive the prize. She impressed Dave by reading her acceptance speech on her smartphone…

Oldham Youth Wind Ensemble played The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, before the titles of the five shortlisted books in the Key Stage 1 group were read out, by slightly older children, who in an egalitarian attempt to split the five titles, shared the last one between them.

Caryl Hart

Julia Donaldson and David Roberts won with Jack and the Flumflum tree, and our esteemed Children’s Laureate made up for having gone on holiday instead of coming to Oldham, by sending a video message, which included singing a song with her husband. Pretty good, actually.

Not wanting to be outdone (as if they would be!) the Wind Ensemble gave us the Drunken Sailor, and then it was straight on to Key Stage 2. I am pleased that Philip Caveney won with Night on Terror Island. It’s especially nice, because it’s a local award. Philip thanked his daughter for making him a children’s author, and his soulmate, who then ended up carrying his rather lovely trophy around for him.

Philip Caveney

Clive Goddard

Clive Goddard, who didn’t win, but who was there anyway, stood up to wave, so we know what he looks like. He wrote a book with the tongue-twisting title Fintan Fedora the World’s Worst Explorer. I agree with Dave; I don’t think I can say that too many times.

Stanley's Stick

Ruth Eastham

Before moving on to the Key Stage 3 books, we enjoyed a performance of Stanley’s Stick by young actors from Oldham Coliseum. The winning book in this category was The Memory Cage by Ruth Eastham. She gave a great speech, which partly consisted of reading us her first published poem, written when she was nine. Basically, we should be aware of our inner caterpillar. I think. We will eventually turn into butterflies.

Ally Kennen

By this time poor Dave wasn’t sure if he was even at the right stage, but he was, because it was the turn of the oldest readers (so much taller than the first ones) to announce that Patrick Ness and Jim Kay had won with A Monster Calls. Unfortunately they were running late with their homework, and had been given a detention so couldn’t be there.

Sarah from Walker Books read out a message from Patrick, who regretted that his nice suit wasn’t going to get its annual airing, and he thanked Siobhan Dowd, on whose idea the book was based. Another shortlisted author, Ally Kennen, was in the audience and we got a wave from her.

Queen Elizabeth Hall, Oldham

Dave said he’s happy so many children can and do read more than 140 characters, and then everyone thanked everybody else. Andrea Ellison, whose brainchild Brilliant Books is, spoke and listed all her helpers. She waved her plastered arm around, and I wasn’t sure how much she had used it to persuade people… She finished by asking the children to parade round the room, to show off their beautiful outfits and perhaps to get some restlessness out of the way by marching round to the upbeat music.

Ruth Eastham

After which there was nothing more to do than buy books and chat to authors and give Lady Caveney advice on the Scandinavian languages and their differences. And seeing as it took me two hours to get there by public transport, I then decided I had to start working on my return journey. (Car would have been 30 minutes. Broom probably even faster.)

I feel honoured to have been present at the birth of a new award, and here’s to many more Brilliant Books!

Books

Bloodhoney

‘Do not feel you need to review it’ said Chris Riddell about his and Paul Stewart’s second Wyrmeweald novel. I need to! Badly. Bloodhoney is even better than Returner’s Wealth, and as Chris pointed out ‘It doesn’t suffer from the slow start of the first and has some rather deeper subtexts.’ It does. It certainly does.

Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell, Bloodhoney

I should probably not bring up the sourdough bread again, but it works. Now that I know what Wyrmeweald is and that I like Micah and Eli Halfwinter, and Thrace and Aseel, and a few more (not many more, though, because the book is populated by unpleasant people and creatures), it’s like slipping into something comfortable. No further need to get to know this world. You know precisely where you are.

Mind you, it’s not necessarily comfortable knowledge. Eli and Micah and Thrace are under threat, and now that fullwinter has arrived, it seems nowhere is safe. If your enemies don’t get you, the climate will. Don’t get too comfortable; it can’t last.

Kith or kin, you get bad ones and you get good ones. With keld you only get bad. There are good wyrmes and bad wyrmes. And both kith and wyrmes are looking for somewhere safe to stop, where they can live in peace. You can see history repeating itself over and over, and in more than one place.

This is another violent and bloody story, but I think I have an inkling of where we are heading. Eli is a very wise man, and Micah is lucky to have him for his friend. As for the Bloodhoney of the title, you don’t want to know. Stay away from it.

More beautiful black and white drawings by Chris at the start of each chapter make this a very attractive book, as well as a marvellous read. Virtually unputdownable.

The Memory Cage

I’ll be honest with you. Books about Alzheimer’s are not top of my list. Which is stupid, because it’s not as if the topic makes them all the same. Some will be good, others might not be. This one – The Memory Cage – by Ruth Eastham is absolutely fantastic.

Sometimes I suspect that the brownie points you hope to get by tagging a book with a certain topic could backfire. I will most likely still avoid Alzheimer’s books. I won’t expect the next one to be as fascinating and funny as Ruth’s.

Grandad is trying to kill the family, if only by being so lost that he doesn’t always know what he is doing. He’s doing it for the best. But it means that Alex’s mum and dad are about to put Grandad in a home, against his wishes.

Alex desperately wants to help the old man to remember and to help him stay at home. But Grandad has a lot of painful memories, many of them very well hidden indeed. It doesn’t help that Alex has some of his own, having been adopted from Bosnia when he was younger.

Both of them have been to war, and there are brothers everywhere. Brothers matter. Love them, fight with them, miss them. This is a family with plenty of hidden skeletons. The whole village is full of wartime skeletons, and not just in the graveyard.

There is so much love here. Hate too. But Alex realises he needs to make a scrapbook for Grandad to help him remember who he is. Who Alex is, even. And sometimes it’s not best to let sleeping dogs lie.

At this rate I will have to create my own memory scrapbook. Just to keep me going. We all have skeletons of some kind. But more than that, we have lots of good things to remember, too. And plain ordinary memories.

This is a wonderful story!

Counting the days

Reviewing a calendar is not the easiest of tasks, but with this one I really wanted to have a go.

Elsa Beskow Calendar 2013

The Elsa Beskow 2013 Calendar is beautiful, and fills me with nostalgia. Hopefully it will do something for you, too, even if it’s not reminding you of (your) childhood.

Elsa Beskow Calendar 2013

The illustrations are from various Elsa Beskow classics, and nicely follow the changing of the seasons. Except (I have to say this) January. It looks like December to me, but after some not inconsiderable research, I have to give in. Those three boys are the New Year, not Star Boys accompanying Lucia. But you could have fooled me.

Newcastle’s library crisis

Save Newcastle Libraries Emergency Meeting Tuesday, 20th November, 7pm at St John’s Church Hall, 30 Grainger Street, Newcastle NE1 5JG. Speakers include David Almond, Alan Gibbons, Steve Barlow.

Save Newcastle Libraries

The indefatigable Alan Gibbons is still working to save the country’s libraries, and more specifically, those in Newcastle, where they are planning to close almost every library.

That is just not on, and I sincerely hope Alan’s efforts will have the desired effect. We all know about money and not having enough of it, but this is not the solution. Not while there is money being used unwisely in far too many places.

The photo above is like a who’s who in children’s books, and many authors have joined Alan’s campaign and many will be there on Tuesday in support of this protest.

Below is Alan’s open letter, and the names of those supporting it:

Dear Sir/Madam,

We are authors, many of whom have attended the Northern Children’s Book Festival and other events in the region over many years. We have enjoyed the tremendous warmth and hospitality of young book lovers in the North East and the librarians and teachers who introduce them to the joy of reading.

We are therefore appalled to hear that council leaders are planning draconian cuts to the city’s libraries. The UK is 25th in the PISA international reading rankings. This is no time to cut libraries. It is the young and the elderly who disproportionately depend on branch libraries. The cost in educational underachievement would far outweigh any savings made by cuts.

It is not the role of a Labour council to act as a conduit for the coalition government’s ‘austerity’ cuts which disproportionately hit the poorest and most vulnerable.

We call on Newcastle’s councillors to reconsider this wrong and immoral course.

Yours faithfully,

Alan Gibbons, Tommy Donbavand, Anne Fine, Beverley Naidoo, Theresa Breslin, Bali Rai, Katherine Langrish, Tim Bowler, Cathy Cassidy, Mary Hoffman, Steve Cole, Paul Hudson, Penny Dolan, Ann Turnbull, Lucy Coats, Dave Cryer, Bernard Ashley, John Dougherty, Angela Topping, Janine Amos, Margaret Storr, Danuta Reah, Sally Prue, Duncan Pile, Lori Fotheringham, Keren David, Ian Bland, Barry Hutchinson, Jim O’Neill, Tim Collins, Dugaldheelder Ferguson, Theresa Tomlinson, Veronique Martin, Malaika Rose Stanley, Val Bierman, Five Leaves Publications, Paul Shackley, Desmond Clarke.