Monthly Archives: November 2012

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.

Hippospotamus

I love Jeanne Willis’s books! Hippospotamus, which unsurprisingly has illustrations by Tony Ross, is quite a mature picture book for small children.

You could easily take it at face value; that it’s about a Hippo who discovers a puzzling spot on her behind. Hippo goes round listening to the advice of her friends, who all ‘know’ what the spot is. Except it isn’t.

But if you happen to spot (sorry) the dedication, ‘may all our lumps and bumps be this benign’ the adult reader will start looking at the book in a different light. Because most of us have probably been there, in some form or other. The worry is real, and not just for laughs. Friends are good, but not always right.

‘Hippopotamus had a spotamus… on her bottomus.’

It’s wonderful. The rhymes are most poetic, and this would be a fun book to read out loud, as long as you don’t have a worrying spotamus on your body.

Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross, Hippospotamus

Four Children and It

Edith Nesbit and I have a slight problem. I loved her books once I had discovered them in my childhood library, but I don’t think I ever owned one. And that’s probably why I can’t remember much. Some I do know I read, others I am no longer sure whether it’s because I know the title (which would have been different in translation, anyway) due to Nesbit’s books being so well known, or if I did read them.

I am almost certain I read Five Children and It. But can I recall a name for the Psammead? No, I can’t.

Jacqueline Wilson’s Four Children and It was inspired by Nesbit’s story, rather than being a modern sequel, which is A Good Thing. Some sequels are fine, but this is much better for being a typical Jacqueline Wilson, borrowing the Psammead and – temporarily – Nesbit’s child characters. So don’t read it if you crave more Nesbit.

What I am hoping is that JW fans will now want to read Nesbit’s books, and perhaps also other old classics. The wish to share something with someone you admire is a great way to try new paths.

We have a modern setting of two siblings, Rosalind and Robbie, being forced to spend part of their holiday with their Dad and his new family, with (horrible) stepsister Smash and their halfsister Maudie. On a picnic they encounter (well, dig up) the Psammead, and Rosalind the reader recognises him, and the children end up asking him for wishes.

Much to the parents’ consternation they end up having picnics every day, and disappearing on wishes. Some good, some pretty bad.

They meet Nesbit’s original children, and they meet Jacqueline’s PA Naomi. They didn’t ask for that one, but she does play herself rather nicely in one wish, along with Bob the chauffeur. (I bet she doesn’t ever need to wipe JW off with wet wipes, though…)

Eventually the children learn to like each other, and get on rather better than they did at first. And we learn to be careful what you ask for. You might get it.

Noor

It was just by coincidence I noticed the article about Noor Inayat Khan on the Talking Cranes’ website a few months ago. I felt it was intriguing with a female Indian spy during WWII, and thought I might blog about her at some point, but then never did.

Noor Inayat Khan

I was aware there was a collection for some kind of memorial, and I suspect it was not by chance that the bust was unveiled by the Princess Royal in time for Remembrance Sunday.

Noor spoke perfect French, which is why she was sent to France with the SOE. Unfortunately she was captured fairly soon after arrival, and executed by the Germans. So many lives and so much talent lost.

It was only by more chance reading that I found out Noor also wrote stories. Her Twenty Jataka Tales appears to be out of print at the moment, but could be worth looking out for.

Your granny or mine?

I was offered to share someone’s grandparents on facebook on Sunday. It was very kind. As ‘everyone’ mentioned their grandparents and the war on Sunday morning, I felt a little left out. More so than normal, because I have no such memories to share.

Bookwitch and Morfar

Of course, that’s something to be grateful for. No one in my family went to war and suffered. The most exciting thing I know about WWII and my family is that Mother-of-witch gave up sugar in her coffee, because of the rationing, and how she had a slight accident walking home in the dark one night, due to the black-out.

Uncle and Aunt I-L

And Uncle spent some time in uniform, somewhere in the north in preparation for an invasion. Luckily that never happened, but since both Norway and Denmark were invaded, the threat was real enough. There were also enough German soldiers inside Sweden to cause concern.

But apart from the dark and the rationing, life was fairly normal. And for my grandparents, even food wasn’t too much of a problem, as they had relatives who farmed and who sent extra food.

Mother-of-witch was a teenager when WWII broke out, but thinking about it now, I realise that her siblings would have gone to war in some form, had war come to Sweden. They were much older.

Morfar

Whereas my grandparents were far too old by then, and it would have been WWI they’d have fought in, had the country been at war. So thinking that thought through, perhaps my grandfather would have gone to war and died. In which case I wouldn’t be here now. Except he had been invalided at work, and since he worked on the railways, he would presumably have continued there, instead of being a soldier.

I know that where I used to work before emigrating, I would have stayed ‘on my post’ in case of war. Any involvement with voluntary military organisations was prohibited, as we’d be required to do what we were already doing. One colleague who did do airforce volunteering, was told to keep quiet about it. I suppose the threat of war wasn’t seen as very great.

And – I’m almost ashamed to admit this – in Sweden Remembrance Sunday this year was actually Father’s Day… More a case of unwanted ties and cake, than poppies and memories.

Secrets and Shadows

Neutral Ireland tends to be overlooked when we talk about WWII, or maybe even forgotten. I remember reading Joan Lingard’s The File on Fraulein Berg which, although set in Belfast, still brought home the enormous difference between north and south of the border. The fact that they had lights on in Dublin, and things to buy in the shops.

Joan’s book was about two girls who thought the German teacher at their school had to be a spy. Brian Gallagher’s Secrets and Shadows is almost the same, in a way. Set in Dublin, Liverpudlian refugee Barry and the local but nevertheless bombed-out Grace, suspect Barry’s Polish PE teacher of being a spy. The man asks too many questions, and is simply too pleasant.

Brian Gallagher, Secrets and Shadows

This is a good story, showing the effects of the war in Liverpool, explaining why Barry ends up going to live with his grandmother in Dublin, and also that being in Ireland wasn’t always totally safe, because bombings did happen. Grace and her mum have to live with her grandfather, which is how the two children meet and become friends.

Then there is the spy chase, where Grace and Barry take to observing and following Mr Pawlek, and finally breaking into his house (which is far too big for one man).

The question is whether they find anything to prove their suspicions, or if they have made a mistake. Very exciting, and as I said, just that little bit different for being an Irish story. Nice piece of time travel too, seeing how people lived then.

Remember

I couldn’t help noticing that Thomas Keneally has a new book out about WWI, about two sisters who are nurses. It’d be easy to think that this is a bit of a cliché, because so many WWI novels feature nurses. But that’s what you have to have, if you’re going to put your female characters in Europe during the war.

Theresa Breslin, Remembrance

I’d already dug out some of my WWI nurse books, because it’s time to remember that they exist. It’s not a topic I’d expect to find in new books right now, but it’s not as if these are all that ancient.

Linda Newbery, Some Other War

My first one was Linda Newbery’s Some Other War, which I bought as it was re-issued about ten years ago, although first published in the early 1990s. Linda came to Offsprings’ school, just before Remembrance Sunday, so very timely. She introduced me to Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth, also about a nurse.

Linda has two more books about the same characters; The Kind Ghosts, which starts during the war and ends after it. The third book is The Wearing of the Green, set in Ireland. After this I always get confused, because I tend to think her Shouting Wind trilogy is set in WWI. It isn’t. It’s one war later, about a descendant of the two main characters in Some Other War. So that’s two sets of trilogies about the same family, over many years.

The second nurse story is Theresa Breslin’s Remembrance, which Linda strongly recommended. Similar plot, in a way, with girls going off to war as nurses, and with a love story somewhere, as well as being about the village left behind. Realistic, and enjoyable, if you can say that about so much suffering.

Marcus Sedgwick, The Foreshadowing

My third nurse is only pretending. Marcus Sedgwick’s The Foreshadowing has a female character who is too young to go to war, and she’s not a trained nurse. She has ‘only’ dabbled a bit at nursing at home, before she runs off to Europe, hoping to save her brother’s life. She can ‘see’ things, and she has seen her brother’s death in her mind. With one brother already dead, she’s desperate not to lose her other brother as well.

So, there are similarities, but only because the war was fought in a limited geographical area, and the nursing of soldiers won’t vary much. We are now a long way away in time, but through these books it’s possible to feel something of what it was like.

We have no soldiers left to talk about it, but we mustn’t forget.