Monthly Archives: June 2015

Women Heroes of World War I

Kathryn J Atwood, Women Heroes of World War I

Here is another book that has taught me things I didn’t know. I’m far too used to looking at WWI either from my neutral standpoint, or from Britain, and Kathryn J Atwood – as an American – looks at it both from her ‘over there’ point of view, but mostly from inside Europe, and mostly as seen by the women who lived there in 1914.

Those women didn’t necessarily want to stand there and do nothing. Many felt the need to do their bit for the war or for their country, or they simply hoped for some adventure in their lives. For some it was relatively easy to get involved, while for others it took a lot of deceit or at least time to get the men to see sense and allow them to join in.

This book tells the brief stories of 16 women who did something, either as resisters and spies, soldiers, medics or journalists. Some of them were poor and uneducated, while others were part of the nobility. Some were of more mature age, and some were only teenagers. Some went looking for war duties, while others had it thrust upon them.

But they all did good and important work, and some of them died doing it. In fact, so dangerous did it seem to me that I was almost surprised any of them lived to a good old age.

This is very fascinating, and in a way it’s infuriating that each woman only gets around ten pages to tell her story. On the other hand, with the bibliography for each entry, you could continue reading on your own, although as Kathryn says, not all books are available in English, which is a shame.

Women Heroes of World War I is an inspiration to girls everywhere. Not necessarily to join wars, but to stand up and do something.

My Name’s not Friday

Samuel has a strong belief in God, and he loves his younger brother Joshua. I was actually left wondering why, in both cases. What did God ever do for Samuel, or for Joshua, come to that? Also, Joshua almost goes out of his way to be a bad little boy. On the other hand, we know that circumstances will make a child or person something that deep down they are not.

Jon Walter, My Name's not Friday

And Samuel is not called Friday.

He has been brought up in an orphanage as a free black boy, and given an education, of sorts. But then circumstances conspire to have him sold as a slave, and he has to learn to live a whole new kind of life, as the 12-year-old property of a young white boy in the American south.

At times I wondered how Jon Walter could know what it was like back then, in a different country, but this is what writers do. They make stuff up, and I don’t suppose that a modern American author would know any more about what it was like to be a slave during the Civil War.

We learn about three different periods of Samuel’s life; the orphanage with all that is good and bad, his life as Friday, who isn’t even allowed to show he can read and write, and what came after the Union soldiers arrived.

It’s very interesting, and at times I was afraid it would turn out to be like Roots, where you never once could know what happened in the first place after someone had moved on, because being real, there was no all-knowing author to let you know about the people and places left behind. Which I found very frustrating. Here we do get to see more than just the time and place in history where Samuel is, and that’s good.

The characters are allowed to change and grow, which makes the story deeper. And the whole book is one big history lesson about slavery, like how you are powerless when your owner sells a member of your family to someone else.

To be truthful, Samuel took a while to win me over, but in the end he did.

Creatures Great and Small

It said in the paper that colouring in is good for the soul. For adults. Not that it isn’t good for children, but they already know this. It’s us old ones who need reminding of the good things in life, yet again.

And colouring in is it.

Many of us would like to be able to draw beautifully, or even just draw passably, but find we can’t. So the ‘cheating’ you do as you colour in what someone else has already drawn, can feel quite good.

In this book it’s Lucy Engelman who has done most of the hard work, and all you need to do is bring paint or pencils, plus your ragged soul. The book has been filled with drawings of animals of every kind. You want frogs? You can have lots of different ones, and they needn’t even be painted green.

Lucy Engelman, Creatures Great and Small

The book is also ready for framing or gifting, in that each page is perforated to be torn out. On the back of each page there are facts about the frogs, or whatever other creature it is you have chosen.

Go on, grab those felt tips. You know you want to.

Tents

Not sure if we lasted the whole night or if we gave up after a couple of hours. Such is my memory of the time my cousins and I put the tent up in our summer garden and planned to spend the night. Cold, damp and smelly I can remember. But it’s the planning and doing that’s the fun. Doesn’t matter if it’s totally successful.

I just read in a magazine that nature is the new religion for Swedes, and I can well believe it. I like to be near the sea as well as the next witch, but draw the line at forests. Some people actually like them.

Mick Manning and Brita Granström, Wild Adventures

Brita Granström was probably drawing on her Swedish nature memories when drawing her latest book, Wild Adventures, with her husband Mick Manning. ‘Look, make, explore – in nature’s playground’ is what they call it. And it’s definitely got enough ideas to last several school holidays, always assuming your parents either play with you, or let you be indpendent, playing in nature on your own, the way it used to be.

It’s all about putting up tents and other shelters, and finding and using everything out there. Personally I’m keener on nettle soup than I am on frogs’ skulls. Mick and Brita tell the reader about sounds and smells and tracks and what you can eat and how you cook out in the wild, and anything else you could conceivably want to do.

I’m very relieved we had no such book when Offspring were small, or there would have been no peace.

In Sarah Garland’s latest book about Eddie and his family they actually go camping. Eddie’s Tent and How to go Camping also has rules and instructions for how to holiday in nature, enjoying it while not destroying it.

Sarah Garland, Eddie's Tent and How to go Camping

It’s a lovely book, but I’m glad I’m not Eddie’s poor mother, who simply has to go on with the mothering she always does, but in harder conditions. Tom plays at cooking and making fires, but a mother’s work is always the same, except when it’s worse.

Eddie and the girls love it, however, and they make friends and they have fun and they learn to fish, and to eat fish. It’s all pretty wonderful, once they have braved the motorway jams to get there. It’s the stuff dreams are made of. As long as you are not a mother.

I’m sure mine realised early on that I wouldn’t last long in that tent. I suspect it was the same old tent she had used when she was young too.

Hobnobbing with the Pope

Not me. Anthony McGowan, if he’s to be trusted. But why* shouldn’t this cricket-mad slightly crazy children’s author socialise with the Pope?

He’s also much nicer and kinder than he tries to make himself out to be. Tony, that is, not the Pope.

Anthony McGowan

It was the cricket I really wanted to hear about. Any author can talk books and writing, but not all live for their cricket quite like Tony does. His whole being lit up when I pushed him onto his favourite topic.

So here is he – finally – talking about the Pope, teachers as role models and getting wrecked in Vienna with the new children’s laureate. Not bad at all for a working class northern kid.

*It seems he didn’t. I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that. Read that email, I mean. Anyway, he was close, and so was I.

The graduate (2)

Graduation St Andrews

Four years ago I wished for a pause in this graduation business, and I’d be an ungrateful parent to grumble now. Anyway, the second Offspring graduated yesterday and we went along to enjoy some typical British June weather and a bit of gown and town.

Four years ago I had a photographer taking photos. This time I had myself, and the results are not quite in the same ballpark. But at least I can show you a whirlwind being applauded by none other than Dr Vinton G Cerf, Vice President of Google. And she is my whirlwind. So there.

Graduation St Andrews - Vinton G Cerf and whirlwind

Some other subject will get Neil Gaiman this week, as their Honorary Doctor of something or other. But in fairness, on any average day in the life of the Bookwitch, I Google much more than I Gaiman, so I think it was appropriate that St Andrews made one more Honorary Doctor of Dr Cerf. Besides, thinking about his accomplishments, they are actually pretty admirable. He had been a bit disconcerted when told about the capping and hooding that would happen, but discovered it was all quite innocent.

Graduation St Andrews - Professor Aaron Quigley

And both the Professors of Computer Science who spoke did so briefly and interestingly, for which I thank them. The Principal and Vice-Chancellor (they are one and the same) Professor Louise Richardson did all of the capping, processing in the region of 200-300 new Bachelors, Masters and Doctors. The Dean of Science, Professor Alan Dearle, heroically spoke nearly every name correctly, and managed most of the titles for the theses as well (and some of them were outlandishly long and complicated).

The St Salvator’s Chapel Choir sang rather nicely, both before and after the ceremony.

Graduation St Andrews

Once we were done, we trooped into the Quad for some mingling and photo opportunities and lots of hugging. When it was time to go into the Garden Party the Resident IT Consultant gallantly sacrificed himself and let the ladies use the three allotted tickets. So he never saw the dainty Buckingham Palace style cakes. (Just as well, really.)

Met Birdie’s mother, who sported a very trendy Berså brooch, but I was too polite to mention I have the full dinner set… And as I said, we sat out in the cold, enjoying our little cakes, wondering why our warm clothes were in the car, but blessing the fact that it didn’t rain as forecast.

It was also good to finally meet the ‘teachers’ and more of Daughter’s classmates, since at this stage it is the kind of thing you don’t do much. Very good of the department to offer a light lunch beforehand. I’d be more than happy to return for more tropical cake another year.

A special witchy thanks to Dr Bruce Sinclair. Not so much for the cake, as for [only] doing his job so well and really making a difference.

At the World’s End

At the World’s End by Catherine Fisher is a short, but intense, book.

Catherine Fisher, At the World's End

Set in the near future, something dreadful has happened, and 14-year-old Caz is one of a few survivors who took refuge in a shop when whatever it was happened, and she has lived there for nine years. They believe the air outside is not safe and it’s so cold no one can survive.

But how can you be sure?

Caz and her friend Will are the next sacrifices to be sent out there, when food gets – even more – scarce.

You are literally on your toes as you read, and with a title like this, I wasn’t sure how gruesome an end it was possible to go for.

Read, and you will find out.