Monthly Archives: February 2016

The Secret Railway

Ella is a little girl in Wendy Meddour’s new book The Secret Railway, and she Loves things. She just does, whatever it is. Almost.

And I just Love Wendy Meddour. She writes such funny and clever books. In this case for children aged 5+ (according to what it says on the back). But it’s equally good for witches who are, well, let’s say, slightly older than that. I really, really enjoyed this story about a brother and sister who discover a secret railway next to their new house.

Wendy Meddour and Sam Usher, The Secret Railway

They go out to explore and find themselves in another world, where there are nasty clockwork things, made by Griselda, who married the King. There is a poor Prince who needs help, and who better than Leo and Ella?

Leo is a lovely nine-year-old boy who knows what brothers have to do. They have to follow their little sisters, no matter where those sisters go, to make sure she is all right and to bring her safely home again. Pure little gent.

Did I say this is a lovely little book? It is. And I strongly suspect there will be more, so we can read again about the ghastly Griselda and the Prince and maybe Ella can find more things to Love.

(Illustrations by Sam Usher)

Old enough

I quite like this quote, from C S Lewis.

C S Lewis quote

I’m pretty old, but am I old enough?

I’ll fail if I want to!

What is failure?

Some years ago I chatted to a neighbour, and told her about something I’d tried to do, or intended to do (I forget the exact details), but hadn’t quite managed. So I cheerfully said ‘I failed!’

‘Oh no, don’t say that!’ she cried. And I asked why, since it’s what happened. I wondered if it was so unacceptable not to have done whatever it was I hadn’t managed to do, that she had to react like that.

I was really puzzled and needed to investigate why I couldn’t say this. It was what we were talking about, and the circumstances required me to mention the – lack of – result. In the end we had to spend far too much time for my liking discussing the actual word.

To fail. It turned out that for her, failure was such a serious, end-of-the-world word that it upset her deeply. You should never say you failed.

But to me it was merely a word that described that the thing I set out to do wasn’t successful. Lots of things aren’t, and it’s still not the end of the world. No matter which word I used, the level of success remained the same.

She calmed down after a while, realising I wasn’t telling her about the most dreadful thing that ever happened to me; instead simply mentioning a certain lack of success.

It’s sort of interesting, how much – or how little – emotional value people put on one word.

In the children’s department

You know when you have to cover for someone else, with little or no prior warning? You sort of know what you are supposed to do, but not quite, and it’s hard to know whether what you encounter is the norm – or not – in that other place.

I have mentioned this Swedish blogger before. She’s a librarian, but doesn’t usually work in the children’s department. Usually.

This time she had to cover, because there was no one else. And how hard can it be?

There was the boy, aged about six, sitting alone, holding a tiny baby. Where was the parent? (Seemingly, toilet visit with yet another small child.)

Noisy impromptu theatre performance from a few children, where the wolf ate both Little Red Riding Hood and at least one princess. Ought the librarian to ask them to be quieter?

Little boy screaming as he fell off the chair behind the information desk. Probably not hurt so much as surprised.

Quiet older children playing board games in the teen corner.

A father on his mobile phone, on speaker phone, talking very loudly.

And then the same father trying to borrow a whole pile of picture books with and for his four-year-old son. The boy expertly showed his useless dad how one checks out books in a library. The dad was certain they’d missed one, but his son said no, showing him the receipt he had printed out, proving that the little boy was right.

I love that!

The librarian fell asleep on the bus home and missed her stop. (You have to be used to these things.)

Platform with a view

Stirling station and the Ochils

I’m letting Stirling’s ‘silly bridge’ as the Grandmother used to call it, illustrate what the view might be as you leave town. Well, if you leave by train.

This time I’m planning to be up in the air, but couldn’t resist showing you this photo which I took on my way to London two weeks ago. With a view like that, even a witch with a wobbly mobile phone can get it right.

I did ponder waiting until ‘next time’ but realised that it could be quite a while before I’d be in that spot, with such good weather and such a clear view, that I’d be an idiot not to do it right then.

I decided not to be an idiot.

Bon voyage. I hope.

White Lies, Black Dare

The little girl inside me had to be dragged kicking and screaming to read Joanna Nadin’s new book, White Lies, Black Dare. The witch on the outside knew it was going to be just as marvellous a book as it turned out to be, but the little scaredy cat could visualise herself at the centre of a dare at school, involving the ‘bad’ girls, and how a young and innocent new girl would end up in the middle of something awful before she knew what had happened.

I hate dares!

But as you read, you discover that Asha (that’s the new innocent) is actively seeking out those other girls, because she wants to be one of the gang, and she’ll do anything to prove it.

Joanna Nadin, White Lies, Black Dare

In fact, Asha does the opposite of what I would have done, in just about every situation. She doesn’t want to be friends with the safe Patience, and she has no intention of behaving well for the English teacher who sees someone like himself in her. Nor does Asha even mention that her mum is ill with cancer, or admit that she’s friends with Joe (from Joanna’s last book).

So Asha does the dares, alienating just about everyone around her, because she wants to be in with Angel (!) and her friend.

White Lies, Black Dare is tremendously well written. It’s as if the words just flow off the page as you read. And that’s despite the dares, and despite the formerly privately educated Asha strewing plenty of ‘innits’ around. And despite my fears.


3, 2, 1… Draw!

Who doesn’t want to draw in books?

I can still remember the secret thrill of doing just that, many years ago. Either hoping to improve some of the existing artwork, or playing libraries, and ‘having to’ draw the library stamps…

Serge Bloch, 3, 2, 1... Draw!

Well, in 3, 2, 1… Draw! by Serge Bloch you can. It’s – almost – the whole purpose of his picture book. An invitation to draw clothes peg crocodiles, book covers, scary eyes, or anything else that tickles your fancy.

Serge Bloch, 3, 2, 1... Draw!

Serge provides photographs of all sorts of things from tomatoes and conkers to prickly pot plants and empty picture frames. He has then drawn suggestions for what you might want to draw yourself, so you can either copy his crazy ideas, or you come up with even better ones and draw them instead.

It’s very tempting.

I can see one drawback to a book that gives you permission to do those forbidden things, however. It might give you a taste for more, and before you know it, you’ll be merrily drawing away in any old book you find.

But that’s between you and your mother.