Monthly Archives: March 2017

Melling and Murray

I know. They sound like solicitors, don’t they?  But they’re not. At least, I don’t believe they are. Unusual combination; picture book illustrator/author and solicitor.

For some time now I’ve been casting my eyes on David Melling’s D is for Duck! which is just as loveable an ABC picture book that you’d expect from Hugless Douglas’s Dad.

David Melling, D is for Duck

Duck is a magician and he magics lots of little animal friends out of his hat for his ABC, with himself as D. All goes well until he happens to magic up a Lion. A Lion that might want to eat his A to I. (J is Jungle and K is King.) Duck quickly needs to think of something, so he does…

In my Bookbug conference bag I found Alison Murray’s Apple Pie ABC, which I enjoyed a lot. I’m less used to ABCs that use short phrases to get round the problem of what you choose as your your letters, while also managing to tell a story, because there is more to work with.

Alison Murray, Apple Pie ABC

Here we have a dog who is plotting to eat the Apple Pie, which is being Baked and Cooled and Dished Out, and so on. The dog is both clever and surprisingly obedient until, well, until something happens to the pie.

Both books have gorgeous pictures and both have rather charming, if not perfectly behaved, main animal characters. We’re yet again in the situation when I need someone to read aloud to.

The Power of Picture Books: Building Communities, Families and Futures – 2017 Bookbug Conference

Arriving slightly late to the 2017 Bookbug Conference in Edinburgh on Wednesday morning, I was shown to a chair. Unfortunately it was the Chair’s chair, so I went to sit on the side, which suits me best, and Chair Jenny Niven kept her chair.

My arrival coincided nicely with the start of Dr Vivienne Smith’s talk on Reading as a Playful Act, which was one of the best talks! Ever. The slides might have ‘gone bananas’ as Vivienne put it, but her research on young children’s reading was so interesting. I chanced upon super-librarian Yvonne Manning in the break and we both agreed on how great it had been.

Vivienne Smith

Basically, reading should be like playing, and none of this sounding out words letter by letter, which will not give the young reader the right experience. In one experiment, even the keen readers from bookish families chose the Lego and the dinosaurs before the book. But from another group, a couple of young children were so taken by the toy version of book character Beegu that one of them invited him to her birthday party, and the other wrote him a letter, two years later.

There is little emotion in the reading that happens at school. Reading can help your well-being, like disappearing into Pride & Prejudice every time you move house. You learn empathy from reading, and more so if you read ‘worthier’ books, where you are forced to think more. They make you likelier to vote, to volunteer, to recycle for the good of the environment, and so on.

You learn that life can be changed, made better. As Flaubert said, ‘read in order to live.’ For the well-being of society we need children who read!

I could have listened to Vivienne all day, but we had to take a break and drink tea and eat banoffee tarts and chat to people. Which was nice too.

A panel on The Power of Picture Books followed, with Vivienne again, and illustrator Alison Murray, Dr Evelyn Arizpe from University of Glasgow, Rowena Seabrook from Amnesty International and Nicholas Dowdall of the Mikhulu Trust (South Africa), chaired by Jenny Niven.

Picture books panel

They started by choosing a picture book each, one that meant something special to them. Nicholas showed us a short video of a tiny boy in South Africa reading with an adult, and his surprised and delighted reactions to what happened in the book. Evelyn mentioned a Mexican, version of Red Riding Hood, which led Vivienne to say that for this to work well, you first need to know the basic version, which is ‘cultural capital.’

Alison likes a balance between the sexes of her characters, and Vivienne said how we are ‘all so flipping middle class’ making assumptions and taking things for granted. Rowena mentioned a description of a book with an ungendered character, which still contrived to gender the character (male). Nicholas pointed out that in the townships they need books which are not about things that readers won’t know. To make picture books work well, you must read them out and read them well.

Replying to a question Vivienne said that it’s fine to be disturbed by the content of a book. It makes you think. And you have to remember that children can only take on what they understand, so a lot would simply go over their heads.

This panel discussion could also have gone on for much longer, but there was lunch to be eaten.

Mark McDonald, minister for Childcare & Early Years started the afternoon session. He didn’t have long, as his work in Parliament was ‘pressing’ this week, but he mentioned the First Minister’s reading challenge, and how reading takes you to magical places. 80% of a child’s development comes from what they do outside of school.

Mark McDonald

He talked about his children and their reading. The daughter likes Fairy Ponies, and next time Mark needs to vent about their quality he has learned not to do it to the publisher in question. Oops. His son, who is on the autistic spectrum, finally became interested in books via Nick Sharratt’s illustrations, so he is their god. (I know that feeling!)

Mark appreciates what we (that will be the teachers, librarians and other community workers) do, and ‘his door is always open’ if we want to speak to him. A yellow party bag saw Mark back off to Parliament.

Sabine Bonewitz

The next session was a talk by Sabine Bonewitz from Stiftung Lesen, the German Reading Foundation. She talked about encouraging parents to read with their children, spreading the joy of reading. Sabine had statistics to show us, she talked about their bookbags which feature a kangaroo (big steps) and finished by astounding everyone with German McDonald’s collaboration for reading, offering books with their Happy Meals.

Following this Happy idea, we all went our separate ways to different workshops. I had chosen to hear Alison Murray talk about Navigating the Story Arc. Important facts about reading picture books is that you do it in company, and that the paper can be tactile, and you might even want to sniff it. Boardbooks you can ‘eat.’

Alison Murray

Alison showed us a sketch of John Dewey’s shape of stories, showing how it fits almost every book; reading us her own Hare and Tortoise. Before finishing she read us her new picture book, Dino Duckling, a kinder version of The Ugly Duckling. It was lovely.

All in all, delegates will have gone home with much to think about, and lots to try on their own small ‘customers.’ As for me, I went in search of eldest Offspring, who was once much smaller than he is now.

‘I am Mary Queen of Scots’

Or so Alex Nye claimed, when she launched For My Sins at Blackwells last night. (She laughed when she said it. So she’s perhaps not entirely serious about it.) It’s her first adult novel, and it’s about Mary, Queen of Scots.

Mary Queen of Scots

The real Mary was there too, and she was looking good for her age. Actually, on such a dark and stormy night when the rest of us were pretty drenched, I have to point out that Mary looked both dry and beautiful.

As I ran in, Tesco prawn sandwich in hand, Alex and her publisher Clare were already there, and Mary turned up soon after. She posed for photos like Royals tend to do, and I believe she even showed off what was under her skirt. Honestly. I ate my sandwich, turned down the offer of wine and was rescued from dying of thirst by the lovely Ann Landmann of Blackwells.

Roy Gill, Kirkland Ciccone and Mary Queen of Scots

We admired the book, which has unusually nice looking pages. I know this sounds strange, but it does. Several other authors turned up to celebrate, among them Kirkland Ciccone wearing a rather loud outfit, Roy Gill who looked suitably handsome, Gill Arbuthnott, Philip Caveney (or was it Danny Weston? They look so alike…) with Lady Caveney, and then Kate Leiper came and sat next to me again.

Alex talked about her love of Scottish history, and for Mary, about her research, and walking round Edinburgh for two years (that must have been tiring) to see the places Mary went, and visiting all her castles. And 28 years on, the book is finally here.

Alex Nye and Mary Queen of Scots

Luckily Alex has managed to get hold of Mary’s diary from her time ‘in jail,’ which must be considered a bit of a royal scoop.

Kate Leiper, Gill Arbuthnott, Kirkland Ciccone and Roy Gill

There was a signing afterwards, and much literary gossip. It was almost a shame some of us had to go home, but I couldn’t leave my chauffeur in the Park&Ride all night.

Alex Nye

I’m just over halfway through the book so far, and I have a dreadful feeling this isn’t going to end well.

Tom, George and the others

A long time ago, when the New Librarian had just left school, she came and stayed with us, doing some unpaid work in the local bookshop. One day she came home and mentioned she’d been out on a school visit with some actor who’d written a book. I asked who. She’d clearly not had a lot of interest in an older man she’d never heard of, so the name was some time coming, but once I’d established it was George Layton – and I’d had no idea he was visiting! – I turned green [with envy].

It was so unfair that she’d met him, when I’d ‘always loved him’ and I wanted to stomp my foot.

Luckily, George came back, and more than once. So I did get to meet him (see about lunch here), and I bought his short story collections and got his autograph, and… Well, at the time I liked the stories. I don’t know if I still would.

Same bookshop, slightly later, another of my younger days’ favourites turned up. Tom Conti, who’s even more handsome than George. I know that in book terms this is irrelevant, but I thought I’d mention it anyway. He came because he’d written a novel, and I bought a copy. Obviously.

I sort of wish I hadn’t. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good. These days I’d start by assuming it to be just another celebrity book, but then I was more naïve. Besides, it had been written [I hope it had, anyway] by my kind of celebrity. But yeah, I wouldn’t mind if I’d not read it.

The celebrity avalanche is just getting worse and worse. Someone on social media was saying how the latest announcement of a celebrity book [by someone I don’t know] was so welcome, because it had to have been at least 48 hours since the one before it.

The most recent one I received in the post I put to the side immediately. I felt slightly rotten doing it, but if someone is already famous – even when I don’t have any idea who they are – and are getting a good financial deal from the publisher, then they don’t need a review from me. I can’t help them on their way to greater greatness.

I’m very happy to have met Tom Conti and only slightly annoyed that he didn’t sign the book I then went on to not like (there is a farcical story about the non-signing of his books, involving a train). But I got closer than the 20-year-old me would ever have thought possible.

Likewise with George Layton. As I watched Doctor in the House in pre-historic times, I simply didn’t believe that one day I’d meet him. Or that the first thing he’d say was that he needed to pee.

Post kill

Please don’t send me more chocolate! It won’t make me love you or your book any more than not sending it will do, and I can’t eat it. In fact, I’m increasingly surrounded by people who will not be having any of the book chocolate I receive.

What to do with it?

It’s quite attractive when someone has had a bar of chocolate designed to match the book cover. I appreciate the idea. But I will still have to get rid of it.

And then there are the smaller, anonymous, pieces of – what looks like – chocolate. And other small sweets, which I won’t eat either. Recently there was a recipe and part of what was needed to make something, which I won’t identify here, as it was pretty specific.

Some of these books I will read and like. Some I will not. I will neither like nor dislike the book because of the freebie.

And then my mind goes off in another direction. If the blank chocolates appeared in a crime novel, alongside a book, addressed to a book reviewer… Well, there are certainly possibilities there! And, you know, if that book when sent out to reviewers were to be accompanied by chocolate… Well.

Sara Paretsky once had VI Warshawski in desperate need of something to write on, and furnished her heroine with the backs of press releases of books for review, which VI came across, for whatever reason. I quite liked that. I do all my Bookwitch planning on the backs of them.

But they are not going to kill anyone.

Closed Casket

I must admit I can’t work out what the four words are. Having finished reading Sophie Hannah’s second Poirot mystery, Closed Casket, I remembered her saying at the Edinburgh launch that four words describe the whole thing. You know, something like ‘the butler did it.’ Except he didn’t. I mean, maybe he did. I’m saying nothing.

There is an outlandish character in Closed Casket, but one I had no trouble believing in, as I’ve met someone like that myself. I wonder if there is one like that in most people’s lives?

Sophie Hannah, Closed Casket

In this second Poirot outing we meet an Enid Blyton kind of children’s mystery author. Very rich and famous, this woman changes her will, leaving everything to her dying secretary, which is a weird thing to do. And from that we have our mystery. Who will die, and who murdered them and why?

More so than in Sophie’s first Poirot novel, I felt this one gave more space to Poirot’s Scotland Yard friend Catchpool, letting Poirot work around him. They have been invited to the author’s home in Ireland, and while the house itself is fancy, the surroundings seem less attractive than we are used to in Agatha’s own books. Much less vicarage chintz for the blood to spill on, so to speak.

There is a whole cast of likeable – and less likeable – characters, and it really was difficult deciding who must have dunnit. In fact, I didn’t. I just let myself  float along, happy to let any of them be the bad guy.

Bookwitch bites #140

The London Book Fair was last week. There was plenty to tempt, but very little time and energy on my part, so I’ll hold out until some other year. The family was represented by Son, who sleepered south one night and sleepered back north the next night. In between all that ‘sleeping’ I imagine he did book-related work. So many people were there, and I have actually not asked him who he saw, but I do know he met up with/ran into Daniel Hahn.

Daniel did lots of things at LBF, most of which I’ve no idea what they were. (If you feel this is looking like me telling you very little, then you are right. I am.) I understand there was an event with Son’s colleague, fellow translator Guy Puzey. I’d hazard a guess they talked about translations.

Daniel Hahn radio

While on the subject of Mr Hahn, there was a piece on the radio the other week, where he talked about Good Books.

The Carnegie shortlist has been announced, and that has good books too. Mal Peet is on there, with Meg Rosoff, as are Glenda Millard, Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock, Zana Fraillon and Frank Cottrell Boyce.

Carnegie shortlist 2017

Damien Love who self-published his exciting book Like Clockwork a few years ago, now has a fantastic book deal in the US where it will be published some time in 2018 as Monstrous Devices.

Damien US deal

And finally, Debi Gliori tells the world about my marvellous baking skills in a recent blog post on her new blog. It’s very sweet of her. If I didn’t know what a great baker she herself is, I’d say she’s too easily impressed. In fact, I think I’ll say that anyway. Too easily impressed.

But you know, it’s not every culinary attempt of mine that ends up having a professional portrait made of itself.

Semla by Debi Gliori