Monthly Archives: March 2017

The Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature, the paperback

That’s the second edition, the one edited by Daniel Hahn. It is now available in paperback, two years after the hardback. And whereas the hardback is lovely, you can’t escape the fact that a paperback is a lot easier to hold and to work with, make notes in and generally beat up.

Which, I will obviously never do. The beating, I mean.

There are some few changes, but only what has happened in the two years, like authors dying, new award winners, plus anything else major we need to know about.

As I indicated two years ago, I didn’t feel I could get rid of my old first edition, so the two are standing side by side.

And this one… Well, it could be considered overkill to add it to the same shelf as the other two. Luckily I have a second Bookwitch office, so I have just the place to keep this new paperback! A witch has to be able to look things up, whenever and wherever she may be.

YA? Or actually for old, proper adults?

When I read the two books by Michael Grant recently, Silver Stars and his WBD book Dead of Night, I thought – again – about what makes them YA. Why not just plain adult? After all, they are about adults. More or less. OK, his characters lie a bit to enlist, just like teenagers did in WWI. But they are to all intents adults, and with what happens in the stories, they definitely become adults pretty soon.

There’s a lot of bad stuff happening, and some of them die. The reader is treated to war scenes that can be quite upsetting, especially when you know they are based on reality. It’s not just something the author has made up to spice the book up a little.

There are relationships that are more grown-up than what you find in ‘high school’ stories. Some sex, as would be appropriate for what is being written about.

Take Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity, which is also about war and also about characters only just adult enough to do what they do in wartime. They are adult enough to appeal to the real adult reader, but not so old that they don’t suit teenagers.

At that age I used to read Nevil Shute, because there was no Elizabeth Wein or Michael Grant. His books were accessible enough, and often about the same kind of topics, but the characters were – generally – older, and their problems also a bit older.

But I think the main difference is still that there is hope. Yes, people die. It would be unrealistic for them not to in a war. But as Michael said in our first interview in 2010, ‘it’s always good to hope, don’t you think?’

While I’m going on about YA war books, we can mention Lee Weatherly’s Broken Sky dystopia, set in a world based fairly closely on WWII. Her characters are also adults, and behaving as such. And to me the books feel like YA, unless I’m thinking this because I know they are. Not having got to the end of the trilogy yet, I still hold out hope that the end will not be as bleak as an adult-only version could get away with.

And anyway, Debi Gliori told me years ago about signing her Pure Dead books for an adult reader, who refused to believe they were children’s books… After all, if you have them in your book club, that surely proves it?

The Book of the Howlat

I’m not much of a bird person, but The Book of the Howlat is gorgeously birdie. Illustrated by Kate Leiper, you could simply sit and marvel at the pictures of the many birds.

James Robertson and Kate Leiper, The Book of the Howlat

James Robertson is responsible for this re-telling of ‘one of Scotland’s oldest poetic gems’ and I must admit I’d never heard of it. The story is about an owl who thinks he’s dreadfully ugly and who wishes to look like the peacock. As sometimes happens in fiction, his wish comes true, but after this he’s not only peacock-like but quite unbearable.

Something has to be done.

It’s really that old tale about how you should learn to appreciate what you have, or in this case, what you are.

Hopefully the moral will go down well with young readers. And then there are all those beautiful bird illustrations!

Nerd care

The Resident IT Consultant went out one day. Actually, he goes out most days, and how I look forward to ‘doing what I like’ for 30 minutes, or a few hours.

One day he came home and had found this:

For the book nerd

I suppose I ought to send him along often, and they might look after him. A bit like when I took Offspring to the church playgroup; we got out of the house, I got to sit and ‘do nothing’ and they had a jolly run around with masses of other children. And learned English children’s songs.

I wonder if this place would do singing?

For My Sins

There are countless books about Mary Queen of Scots. I’ve glanced at a couple in the last week, because Alex Nye’s For My Sins got me asking questions, and the Resident IT Consultant did what he does best and put more books into my hands. So at least I now know that Moray [Murray] and Lord James Stuart [Stewart] are one and the same half brother to Mary. I spent a hundred pages permitting her to have two annoying half brothers…

In the past I have also had problems with all the Marys of the world and could never quite sort out who was who, but I’m getting much better with this Mary now. After all, I met her in the flesh, just the other day.

Mary Queen of Scots

So, with quite a few books out there already, what possesses an author to write another one? And if you’re into Mary, what will you be looking for in a new book? Unlike Theresa Breslin’s Spy for the Queen of Scots some years ago, where the main character is a fictional companion of Mary’s, here we go inside Mary’s head.

And that’s quite interesting. We meet her in her prison shortly before her execution, and from there Mary takes the reader on a journey through her early years, the years in France, and her return to Scotland in the company of her half-brother James. They’re a quarrelsome lot! No one agrees with anyone else, and they change allegiance all the time. And back again.

Darnley doesn’t come across well, whereas Bothwell seems nice at first. As did James, almost. John Knox is a piece of work. But the funny thing reading this book now, is that the intrigue and politics and backstabbings remind me of the lamentable situation we have today, on both sides of the Atlantic.

Alex Nye, For My Sins

Knowing that Alex began writing this book in 1989, I was uncertain if it would have travelled well over all these years. But I have to say that it works, and I can’t see any 28-year gaps in style or content. I wondered, too, what makes For My Sins an adult novel. It could easily be read by a teenager. Some of the concepts are perhaps a bit old, but the story and the style is very readable.

Tulips

March isn’t over just yet, but I feel confident enough to state that two authors made it through the Bookwitch Towers doors (and safely out again) during this month. Both got the Lent bun treatment.

As you know, I try to operate a ‘come empty-handed’ policy, but people find this hard to do. Both my visitors brought tulips, which is probably the nicest thing anyone can do, and get away with it.

Tulips

Debi Gliori had talked about my tulips before she even came. It all sounded rather confusing to me, because she wanted to compare hers to Mother-of-witch’s tulips, that she’d noticed the last time she came. We have a large sketch of a vase of tulips on one wall. And it turned out Debi had sketched very nearly the exact same vase of tulips. She brought three of them for me to see, and then she said I could keep them!

One can never have too many tulips.

Which is lucky, as Helen Grant turned up with a bunch of tulips [real ones], looked at them doubtfully and said she thought they were tulips…

Good thing I’m an expert.

Tulips

And you know, I’d sort of overlooked the fact that the new room – still not quite finished, but in use – needed tulips. Any flower would have looked nice, obviously, but those tulips really made the room. And my week.

Yesterday was Waffle Day, so if any of you wanted to come over for waffles, you’re too late. We had one guest round for these lovely things, and then we sort of happened to eat the leftovers ourselves. (Although, if tulips were involved, I might rethink the waffle situation.)

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.