Monthly Archives: July 2017

Quest – the Aarhus 39

Quest is the ‘younger’ half of the two Aarhus short story collections, edited by Daniel Hahn. I use quotation marks, because I am less convinced of the age ‘gap’ than has been suggested. Yes, it is a little younger than Odyssey, but I felt many of the characters in Odyssey were not proper YA material; they were children who tried out older behaviour.

It’s not important, as both collections offer a great range of stories from all over Europe. As with Odyssey, the authors are occasionally quite famous, and so are the illustrators, and I’ve come across several of the translators before as well.

Quest - Aarhus 39

Of the 17 short stories in Quest I chose to start in the middle, because I just had to read the one by Maria Turtschaninoff first. I might have a crush on her. The story, The Travel Agency, did not disappoint. In fact, I could want to read a whole book based on it.

It’s unfair to pick favourites, but I did enjoy Maria Parr’s A Trip to Town, about a girl and her grandma. And as for Journey to the Centre of the Dark by David Machado; you’d do well to have a hand to hold. In the end it didn’t go quite as far as I kept being afraid of, but I’d be happy to offer my idea to anyone who feels like writing scary stories.

The Quest stories are not as dark as in Odyssey. Maybe that’s why they are offered as children’s stories. And perhaps that’s why they suited me better. But, in short, I can recommend these two collections as a starting point for fun with unknown [to you] names in children’s literature.

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The Ghost in Annie’s Room

It’s the anticipation that does it. I thought this story by Philippa Pearce was going to get quite scary at some point. And when it didn’t happen immediately, I expected it soon. And then shortly afterwards.

Philippa Pearce, The Ghost in Annie's Room

It wasn’t all that scary. I think. Unless I missed something. But that doesn’t matter, because as I said, it’s the expecting it, thinking that the ghost will jump out at you any second now. That’s scary.

Emma goes on holiday, staying with Great Aunt Win, and getting to sleep in Annie’s attic room. Emma’s brother helpfully informs her the room is haunted. And yes, there’s the noise in the night, and the shape in the dark.

There’s thunder.

And…

(Cosy illustrations by Cate James)

A must-have cover

When I saw Jim Kay sign copies of his first illustrated Harry Potter in Edinburgh, I was a bit tempted. The book looked fabulous, but it was also very large (and obviously, as we go along, the books will grow and grow) and I was telling myself to be sensible.

Sensible is a good thing to be.

But then I happened to come across the cover of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and I sort of sank. How could anyone not want it?

I like buses. I like night time scenes because the colours are so gorgeous. This cover image has it all. And it’s a bus. The Knight Bus, no less. Did I mention that?

J K Rowling and Jim Kay, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

This is something I will need to think about. I have some time, as the book isn’t out yet. The thinking will have to be that I can’t fit a new shelf in anywhere. And a big book, and its friends, need space.

The Mystery of Me

Karen McCombie, The Mystery of Me

We don’t always know who we are. And re-inventing ourselves can sometimes seem quite attractive, even if experience has taught me it’s virtually impossible. Although I keep trying.

Ketty in Karen McCombie’s The Mystery of Me has forgotten a lot after her serious accident. It takes time for her body to heal, and longer still for her mind to catch up.

She returns to school and feels tired and confused, but gets good help from Otis, whom she didn’t really know before.

I thought this was going to be your average school relationship story, albeit in a dyslexia-friendly format. I really didn’t see where it was going, and that made it so much more satisfying.

The Roman Quests – Death in the Arena

To be honest, I was afraid the death count might be bigger than I wanted it to be. Caroline Lawrence has been known to kill in the past, and people I didn’t want to see dead, too. And let’s face it; to make Roman Britain realistic, you can’t have too many lucky escapes, can you?

Well, I’m obviously not going to tell you if they live or not. There is quite a bit of blood. There are dangerous beasts, and at times even domestic cats can be life threatening.

Caroline Lawrence, Death in the Arena

The third Roman Quests and the turn has come to Ursula to have her tale. She loves her animals, and she loves being a Druid, which is all good apart from the fact that Druids are to be executed if found. The three siblings from Rome are then given a task by Flavia Gemina, which involves our old friends Lupus and Jonathan. Always nice to catch up with old friends.

There is the tricky task of attempting to reunite separated twins Castor and Raven, and getting rid of the Emperor Domitian while also staying alive is a big job.

And romance! These young people fall in love at the drop of a hat. It can be hard to know who you really, really love, and maybe it’s more than one? The modern reader has to keep in mind that the children are of an age to justifiably be thinking of who to marry.

Death in the Arena shows us what sort of entertainment they had back in AD 95. Audiences wanted to see blood from fights between beasts or ritual sacrifice, but also more normal fun, such as music and comedy. Mixed up in the one show, it feels rather over-powering. But nice to know that Lupus is now a superstar with fans! I always liked that boy.

Caroline continues to educate as she entertains. And I do like the long line of continuity from the early days of the Roman Mysteries. Carpe Diem.

Read as you fly

It’s not for me to recommend who you fly on holiday with, but easyJet have just launched a books for children scheme for this summer, helped by Jacqueline Wilson.

It is a good idea, because you can never have too much to read (unless you are me). And some parents don’t see books as the priority it should be, and maybe forget to pack a book for their child, or not enough of them. Not all would stop and buy one at the airport, either. And sometimes we don’t realise we need something until it’s too late, and we’re up in the clouds.

I’m glad they asked Jacqueline for help, and I’m glad she chose mainly classics for the easyJet reading list. There’s often not enough of the golden oldies in children’s lives.

If I have a criticism of the Flybraries it is that the young passengers can start on the book as they fly, but are then expected to leave it on the plane for the next child to enjoy. Fine if you finished the book, but less so if you’re mid-story and simply can’t let go. And let’s face it; that is the sort of reaction people like me want the children to have.

Start a life of crime by stealing the airline’s books?

Ash Boy

In Ash Boy for Barrington Stoke, Lucy Coats introduces us to Cinders the fella. She turns most of the traditional Cinderella story upside-down, in what turns out to be a really enjoyable tale. I mean, I object to the bad treatment of anyone, just about, but it’s quite satisfying to have someone other than a girl do some of the cleaning…

Lucy Coats, Ash Boy

Not only is Cinderella a boy, but I suspect an Asian boy, which brings another welcome aspect to this well known story. I can’t quite place it in time, as it appears both thoroughly modern and also several hundred years old. It borrows ideas from the fairy tale and the Disney film as well as the traditional panto. (Swedes have no Buttons, for instance.)

I digress. This is great fun, while obviously being rather sad, what with the demise of Cinder’s mum and the hardship he suffers, bullied by his step-brothers Rock and Boulder and their mother Mrs Karim.

And then comes the invitation from the Royal family, where the winner of the Grand Quintain Contest will be granted a favour of their choice by Princess Betony on her 14th birthday.

You can guess how it goes.

Did I mention that this is really fun?