Monthly Archives: May 2018

The book inside me

Whenever I’m asked if I have a book inside me, I tend to say ‘no’ and joke a little about how uncomfortable that would be. All sharp corners and stuff.

Occasionally I feel it’d be fun to do a Bookwitch book, but that’s not what I’m here for today.

Some weeks ago I got almost angry when it dawned on me that there is a market not catered to; young, very young, mostly male, ‘readers’ who love trains. I love trains, but I know people who love them more.

When Toddler Tollarp paid us a visit earlier in the month, I wanted to have something to entertain him with. Something that wasn’t toy cars or Duplo. And you already know about Master Happy’s love for a good diesel train.

I reckon there are many more train fans such as these two. Tollarp is only two, but understands his trains. Happy is almost four now. They will love trains for quite some time, if treated right.

So what I would want are coffee table books with photos of trains, for younger readers. They should be proper books, with mostly good quality photos, and some informative text, but not too much. The book[s] could be a little smaller than a grown-up’s coffee table book, because they are heavy if made with nice paper, and large, with sharp corners, and could be awkward for short arms to handle.

Such a book should be thick, with plenty of pages. No board book, obviously, but perhaps more rip-proof paper than its older version. No need for a lot of explanation as to what a train is and all that. They know.

There would need to be new books for the grandparents to buy for each birthday and Christmas.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? When I’d got this far I looked online, in the hopes that someone already has acted on a similar idea. Doesn’t look like it. A few childish, and very short, books were what I found.

So I came to the conclusion that I’d have to make one myself. But even if I found someone willing to let me do this, or I suppose there is always self-publishing, I’d need to know stuff I don’t. Like how to source photos. And much more.

Young men need their trains.

DHR train at Darjeeling


Five from my childhood

A recent meme on social media to put up cover images of your favourite books had me doing absolutely nothing. Nothing, except looking to see what people would put there. It was interesting. Illuminating, might be a better word.

I assume that the actual cover images they used were of the particular edition they had read and liked, many years ago. It made me think about how important that first cover is; the one where you discovered something new and wonderful.

I wonder if you could do that, but hate the cover? I don’t know. Thank you, H Baldorf Berg for giving life to my early adventures. Nothing out there beats them.

Enid Blyton, Fem söker en skatt

I know I loved discovering Fem söker en skatt, aka Five on a Treasure Island, by Enid Blyton. Despite me starting with the film, I was nevertheless enchanted by the cover of the book Mother-of-witch let me have soon after.

They were too expensive for me to buy, at the age of seven. I suspect that after the first one, I only got more Blytons for birthdays and Christmas. And we borrowed from each other at school.

The cloth spine is rather frayed, and the colour has faded much more than the other books in the same style, presumably indicating I not only read this one almost to pieces, but that it had a head start in the bleaching process.

It cost five kronor 50 öre, which was a lot for a child who received one krona pocket money per week. But I reckon Mother-of-witch got her investment back, because where would I be today without that first book?

Enid Blyton, Fem söker en skatt

I own maybe five of the Five books, plus a few of the other series. As you can see, I crossed off the books as I read them. I must have felt it was OK to do this. And even though it looks like I didn’t read all the books, it’s more likely I stopped crossing the titles out on the backs of my books at some point.

I read them all.

Do you eat chicken?

Not if I can see it coming.

Many years ago when attending an annual lunch with a group of people in connection with the Resident IT Consultant’s past, I always warned hosts about us not eating meat. While preferring to be vegetarian, life is easier if [some] fish can be tolerated, so I’m fairly sure I just said we don’t eat meat. Which will be why one host-to-be phoned up to ask if we would eat chicken.

I had to admit that this was unlikely, but that I could bring some meat-free hot dogs if it would make her life easier.

An author, who is very dear to me, once told the story of when she was cooking lunch for another author, and how everything was going just swimmingly until the vegetarian guest watched in horror as her hostess added chicken stock to the pot. I suppose she was on auto-chef.

I never asked what happened after that. Did she eat it? Was the meal abandoned?

We have friends. Yes, really. Although possibly not for long, if they read this. We went there for dinner the other night, and it was a lovely meal. Much finer cuisine than we are able to offer guests. And then one of us had to ask what the chef had put in the sauce…

Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls

Not always hanging with the in-crowd, I only discovered Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo, when the Guardian wrote about its sequel. The not with the in-crowd comment could describe quite a few of the 100 females in the book, too. They did their own thing.

I’d have liked to read it to Daughter, many years ago. And Son. Let’s not be sexist about it. Instead, I had to surreptitiously read Daughter’s copy while she was at work. She ‘just had to’ buy it when she saw it at Blackwells in Oxford. I’d not been able to justify the £20. Or £40 for the two.

This is a book that only happened with the help of some serious crowdfunding. How typical! And also, how like the Rebel Girls themselves.

Some were helped by their fathers/families. Others did their thing despite them. It’s interesting how this runs like a thread through so many of the 100 tales of extraordinary women.

Some I’d heard of. Others not. Some I knew quite well, but not necessarily in this way. Others I was very happy to be introduced to.

In a way, I don’t like the tone. But I recognise it’s all written for – fairly – young girls [and boys]. And sometimes you gain something when simplifying a really famous woman’s story into words for a small child.

Also, not sure I agree with smoothing over some of the bad stuff some of them have done, nor occasionally really bad things that happened to them, like the assassination of three of the four Mirabal sisters. I believe even young children deserve to know.

What many of these women have in common is being told girls don’t do these things.

Actually, they do. They did, and they will continue to do it.

Whether the men are stupid, or jealous and controlling, I wouldn’t want to say. And I don’t really believe that boys now need a book like this for themselves, just to make it fair.

This is a book to dip into and learn from. Preferably in the company of a young person, or two.

Intriguingly illustrated by many talented artists, giving a new face to some of these rebels. The pictures alone could invite readers to spend a lot of time looking at them, and talking about them.

I really like Michelle Obama’s mother.


(‘Honk all you want, I’m deaf!’ Bumper sticker belonging to Ashley Fiolek, motocross racer.)

A world gone bananas

A friend reported buying reduced bananas in her local Coop. They had masses of barely ripe ones, but with that day’s date, and at such a good price that my friend bought as many as she imagined her family could eat, before the bananas really did go off.

Good for her, but it is crazy.

In Gary’s Banana Drama by Jane Massey, we meet Gary (he’s some sort of monkey, or ape, or whatever they should be called to be pc) who loves bananas. I don’t think he’d ever find that his Coop could have too many.

Jane Massey, Gary's Banana Drama

He eats and he eats, and after much eating there are no bananas left.

Gary looks for bananas everywhere, and he finds them. Or so he thinks. I suspect he’s hallucinating after too many bananas, because these are not bananas at all.

And then he finds a way to banana heaven, but then he actually decides to change.

To grapes.

For Mother

If you didn’t make the most of the UK Mother’s Day before Easter, or the US/Swiss/many other countries’ Mother’s Day a couple of weeks ago, I give you your third time lucky. Sweden, tomorrow.

I happened to visit a bookshop yesterday, and found a display of books suggested for Mother.

Jenny Colgan, Den lilla bokhandeln runt hörnet

One of them was by Jenny Colgan, who hails from not too far away from Bookwitch Towers, so I feel some kinship, and it was nice to see her translated work some distance away, and it’s good to know she’s suitable for Mothers. (I’m not sure, but it might be The Bookshop on the Corner, which I suppose makes sense to encounter in a bookshop, even if not on a corner.)

Well, it’s that, or a bunch of handpicked Lilies of the Valley.

Or both.

(And since you ask, yes, it’s a terribly blurry photo.)

Welcome to Nowhere

I was expecting a story about how life in Syria got so awful that Omar and his family had to leave, becoming refugees and ending up in Britain after much hardship on the way, followed by their life here, and how they were received.

Elizabeth Laird, Welcome to Nowhere

That’s not the story Elizabeth Laird wrote, however. Welcome to Nowhere is exactly that; it’s about a family of seven, who have to leave their home in Bosra when the troubles in Syria begin, and they move in with Omar’s grandmother. Soon they have to flee again, and again. In the end they really do end up in ‘Nowhere.’

Omar is about 13 when we first meet the family, with an older sister and an older brother, who has cerebral palsy, plus two younger siblings. The father works for the government, something that turns out not to be so good in a country where civil war is about to break out.

This is the Syrian crisis from the inside. I’ve read the papers and seen the news on television, but I didn’t know it like this. There isn’t all that much about the actual, physical war. It’s more how a normal family tries to survive, as the reality of the situation slowly dawns on them. How they realise that they might never go home.

Elizabeth Laird as always is very good at showing the reader how people in other countries live. It’s one of the most valuable things about her writing, as well as the thrill of her plots. So we learn how Omar is the one who does things, his clever older sister is destined to be married off, when all she wants is to go to school, and Musa is invariably described as a cripple and an imbecile, even by [some] members of his own family, when he is also extremely intelligent. Their mother has to obey her husband, and it is fascinating to see what it takes to make her stand up to the men in her life.

They all grow up in this story. I’m not sure who grows the most.

Welcome to Nowhere has completely changed how I look at Syria, leaving me wanting to do more, but feeling helpless in what has become a country against refugees.

Everyone should read this book.

Elizabeth Laird, Welcome to Nowhere (illustration by Lucy Eldridge)

(Atmospheric illustrations by Lucy Eldridge.)

Positively Teenage

Nicola Morgan is one of the best friends a teenager can have. I wish I’d had her [book] when I was young and agonised over life. Now when I read her Positively Teenage guide to teenage well-being, I can only nod sagely and agree, because over time I’ve also learned a few sensible things.

Nicola Morgan, Positively Teenage

But this – very yellow – book is a great guide to feeling well, feeling happier with yourself. Because you deserve it.

Today I might not [yet] have had my daily dose of laughter, even if it is great brain medicine. But I’ll work on it.

I did Nicola’s Quiz – she has many throughout the book – on ‘the flourish actions.’ I did abysmally. But it would be fairly quick and easy to improve such a score, and with Nicola’s help you at least know what to aim for.

Your body is just fine. Yes, you think your nose, or whatever, is horrible. But everyone has something like that, making them spend years agonising over some detail that will baffle the older you.

You can change your luck. It’s not as if you were born with genuinely bad luck. Learn to think and act positive. It will change you.

In every chapter there are links to websites and organisations to help you find out more, or to make contact with.

I reckon that for every little, or big, thing you worry about, Nicola’s book will have something sensible and reassuring to say. Read the book and see how you can improve your life. Even quite old ‘teenagers’ can benefit from this guide. Give the book to others, and keep a copy for your own needs.

What about Deborah?

The Breadwinner

When I got to the last page of the Guardian Weekend last week, I stared. It was a film poster for a new animated film called The Breadwinner.

I thought, ‘it might be based on the book by Deborah Ellis.’ I began searching for the proof that it had something to do with this marvellous, if disturbing, tale about the young girl in Afghanistan who ends up as the breadwinner for her family by pretending to be a boy.

But there was nothing. Angelina Jolie gets a prominent mention, as executive producer. Well done. The film is by Nora Twomey. Well done again. There are various quotes about the film’s excellence.

There is some small print, but I am fairly certain that I squinted enough, and Deborah’s name wasn’t there either.

So I googled the film, and lo and behold, it is based on the book. It’s not even pretending not to be. Wikipedia lists her, and an interview with Nora begins by mentioning her.

Deborah Ellis at MMU

Film posters are large. There would have been room for the name of the person who thought up this whole story in the first place. Even if they have altered a lot, there is the sense of the original plot, the original characters.

If Deborah had been a really well known, big name, I suspect it would have been plastered all over the poster.

That said, I look forward to seeing the film. It’s out on May 25th.

The danger of libraries

I can’t remember where I borrowed the quote below. Or from whom. But it has to be shared. It’s not hard to understand why they are so frightened of libraries.

Terry Pratchett on libraries

And I seem to have missed what would have been Terry’s 70th birthday a few weeks ago. Not only did I not know the date, but I had the year wrong. I must not have visited libraries often enough.