Monthly Archives: November 2019

Invisible in a Bright Light

‘Se det var en riktig saga det,’ as you occasionally – but far too rarely – say.

I could have wept with happiness reading Sally Gardner’s new book for younger readers, Invisible in a Bright Light. I found myself removed from adulthood and now, straight back to my Hans Christian Andersen days.

Sally Gardner, Invisible in a Bright Light

The fact that Sally has set her story in ‘the city of C-‘ some time in the 1800s helps with the belief that you’re in Copenhagen, which I think you are. It’s where Sally discovered the fantastic chandelier that stars in this story, and it’s where Celeste and her sister Maria would like to be, only to find themselves in the city of C- instead.

As in all the best fairy tales there is confusion and displacement and an urgent need for things to be put right. Celeste, and Maria before her, is unsure where she is and what’s happened. She/they only know that life seems wrong, somewhat dreamlike, and hidden, as if there’s something they can almost touch.

But what is it? And why do some people think Celeste is crazy?

Set in a theatre in a magical city, shortly before Christmas, we meet a host of interesting characters. Some of them Celeste feels she’s known before, somewhere else. Maybe. There’s something she can’t quite put her finger on.

Drama, intrigue, an evil witch, some very talented children, a good King and a sad clown and many others fill Sally’s tale. What’s more, if this is indeed Copenhagen, she writes about it as it might have been, and not as an English town. Places are different, and authors need to show the reader this.

The whole book is so magical! Or did I already say?

Read Invisible in a Bright Light and let yourself be transported back to childhood. Give your children what you had when you were little. In fact, with Christmas so close, this is the book that can be – needs to be – given to everyone, no matter what age.

Magic with snow. And the clock is ticking.


Dinosaurs vs Humans

I wasn’t much in the mood for a picture book about dinosaurs, to be honest. But then I had a little look, and it’s not really about dinosaurs. Except, if you have a small dinosaur fan, it obviously is a book about dinosaurs. And humans.

Matt Robertson, Dinosaurs vs Humans

Matt Robertson’s Dinosaurs vs Humans is a sensible little story about how two very different tribes of creatures don’t like each other. They simply must fight with or not get on with the other lot. Because they are so different.

Sound familiar? We’re all like that, to some extent. Those others, who are not like us. There just has to be something wrong with them.

But as with Romeo and Juliet, at some point two beings, one from each group, will meet and become friends. And the others won’t like it.

It will take some kind of disaster to make the two sides understand they have to work together, and that they have much in common. In fact, once you’re past the first hurdle, it’s obvious the others are lovely and you have no business not getting on.

And when I realised that’s what the book was about, I was a fan. In times like these we absolutely must get on with others, even if they are blue all over, or have pink hair.

When stuck

I should have realised. I watched as the taxi driver put my rucksack in the boot, next to my suitcase. But I thought, ‘I don’t need access to any loose change, or anything, and it’s only 20 minutes…’

But it’s that thinking that does it. You don’t know why it’s important, but it will turn out to be.

Apart from a u-turn when the second road blockage caused by Glühwein was necessary, it seemed the journey to the airport on a late Monday morning would be uneventful. But there was that rucksack in the boot issue.

Near the airport, where various biggish roads meet, there was jam. Very non-moving [traffic] jam, at that. But I was calm. I had time. I was being driven, and therefore looked after.

But after a while of non-movingness, my nerves kicked in, and I knew it was time to read something to take my mind off the jam. Except, the book was in the boot (because I’d never read in a moving vehicle). Except, it wasn’t moving.

It could have been worse. I could have been on the bus, in the same jam, standing up, crushed by lots of people.

After some consideration, I realised I did have one thing in there with me. My phone. Facebook proved very boring, by which I mean, no one had had the courtesy of posting lots of new titbits for me to read.

So I did the Gwendolen Fairfax thing and read my own writing. Not a diary; just Bookwitch.

It sufficed. Even the more recent posts took my mind off the jam.


Hugless Douglas Plays Hide-and-Seek

The adorable Hugless Douglas is introduced to the game of hide-and-seek. He’s too big to hide successfully, and reckons he’ll be better at seeking.

He is. He even finds little ones who were not playing. (Those were two very surprised ducks.)

David Melling, Hugless Douglas Plays Hide-and-Seek

This little story might be about teaching children how to play hide-and-seek, or Hotter, Colder. But it’s probably more about taking care of your friends and not forgetting anyone when you’re out. You need to be home before it gets dark. If you are lost, you should do something sensible until you are found again.

And it’s obviously there to help you count to ten.

New set of new shelves

So, a few days ago Daughter could finally put books on her new Billy. There was a slight delay because Billy had to be handcuffed to the wall first. The room he’s in has a spectacularly wonky floor.

But I’d say he’s now unlikely to fall over, even if he leans this way, and also that way.

The books – on those shelves that are not yet full – are also unlikely to slide, because I brought my small collection of bookends. For some reason I don’t seem to need them any longer…

There is still room for knick-knacks, but not for long, and certainly not if I were to insist that Daughter’s UK based book collection leaves Bookwitch Towers. On the other hand, I’m not sure we are up to fixing any more Billys to any more leaning walls.

I might insist that she sticks to ebooks in future.

The Wind in the Wall

Why don’t adults read more picture books? By which I mean picture books aimed at older readers. They exist, but I don’t believe I’ve come across very many.

Sally Gardner and Rovina Cai, The Wind in the Wall

Well, here is one by Sally Gardner, with illustrations by Rovina Cai. The Wind in the Wall is beautiful, and in a way quite like a children’s picture book, were it not for  the more mature content of cultivating an amazing amaryllis, or a prized pineapple.

It’s full of magic, which must be how the pineapple grew so perfect and caused our main character so much anguish. He is the Duke’s deposed gardener whose fondness for amaryllis lost him his job when the Duke decided he wanted pineapples from now on.

And who enjoys being replaced by a charlatan? Someone who’s both successful and cruel. A bully.

You are swept away by what happens, but at the same time you don’t really know for sure what’s going on. Just as we loved our childhood picture books, The Wind in the Wall enchants the adult reader.

A clean sweep

Thanks to this blog I know how pernickety [some] Germans can be about cleaning. For several months I have ‘lived in fear’ of failing this great test of cleanliness. Myself, I wash every week (!), but I’m not keen on house cleaning. Nor was Mother-of-witch, so I blame her.

Ah, sorry. I see how you are still wondering what Bookwitch had to do with this knowledge of pernicketyness. I meant that thanks to her I know someone who this summer failed at his/her German cleaning test. There was a small surface with some dust still on it when the judges looked. It’s so easy to overlook these things.

So, yesterday Daughter dispatched me to one of her Berlin flats, to see to it getting cleaned. We don’t make a habit of this. Neither the being responsible for several places in which to live, nor the cleaning. And before you find her too harsh, I was only meant to be present when someone else cleaned the flat for her.

Because she had also heard about this failed dust test. The letting agent hinted that they expected a great deal of cleanliness when she moved out again, but that they could recommend a cleaning firm they trust. In short, by using this company he ‘would know’ it was clean.

Well. I was there. I witnessed the place being cleaned by two people (mostly using the kitchen roll we’d left behind). I didn’t feel they did anything I’d not have done myself, had I not been let off the hook.

And when they’d left I couldn’t help myself. I ran my finger over a few surfaces. A good number of them were dusty.

I look forward to seeing what the man who ‘would know’ will say. Well, I don’t, of course. Not if he finds the dust. But if the knowledge of who cleaned properly turns out to be all he needs…

Book Week Scotland 2019, from a distance

If I weren’t in Berlin, this is what I’d be doing today. I realise it’s short notice, but if you’re anywhere near Stirling, you could go along to Forth Valley College to hear Kerry Hudson talk about her book about her life.

Having read about her, and it, I believe it will be really interesting.

Which, of course, is true of lots of other Book Week Scotland events this week. Make the most of them!

I, on the other hand, am not interesting. I will no doubt walk past the Glühwein stalls again, see if I can avoid the life size Mickey Mouse I met on Monday, admiring the Father Christmas figure riding a reindeer past KaDeWe, and many other things I’ve already forgotten about.

Also have a potato peeler to find, along with some other items that Daughter – urged by me, apparently – has KonMaried away. Or, they just vanished into thin air, and will only be found when replacements have been bought.

Amtrak tales

If you thought leaflets were the only things to be brought home when the Resident IT Consultant returned from the other side of the big water last month, you were wrong, if hopeful.

Not unexpectedly, Amtrak have a magazine on their trains. I suppose they need to, seeing how slow the trains go. 😉  You might run out of books. When the Resident IT Consultant travelled the current issue was The Kids Issue, which was a suitable thing to bring me.

I thought it was really quite nice. As with many ‘kids’ things, not all was aimed at children, but was about them. But it was all good. There’s an excellent interview with Michelle Obama, done by a 12-year-old. I learned new things about the former First Lady, and that’s saying quite a bit.

There are games. There’s a nice photo travel piece by someone travelling with her young child. There’s an article about food. ALMA winner Jacqueline Woodson has written about travelling by train with her best friend when they were young.

Best of all were the four stories from real life written by author Lois Lowry, whom I’ve never heard of but wish I had. She tells of four trips by train, beginning when she was five in 1942, and ending with Lois at 25 travelling with her baby son. These were interesting and so full of life, and I could have gone on and on reading about her life on trains. Possibly even off trains, too.

In all, this magazine was the right thing to have brought home for me to read.

Black Water

Occasionally you encounter something you never knew you’d want to know about. For instance this business of smuggling in Dumfries in the late 18th century. Even if it features Robert Burns, and it’s based on real events.

Barbara Henderson, Black Water

Barbara Henderson has written Black Water, a novella on the subject of smuggling, which is both interesting and exciting. The main character is 13-year-old Henry who sometimes gets to go out and help his Exciseman father.

Set mostly in and around the sea in February 1792 it’s mostly cold and wet, and there is little prospect of drying out when there are smugglers to be caught and the locals are on the ‘wrong’ side and not helping.

Henry is a good boy, except with figures, and he works as hard as the grown men he rides out with. He also seems to have found out some truths about the local people that his father is unaware of.

As a law-abiding witch I wanted to be on the side of the Excisemen – and they include Robert Burns – but like Henry I can see that the other side also has a point.

And then there is poetry.

This is the kind of book that has it all, being an easy read that both educates and entertains.