Author Archives: bookwitch

Giant

I am short, and getting shorter. In secondary school I had a classmate who was smaller than me, but I never gave this a thought, until I bumped into him five years later, when he was extremely tall. How he felt I’ve no idea.

I might have found out in Kate Scott’s book Giant. When you’re young, it’s not much fun being different; whether you’re smaller, or taller, than the other children.

Kate Scott, Giant

Anzo (the name means giant) has a noisy and fun-loving family who are all very tall. He is frequently mistaken for Y1, when he is actually Y6. A midget aged eleven. Anzo gets teased [bullied] and generally overlooked. His family probably love him, but never seem to notice what he says or does.

Luckily for our hero, he has a rather good friend at school. Elise knows how to make him grow (maybe not) and is supportive (bossy) when he needs it. Anzo goes from being cast as the seven dwarfs in the school play, to being able to pretend to be adult, rather like the character in Frank Cottrell Boyce’s Cosmic.

This is a wonderful and humorous story about not fitting in, and eventually discovering that what matters is knowing what you want to do. And that’s not necessarily to do with stature.

You will love Anzo.

Where in the world?

I lay awake one night wondering where I used to live.

Pathetic, isn’t it?

I mean, I remember full well where I was as a child, including all those details only small humans tend to remember or notice about a home, down at knee level or thereabouts.

And I know where I’ve been since I came to Britain.

I can also visualise [most of] the places I lived in-between. But what order did they come in? And how come I wrote down a list including a street I never lived in? To make up for that, I simply don’t recall the real name of the street I mistook it for. (I remember the curtains I had in my room, though.)

In the end I sat down and fine-tuned a list that is (probably) mostly correct. The forgetfulness is partly due to having been in lots of places during what now seems like a very short time. It’s presumably what young people still do, flitting from one address to another.

But for a night I was really worried. I’m the kind of someone who still can recite phone numbers for my near and dear ones from the early 1960s. Numbers that they no longer use, because they are dead, and the numbers changed, anyway. And the odd postcode, as well as the G’s phone number in Brighton, when I was a student.

I need a book for this. An address book, where I keep myself.

Odyssey – the Aarhus 39

We have a lot in common. But also, we don’t. That’s no bad thing, though.

Daniel Hahn has edited this collection of translated short stories. I think there are 21 in this, the older, group of stories of journeys from around Europe. If the list of names looks longer than 21, that is because the stories have both illustrators and translators as well as authors. So it’s been a big job to do, this collaboration with the Hay Festival in Aarhus. The Aarhus 39 stands for all the authors involved, as there is a collection for younger readers as well. (And personally I’d prefer to write Århus, but I can’t have everything.)

Odyssey - Aarhus 39

Anyway, this is very interesting. Daniel points out how similar [young] people are, wherever they come from. I agree, but it’s also obvious that we are different. Equal in worth and importance, but a little bit just ourselves.

Another thing about all the languages the stories were written in. You look at the name of the author and you think you know what language they use. But you could be wrong. So many seem to have made a journey or two themselves, and their stories are in a new language. This is fascinating and points to a new kind of Europe.

The Nordic short stories seem to be more into drugs, bullying and illegal behaviour. Further south it is more weird and entertaining. But none of that matters; they are stories about being young, and the journeys are either actual journeys, or about someone learning something about themselves.

I can’t possibly describe them, either their contents or the style. There are too many and they are too varied. The stories are short (yes, that is what a short story is), and mostly easy to read, and interestingly illustrated. They make you think.

If I were to criticise anything, it’s the size of the font. It is too small. And the very worthwhile list of all the contributors at the back; well that font is even smaller and made my eyes ache. But this is such a good idea, and we want more of it.

Just in bigger print.

Old hands and celebrities

Following on from my thoughts yesterday, my new, bright, idea was to find some unknown names on the days I’ve planned to go to Edinburgh. And then to go and listen to these new possible stars.

There was just one problem. There weren’t many. I’m not saying there were none.

But I recognised most of the authors and illustrators in the children’s books programme. I reckon I found three or four new names in total, by which I mean they have only one book published, and/or have not done many events.

A couple of them I had highlighted, but they had lost out to another event on at the same time.

The other thing is that with celebrities now ‘writing’ children’s books and appearing at book festivals, there is less room for the new Julie Bertagnas or Joanne Rowlings.

And of course, even if they were going to be there, and even if their books are fabulous, that doesn’t mean they will be household names in ten or twenty years. I suspect it’s the household names that will be raking in more money and more fame.

Were you there?

It is so easy to pick the best known names, or even the known names; authors you have come across before and want to see, or see again.

I have just been choosing events I would like to go to this August in Edinburgh. The numbers are realistic, so not too many. Will probably end up being fewer once I get a little tired. Have I picked any new authors? Am I being adventurous? Let’s have a look.

Hmm, well, it wasn’t as clear-cut as I’d expected. There are people new to me, and people new to the British market. But even if I haven’t seen them before, I have read and enjoyed their books and actively want to see them.

No adventure there, really.

It’s actually hard to make a completely unknown name stand out in a programme, making you go for it. I often think I should go ticket-less on a random day, and simply pay to see someone who ‘happens’ to be on later in the day.

Last year I saw Kathryn Evans, who had a debut book and who was also a book festival debut. But I’d read her book and I’d ‘known’ her for seven years or so. I wasn’t being brave in my choice.

Twenty years ago two new authors appeared at the festival. One of them has told me how she sat next to someone called Joanne Rowling for the book signing afterwards, and how they signed a book for each other… If she has any sense, Julie Bertagna has her Harry Potter under lock and key. Or she has sold it and spent the money. I’d like to think that Joanne still has her copy of The Spark Gap on a shelf somewhere.

Both books are terrific. Both authors have gone on to publish more books.

Looking back from where I stand, it’s obvious that anyone would want to see them. But I wonder how the audience made the choice in 1997?

Were you there?

Are we sitting comfortably?

If you recall, I was a bit snarky a few days ago about the idea of reading in the park.

But when I discussed it with the Resident IT Consultant, he asked if perhaps younger people today don’t actually have an armchair to read in. Unlike me. I have at least two. (I don’t use them at the same time.)

Rooms are smaller today, in many cases. Homes are definitely smaller, especially for young people. And some of them have to stay living with their parents for longer than anyone would choose to do. Maybe they can’t have their own chair in a ‘shared’ house.

And in that case, popping out to sit in the park might be quite attractive. Obviously not at night, in winter or when it rains, but sometimes.

I know that some years ago I was ready to scream when I entered one of my shared and public rooms, seeking solitude, only to find someone already in there. And in the next room. It felt as if I was the only one not with somewhere to call my own.

Now, even though she doesn’t live permanently with us, I am under some obligation to provide Daughter with an armchair. One for her alone. (Unless she’s not here, of course.) It’s become my most recent ‘Freaky Friday’ agreement gone wrong, but I am working on it.

And no, she can’t have one of mine.

Kermie?

What a difference a day makes.

On Thursday I felt slightly annoyed with Steve Whitmire, when I read that he was retiring as Kermit the Frog’s puppeteer after 27 years. I remember at the time that I was astounded by how someone else could take over after Jim Henson. I mean that they could sound pretty much the same; not that someone else needed to do the job.

But I thought that it might be tiring to do voices every day, year after year. And that Steve had something else he wanted to do. It’s a ‘free’ country, after all.

And on Friday I learned that he’s been fired, and that he’d very much like to remain as Kermit.

I know, it can be hard to know who’s right and who’s being economical with the truth, but a man who has kept quiet about his fate for nine months, and who refrained from screaming and shouting in his blog post about what had happened, strikes me as the likeliest injured party.

After all, it can’t be easy going up against Disney.

As the Guardian points out, Steve is the only one many fans know as Kermit. I’m old enough to have been there when it was Jim Henson, but I too have watched a lot of Steve’s Kermit.

I expect his successor will do a good job, as it’s unlikely they would pick someone who was rubbish at it, and they can’t really kill Kermit off. But still. I’d have liked to see and hear Steve reach retirement as our beloved frog. Then I’d be happy about him being replaced.