Category Archives: History

The Lie Tree

Women can. That’s the message in Frances Hardinge’s award winning The Lie Tree. Being female does not mean being feeble, even 150 years ago. I really, really enjoyed this book, and can only say I should have read it a long time ago. I’m not in the slightest surprised it won the Costa, despite it being a ‘mere children’s book.’ This is fully grown fiction.

14-year-old Faith wants to be a scientist like her father, but back in the days when Darwin was an ugly word, it was seen as laughable that a female of any age could or should be doing anything but wait to be married, and then bear children.

Frances Hardinge, The Lie Tree

The family move to a small island where the locals are suspicious of them. When her father is found dead, Faith vows to work out how he died. This is early crime fiction with a scientific angle, and Faith is young and a little naïve, but quite capable nevertheless.

Her mother tries to deal with matters in a totally different way, and Faith hates her for this. She just wants to clear her father’s name. And to be a scientist; to be allowed to be intelligent.

When she is patronised by the local doctor, also the coroner, ‘Faith wondered whether it would benefit the doctor’s investigation if he experienced a cliff fall first-hand.’ This made me laugh out loud.

Wonderful period crime novel with a twist.

And remember that women most difinitely can.

Planes

‘You could have asked for a Spitfire,’ said Daughter.

Well, maybe I could have, but I didn’t and it’s not important.

I might have mentioned that Elizabeth Wein was handing out planes at the Scottish Book Awards in Glasgow in March, and I got one too. Not a Spitfire, obviously. Elizabeth handed out more planes at Yay!YA+ in April, but I felt it would have been greedy to ask for another one.

The not-Spitfire

I’d be willing to bet my plane isn’t a Sopwith Camel either, as that is a WWI plane and I trust Elizabeth went for WWII ones. Although, she did set her Ethiopian adventures during the period between the wars, so not necessarily.

Anyway, when she was last here Daughter asked for permission to build my non-Spitfire on account of her past as a plane builder. Apparently she used to buy them at the post office when she was little. I don’t remember that at all.

When she turns up this weekend I might get her to build Tom Palmer’s Sopwith Camel, even though it is not a Spitfire, and not polystyrene but the inside of a book cover.

There is something about planes.

Flyboy

Time travel and Sikh fighter pilots isn’t the first thing I associate with Tom Palmer. Football, yes, and that’s in here too, along with the mysterious return to WWI as experienced by Jatinder when he goes to football summer camp.

Tom Palmer, Wings: Flyboy

Take To the Skies, Wings: Flyboy, is the first of three war time books Tom has written for Barrington Stoke, and much as I like sports books (well, I try), I thought this seemed much more my thing.

Young Sikh Jatinder likes football, but he gets angry with himself for being too cautious. So when he reads about a Sikh fighter pilot who used to be stationed where he is staying now, he is intrigued. He also sees what could be a ghost.

Jatinder is more than intrigued when he suddenly finds himself in the shoes, or more precisely in the plane, belonging to this WWI hero, and discovers he is now a grown man who has to do what grown men at war do. And being too cautious isn’t an option.

Very exciting, and very educational. This is the kind of war time history we need to learn about, and what better way than with a spot of time travel?

Really looking forward to the next two, and while I wait I’ll see if I can build the Sopwith Camel included inside the covers of this book. It’s not every book that comes with its own plane.

The Roman Quests – Escape From Rome

How I have missed the Roman Mysteries! And I didn’t even realise. Here – in Escape From Rome – Caroline Lawrence takes us back to Rome, slightly later than in the previous books and then, as the title suggests, we escape.

Caroline Lawrence, Escape From Rome

The Roman Quests will be a trilogy of new adventures set in Britain. The year is AD 94, and a wealthy jewel broker has to send his four children away in the night, because the Emperor Domitian is looking for revenge. 12-year-old Juba is told to look after his older brother Fronto and younger sisters Ursula and Dora the baby, and to make his way to their uncle Pantera in what today is Fishbourne in Sussex.

The trip is not without its moments. Give a child gold and they are bound to lose it, to make life harder. So let’s just say that once away from the soldiers searching for them, the children don’t simply hire a wetnurse for Dora and buy tickets on the first boat to Britain, and arrive nice and safe at their uncle’s house.

There is an excellent history lesson nestling among all the adventures the children encounter. And that’s not all they find; we meet some of our former friends from the Roman Mysteries as well. Lovely to see them again.

Juba is a good leader, ably assisted by both Fronto and Ursula. There are a couple of new characters too, that I look forward to seeing more of. Bring on October and book two!

Stirling goings-on

The Bookbug Week‘s flagship event will this year take place only a mile or so away from Bookwitch Towers. Scottish Book Trust’s annual book week for young readers runs from May 16th for a week, kicking off at Bannockburn with a day of, I think, poetry and stuff.

Bookbug

The rest of the programme happens all over Scotland, and the theme this year is international. Songs and rhymes from around the world.

This tallies with what you find in the programme for Stirling’s own Off the Page where, surprisingly, they offer both a German Bookbug session, as well as a bilingual event or two.

You can also do colouring in and design your own coat of arms, along with attending a teddy bear’s picnic. At the other end of the age scale (or so I imagine) is a vintage reminiscence tea party, which sounds really very nice. Except I hope I am not old enough for that sort of thing yet.

Somewhere there are dragons.

In schools (they have all the luck!) you might find Chae Strathie, Janis Mackay, Kirkland Ciccone, Alex Nye, Ross MacKenzie and Mairi Hedderwick.

But despair not, Mairi Hedderwick is also doing a public event. Maybe even two. This ten-day long festival starts on May 6th, and other public children’s events offer Lari Don and Nick Sharratt.

Helen MacKinven, whom I met at Yay!YA+ last week is also doing an event. As are several of the big names in Scottish crime, such as Lin Anderson, Helen Fitzgerald, Denise Mina and Caro Ramsay.

There are many more events and many more authors. And much upset on my part because I will not be going to any of these… The more attractive the event, the less convenient the date (for me).

The ability to read

Toby in Tony Bradman’s The Boy and the Globe was able to read. He was young, and an orphan, and so desperate he took up a [short] life of crime in order to eat. But he could read.

He got enjoyment from a book one of the other thieves accidentally stole, and Toby helped this boy, purely by being able to read. And when they ended up thieving at the Globe, it was the reading that eventually got him his better job, as an actor, as a friend of Shakespeare’s, and more.

Ned in Mary Hoffman’s Shakespeare’s Ghost could also read, as could the young girl who wanted to marry him. Both were poor, and Ned was an orphan like Toby. He couldn’t have done his acting without being literate. Or maybe he could, but it would have been much harder.

Set in a period when I suspect most normal children, by which I mean not terribly well off, would never learn how to read, this is remarkable. But had they not been able to, the plots for the books they feature in wouldn’t have worked.

It’s probably not just a plot device though. I’d like to think of it as being there to demonstrate to children how well someone can do just because they have this basic skill. A skill that many still don’t have, or not to the degree we’d like them to.

And for all the Government’s harping on about ‘Literacy,’ they are not necessarily helping. Especially not when they remove the places where the children could go to practice and enjoy their reading skills. You know, like libraries.

Toby and Ned got to where they wanted through reading. I assume that’s what the people in power are afraid of.

Shakespeare’s Ghost

‘Oh, a Mary Hoffman,’ said Daughter as she passed my stack of new books. ‘I might read that Mary Hoffman, if I may,’ said the Resident IT Consultant, and carried off Shakespeare’s Ghost. So I had to wait.

Mary Hoffman, Shakespeare's Ghost

It’s not terribly strange that many authors have written something about Shakespeare right now, but I find it amusing how both Mary and Tony Bradman chose The Tempest, as it was being written, to feature in their respective books, down to having Will give their orphan boys the part of Ariel. So, two orphans, two theatre companies (well, the same, really) and two Ariels.

And still, so very different from each other. It just goes to prove what a good author can do; one idea, but more than one story.

I liked getting to know Shakespeare a bit better, and finding out what his experiences regarding faeries might have been. Mary’s orphan, Ned, meets and falls in love with a girl from that other world, and it seems that Will had come across her and her family too, when he was younger.

The trouble with Ned falling in love with someone not entirely human, apart from the obvious things, was that he also had a girl in real London that he was interested in and who was hurt as his attention wandered. At first I wanted Ned to have nothing to do with Faelinn, but after a while I felt that maybe he should, and that Charity would be all right, and after that I didn’t really know what I thought.

Just as well the story looked after those things without me. Or it might have been Mary.

There is the plague to deal with as well, and the royal family. In fact, the royals on both sides of The Boundary have trouble getting on. As does Ned and some of his rival actors who are all after the same big parts. And they depend on Shakespeare to write a new hit or two, while he finds it hard to come up with inspiring ideas.

I know this is all made up. Probably. But it is nice to get closer to historical figures like this, and getting to know them a bit. More personal.

I enjoyed this.