Category Archives: History

Picture This!

At my age I have seen most, but not all, of the art featured in Paul Thurlby’s new picture book guide to the National Gallery in London. But I’m hoping that the young reader this book is aimed at will either not have seen any, or might feel good about recognising an iconic picture or two, and then want to look at more art.

Paul Thurlby, Picture This!

Paul’s book would be a good start. You could look through it before visiting, and you could either take it along, or revisit these pages after your trip to London’s enormous gallery where you can see so much interesting stuff.

The art is ‘the real thing’ and then Paul has added some of his own, as well as making comments or explaining the great masters. And every now and then you can add your own art into small frames dotted about, or you have questions to answer, quizzes and puzzles.

In other words, lots to do, what with reading the book really thoroughly and then traipsing round the National Gallery.

There isn’t enough of Paul’s own art in this book, but then I suppose that wasn’t the intention. Anyway, if you have lobsters to spot and snowball fights, that’s good enough.

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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.

The Story of the Car

At first, my flippant reaction to The Story of the Car was that it was for the daddies more than for the children. Then I recalled a little boy I knew, who was crazy about cars. In fact, my garage still houses two carrier bags full of tiny cars that mustn’t be got rid of.

And non-driving girl that I am, I quite liked this book too. So it’s really for everyone.

Giles Chapman, The Story of the Car

Giles Chapman takes the reader through the very early cars, that were barely cars, dangerous and difficult, and then on to the early cars many of us know about, and then the ones we actually remember.

In 1922 the first car for women was made. How lucky that someone thought to invent a way of starting a car that’s not too hard for women! And if you were rich you could have any design car you wanted. I didn’t know that. Now I want a custom-made car. (Which I wouldn’t be able to drive. I Know.)

Among lots of attractive pictures of cars, we are still reminded that cars are not good for the environment, and that – so far – cars can’t time travel.

I suspect that little boy I mentioned would have loved this book.

Defenders – Killing Ground

Another football-based book from Barrington Stoke by Tom Palmer. Tom is good at writing stories about sport to tempt reluctant boy readers, and then adding something else to entertain and educate.

Tom Palmer, Defenders - Killing Ground

In Killing Ground we meet Seth, who lives with his mum in Halifax, a few minutes from the football ground. They both love going to matches, but now Seth’s mum is ill, so it’s becoming harder for her to go out.

And Seth sees things, old-fashioned looking people, sometimes scary looking. He’s not sure why or how, but it’s getting worse, and he needs to do something about it, and not just because the bad vibes in town causes Halifax to lose to Stockport (sorry about that!).

Are those Vikings he can see? Seth’s best friend Nadiya is good with books, and together they look up the facts about local history. But how to stop the Vikings from killing local, innocent people, a thousand years later?

After the First Death

Almost forty years on I’m guessing Robert Cormier couldn’t have imagined that his early YA novel After the First Death would feel so current. Or maybe he would. Perhaps his journalist’s instinct knew that the world wasn’t about to become a better place.

Robert Cormier, After the First Death

He certainly knew how to paint a dark picture of terror back in the 1970s. This was my first book by Robert, whose name I’ve heard mentioned by authors who have strived to write as well as him. And, you know, if someone you admire, admires someone, you need to have a look for yourself.

Reading After the First Death post-Manchester and during the next London terror attack, I couldn’t help but feel it’s always the same. My own mental image of terrorists forty years ago was not that which is in this story, which feels totally up-to-date as far as what we are witnessing today is concerned.

A bunch of unidentified terrorists have seized a bus carrying 16 five-year-old children, holding them and the teenage girl driving the bus hostage. One of the terrorists is also a teenager, as is the boy who ends up as a go-between. The naïve reader imagines a bond forming, somehow.

You learn much about how adults groom younger people to help do their dirty work. We discover that the bus driver is a normal human being from her helpless reactions to the situation; none of this fictional hero stuff. The go-between fares not much better. And the children…

The title suggests this won’t be easily solved. You know there has to be at least one death. You just can’t tell how bad it might get.

This excellent but chilling book is one of the recently re-issued classics from Penguin.

Local history

It’s a good friend who brings a Bookwitch more books. Admittedly muttering the Swedish equivalent of ‘coals to Newcastle’ under her breath as she offered her pile of books to me.

And whereas I don’t need gifts, I can’t think of better ones than books.

Albert Olsson trilogy

In this case it’s both what the books are, as well as how they were come by. She has searched for them secondhand, until she found a copy of each of the three volumes in this very local (holiday local) historical trilogy about the hardships and adventures of the people who [might have] lived here four or five hundred years ago, when life was tough.

Another old friend talked about them when we were both in our early teens, and while she loved the books, I thought they sounded dreadfully boring.

These days there are performances (in promenade form, I believe) near where we spend our holidays, most summers, and they are tremendously popular. It will come as no surprise to you that I’ve never been…

Last year when my book-bringing friend let me read her own book on a similar topic, she mentioned how much she liked Albert Olsson‘s trilogy about local farmer Tore Gudmarsson (there is a road near us named after him), so I admitted my ignorance again.

And now she has spent all winter looking for copies for me. She apologised for them not being matching, but that surely is the charm of used books? They needn’t match. They just are. Besides, I suspect the odd one out might be a first edition. The other interesting thing about the books is that they appear to be published by one of the local bookshops.

So far I have tried the beginning of book one, Sand, and I have to admit it’s like pickled herring. Much better than I’d imagined.

The poor Resident IT Consultant – always keener on history than his wife – eagerly had a go, only to give up because they are too hard for him to read. Now, where’s a translator when you need one?

Flesh and Blood

‘How scary can it be?’ I asked myself. ‘It’s a book for young children, after all.’ I was looking at the cover of Chris Priestley’s new book for Barrington Stoke, which shows a bandaged head, with just a hole for one eye. It’s an excellent cover. If you want to be scared witless.

Chris Priestley, Flesh and Blood

I took the precaution of not reading it at night, when the Resident IT Consultant was away. But I felt a bright afternoon would be OK. As OK as a book by Chris ever will be, I mean.

It’s really very nicely old-fashioned, in a way. Set during WWII Bill and his sister Jane seem like model children. If it weren’t for the fact that Bill would rather have a brother, which he wishes for during an air raid. And then, he sort of gets one, because they end up ‘adopting’ a young boy his own age who is found severely injured in a deserted and spooky house, and who seems to have no one.

Well, anyway, you know as well as I do that you should be careful what you wish for.

Bill feels uncomfortable, and so does his mother, and his sister. And then, one day those bandages come off…

Yeah, not sure that the bright afternoon was enough.