Category Archives: Reading

The First Hunter

First catch your zebra.

By the time you’re twenty pages into Robert Swindells’s The First Hunter for Barrington Stoke, the characters have eaten a piece of stolen zebra, and one of them has been killed by a bear.

Robert Swindells, The First Hunter

I don’t think I’ve read many stories set further into the past than this one. I’m not certain where this group of people lived, but in the illustrations they look African. They have not learned to hunt, so have to live off berries and things, plus what they can steal from the real killers, such as lions.

It’s steal, or be killed. Sometimes both.

The fear and anger they feel when one of their group dies after a close meeting with a bear, means that someone – the group’s ‘idiot’ in fact – begins to think of alternatives.

And that’s how they discover hunting.

This is so informative in a way I’d never even considered.

Why not me?

The lists are gathering all over the internet. I am gathering a few books myself for my 2016 list, which is fairly imminent. Some people I admire, who are very knowledgeable about children’s books, are moaning and asking if this ‘list is any good?’ because they haven’t heard of a single book on it, or at least not read them.

And I’m rather like that myself. Not the moaning, obviously. I never moan. Except when I do, like now.

On most of those lists I have managed to find one I’ve read, and liked, and occasionally another I’ve heard of or even received but not read. My own gathering list already has too many books on it, even when I stick to my rules, children’s books published this year, which automatically disqualifies great adult crime and some really excellent books that were last year’s. But you have to have boundaries.

So I’m not short of wonderful books. I’m merely pondering why so many of the ones on other lists have not passed over my threshold. Or, it seems, a number of other thresholds either.

It is well nigh impossible to request books you don’t know exist, or I would do. And by the time enough people have enthused about them somewhere, there is less scope to jump on the bandwaggon. If they were by authors I know and have read before, the chances of hearing about their new books is greater. Except, even those writers who first became published during the Bookwitch era, and are considered – by me – to be established authors, seem to find it difficult to have their new books bought by publishers.

And at the same time there are countless debut authors. It makes me wonder if publishers actively go for new rather than established, because the established ones have failed to write the next Harry Potter, so the debut writers are seen as more likely to do a JKR? OK, so she was a beginner, but surely a new Potter success could come from anyone? Clearly not on quite the same unlikely scale, but still big.

Is a hitherto unpublished writer more likely to strike gold than the author who has had four really good novels published, but who is now not having any luck with their latest offering? Surely it must be possible to have plodded along for ten years before hitting on just the right thing at the right time?

Unless the only money publishers are looking for will be coming from celebrity books, ghost written or not?

Whatever.

The Queen’s Present

Even Queens can encounter problems when it comes to buying Christmas presents for their little ones.

Steve Antony, The Queen's Present

In Steve Antony’s latest picture book, his very active Queen embarks on some serious world travelling to find the perfect gifts for the Prince and the Princess. She has some help from the man in red, who just happens to call in at Buckingham Palace, and who lets her come with him as he crosses the globe.

This way the reader can see many of the world’s most famous landmarks as the Queen and Father Christmas fly past. But no matter how grand the place, it seems she will never find the right thing.

If you look carefully, you will see that Her Majesty starts her travels sitting at the back of the sleigh. But as they go, she ends up closer and closer to the front, until she finally has the reins in her hands.

That doesn’t help, though, and she has to give up the hunt, and Father Christmas sends her on her way in the same manner he himself enters most houses. Hence the Queen’s sooty appearance at Sandringham, where the Prince and Princess get the best gift from Grandma.

(I’m still pondering whether a generation has been lost, or if Steve is merely ‘Grandma-ing’ the Queen for the sake of simplicity?)

Don’t Worry, Hugless Douglas

Hugless Douglas and I are both feeling the chill. The difference is he’s got a new knitted hat to wear, while I haven’t. (Too vain.)

David Melling, Don't Worry, Hugless Douglas

But then something happens to his lovely hat. While showing off to his friends, it sort of becomes unravelled, and there is very little hat left and quite a lot of ‘string and fluffy clouds’ all over the place.

Many of his friends discover alternative uses for the hat as they find it, and this hardly improves matters. It’s certainly not a Rabbit burrow hole plug, nor should it be used to line any birds’ nests.

Douglas is very sad and also worried what his dad who gave him the hat will say, but as Rabbit points out, his dad is nice, and Douglas should tell him the truth.

That’s always good advice. There will be a solution to most things, as David Melling shows us. It’s my first Hugless Douglas. Might not be my last.

Troll Stinks

Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross, Troll Stinks

It looks like Jeanne Willis has her heart set on educating young readers, and what better way than through poetry and catchy illustrations?

This time Jeanne and Tony Ross are tackling cyberbullying, and high time, too. (It ends better than Chicken Clicking, in case you’re worried…)

Jeanne rhymes her way through a different version of the Billy Goats Gruff, where a young silly Billy  finds a mobile phone and decides to get up to no good with it, along with his friend. They take selfies and send horrible text messages to Troll.

And then they go off to visit Troll. Aren’t they brave?

Well, no, they are bullies. The thing is, just as goats – maybe – have the right to cross bridges; perhaps trolls are entitled to try and prevent them?

Charley Chambers

This was quite fun, in a teen sort of way. But then, Rachel Kennedy isn’t that long past her own teenage years, so that could be why. I am quite convinced young readers will like Charley Chambers, Rachel’s story about a 15-year-old with magic.

I don’t know where the story is set, but I couldn’t help picturing it somewhere not too far from me, which added a bit of spice. You know, having demons run around misbehaving, and magic teenagers with their L-plates on.

Charley is just discovering that the odd things that have always happened to her is actually magic, when she becomes friendly – very friendly – with two goodlooking boys in her form at school. And as is always the case (or so I find) when you have two boys competing for you, it’s hard to know which way to go.

First it’s the newfound magic, and the newly found boys that fill the pages. Soon though, it’s the threat to people Charley cares about, and lots of inexplicable things that happen. It’s the usual set-up; who to trust and what to do, and who might this mysterious stalker be, the one who causes mayhem all the time?

Rachel Kennedy, Charley Chambers

The book could have lost 50 pages, and possibly also a character or two. And the point of view is all over the place. While it is convenient to ‘hear’ what everyone is thinking, it’d be better if you were left more in the dark.

But the plot is exciting and it’s a fun story. Very teen, a bit romantic, and slightly Voldemort towards the end.

Lowering the tone

I was struck by how civil everyone was. At the weekend there was a social media discussion about a celebrity who writes children’s books. There wasn’t much said that was positive, but people were discussing the topic like the adults they are.

The only reason I was a little surprised was because a week earlier I had taken part in another online chat about a fairly new, and therefore pretty unknown, YA author. In fact, I only contributed my bit on the grounds that I felt someone had to behave. The author had a couple of friends who spoke up on her behalf, and a couple of strangers who also seemed quite level headed, but apart from them it became pretty vile. And these were also adults, and I found it hard to believe so many would say so much that was so unpleasant. But they were mostly not my friends.

You may be aware I’m a long standing fan of NCIS. So far this year I have been dreadfully disappointed with the way the show is going, and the episode two weeks ago reached an all time low. For that reason I was glad to find last week’s episode pretty decent, and I even went to the Facebook page to see if people agreed with me. Unfortunately the consensus appeared to be that if they were going to be muslim friendly, then they would stop watching.

I’m sure people have always had opinions such as these, but have not been so quick to voice them publicly. Just as the YA author discussion went beyond what would have seemed decent until fairly recently.

On the morning of November 9th, I turned to Facebook as I turned off my mobile phone alarm clock, hoping for the best but knowing I’d not find it. Two friends had posted; one a relative who was now very worried about her recent – prestigious – job offer in California. The other, a friend from school, and a brand new US citizen, who was ecstatic over the result of the election.

I’m sure you can guess who overstepped the mark? Yes, the latter. She was so buoyed up by success that she started posting so many offensive comments on Facebook, insulting everyone from people like me to President Obama, that I did that modern thing and unfriended her. I was pleased for her that she was pleased, but didn’t feel it gave her the right to say what she said.

The relative? I understand she’ll head off for her new job, and I hope both she and the job will be safe. There was one thing I’d not considered before that morning. I’ve known her since she was one year old, but I’d never noticed her skin colour before.

As for the celebrity, I will leave him alone. And the YA author is someone whose acquaintance I hope to make soon. At first I thought it might have happened by now, as she took part in Book Week Scotland, at a venue within reach of Bookwitch Towers. But we decided to wait for a less frantic time.

And all this is why I enjoyed the discussion at the weekend. It showed me I know lots of people who are witty and intelligent, and they can be somewhat rude, while still spelling all the words they use correctly.