Category Archives: Reading

Welcome to Nowhere

I was expecting a story about how life in Syria got so awful that Omar and his family had to leave, becoming refugees and ending up in Britain after much hardship on the way, followed by their life here, and how they were received.

Elizabeth Laird, Welcome to Nowhere

That’s not the story Elizabeth Laird wrote, however. Welcome to Nowhere is exactly that; it’s about a family of seven, who have to leave their home in Bosra when the troubles in Syria begin, and they move in with Omar’s grandmother. Soon they have to flee again, and again. In the end they really do end up in ‘Nowhere.’

Omar is about 13 when we first meet the family, with an older sister and an older brother, who has cerebral palsy, plus two younger siblings. The father works for the government, something that turns out not to be so good in a country where civil war is about to break out.

This is the Syrian crisis from the inside. I’ve read the papers and seen the news on television, but I didn’t know it like this. There isn’t all that much about the actual, physical war. It’s more how a normal family tries to survive, as the reality of the situation slowly dawns on them. How they realise that they might never go home.

Elizabeth Laird as always is very good at showing the reader how people in other countries live. It’s one of the most valuable things about her writing, as well as the thrill of her plots. So we learn how Omar is the one who does things, his clever older sister is destined to be married off, when all she wants is to go to school, and Musa is invariably described as a cripple and an imbecile, even by [some] members of his own family, when he is also extremely intelligent. Their mother has to obey her husband, and it is fascinating to see what it takes to make her stand up to the men in her life.

They all grow up in this story. I’m not sure who grows the most.

Welcome to Nowhere has completely changed how I look at Syria, leaving me wanting to do more, but feeling helpless in what has become a country against refugees.

Everyone should read this book.

Elizabeth Laird, Welcome to Nowhere (illustration by Lucy Eldridge)

(Atmospheric illustrations by Lucy Eldridge.)


Positively Teenage

Nicola Morgan is one of the best friends a teenager can have. I wish I’d had her [book] when I was young and agonised over life. Now when I read her Positively Teenage guide to teenage well-being, I can only nod sagely and agree, because over time I’ve also learned a few sensible things.

Nicola Morgan, Positively Teenage

But this – very yellow – book is a great guide to feeling well, feeling happier with yourself. Because you deserve it.

Today I might not [yet] have had my daily dose of laughter, even if it is great brain medicine. But I’ll work on it.

I did Nicola’s Quiz – she has many throughout the book – on ‘the flourish actions.’ I did abysmally. But it would be fairly quick and easy to improve such a score, and with Nicola’s help you at least know what to aim for.

Your body is just fine. Yes, you think your nose, or whatever, is horrible. But everyone has something like that, making them spend years agonising over some detail that will baffle the older you.

You can change your luck. It’s not as if you were born with genuinely bad luck. Learn to think and act positive. It will change you.

In every chapter there are links to websites and organisations to help you find out more, or to make contact with.

I reckon that for every little, or big, thing you worry about, Nicola’s book will have something sensible and reassuring to say. Read the book and see how you can improve your life. Even quite old ‘teenagers’ can benefit from this guide. Give the book to others, and keep a copy for your own needs.

The danger of libraries

I can’t remember where I borrowed the quote below. Or from whom. But it has to be shared. It’s not hard to understand why they are so frightened of libraries.

Terry Pratchett on libraries

And I seem to have missed what would have been Terry’s 70th birthday a few weeks ago. Not only did I not know the date, but I had the year wrong. I must not have visited libraries often enough.

Ghost Boys

It’s heartbreaking.

Especially because this is for real, by which I mean the fact that black boys in the US have a very high likelihood of being harassed by police, and far too frequently are the victims of police shootings. Often in ‘self defense’ or because the police officer ‘feared for his life.’

What about the black boy’s life?

This short novel by Jewell Parker Rhodes is about 12-year-old Jerome in Chicago, who is shot dead when playing with a toy gun. It’s hard starting a book when you know that the main character will be dead immediately. Contemplating reading about his grief-stricken family is equally difficult.

Jewell Parker Rhodes, Ghost Boys

But this is a strong book. It shows us how easily a well-behaved child could end up dead because of his skin colour. It shows us the ghosts of many more such boys, standing quietly, looking for an explanation maybe, or for a fairer future for other boys. It shows us how easily the white police officer can get away with it, even if it might be the end of his life as he knew it.

Jerome learns a lot about life after he’s died. And we learn much about what Jerome’s life was like, in the bleak part of Chicago where he lived, having no idea what the rest of the city was like, or the lives of the [mostly white] people who live there.

I almost felt a little bit of hope at the end of the book.

That was probably a mistake. But please let there be a change for the better! Don’t see black and think dangerous!

Room on the Broom

When I wrote about Axel Scheffler and Brexit yesterday, I decided to look for my review of Room on the Broom, the picture book I bought almost ten years ago, and it was ‘old’ even then. It’s also my only signed Julia Donaldson. I chose Room on the Broom because it was about a witch, and I am no Gruffalo.

But it would seem I never reviewed it. I wrote about the bookshop event, and how keen the little children there were to hear more stories, and less of this boring signing business. They were young enough to have their priorities right.

I reread Room on the Broom yesterday. It is a lovely book; the pictures, the message, everything. And as Axel said, it’s about generally being nice to your fellow living beings, even if they are frogs or dogs. We all matter.

Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, Room on the Broom

What the witch did – sharing what she had, which was room on her broom, until it broke – came back to help her in her hour of need. Karma. (Any future brooms I may have, will definitely feature the comfortable seats this witch conjures up for her friends.)

As Axel said, ‘beware, Brexit Britain – if you have no friends in a hostile environment – the dragons may come and get you.’

The Family Tree

The Family Tree is a short story by Mal Peet, which Barrington Stoke have fashioned into a dyslexia-friendly book. I don’t know how young a ‘younger reader’ is, but it says it’s not suitable for them. I want to disagree.

OK, the book begins with Ben re-visiting the house he used to live in as a child, but this is an adult reliving what he went through at the age of about ten, and many children have been lying in bed, pretending to be asleep when the adults fight, and it’s time they get to read about one such family.

Mal Peet and Emma Shoard, The Family Tree

A family where things don’t necessarily work out, but that makes it all the more valid. Ben’s dad tries to be a good dad. It’s just hard to do, when other things in life aren’t good. His mum probably also wanted everything to be fine, but it wasn’t.

There is a tree house, which was built for Ben, but in the end it’s taken over by his dad, and maybe that’s what made things go wrong.

So yes, it’s a grown-up kind of story, but I feel it will work for anyone between nine and 99. And it’s Mal Peet magic. Everyone needs a bit of that.

Gorgeous, dream-like illustrations by Emma Shoard.

The Misfits Club

The Misfits Club are not as good at solving crimes as they would like to think they are. Or more accurately, they can’t really find any good crimes to solve. It’s tough living in the most boring town in Ireland.

Things are about to change, though. Brian and Hannah, and their friends, twins Chris and Sam, acquire a new club member. Amelia has been banished to her grandmother’s after behaving badly at home, and it’s during her initiation tasks to join the club that the mystery appears, and with her new friends she sets about solving what they hope is a crime.

Kieran Crowley, The Misfits Club

It’s a bit slow at first, but soon the crime looks a lot more promising. They certainly seem to antagonise people by being nosy, which is a good sign. As with other groups of five, they are all skilled at different things. Chris is the nerd with the brains, Sam and Brian are more brawn, Hannah is frequently grounded by her strict parents and Amelia wasn’t sent away for nothing.

They don’t have long, as Sam and Chris are about to move away, and Amelia will eventually have to leave too. But surely it’s not too much to expect to catch some thieves in two weeks?

It’s not. They get on their bikes and solve away, and Chris is an excellent picker of locks, even if he gets out of breath on his bike. The twins have a distant cousin who is a garda, and Amelia’s grandmother turns out to be pretty useful too.

Nice little adventure of the kind we have all dreamed of being part of, at some time in our lives. Great to see children from different backgrounds learning to get on, and avoiding the curse of living somewhere so boring.

I’d be happy to see more of what they can do, but will author Kieran Crowley return with his Misfits, now that three of them are leaving? And how much crime can their town support?