Category Archives: Reading

Flying royally

All roads lead to Holiday Bookwitch Towers. Maybe. I told you a couple of months ago about our unusual flight route here, but a witch can always come up with more different ways.

This week I went another unexpected way, and I did it alone. The Resident IT Consultant and I were flying to Copenhagen, yet again (but we are clearly doomed), this time via Heathrow. But with our first flight delayed, we’d miss our second. We have no idea what was going on in Denmark, but judging by the lack of seats on any plane, with any airline, the whole world was heading there.

Meanwhile, poor Daughter who hadn’t had a seat on our planes at all, went ahead with her separate travel plans, also to Copenhagen, but with another airline. She was due to arrive last, joining us driving across The Bridge. Obviously, she arrived first. Also obviously, she ended up catching a train out of Denmark.

Wanting to be around to help her kill any uninvited spiders, I eventually suggested I fly to Gothenburg. They found this a strange idea, but put me on that plane instead, where I ended up sharing the last row with a cello and its player.

The flight crew hesitated each time they made an announcement, but each time – just – remembered we were bound for Gothenburg. Except when we arrived, when they believed we were in Bergen. I heard them giggling behind me, as the two names ‘are so similar.’ They are not. They are not even in the same country.

Unable to drive over any bridges, I also caught a train, which I shared with eight airline pilots (see, even the pilots had no planes!), who – one by one – went off to the toilet to shed their uniforms. Thankfully they had jeans and stuff in those natty little black carry-on cases.

By this point the Resident IT Consultant actually had arrived in Copenhagen, because there was the small issue of a hired car to pick up to drive across The Bridge. And once the witch had been removed from the equation, there was one last seat out that day.

By bedtime we were all here, separate flights notwithstanding. The rather lovely cellist had asked if I’d change seats with her boyfriend, but having been given my favourite seat, I really didn’t want to give it up. I explained to her that I had sent my Resident IT Consultant not only on a different plane, but to a different country, and she conceded that when you’re older you might do that.

Older, hah!

Puppy Academy – Scout and the Sausage Thief

They know who the sausage thief is. Frank Furter. It’s just a case of catching him, and preferably before the village sausage festival in Little Barking has to be cancelled.

Gill Lewis, Scout and the Sausage Thief

Here, with Puppy Academy, Gill Lewis is back with clever doggy students who want nothing better than to be good working dogs. Scout, the German shepherd puppy, wants to be a police dog like her mum and dad.

As you will have worked out, this is not a real school where dogs are trained to be police dogs. This is more a world of dogs who talk, go to school and have jobs, while being pretty much the same as you and me. (Within reason.)

This is a nice little adventure, where poor Scout is working hard at being good, but having setbacks and needing to work even harder at putting things right. Catching Frank Furter is one thing, but who stole the Crunchie Munchies?

A little wolfie gift for you all

Cliff McNish is a very kind man. He has written a lovely fairy tale called The Winter Wolf, and he persuaded his friend Trish Phillips to make him some rather nice illustrations to go with it, and then his brother Michael did some, well, stuff, and here it is, for everyone to download and enjoy.

Cliff McNish, The Winter Wolf

I thoroughly enjoyed this tale about the wolf that howls every winter, scaring the other animals in the wood. They all warn their children against him, saying you can’t trust a wolf. It’s just a trick. But there is – naturally – a tiny squirrel, who wants to find out more, and who goes where he wasn’t allowed to go. He speaks to the wolf, and he wants to believe him. He makes sure he’s out of reach, and…

Cliff McNish, The Winter Wolf

Well, when I got this far I didn’t know whether to believe the best or the worst. I was interrupted twice, and nearly shouted at those who dared disturb me at such a critical moment.

According to Daughter you can’t possibly have a wolf eating a squirrel in a book for children.

You can’t?

Precious and the Zebra Necklace

I used to love sitting down with the latest novel about Mma Ramotswe. To begin with I kept up with each new book as it came, but when Bookwitch got going, a few pleasures fell by the roadside, and my crime sprees in Botswana were among them. I still drink my redbush tea, though.

Alexander McCall Smith, Precious and the Zebra Necklace

So I was happy to reacquaint myself with Precious Ramotswe in Alexander McCall Smith’s shorter books about our favourite detective as a child. She was just as sweet then, as the woman she became.

In Precious and the Zebra Necklace, she makes a new friend at school, and when she discovers this girl has a sad mystery in her past, Precious sets out to solve it.

Like the adult ‘crimes’ this is more about human nature and simplicity and ordinary things going wrong. A bit of thinking about things, and talking to people gets you a long way.

Short and sweet.

Is it all because of Ladybird books?

Would I even be here if it weren’t for Ladybird books?

Years ago I blogged (rather peculiarly, it strikes me now) about Ladybird books, and how they were not part of my past, and how I almost resented this. But now it seems to me as though that one book I bought at the age of ten and could barely read, might have set me up for life. Where would I be if I hadn’t?

I have always ‘blamed’ my fascination for the UK on Enid Blyton and Agatha Christie, and while it is still true that they inspired me, I now feel I must add my sensible Ladybird book. People here think back to those days, when both they and Britain were different. I actively went in search of this charming country where children walked around in those T-bar shoes and boys wore shorts and had haircuts like they did in old films.

And there was cake.

I so wanted to go and see the Ladybird exhibition in Bexhill; not just for the books, but for the De La Warr Pavilion as well. But it was all too much at the other end of the country to be realistic. The exhibition is in London now. Can I make it to London? I don’t know.

The article in the Guardian a few weeks ago made me feel many things. It was fascinating to read that someone’s real birthday party actually ended up in the book. I mean, surely that’s the complete opposite of today’s fantasy books; finding your own reality in a book. I knew I wanted to be part of it, except you can’t wish your own past away.

Perhaps I can take up collecting Ladybird books? Not terribly original as ideas go, but maybe I can fake a new past? I never did wear shoes like that. The one time I got close to it, the woman in the shoeshop pointed out I was an adult and couldn’t have them.

Enough research? The right research?

Complaining is such a satisfying thing to do. Sometimes, anyway. I caught the tail end of something Lucy Coats said on Facebook, and which I feel entitled to mention here as she tweeted it at TES, making it public. Lucy was dissatisfied with their list of recommended books for children.

Keeping in mind my own moan a few months ago, on a similar topic, I read all the comments, feeling quite enraged. Then I read what school librarian and children’s author Dawn Finch said about it on her blog, including her own list of suitable books. Many great books, and I couldn’t agree more.

Finally (yes I know, I should have started there) I had a look at the offending list the TES had put together. It wasn’t as bad as I had feared, especially considering the list had been compiled by asking teachers. I suppose the TES could hardly go around asking accountants for their recommendations, so the question I have is why ask teachers?

Why not the school librarians, while they are still not totally extinct? Is it that teachers are supposed to know more? Or was it to see how little they are aware of books?

The thing is, as I’ve said on other occasions, by asking fewer experts and more people in general, you end up with the same general lists, because that’s the kind of knowledge we have on things we don’t specialise in.

As I said, the list was nowhere near as bad as it might have been. But if the purpose of the listmaking was to guide adults guide children, then they should have asked the librarians.

One of the first things I was involved with at Offspring’s secondary school library, was the voting for favourite books. Admittedly it was probably mostly the keen readers who responded. But it was illuminating for me, who thought I knew it all. Among boys, the two books that stood out were the Guinness Book of Records, and Dave Pelzer’s A Child Called ‘It’ and both surprised me. Had it not been for the school library, I’d have assumed the winner would be one of the well known novels for children. If not Harry Potter, then one of the others that we adults ‘have all heard of.’

The Smile

Don’t you just hate babies? I mean, younger siblings. They get all the attention and they are allowed to make noise and keep you awake all night.

Michelle Magorian’s The Smile (a Little Gem) with lovely pictures by Sam Usher is about a young boy called Josh. He has a new baby brother called Charlie, and as if it’s not enough to have your mum stolen away by this noisy newcomer, he’s also had to move house, and his new room has pink and yellow wallpaper which is so bright you need sunglasses to cope.

And here is poor Josh, all alone in his floral jail, while Charlie has the attention of both parents and gets to sleep in their room. His mum even seemed to like the idea that Charlie was going to be with them for years and years.

But being a mum she knows what to do. She cunningly makes sure Josh is in a position where he has to get to know this little pest better.

Or maybe she really did need a shower.

This is a sweet new-baby-rivalry story for the slightly older than the traditional picture book reader.