Category Archives: Reading

Mind Writer

They are good at scaring me, these old favourites of mine, who have new books out with Barrington Stoke. This time it’s Steve Cole, dabbling in reading minds.

Steve Cole, Mind Writer

In Mind Writer Luke has discovered he can read people’s minds, which to begin with seems rather convenient. Knowing what a teacher is going to ask, for instance. But suddenly Luke reads exactly what goes on in people’s heads, and he finds he doesn’t want to know.

And then a girl called Samira turns up and she can make people do what she wants, including Luke. She puts thoughts into their heads.

Now there is nowhere for Luke to go, and he finds himself having to do what Samira says, which brings them to…

You could hate Samira, who seems evil. Or you can hang in there and wait to see what happens.

The Front Room

Would Michelle Magorian be able to scare me witless in a mere 66 pages? Barrington Stoke length pages at that, so not that many words.

Yes, she could.

The Front Room is about a family of four, on a belated holiday, after the mother has had a miscarriage, where they were lucky to book the flat they’re in. Hannah has to sleep in the front room, and she is sure she can hear someone breathe at night, and she can feel chills down her spine. But her parents don’t want to be disturbed…

Michelle Magorian, The Front Room

So maybe the place is haunted, but how bad can it be? Just a little breathing and some chills. Just ignore it. If you can.

Hannah can’t, and ever desperate she

Well, I can’t tell you that, of course.

(Illustrations by Vladimir Stankovic)

Binning the proofs?

It could be that the story wasn’t even true. I’m the kind of person who believes, or wants to believe, what reliable newspapers report. I’m fairly sure I have mentioned this snippet before, and therefore I am as guilty as anyone of spreading what might not actually be true.

But it stops me from throwing away books. Every time.

It’s the brief tale of a poor young woman somewhere in Africa. Her most treasured possession was a portion of a paperback novel. Not even a whole book. After I’d read about her I wanted to get on the first plane and hand over a suitcase full of books.

What to do with very early proofs? Whether I read them or not, assuming I do the reading nice and soon after receiving them, doesn’t matter. If I don’t feel I can keep them, I can’t pass them on either. I will always honour a publication date.

I recall the pain I felt when seeing loads of – unread and pristine – proofs chucked in the bin in a bookshop. My reaction to those books in what has to be a very wrong place, was to rescue them. But I realised I couldn’t, and shouldn’t.

Maybe proofs are always meant to be thrown away. Pulped. If I keep mine, I suppose it’s all right. Pass them on, though? The opposite of the bookshop bin was Offspring’s school library. There we entered even proofs into the library system. After all, it saved the school the cost of a book, and provided young readers with yet another tempting novel.

I don’t know what’s right. As with so many other situations, I would guess there is a legal right, and then a moral one.

And the young woman in Africa.

Oi Dog!

It’s not often I laugh out loud when reading picture books. This was one of those rare occasions.

I didn’t read Oi Frog!, but its sequel Oi Dog! is a lot of fun. Words (and what words!) by Kes and Claire Gray, and scene stealing illustrations by Jim Field, tell us what happens after (the frog, I presume).

Jim Field and Kes & Claire Gray, Oi Dog!

It starts with the dog sitting on the frog. Obviously. The dog likes sitting on the frog, because when you do, they go ‘plurppppppppppp.’ Obviously.

The cat believes the rules as to who sits on what or whom are set, but frog decides to change this. Dogs are to sit on logs. Not on frogs.

And after that there is no end to the rhyming the frog can do. Or, for that matter, how many animals you can come up with and rhyming things they can sit on; puppies on guppies and poodles on noodles.

Great stuff, and I can imagine it would be even more fun if you actually had a child in the room with you when you read. (Well, I did, but he’s pretty old and he was busy opening new bank accounts for me at the time…)

Guess what frogs get to sit on now?

The Sword That Saves

Aikido made me reach for the hoover. There was something in Ambrose Merrell’s The Sword That Saves – which is almost entirely about aikido – about how the very first small step is part of the whole thing. I think this was along the lines that having come to the class, you had already started. It was this I borrowed for my cleaning session, where procrastination was winning.

Ambrose Merrell, The Sword That Saves

The book is full of these thoughts; how you can be good by learning aikido, and learning to be like the old Japanese martial arts teachers. To be truthful, I am really not interested in martial arts or anything Japanese, but nevertheless gave this book a go. It’s about orphaned siblings Sam and Zoe and Sophie, recently transplanted English children in Vancouver, where after their parents’ deaths they are fostered separately. They desperately want to be together again.

Sam happens to stumble across an old Japanese man, Kensho, who takes an interest in the boy and teaches him aikido. Kensho’s own teacher Hiroshi is 113 years old, and lives in 16th century Japan, necessitating time travel. Soon enough Sam time travels as well, as do his sisters, forced by circumstances.

I didn’t entirely grasp what Sam’s task is, or will be, except to fight the Darkness, with the help of Kensho and Hiroshi, and also the girls’ abilities regarding visions and an affinity with animals.

Ambrose is obviously incredibly enthusiastic about aikido and all that belongs to this way of life, and I agree that much about the rules appeals; the physical fitness and the mental strength, and learning to be fair and kind.

But, I did find the three siblings unbearably good, and even for someone like me who wants to avoid problems, there wasn’t enough conflict (apart from this unknown Darkness). And some more editing wouldn’t have come amiss.

That said, it was fascinating, and I can see that if it sells aikido to young people, this in itself is a good thing. I’m thinking there will be more books about Sam and his sisters, because matters are not yet resolved.

How to be an Alien

I know. I blogged about How to be an Alien before. I love George Mikes, and particularly that book. And I feel that maybe we need more of that kind of thing. (Mine is the 24th impression, from 1978.)

George Mikes, How to be an Alien

Except, perhaps it’s now an unsafe topic of conversation? As George points out, ‘Do not forget that it is much easier to write in English than to speak English, because you can write without a foreign accent.’ Yes. My smallish vocabulary can always be blamed on my choice of writing style; pretend I prefer plain and simple. You can’t hear me.

How times have changed. George reported being told by a very kind lady ‘you really speak a most excellent accent without the slightest English.’ Don’t we all? Now though, I wonder what any kind lady is likely to say under similar circumstances.

Where are you a foreigner? Those of us who are here, would generally like to believe that in our own countries we wouldn’t be, and that this misfortune would befall the British instead, but according to George Mikes this is not so. Or more correctly, was not so, but I’m guessing many British people are not foreign even when they go and live in Spain. George was upset when he was informed that his much ‘loved and respected’ mother was a foreigner, back in her own Hungary.

I used to believe I knew and understood everything in How to be an Alien. England was charming and amusing, and you could smile fondly over her, as you would a toddler.

When I first read the book, I had never heard of Princes Square and Leinster Square in London. The whole idea seemed preposterous. Then one day I discovered I was staying in a hotel in one of them. Or was it both?

These days I tell people I live at no. 4 and that it’s the house between nos. 3 and 5. This needs to be pointed out or casual visitors may end up on the other side of the road.

Anyway, I used to reckon all I needed to do was learn how things are done here and I’d be fine. Now I find that I am taken aback by how normal things are in – to me – hitherto unknown countries on the continent, and how much I have changed over the years.

But I do feel queueing is a fair way of doing things. And I’d like to hope that the humour in George’s book will be appreciated by most people.


This dystopian time travel story by Mike Revell is primarily about grief and the loss of someone near to you. And as with all time travel, the reader’s mind reels, trying to work out what’s possible and how things might happen to make things all right and normal again.

Owen is in Y7 in a Cambridge school, and he and his dad are doing their utmost to cope with the loss of Owen’s mum a year earlier. Or, Owen is. His children’s author dad seems to have given up. Eventually Owen persuades him to go to counselling, and his dad comes back keen to give writing a go again.

And that’s when Owen finds himself in a future Cambridge that bears little resemblance to today’s. His name is Jack, and he is a Stormwalker. The world as we know it has been destroyed and Jack and his friends have to work hard for survival, and to resist something called the Darkness.

Mike Revell, Stormwalker

After a while Owen works out that his odd situation has something to do with his dad’s writing, but how to help his dad, while also making sure things are all right in this scary future?

Apart from the fact that this obviously couldn’t happen for real (I hope, anyway), it’s exciting, and you want to know how Owen/Jack can be two boys in one. And you want to know how this future Cambridge can have a bit of hope, especially if Owen is to return to his normal life and help his dad get over the death of his wife.

(How the dad can survive financially for a year without having a job and not writing any books, is another mystery…)