Category Archives: Reading

Billy Button, Telegram Boy

Billy Button is a Little Gem in more ways than one. Sally Nicholls has written the loveliest little tale about young Billy who yearns to be a telegram boy. Except he’s too young, and a bit on the small side.

But he’s got a big heart and quite a lot of initiative, and when Billy does something, it turns out well in the end. And that’s what we want.

Sally Nicholls and Sheena Dempsey, Billy Button - Telegram Boy

Set in the past when we had village shops with post offices as well as telegrams and telegram boys, this is a sweet and slow story about the Button family and angry old Mr Grundle.

Luckily – for both Billy and Mr Grundle – the regular telegram boy falls out of a tree, so Billy has to step in and take his place. And where would Mr Grundle be if that hadn’t happened?

As everyone would agree, some rules are there to be broken. Whether you are old enough to be telegram boy, or whether you are allowed to, well, read other people’s telegrams…

It’s a bit Miss Marple-ish, minus the murder.

(Sweet little illustrations by Sheena Dempsey.)

They have all been young

More thoughts on older, former child characters in books. In the Guardian article one author didn’t feel that reading about Jo March as a mother was quite as wonderful as when she was one of four young sisters. And someone else didn’t care for Anne Shirley as a mother.

I felt the opposite way about these two characters. It was a bit of a shock to find that young girls grow up and become old, and mothers, even vaguely sensible. But not all that sensible. There is still a bit of the girl in there.

Which to me is important to learn. I never knew what Mother-of-witch was like as a girl. I obviously knew she had once been one, and I have the photographs to guide me. But in some odd way I gave the girl in the photos exactly the same personality and level of maturity as the woman I lived with.

It wasn’t until I heard the story of how her older brother teased her when she was doing the washing up, that I could see how it might have been. She was six and he was twelve. She tried to retaliate by throwing water at him with the help of a jug she was washing up. Only, it slipped from her hands and broke.

And the tale of her plaits. Her father wanted his little girl to have girly long hair, but this was the early thirties and all the other girls at school had the new bobs. Her ten year older sister – always a very practical woman – cut off her plaits when their father was away, and then there wasn’t a lot he could do about it. (Whereas I had looked at her school photo and assumed plaits were what she wanted.)

So, I like having known Anne and Jo as girls, and then seeing them as women and mothers. It sort of explained to me how life works, and I felt you could always see the girl in them. Anne might be telling her own child off, but she remembers what she herself had been like. And so does the reader.

I’m very much in favour of finding out what happened after, as long as the author hasn’t lost their touch and written a dreadful book. That’s what matters, not the age of the character.

Besides, I know how childish I am, deep inside.

To remain young forever

Or not.

First let me say how boring I often find the Guardian Review. A few short snippets don’t make up for pages and pages on things I have little interest in, or written in such a way that I find I don’t much care anyway. I know that children’s books can’t dominate a section of the newspaper that is aimed at everyone, but I do wish there could be more.

So this past weekend I was suitably – but pleasantly – shocked to find the first four pages set aside for children’s authors to muse on the question of letting child characters grow old.

OK, so it was caused by Harry Potter appearing as an adult in The Cursed Child, but that’s fine. They had an excellent selection of children’s authors, who expressed interesting and varied opinions on letting fictional characters mature, and many of them seemed to have read the Harry Potter books, instead of sniping about something they know nothing about. It was a pleasure to read.

And because they wrote their own short pieces, there was less scope for misinterpretation, which is another of my bugbears.

An adult Horrid Henry sounds perfectly horrid, and a jaded, older Alex Rider somehow lacks the necessary charm we have come to expect, so I’m glad this is not about to happen. But as with most things, people don’t have to agree, and characters aren’t all the same, so what’s right for one will be wrong for another.

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?