Category Archives: Reading

NY is for New York

Blast that Paul Thurlby! I didn’t need more marvellous picture books right now. And here he is with a new alphabet picture book based on New York. It’s one for Christmas, although there is no need to wait that long. Neither is there any need to possess a child, because you will want this book for yourself.

If I could tear out a couple of pages and stick them on my wall – which I can’t because I am too well behaved, and besides my walls are full – I would tear out B for Brooklyn Bridge. I have a thing for that bridge, and I quite like what Paul Thurlby has done with it, too.


Most of the other letters also provide perfectly gorgeous pictures, but none are like the letter B. Paul has had his work cut out to come up with suitable places in New York to fit every letter of the alphabet, but he’s done well. Central Park for P, and so on, but that’s fine. We know our alphabet and only want the art.

I was about to say there is a monkey on every page, but reading Paul’s notes I see it’s a gorilla on every spread. Close enough.

Anyway, Christmas is here.

The Greatest Show of All

Jane Eagland, The Greatest Show of All

Jane Eagland’s latest book for Barrington Stoke gave me a lovely warm glow, in the middle of the night. I woke up and couldn’t sleep, and I wanted something reliably good, and also something I could read to the end, in one easy sitting. And The Greatest Show of All ticks the boxes.

Inspired by Twelfth Night it features siblings, with a girl masquerading as a boy, and she does that classic of rebellious things; she runs away to join a circus.

Crazy about horses, Kitty becomes Kit. There is a lot going on at the circus and soon it seems Kit is at the centre of a couple of conspiracies, as well as in the middle of unrequited love on several counts. An unfriendly clown (how extremely topical!), a tightrope star and more than one horsey boy make for an exciting life.

There is an unexpected, but most welcome, nod to a more modern romantic twist; one which I wouldn’t have minded being taken further.


The Dragonsitter: Trick or Treat?

Josh Lacey and Garry Parsons are back. This time their lovely dragonsitter has Halloween trouble. Edward needs to borrow the dragons from his uncle, because he needs to win a fancy dress competition, to win a computer because their old computer is very old and won’t live much longer.

Josh Lacey and Garry Parsons, The Dragonsitter: Trick or Treat?

And for once Uncle Morton agrees and is ‘helpful.’ Not that the man ever is entirely helpful, as he still thinks of his yetis and stuff. But there is romance and ingenuity and plenty of mishaps, just as you have come to expect from a Dragonsitter story.

Every time I begin a new one I can’t see how Josh can milk this dragons and mishaps thing any further, and every time I am proven wrong. There is always something you can do with dragons. This time it’s mainly young Arthur, and he needs to poo. But will he?

Not Arthur. He really can keep it in.

But it’s quite amusing what happens as we wait for the poo.

(Garry Parsons really knows how to draw dragons.)

Fatty and friends

Geriväg, his name was. Clear-Orf, to you English language readers. I always used to wonder what the original name might be, since at the time I read Enid Blyton’s books I didn’t know enough English to even begin guessing.

I’ve long been confused about the name of the series of books as well. (You’ll find I’m confused about quite a lot.) The Find-Outers seems to be the answer, except when I look at the book titles they are all The Mystery of… and that’s presumably why we called them Mysterie-böckerna in Sweden.

Enid Blyton, The Find-Outers - The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage

About the only thing I have really remembered all these years is the name Fatty for one of the characters. It wasn’t as unkind as it might seem. First, Fatty himself appears not to have minded too much. (Unless he did, weeping in secret every time the other children referred to him as Fatty.) Second, I didn’t speak English, so to me it was just a name. I understood it was a nickname, and there could even have been a footnote of sorts to explain what it meant. But the name wasn’t translated into anything like Tjockis. And I obviously mispronounced it.

So that’s all right…

Now he’s back, along with Larry and Daisy, Pip and Bets. Plus the charming Clear-Orf. And there are mysteries. I have in my hand The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage, and even though the years have passed, I do feel some of the old Blyton thrill when holding it, and checking out how clever and polite the children are. (I used to believe this was an English thing. Apart from calling your friend Fatty, then.)

I hope a new generation of readers will discover Blyton, for better or for worse. The cover illustration is up-to-date in a way I don’t care for, but I suppose that’s what modern children require. I prefer retro.

The Roman Quests – The Archers of Isca

It is reassuring that I am not yet too old for Caroline Lawrence’s books. Occasionally I wonder if I will be, seeing as I’ve been reading her Roman mysteries for well over a dozen years. But I am still a child at heart.

Caroline Lawrence, The Roman Quests - The Archers of Isca

The second of four books set in Britain in AD 95, we follow the eldest boy, Fronto, as he sets off to be a soldier. It’s what he always wanted, albeit perhaps not quite like this. In Rome he could have been an officer, while now he must begin at the bottom. But for a boy who likes rules and knowing what’s happening and what he should do about it, army life is perfect.

Meanwhile, his two younger siblings continue as they were, living with the local people. At least, until Fronto’s little sister Ursula is kidnapped.

As with all Caroline’s books, this story educates as it entertains. I have learned more about life in Roman Britain through these books than I ever did from more historical texts. What’s more, I suspect I might remember facts for longer as well.

There are Druids and Romans, we learn about Roman baths and Boudica’s famous battle, and we find out how people lived; what they ate and how they worked and prayed.

And we are getting closer to knowing what happened to Miriam’s twin boys.

The White Fox

I know, and you know, that Jackie Morris makes gorgeous picture books. She can paint real and imaginary animals in a way to make most adults actively CRAVE the art in her books. But I must admit to liking her new book for Barrington Stoke much, much more.

The White Fox is – obviously – about a fox and Jackie captures the arctic fox that finds itself in Seattle absolutely perfectly. What made me even happier were the industrial cityscape illustrations, which is the kind of thing I go for, and I adore the way they appear in this book. If there is to be any tearing out and hanging on walls, this is it.

Jackie Morris, The White Fox

The story is simply wonderful. It’s about a young boy called Sol, who lives in Seattle with his father, but he is not happy. He hears about, and then finds, the fox down in the docks, and the two feel as though they belong together. Sol dreams of going back to Alaska, to meet his grandparents after many years apart.

And in the way of stories, especially those about children and animals, something magical happens. It’s also quite ordinary, in a way, but so beautiful. Considering this is a Barrington Stoke Conkers book, aimed at those who don’t read so easily, it becomes even more poignant. Small and perfectly shaped, with purple silk bookmark and everything.

(I hardly ever mention the word stocking filler, but The White Fox is definitely one of those.)

Space Team

This is Galaxy Quest as though it had been written by one of ‘my’ many crime writing Irish boys; Eoin, John, Declan. Except it wasn’t them, but their crazy cousin from across the water, Barry J Hutchison. Barry has been tinkering with some adult writing for a while, and he is under the impression that adding a J to his name will mean his littlest fans won’t accidentally find themselves in space with a ‘cannibal’ who swears a lot.

Space Team is very funny, and not too sweary, as there is some kind of translation system set up between the different species of aliens which not only translates but cleans up the worst four-letter words. Just as well, since that lone J is not going to fool anyone. Us fans can tell it’s Barry.

I had a lot of fun reading this. Galaxy Quest, Star Trek, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Take your pick. There are bits of everything in here, and you find you don’t mind too much that Earth is no more and neither are we. Cal Carver survives, and what an ambassador for humankind he is! Teaming up with a group of criminally minded aliens, it becomes his job to save the universe. Or some such thing.

Barry J Hutchison, Space Team

Setting off on a junky spaceship, the team have a task, at which they must succeed. Or die. The question is, do they have the right skills? Are we in safe hands? Actually, it doesn’t matter, since we are all dead. At least I think we are.

The lesson here is that it’s good to be cheerful and to try and do your best, for the team and for the universe. There are a lot of bad aliens out there. This is hardboiled space humour at its best.