Category Archives: Reading

The Word for World is Forest

I have at long last read my first Ursula Le Guin. It was the novella The Word for World is Forest, and it was in translation, arriving as it did from a friend’s garage, where it had also been a bit unexpected.

It was all right. The sentiments are ones I obviously identify with. Don’t use violence. Don’t burst in on someone else’s world and start telling them what they must do, enslaving them in the process. First published in the early 1970s, it’s clear where this was coming from.

Ursula Le Guin, Där världen heter skog

But I didn’t enjoy it. Not really. I suspect my garage-owning friend felt much the same, but we both had a curiosity that needed satisfying. Like why had we not read Ursula’s books when we were young? And why had we not even heard of her?

The trouble is, I was under the impression this was a children’s book, due to its size and design. I stopped believing it was for children after about a page. But it still looked like a children’s book. At least this translated version did.

Basically it is about a faraway planet invaded by Earth, and where the hitherto peaceful inhabitants are forced to become cruel and violent like the invaders in order to get rid of them, which mostly involves a lot of killing.

I think I would have liked to see ideas like these executed with a bit more thought through science fiction elements.

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Collecting coupons

I mentioned David Copperfield the other day. There are two of him on my foreign shelves. One in the original, and one an adapted version translated into Swedish.

Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

In my childhood there was a series of classic children’s books called Sagas Berömda Böcker. They were a little out of my price range, so I believe most of mine were gifts from the Retired Children’s Librarian.

I liked them a lot, and they helped give me a slightly wrong idea of what’s a classic and what’s a children’s book. Because when they are translated, and adapted (=abridged), it usually makes books child friendly. They caused me to consider Ivanhoe a children’s book, which surprised the Resident IT Consultant quite a bit to begin with.

How could I know it wasn’t?

This series gave me Jules Verne and Alexandre Dumas, as well as David Copperfield and Ivanhoe. I was desperate to collect enough of them. If you got five (I think) of the coupons attached to the books, you could send off for 50 personalised Ex Libris stickers, and I wanted those really badly.

The Ex Libris

As you can’t see, I must have scraped enough together for my stickers. The one above is the blank one that came with the book.

I have a dreadful feeling I never did put all of them into books. I think I tired of them before I got to the end. But it’s a clever way of making young readers want more.

As I grew older and possibly more sensible, I felt a certain amount of shame for having read abridged books. By now I feel it was OK. It got me started, and the books were not short by any means; just ‘adapted.’

Joy

Corrinne Averiss and Isabelle Follath, Joy

This sweet picture book story by Corrinne Averiss is about Fern, who sets out to find the joy that seems to have left her beloved Nanna’s life. Where she would usually have been smiley and happy, she was sad.

But while Fern found plenty of whooosh and joy and bounce, tickles and chuckles and sparkles, she didn’t seem to be able to collect them into her catching bag.

So she went to see her Nanna to tell her. And her Nanna did what you would expect from someone who loves her granddaughter; she smiled. Because grandmothers can be made happy just by being with their grandchildren.

Joyous illustrations by Isabelle Follath, who’s really caught the feelings behind all this. I especially love the street scene when Fern goes home after her unsuccessful hunt.

Where the World Ends

Geraldine McCaughrean isn’t kind to her characters. The ones in her Carnegie-winning Where the World Ends are not purely fictional. Something like her story did happen for real. And if you want to know what, I suppose you can look it up. Or you could pay close attention as you read the book, and that might give you useful hints.

That’s what I admire about really good authors; the fact that if it’s in there, however small, it’s probably there for a reason. Or you could be like me and simply plod blindly on and wonder and hope for the best. Will she kill all those boys she has marooned on a faraway sea stac off St Kilda, or will they survive? How many of the nine will still live at the end of the book?

It’s less Lord of the Flies than I’d been afraid, because there are three grown men with the boys. Although being men does not necessarily make them more sensible in times of hardship and struggle.

Geraldine McCaughrean, Where the World Ends

Set nearly three hundred years ago, these boys were already used to a hard life, but as their three weeks on Warrior Stac turns into nine months, life becomes almost impossible at times, even for those used to being cold and wet and hungry.

You learn a lot about sea birds, and not just in the first sentence where Quilliam’s mother gives him a new pair of socks and ‘a puffin to eat on the voyage…’

Quill is a lovely and resourceful and unusually mature older boy, and so special that I found it hard to imagine he would be allowed to live. The other boys are the way boys often are, a little mix of everything, including the one who’s a bully. But they have such strength and so many skills, climbing and hunting for anything in this bird world that might make their survival possible.

It’s a beautiful but harsh place, and I have absolutely no wish to go there. I’ll take Geraldine’s story and that will be quite enough. I know why it won her the Carnegie medal, and so will you when you’ve read it, puffin in hand.

Run Wild

Gill Lewis weaves her magic every time. There’s no other word for it. She pulls you in and you live with her characters and you want the best for them but can’t work out how that’s going to be possible.

In a book like Run Wild, which is dyslexia friendly and therefore short, you feel that it will be even harder to arrange for that happy ending. There is one, of course, but as always it’s not impossibly sugary; just rather nice.

For instance, in Run Wild Gill’s characters meet a wolf on a derelict gasworks site in London, and how can you save, let alone keep, a wolf?

Gill Lewis, Run Wild

The children stumble across the wolf and various other wildlife in their search for some place to skateboard. They are children, and they need somewhere to play, somewhere to just be, to walk barefoot.

This is so good. I’m almost jealous of anyone who hasn’t yet read Run Wild. But I can always reread.

Where do you go, Birdy Jones?

Adults don’t always tell children as much as they should. As much as they need to hear. As much as they deserve to know.

Joanna Nadin’s new book, Where do you go, Birdy Jones? shows this all too well. 11-year-old Birdy has a lot of thoughts about her life and where she belongs, and it doesn’t feel as if it’s with her dad and stepmum, although her younger half-sister is not too bad.

Joanna Nadin, Where do you go, Birdy Jones?

Birdy loves the pigeons her Grandpa keeps, and she likes her friend Dogger. But she doesn’t know what to write when her school homework is about who she is.

Because the adults don’t say anything much at all, Birdy eventually works out who she is, with the help of a new friend at school. But is it the right working out? And why does her dad have such a problem with Dogger?

Children have a right to know, even the fairly adult facts. If there is a problem, it will only grow as the child grows older. There is never a good time to tell because you should have done it already.

This is such a lovely story and Birdy is a wonderfully strong girl, even if she barks up a few wrong trees. It’s enough to make you cry.

The Secret Seven – Mystery of the Skull

The Secret Seven are back, folks. Enid Blyton doesn’t allow just anyone to pretend to be her and write her books, now that she’s dead, but Pamela Butchart has been given the job we all wanted. Hands up those of you who never attempted to write a Blyton book of your own!

I surprised myself by liking this book very much. The Secret Seven were not my most favourite series, but I reckon I read all or most of the books. Between us my friend next door and I mangled the names of all seven, and it’s odd how quickly I discovered I was again muttering Coolinn and Yuck and all those other exotic English names. Barrbarra. Yahnett. You know.

The Secret Seven - Mystery of the Skull

Anyway, Pamela has created a believable Blyton mystery, with skulls and pineapple upside-down cake and passwords, sneaking out in the middle of the night and having police who come when you need them.

The crime/mystery is fun and relatively simple, the baddies are just the right kind of bad, and oh, those feasts in the shed! I could kill for such a feast, even if I could make the food myself now. It’s jolly, and friendly and exciting.

Illustrations by Tony Ross, naturally, and the publishers are re-issuing the old Secret Seven adventures. I don’t know if more new books are planned, but I’d welcome them if they turn up.

Mystery of the Skull took me straight back to childhood, and what a nice visit it was.