Category Archives: Reference

Dumbing down?

In the pre-Google maps days it was harder to find [some] places. I well remember how Mother-of-witch and I searched for Henley. Yes, that Henley. The one with the regatta. A teacher at Mother-of-witch’s school (where she worked; not the school she attended) had told her to take me to Henley on holiday. So she booked the trip, without knowing much more than that Henley was a nice, small town and very child-friendly.

But where was it? We pored over the England page in the atlas. Oh, how we pored. And finally, one day I found a place called HenleyEton. Turned out it was only very tightly spaced print, so Henley was just to the left of Eton, making it look like the one placename.

So that was fine. Now we knew where we were going. We weren’t the only ignoramuses, though. Once actually in Henley we ran into the sister of a friend, and she had absolutely no idea where she was, straight off her coach for a brief break.

But the poring. I did that a lot, with atlases, even without any holidays planned. I loved maps and could spend hours staring at the pages of the new atlas Mother-of-witch had invested in, to replace her school atlas from the 1930s.

The more I pored, the more I learned* in a passive sort of way. That’s how I knew where Nicosia was. These days I expect a child would know it from a holiday, and not a map. Although, Daughter’s friend at school only knew her family’s holiday destination began with the letter T and was on the Mediterranean.

I’m not sure whether we ever found out if it was Tunisia or Turkey. It’s a shame, really. Unless it mattered so little to the adults that the child knew where they went that it became meaningless.

I’ve reviewed a number of children’s atlases. Most of them good in a picture book kind of way. But one that I received some time ago tipped me over the edge. They are skimpy, with bare outlines of whole continents and a few strategically placed polar bears or culturally appropriated native peoples and their traditional dress and well-known items that ‘belong’ somewhere.

It suddenly struck me that if the young Witch was capable of looking at and enjoying a real map, then so are today’s children. But their parents probably don’t think of giving them a grown-up atlas, and the publishers offer us endless polar bears. I mind less what the children don’t learn, and object more to what they do learn if they pay attention to these books. Because I could see in this recent one that my part of the world was inaccurately depicted.

And it is hard to unlearn accidental knowledge.

Here’s to more HenleyEtons!

—-

*When the Resident IT Consultant went to Samara for work, I was so ashamed! I didn’t know it. What was wrong with me? (No need to tell me.) It was only as I did some detecting that I discovered it was good old Kuybyshev. Which I ‘knew’ very well. Not sure why they have to keep renaming places so much. Well, I do, but…

Barefoot among the prawns

Halmstad Library

Earlier this year I just missed the opening of the refurbished children’s department at Halmstad Library, and I promised myself I’d go along and have a look later. This I’ve now done. I wasn’t sure at first if it’d be a noticeable change, or just some new paint here and there.

Halmstad Library

It was much more than that, and really quite attractive. They have money to spend in Sweden, and children and books do well. There is a tiny carpeted bridge for small feet to run across. And back. And back again.

Halmstad Library

In fact there are several carpeted areas for small children to crawl on all fours in. And bigger children to just enjoy lazing around in. You have to take your shoes off, and there are signs that make this quite clear and there are pigeon holes to put the shoes in.

They have a small kitchen style room to the side, called a workshop, where parents and young children sit round a kitchen table, doing stuff. I wish I could have taken Offspring somewhere like that, back when.

Halmstad Library

There is an astronomy area, with space-y carpet. And there are tables at which you can play Ludo and similar. I was gratified to discover a prominently displayed copy of Kodnamn Verity, that well-known book by Elizabeth Wein, my second favourite, ever.

Halmstad Library

That was in translation, but should you need fiction in English, there are many shelf metres of the stuff. More than in some English language libraries.

Halmstad Library

Further along there are still the comfy lime-green armchairs for adults and plenty of desks for people to plonk their laptops down and work. That is if they are able to with such a good view of the river outside.

Halmstad Library

And when you’ve had enough carpet and wifi you can eat a fresh prawn sandwich in the adjacent café. By that I mean freshly shelled prawns, and even I was surprised to find this kind of quality in a library. Plentiful prawns too.

But if you’re tempted to think this is unadulterated paradise, it isn’t. I lost my balance a little, standing next to the carpeted moon surface and put one little shoe-clad foot over the edge of the carpet. Luckily for the safety of any child, the librarian wasn’t too busy to notice and she was able to come and tell me off straightaway.

On occasion I feel that Swedes need to consider public relations and kindness, and not merely the cleanliness of carpets or style to die for.

The Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature, the paperback

That’s the second edition, the one edited by Daniel Hahn. It is now available in paperback, two years after the hardback. And whereas the hardback is lovely, you can’t escape the fact that a paperback is a lot easier to hold and to work with, make notes in and generally beat up.

Which, I will obviously never do. The beating, I mean.

There are some few changes, but only what has happened in the two years, like authors dying, new award winners, plus anything else major we need to know about.

As I indicated two years ago, I didn’t feel I could get rid of my old first edition, so the two are standing side by side.

And this one… Well, it could be considered overkill to add it to the same shelf as the other two. Luckily I have a second Bookwitch office, so I have just the place to keep this new paperback! A witch has to be able to look things up, whenever and wherever she may be.

Ground Control to Major Tim

Not every country has an astronaut, so it was pretty exciting when we had Tim Peake up there in space. It almost feels like an age since he worked on the International Space Station, but it was only a year or so ago.

Clive Gifford, Ground Control to Major Tim

Here is a picture reference book written by Clive Gifford for fairly young readers, showing what it was like for Major Tim. We ‘all’ knew about his tweeting and performing to the crowds when he was up there, but not everyone knows what else he did.

Or, for that matter, what Tim had to do to get to the kind of situation where he was a contender to go into space in the first place. What work do you do, and how does one train for life in space?

You learn Russian, as you will be working with people from Russia. You have Heston Blumenthal prepare key lime pie for you. You exercise. The photos all look jolly, but I’d take a wild guess and say that it was all hard work. And not entirely without its risks.

This is the kind of book I know little boys will be pointed towards. I’d like to feel that lots of girls will also read about Major Tim. I know I would have loved it as a child. Please do something to interest all children in space!

The English Companion

This ‘Idiosyncratic A-Z of England and Englishness’ was put in the get rid-of-pile during our last clear-out of books. The grown-up books.

We decided we’d grown up, and away, from this previously much enjoyed volume by Godfrey Smith. The book is over thirty years old and the information in it pretty out of date. Much of it can presumably be found online if you need to look anything up.

So I decided I’d blog about it and then bin it. Sorry, probably meant Oxfam it. Not sure. Once we might have known who Godfrey Smith was. I have a feeling we did.

Godfrey Smith, The English Companion

He did [does] have a nice way with words, though, both the selection of which ones to include, and how he explains them. Much of this Englishness I have discovered for myself, in real life. You know, make a child call you mummy, and then wait to see what they do a few years into your relationship. Awkward, is what it is.

Afters versus puddings. Or sweets. He quotes George Mikes a lot, and that is definitely good. The English are interestingly quaint.

There are not very many words or names to look up, which in my opinion is an admirable way to go about things. You can so easily have too much to find out about.

So in a way this re-visit to my past didn’t go as planned; quick look-through followed by bye bye. There are problems if I am to keep the book, however, as it is literally dying in my hands. The spine is collapsing and the pages are fluttering loose, and I suspect that any subsequent reading wouldn’t be much fun.

What to do?

Atlas of Miniature Adventures

Do you recall Atlas of Adventures? It was a most excellent atlas, but it did have a slight drawback. Size. It was enormous. My arms didn’t stretch that far, so it was more a ‘read on a table’ kind of book. Nothing wrong with that, though!

Here is its complete opposite, also illustrated by Lucy Letherland, and written by Emily Hawkins; Atlas of Miniature Adventures. It is an admirable size. Normal book size. Normal weight. Suitable for short arms, and no tables required.

It is not just the book that is smaller, but the adventures are ‘smaller’ in that they all deal with tiny somethings, be it smallest butterfly, a bonsai village, tiny penguins, hobbits or pygmy kingfishers. The list is endless. In a small way. A big endless could be really long.

I can see the attraction of this. Not only is it fun to discover new things in general, but tiny things are always fascinating. And I feel this could be a miniature kind of goal for children, to visit as many mini attractions as they can.

Lucy Letherland and Emily Hawkins, Atlas of Miniature Adventures

(I accidentally read the above as smallest tortilla…)

On being a traveler

I own a book by Meg Rosoff that most of you might not have heard of. It took a bit of effort obtaining a copy, but I am nothing if not determined.

It’s her London Guide from 1998, co-written with Caren Acker, and I actually do wish I’d come across it back then. Not that I particularly needed a guide to London, but it would have been fun to read something not quite like every other guide book.

Meg Rosoff and Caren Acker, London Guide

I bought it to complete my Meg collection, because it was intriguing, and because I could. And the book is fun, written in much the same style as her other books.

Primarily aimed at Americans, it has at least been written by someone who knows London like a native. I have an especial dislike of guides written by people who don’t know how little they know. Meg gives advice on how to find toilets, and what to call them. Very useful.

For good and cheap eating Meg suggests the Diwana Bhel Poori near Euston, and this pleased me a lot when I first read this guide. I like finding other people who like the same places I do. And I suppose the other side of the coin is that if they recommend somewhere else I don’t know, chances are I’ll like that as well.

By now some things in London have changed beyond all recognition, so I wouldn’t suggest using the guide as an actual giude, but more for fun and as an – almost – historical document.

Although, perhaps I could work my way round town and see how I do?