Category Archives: Review

Letters from Tove

I’d like to think that even people who don’t know anything about Tove Jansson would enjoy reading her letters. As the publicist for the English translation of Letters from Tove said, one can enjoy dipping in, reading a bit here and a bit there. You sort of eavesdrop on Tove’s life, which looks to have been both long and full of events.

Tove Jansson, Letters from Tove

The translation by Sarah Death is so spot on, that if I didn’t know whose letters I was reading, I could easily believe they were from a young, arty English girl. At least, were it not for the people Tove writes about, and the recipients of the letters.

For the most part I don’t know who they are. Some are obvious, others might be names I vaguely have heard of, being Swedish. But many correspondents are just that, someone Tove knew and exchanged letters with. The Resident IT Consultant felt he didn’t know enough, but I suspect that’s because he believed that a Swedish speaker would automatically know all about Tove’s people.

Well, we don’t, and the book is more exciting for it. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that someone Tove’s age would have spent time in prewar Paris, mixing with other arty people. But somehow I’d not thought about this. And I know the grass is often greener, but I am always struck by how interesting life in the past seems.

And then there is the more normal life at home, which is surprisingly normal, even for non-arty me, so much younger than Tove. It’s as if there is something timeless and Nordic about certain aspects of how we live.

I think this will be interesting to read, whether or not you are a Moomin fan. And perfect to keep near you for dipping into. There are many years of numerous and long letters to discover.

(Starting today as Book of the week on BBC Radio 4.)

Emma

‘Awesomely Austen.’ ‘Witty words by Katy Birchall.’ Those are book cover quotes to make my heart sink a little. Surely you can sell a shorter, rewritten version of one of Jane Austen’s novels more seriously?

Despite approving of Daughter’s long ago short Brontës, I wasn’t sure. I asked the Resident IT Consultant. Together we arrived at the conclusion that it’s fine. Anything that gets younger readers read a classic is fine.

So here you have Katy Birchall’s Austen Emma in 210 pages, with ‘delightful doodles’ by Églantine Ceulemans. It’s a pretty volume, and I’d say it covers what you need from Emma, when you’re eight or ten. After all, it’s a book about adults. It needs to be made more accessible.

I just hope the reader doesn’t then go on to consider themselves as having read Jane Austen. I hope that one day he or she will discover, much to their delight, that there is a longer version of Emma.

Along with this Emma, there is a new Pride and Prejudice and a Persuasion, by Katherine Woodfine and Narinder Dhami respectively, with the remaining three novels to follow.

Awesomely Austen

The Snow Queen

I appear to have come to a Hans Christian Andersen spot. It’s a nice place to be, now that December gets a move on, and it’s Advent. It doesn’t all have to be Andersen, however. Even though The Snow Queen originally is his, this version is by Geraldine McCaughrean.

But however great they both are, and you know they are, what really truly makes this book are the illustrations by Laura Barrett. The are simply fabulous, and I’d be quite happy to ‘read’ only her pictures, with no words at all. Done in silhouette in black and white with some pale blue, this is the most beautiful volume.

Geraldine McCaughrean and Laura Barrett, The Snow Queen

The story is the same it always was, about two young friends torn apart when the Snow Queen whisks the boy away to her palace. And then the girl searches everywhere for her soulmate, never giving up until she finds him.

It’s all very satisfying, at least if you don’t have to endure the cold, and it’s nicely romantic, and just as a fairy tale should be.

Invisible in a Bright Light

‘Se det var en riktig saga det,’ as you occasionally – but far too rarely – say.

I could have wept with happiness reading Sally Gardner’s new book for younger readers, Invisible in a Bright Light. I found myself removed from adulthood and now, straight back to my Hans Christian Andersen days.

Sally Gardner, Invisible in a Bright Light

The fact that Sally has set her story in ‘the city of C-‘ some time in the 1800s helps with the belief that you’re in Copenhagen, which I think you are. It’s where Sally discovered the fantastic chandelier that stars in this story, and it’s where Celeste and her sister Maria would like to be, only to find themselves in the city of C- instead.

As in all the best fairy tales there is confusion and displacement and an urgent need for things to be put right. Celeste, and Maria before her, is unsure where she is and what’s happened. She/they only know that life seems wrong, somewhat dreamlike, and hidden, as if there’s something they can almost touch.

But what is it? And why do some people think Celeste is crazy?

Set in a theatre in a magical city, shortly before Christmas, we meet a host of interesting characters. Some of them Celeste feels she’s known before, somewhere else. Maybe. There’s something she can’t quite put her finger on.

Drama, intrigue, an evil witch, some very talented children, a good King and a sad clown and many others fill Sally’s tale. What’s more, if this is indeed Copenhagen, she writes about it as it might have been, and not as an English town. Places are different, and authors need to show the reader this.

The whole book is so magical! Or did I already say?

Read Invisible in a Bright Light and let yourself be transported back to childhood. Give your children what you had when you were little. In fact, with Christmas so close, this is the book that can be – needs to be – given to everyone, no matter what age.

Magic with snow. And the clock is ticking.

Dinosaurs vs Humans

I wasn’t much in the mood for a picture book about dinosaurs, to be honest. But then I had a little look, and it’s not really about dinosaurs. Except, if you have a small dinosaur fan, it obviously is a book about dinosaurs. And humans.

Matt Robertson, Dinosaurs vs Humans

Matt Robertson’s Dinosaurs vs Humans is a sensible little story about how two very different tribes of creatures don’t like each other. They simply must fight with or not get on with the other lot. Because they are so different.

Sound familiar? We’re all like that, to some extent. Those others, who are not like us. There just has to be something wrong with them.

But as with Romeo and Juliet, at some point two beings, one from each group, will meet and become friends. And the others won’t like it.

It will take some kind of disaster to make the two sides understand they have to work together, and that they have much in common. In fact, once you’re past the first hurdle, it’s obvious the others are lovely and you have no business not getting on.

And when I realised that’s what the book was about, I was a fan. In times like these we absolutely must get on with others, even if they are blue all over, or have pink hair.

Hugless Douglas Plays Hide-and-Seek

The adorable Hugless Douglas is introduced to the game of hide-and-seek. He’s too big to hide successfully, and reckons he’ll be better at seeking.

He is. He even finds little ones who were not playing. (Those were two very surprised ducks.)

David Melling, Hugless Douglas Plays Hide-and-Seek

This little story might be about teaching children how to play hide-and-seek, or Hotter, Colder. But it’s probably more about taking care of your friends and not forgetting anyone when you’re out. You need to be home before it gets dark. If you are lost, you should do something sensible until you are found again.

And it’s obviously there to help you count to ten.

The Wind in the Wall

Why don’t adults read more picture books? By which I mean picture books aimed at older readers. They exist, but I don’t believe I’ve come across very many.

Sally Gardner and Rovina Cai, The Wind in the Wall

Well, here is one by Sally Gardner, with illustrations by Rovina Cai. The Wind in the Wall is beautiful, and in a way quite like a children’s picture book, were it not for  the more mature content of cultivating an amazing amaryllis, or a prized pineapple.

It’s full of magic, which must be how the pineapple grew so perfect and caused our main character so much anguish. He is the Duke’s deposed gardener whose fondness for amaryllis lost him his job when the Duke decided he wanted pineapples from now on.

And who enjoys being replaced by a charlatan? Someone who’s both successful and cruel. A bully.

You are swept away by what happens, but at the same time you don’t really know for sure what’s going on. Just as we loved our childhood picture books, The Wind in the Wall enchants the adult reader.