Category Archives: Review

My Name’s not Friday

Samuel has a strong belief in God, and he loves his younger brother Joshua. I was actually left wondering why, in both cases. What did God ever do for Samuel, or for Joshua, come to that? Also, Joshua almost goes out of his way to be a bad little boy. On the other hand, we know that circumstances will make a child or person something that deep down they are not.

Jon Walter, My Name's not Friday

And Samuel is not called Friday.

He has been brought up in an orphanage as a free black boy, and given an education, of sorts. But then circumstances conspire to have him sold as a slave, and he has to learn to live a whole new kind of life, as the 12-year-old property of a young white boy in the American south.

At times I wondered how Jon Walter could know what it was like back then, in a different country, but this is what writers do. They make stuff up, and I don’t suppose that a modern American author would know any more about what it was like to be a slave during the Civil War.

We learn about three different periods of Samuel’s life; the orphanage with all that is good and bad, his life as Friday, who isn’t even allowed to show he can read and write, and what came after the Union soldiers arrived.

It’s very interesting, and at times I was afraid it would turn out to be like Roots, where you never once could know what happened in the first place after someone had moved on, because being real, there was no all-knowing author to let you know about the people and places left behind. Which I found very frustrating. Here we do get to see more than just the time and place in history where Samuel is, and that’s good.

The characters are allowed to change and grow, which makes the story deeper. And the whole book is one big history lesson about slavery, like how you are powerless when your owner sells a member of your family to someone else.

To be truthful, Samuel took a while to win me over, but in the end he did.

Creatures Great and Small

It said in the paper that colouring in is good for the soul. For adults. Not that it isn’t good for children, but they already know this. It’s us old ones who need reminding of the good things in life, yet again.

And colouring in is it.

Many of us would like to be able to draw beautifully, or even just draw passably, but find we can’t. So the ‘cheating’ you do as you colour in what someone else has already drawn, can feel quite good.

In this book it’s Lucy Engelman who has done most of the hard work, and all you need to do is bring paint or pencils, plus your ragged soul. The book has been filled with drawings of animals of every kind. You want frogs? You can have lots of different ones, and they needn’t even be painted green.

Lucy Engelman, Creatures Great and Small

The book is also ready for framing or gifting, in that each page is perforated to be torn out. On the back of each page there are facts about the frogs, or whatever other creature it is you have chosen.

Go on, grab those felt tips. You know you want to.

Tents

Not sure if we lasted the whole night or if we gave up after a couple of hours. Such is my memory of the time my cousins and I put the tent up in our summer garden and planned to spend the night. Cold, damp and smelly I can remember. But it’s the planning and doing that’s the fun. Doesn’t matter if it’s totally successful.

I just read in a magazine that nature is the new religion for Swedes, and I can well believe it. I like to be near the sea as well as the next witch, but draw the line at forests. Some people actually like them.

Mick Manning and Brita Granström, Wild Adventures

Brita Granström was probably drawing on her Swedish nature memories when drawing her latest book, Wild Adventures, with her husband Mick Manning. ‘Look, make, explore – in nature’s playground’ is what they call it. And it’s definitely got enough ideas to last several school holidays, always assuming your parents either play with you, or let you be indpendent, playing in nature on your own, the way it used to be.

It’s all about putting up tents and other shelters, and finding and using everything out there. Personally I’m keener on nettle soup than I am on frogs’ skulls. Mick and Brita tell the reader about sounds and smells and tracks and what you can eat and how you cook out in the wild, and anything else you could conceivably want to do.

I’m very relieved we had no such book when Offspring were small, or there would have been no peace.

In Sarah Garland’s latest book about Eddie and his family they actually go camping. Eddie’s Tent and How to go Camping also has rules and instructions for how to holiday in nature, enjoying it while not destroying it.

Sarah Garland, Eddie's Tent and How to go Camping

It’s a lovely book, but I’m glad I’m not Eddie’s poor mother, who simply has to go on with the mothering she always does, but in harder conditions. Tom plays at cooking and making fires, but a mother’s work is always the same, except when it’s worse.

Eddie and the girls love it, however, and they make friends and they have fun and they learn to fish, and to eat fish. It’s all pretty wonderful, once they have braved the motorway jams to get there. It’s the stuff dreams are made of. As long as you are not a mother.

I’m sure mine realised early on that I wouldn’t last long in that tent. I suspect it was the same old tent she had used when she was young too.

At the World’s End

At the World’s End by Catherine Fisher is a short, but intense, book.

Catherine Fisher, At the World's End

Set in the near future, something dreadful has happened, and 14-year-old Caz is one of a few survivors who took refuge in a shop when whatever it was happened, and she has lived there for nine years. They believe the air outside is not safe and it’s so cold no one can survive.

But how can you be sure?

Caz and her friend Will are the next sacrifices to be sent out there, when food gets – even more – scarce.

You are literally on your toes as you read, and with a title like this, I wasn’t sure how gruesome an end it was possible to go for.

Read, and you will find out.

Where, Oh Where, is Rosie’s Chick?

I feel like I have missed the party here, but that can’t be helped. I never read the classic picture book Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins. Where, Oh Where, Is Rosie’s Chick? is described as the long-awaited sequel, and a wait of 47 years is indeed fairly long. But here it is!

Pat’s illustrations are straight out of the end 1960s or early 1970s, and are thereby highly desirable again. It’s all yellows and browns and greens, and the book made me feel strangely nostalgic.

Pat Hutchins, Where, Oh Where, Is Rosie's Chick?

Rosie has laid an egg, but as it hatches she loses her chick. Somewhere. Where is it?

I can’t decide if it’s comical, or just sweet, the way the baby chick stumbles round the farm, part of the shell still covering its eyes. There are plenty of possible dangers, but as Rosie searches frantically, the chick seems to evade its predators, who meet somewhat unexpected obstacles. Who ever heard of fish eating apples?

It is rather funny, and in the end Rosie and her baby are reunited.

The Astounding Broccoli Boy

This is a very green book. It’s also most enjoyable, but you just can’t escape the green-ness of it. Escaping being green – all over – is impossible for the two boys in this book by Frank Cottrell Boyce. His green heroes are Rory, the smallest boy in his year at school, and Tommy-Lee, the boy in his class who has bullied him every day since they started Y7. They are both as green as broccoli, and no one can work out why.

Frank Cottrell Boyce, The Astounding Broccoli Boy

Rory might just have tried to kill Tommy-Lee (or Grim as he called him then) with a biscuit, but he didn’t mean to.

And here they are, in a hospital isolation unit, very green, prodded daily for blood and urine and things. And then Tommy-Lee starts to sleepwalk, on the 12th floor. Naturally, Rory follows, to see what he’s doing. He discovers that they both seem to have some super powers, and they get up to some weird stuff on their nightly escapades, including teleporting, a little.

But why did this happen, and can two such different boys ever be friends? And the penguin, and the lion and the hippo; how did they end up roaming London? What could the Killer Kittens virus have to do with being green?

We meet some interesting and unexpected people, and we witness a lot of bravery, mostly well beyond Tommy-Lee’s blood sample giving (although, it depends what you are scared of, if you are to be praised for showing courage).

As always with a story by Frank, The Astounding Broccoli Boy is a lovely and thought provoking, not to mention extremely entertaining, book. It is green, though.

(According to the afterword, there really were green children once. And Frank has really teleported. Also once.)

The Last Soldier

That collection of ‘marvels’ at the small travelling carnival visiting your small town. You know, the bearded lady and a scary creature of some sort. Maybe something else. You pay and you marvel.

Keith Gray, The Last Soldier

In Keith Gray’s latest book for Barrington Stoke we meet two brothers in a small American town in the early 1920s. It’s Joe’s 15th birthday and he has been given his father’s shoes for his present. Because it’s fairly likely his father won’t need them again, and the family is so poor that Wade covets his older brother’s second hand shoes.

Their dad went to war and didn’t come back, but they are still hoping. When the carnival arrives, they beg their poor mother for permission to go and she gives them some of her last coins. Things are bad between Joe and the local bully Caleb, as there have been fights in the past.

Wade loved the ‘Marvels’ last time, so is eager to go and look at them again. The newest exhibit is The Last Soldier; supposedly the last one killed before armistice in 1918. And from the moment he sees the soldier, things don’t go well.

This is a lovely (yes, really) tale of innocence and war and poverty. It will make you think.