Category Archives: War

Planes

‘You could have asked for a Spitfire,’ said Daughter.

Well, maybe I could have, but I didn’t and it’s not important.

I might have mentioned that Elizabeth Wein was handing out planes at the Scottish Book Awards in Glasgow in March, and I got one too. Not a Spitfire, obviously. Elizabeth handed out more planes at Yay!YA+ in April, but I felt it would have been greedy to ask for another one.

The not-Spitfire

I’d be willing to bet my plane isn’t a Sopwith Camel either, as that is a WWI plane and I trust Elizabeth went for WWII ones. Although, she did set her Ethiopian adventures during the period between the wars, so not necessarily.

Anyway, when she was last here Daughter asked for permission to build my non-Spitfire on account of her past as a plane builder. Apparently she used to buy them at the post office when she was little. I don’t remember that at all.

When she turns up this weekend I might get her to build Tom Palmer’s Sopwith Camel, even though it is not a Spitfire, and not polystyrene but the inside of a book cover.

There is something about planes.

Flyboy

Time travel and Sikh fighter pilots isn’t the first thing I associate with Tom Palmer. Football, yes, and that’s in here too, along with the mysterious return to WWI as experienced by Jatinder when he goes to football summer camp.

Tom Palmer, Wings: Flyboy

Take To the Skies, Wings: Flyboy, is the first of three war time books Tom has written for Barrington Stoke, and much as I like sports books (well, I try), I thought this seemed much more my thing.

Young Sikh Jatinder likes football, but he gets angry with himself for being too cautious. So when he reads about a Sikh fighter pilot who used to be stationed where he is staying now, he is intrigued. He also sees what could be a ghost.

Jatinder is more than intrigued when he suddenly finds himself in the shoes, or more precisely in the plane, belonging to this WWI hero, and discovers he is now a grown man who has to do what grown men at war do. And being too cautious isn’t an option.

Very exciting, and very educational. This is the kind of war time history we need to learn about, and what better way than with a spot of time travel?

Really looking forward to the next two, and while I wait I’ll see if I can build the Sopwith Camel included inside the covers of this book. It’s not every book that comes with its own plane.

The Girl in the Blue Coat

Set in the Netherlands during WWII, Monica Hesse’s novel is about 18-year-old Hanneke who delivers black market goods around Amsterdam for her boss. It’s not quite resistance work, but it’s not legal or safe. Hanneke learns how to flirt with German soldiers, so they won’t think of what she might be carrying, right under their noses.

That’s until the day one of her customers asks her to find a Jewish teenage girl for her; someone who has gone missing from the hidden room where she was kept. Hanneke is reluctant, but she is good at finding things.

Monica Hesse, The Girl in the Blue Coat

This is interesting, because it shows us the war in yet another place and from a different angle than the usual ones. I didn’t know all that much about the Dutch in the war, except for what you learn from Anne Frank.

You can’t really know what people are like until something happens which proves that some are much better human beings than you’d thought, or occasionally, much worse. It seems that more people were satisfied to be quietly cooperating with the German invaders. I don’t know whether this is true, but Monica has done a lot of research. She knows what food people might have liked, and she’s discovered a lot of Dutch facts. However, to my mind, the book has quite an American feel to it, which is hardly surprising as Monica is American.

The plot is exciting, though, and as always, I should have paid full attention to what gets mentioned, as it all turns out to have been relevant in one way or another. Though I did guess at one of the core secrets early on.

A very enjoyable read, if you can say that about a Holocaust novel. There is a lot of bad, but also much that is good.

Finding Winnie

From mother and baby bears to an orphaned bear. Lindsay Mattick’s – I believe entirely true – story about the young Canadian vet who went to war in Europe in 1914. Vet Harry lived in Winnipeg, so had a long way to go before he got to the war, where his job was to look after the horses.

When his train stopped in White River he saw a bear cub on the platform. A very special bear cub, or so he felt. He bought it for $20 from the trapper who had most probably killed the cub’s mother.

Lindsay Mattick and Sophie Blackall, Finding Winnie

The bear came with Harry on the train, and all the soldiers helped look after the cub and find food for him. He was a very hungry bear cub. Winnie travelled with Harry and the others all the way to England. But before they went to the war in Europe, Harry brought his dearest friend to London Zoo, where he left him to be looked after.

A young boy called Christopher Robin used to come to the zoo with his father, and he loved playing with Winnie.

And you all know what happened then. (I cried a bit, for one thing. And those books we love got written.)

I think we have to assume Lindsay knows all about this, since it was her great grandfather who liberated our dear bear. The fantastic illustrations are by the very reliable Sophie Blackall.

Chosen

It’s International Women’s Day, so what more suitable book to review than Lucy Coats’s second novel about the young Cleopatra? Here we have a young woman who knows what she has to do, regardless of whether she believes she can, or what other people will think. She does her duty.

Lucy Coats, Chosen

Having been left hanging at the end of book one, you could only hope it would work out and that the characters would stay and survive. They do. Mostly.

Don’t misunderstand me; Chosen is both violent and bloody. Presumably that’s what life was like back then (although today’s not much better), and being chosen as a future Queen didn’t mean a smooth life, full of riches and comfort.

Cleo has a lot of travelling to do. At times it feels as if she does nothing but traipse back and forth in Egypt, whether by boat or through the desert, occasionally on a rather opininated camel. Having been chosen by the Goddess Isis doesn’t make for easy companionship with the others. Cleo stands out; she is different.

But I’ll say this for her, she really has some great people to help her with the task of uniting Egypt, and getting rid of her half-sister and finding her father, the disappeared Pharaoh. Personally I am quite partial to Captain Nail, although I can see that younger readers will have more interest in the gorgeous Khai, or the infamous Marcus Antonius. Lots of romantic scope.

There is more love among the supporting characters, and you really come to like them. I wouldn’t mind having a pair of diligent bodyguard soldiers like Cleo’s.

The future Pharaoh has her job cut out gathering enough soldiers to take on her sister and her supporters. When her camel days are over, Cleo needs to get to Rome to persuade her father to return to Egypt.

What this book does, apart from entertain and thrill, is teach you about Egypt and to some extent Rome. No amount of reading history books at school can make up for what’s in Lucy’s two novels about Cleo. It might not all be true or authentic (after all, how could anyone know for certain?), but it sets the scene so well, and learning through fiction for fun means you want to know, and you want to remember it. For yourself, and not for an exam.

Enjoy!

2016 Scottish Children’s Book Awards

I encountered Elizabeth Wein at Stirling station as I caught the train to Glasgow yesterday morning. We were both heading to the 2016 Scottish Children’s Book Awards. ‘What are you doing here?’ I asked. ‘I missed my train,’ she replied, which might have been true, but I wanted to know why she missed it in Stirling, seeing as Elizabeth has her own perfectly good railway station from which to miss trains. I met ‘Mr Wein’ who is very nice, but unfortunately I gave him the wet handshake. Sorry! I wasn’t expecting to be socialising that early.

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We made it to the Glasgow Central Hotel, along with 1000 children and most of the shortlisted authors for this year’s award. Not having missed ‘my’ train, I arrived just in time for the photoshoot, where school children posed with their favourite authors. We were only a little bit in the way of hotel staff and their drinks trolleys and things, and there was an umbrella in my way and my camera stopped working for a bit, and someone mistook Elizabeth’s lovely book for photographic support…

Black Dove, White Raven - 2016 Scottish Children's Book Awards

I repaired to the Green Room, managing to lose most of my marbles on the way. Apologies to anyone subjected to my complete lack of conversational skills. (Age and sleep deprivation, I reckon.) Chatted to ‘Mrs Danny Weston’ and Lindsey Fraser, who was there representing Joan Lingard. I turned down the kind offer of exclusive interviews in place of informal gossip. And not every event has someone whose job it is to go round hunting for The Blue Feather. (Never discovered if it was found.)

Refreshed by a cup of tea, I went to the awards ceremony for the Older Readers, where Danny talked of [non-pc] battleaxes, and of wanting to terrorise children, which he did very nicely with a picture of ‘those dolls.’ Elizabeth impressed the audience with a photo of herself on top of an airborne plane. Lindsey took a photo of us to show Joan, and described how Joan uses an iPad for all her research.

Two students did an interview with the authors and there was a Q&A session, which revealed how Danny runs after his characters with a notebook in his hand, to see what they will do, and Elizabeth said she always has to tell her book cover artist that they’ve got the wrong plane… There were prizes for best book reviews (they won an author!), and then there was the Scottish Children’s Book Award which went to Danny Weston for The Piper. He thanked his wife, his editor Charlie Sheppard and his ‘friend’ Philip Caveney who taught him everything he knows.

Elizabeth Wein at the 2016 Scottish Children's Book Awards

Having brought loads – well, five – books to be signed, I joined the queues and was given a model plane to make by Elizabeth. Danny’s queue was too long so I went for lunch instead. Found Gillian Philip tackling the sandwiches, and we talked about motherhood and kelpies. Elizabeth Laird asked who I was, so I explained that I’m the one who always emails her after every event. She wondered if she ever writes back, and I assured her she always does.

The other morning session, which I had to miss, was for the [youngest] Bookbug Readers, and the winners were Simon Puttock and Ali Pye. Simon will be carrying his prize around for a couple of days, until he gets home. While ‘Mrs Weston’ secured sandwiches for her hubby I went and joined his queue, which had shrunk a little. Elizabeth Wein was interviewed on camera by someone, and I had the pleasure of witnessing another wet handshake, so at least I’m not the only one.

Danny Weston at the 2016 Scottish Children's Book Awards

The Younger Readers award session started after lunch, with host Fergus introducing Gillian Philip, Liz Laird and Ross MacKenzie. When Fergus said they were going to read to us, they rebelled and said they were not. They’d decided to do things differently. (Good for them!)

Gillian talked about island holidays, cliffhangers, Saturday cinema and had a photo of the cutest puppy in a teacup. Her – very – early work consisted of many three-page books. Liz talked about Ethiopia and the running everyone does there, and mentioned the Emperor’s lion in 1968, and said she wasn’t guilty of that murder she was accused of. She also writes her books on the backs of used paper. (My kind of woman.) Ross described how you can find magic shops almost anywhere if you just look closely, and said an early reading memory was The Witches at school.

2016 Scottish Children's Book Awards

After a very successful game of Consequences (it’s funny how funny those little stories always are), it was time for more prizes for reviews (another author), as well as a prize for best book trailer (most professional). And then Ross MacKenzie went and won his category of the 2016 Scottish Children’s Book Awards for The Nowhere Emporium. He did the usual, thanking his parents and his wife and his children and all those other people he might have forgotten.

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The children queued up to have books signed, and I went to find a train to take me home. Which means I didn’t take any more of my failed photos of Liz. I suppose there’s always next time.

Risotto for lone women

There I was, on the train home, reading Michael Grant’s Front Lines, pondering the prejudice his female soldiers encountered. And the extra prejudice directed at the black and female soldier. But you feel more comfortable as you think that this was a long time ago.

And then my risotto walked away from me. I know, it’s a first world problem. I’m fat enough as it is. And female.

Sometimes I forget.

But there I was, on the Virgin East Coast train home, expecting my risotto to turn up at some point. It did. It was offered to the man across the aisle (who already had food). He said it wasn’t his, so the crew member blithely walked on, ‘looking’ for the owner of this risotto.

It was a train full of men in suits. You know, Friday afternoon syndrome. And there I was, having the temerity to travel as though I wasn’t female, and unchaperoned by a suit. And expecting risotto!

I have become used to fairly attentive service from Virgin (ponder the irony of the name), which is why I didn’t instantly shout ‘Hey!’ after my disappearing risotto. I was under the impression we were doing ‘refined.’ (In the end it was the man across the aisle who rescued the situation. He had noted what I’d ordered and suggested she offer the plate to me.)

It’s been a while since I last got the ‘unaccompanied female’ treatment out. Just over four months, in fact.