The Great Big Book of Friends

How I love these Great Big Books of… with words by Mary Hoffman and those loveable illustrations by Ros Asquith! Here is their latest one, The Great Big Book of Friends.

Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith, The Great Big Book of Friends

Friends are so important, but unlike family, or bodies, say, you might feel you don’t have any. But don’t worry, Mary explains that you probably do, anyway. And if you don’t, that’s OK, too.

You can be friends with your grandma. Or with the cat. You can have an imaginary friend, or a special blanket, or book. Or you can have friends all over the world; maybe lots that you’ve never met. Yet.

Here is advice on how to get a friend, and on keeping your friend. They point out that even when you’re really old, like your parents, you can stay friends with someone you’ve known all your life. Maybe because your parents were friends.

There are so many possibilities.

Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith, The Great Big Book of Friends

Both the words and the pictures in this book are so encouraging. They make you feel normal when maybe you believe you are the odd one out, who will never be like everyone else.

Go on, chat up the human being over there! Could be the best thing you ever did. And maybe they like frogs as much as you do.

I do hope there will be more Great Big Books.

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Another Brooklyn

Astrid Lindgren laureate Jacqueline Woodson’s most recent novel, Another Brooklyn, is a short adult novel, which would almost work as YA if you wanted it to. It reminded me of Raspberries on the Yangtze by Karen Wallace, which I felt was more of a children’s book for adults.

Jacqueline Woodson, Another Brooklyn

Another Brooklyn is poetic, with beautiful language. Almost too much so. It’s about four young girls growing up in Brooklyn in the early 1970s, as told from the point of view of one of them. I recognise the period, but obviously not the setting.

In a way, though, I reckon us outsiders have seen these streets in films and feel we know them anyway. All four girls have some sort of issue, like being motherless, having too strict a family, being the child of a teen mother. But they love each other and live very much in each other’s pockets for a number of years, until age and development takes them away again.

We see how they go from quite young, to mid-teens, experimenting with boys, with the expected results. It’s an interesting period, both in the world and in their lives.

Geniuses

Well, isn’t that just fantastic?

Less than a year after I wrote about Sara Danius, permanent secretary to the Swedish Academy, she’s been forced out. I’m fairly certain her being a woman is not immaterial.

It’s so bad the King is planning on knocking some sense into the remaining members. Except, I’m fairly certain this is another instance when there are already too many ‘posh’ older men involved, and we don’t need another one, even if he is the boss of the so called geniuses of the academy. He’s also been in hot water, in the not too distant past.

As Jonas Gardell, who is someone very famous in Sweden, wrote in one newspaper, if it happens behind locked doors, it’s not going to be good. That’s true in more everyday circumstances, and I’m fairly certain he’s right. It was just we didn’t think about it before.

Klas Östergren i Edinburgh 2009

I somehow believed people, even when they are men, could be decent. The two academy members I’ve met have been. That’s one ordinary member – Klas Östergren – and one former permanent secretary – Peter Englund. And presumably I was right about them, as they were two of the three who resigned first. I was surprised when I read about that, but should have realised it was a sign worse was to come.

Peter Englund

In a year when women are standing up for their rights, it’s sort of interesting that in a country like Sweden, the establishment feels so established that they can ignore reports of rape and generally inappropriate sexual behaviour by people in and out of, but close to, the academy. That they can just get away with it.

It seems it’s one or two of the former permanent secretaries who can’t quite give up being boss, and who are of an age where they feel entitled, who are [mostly] behind all this. As Jonas Gardell wrote, they’ve won the battle, but they won’t win the war. I hope he is right.

And how can you have a member who passes on academy secrets, such as who’s about to get the next Nobel Prize for literature, to her husband? And if she didn’t do it, it appears the husband is tight with enough members that he could have heard it from any of them. He is the sex pest, apparently. As an exile I’d never heard of him, but it seems he runs a business financed by the academy, where he has access to women to pester.

I’m fairly certain that this will be a tough problem to solve, if it’s even possible. But I fail to grasp how this could have been the fault of the relatively new, and female, permanent secretary. My bet is on a few of the men. Perhaps kick them out in Sara’s place?

The problem being, of course, that you are supposed to die on your chair. You can’t resign or be fired. That’s why there are now too few members left.

Oink?

The very young witch found it terribly amusing that when the French count, they go eight-oink-ten. If you’re OK with a bilingual example not featuring any French at all, that is?

As native English-speaker Keith Moore, married to a Swede, discovered, Old McDonald is not only called Per Olsson, but his pigs go nöff-nöff. Or they do, if you are bringing your baby up to speak Swedish.

It’s tricky, this bilingual business.

I’m not all that sure I know what pigs sound like. They grunt, don’t they? Both nöff and oink are a little wrong. Luckily some animals sound much more like their European neighbours, and as long as we don’t get involved in actual spelling, a mjau is as good as a meow. Same with mu and moo, and [almost] vov and woof.

See, I’m bilingual in animal as well!

That same young witch happily repeated what others at school taught her, with no grammatical feel for what makes English correct, when they said ‘I buy pink sheet.’ This was a way of ‘speaking English’ while also covering three ‘Swedish’ toilet-based words.

But I continue to feel sorry for the French who go oink every so often.

ABC board books

Chris Ferrie of ‘Science’ for babies fame is also responsible for a few ABC board books. As with the other books, the age they will suit is mixed. But I reckon you can start a little sooner, because they have words on three levels. And the more advanced level demands a fair bit of the reader.

But they are still board books. And they are not your normal ABCs. The three that Daughter – yes, her again – just had to get, are ABCs of Science, Mathematics, and Physics.

Chris Ferrie, ABCs of Physics

Instead of D being for Dog, it is actually Doppler Effect, Division and Diffraction, as any sane person will know.

The first level simply states ‘D is for …’ while the second level has a brief explanation, and the third level a longer one. I could see that a child might be sufficiently interested in particular pages and therefore be ready to move up a level or two, sooner than you’d think, just because it looked fun.

But what do I know? Not a lot about diffraction, anyway.

Just think how intelligent your baby will be. In fact, they will overtake their adults before long.

And I need a child.

Ghost launch #2, take #2

I completely forgot the Mars bar. I’m the kind of witch who gives authors in need Mars bars.

Che Golden and Helen Grant

We launched Helen Grant’s Ghost last night. This was the second Edinburgh attempt, after the snow in March, and this time we were successful. Author Che Golden had mentioned the need for a Mars bar in her reverse psychology sort of invitation to the event on social media the day before. Che was chairing, so clearly felt the need to entice people to come. Online, Helen and Che have been known to call a spade a spade. And worse.

In person, Che is disappointingly polite.

Helen Grant and Ghost

We had a full room at Blackwells, and not just because both Daughter and the Resident IT Consultant came. There were a few authors, like Alex Nye, Joan Lennon, Philip Caveney and Roy Gill. Also a Ghost, except it was just some lunatic covered in a bedsheet, who later turned out to be Kirkland Ciccone gone bananas. And some perfectly normal people.

The bananas were later visible on his shirt, which he’d teamed quite nicely with a sequinned jacket. So while everyone else was also beautifully turned out, no one was quite as bananas as Kirkie.

Kirkland Ciccone

Once the silly photographs had been tweeted, Che went to work with a host of questions. Helen continued the fruit theme by mentioning The Pineapple, where you can stay for a holiday, and the deserted ruin nearby, which is one of the many places to have inspired her.

Helen Grant

She said again how hard Ghost had been to write. The dream would be an agent who reads her new novel immediately, loves it and calls with a book auction offer of £5 million. Helen doesn’t want to write more YA, but prefers to work on traditional ghost stories.

Che reminisced about how on their first meeting Helen took her to Innerpeffray Library, and showed her the leper squint. It’s what she does for her friends, I find.

Che Golden

Che also pointed out that while she has read every single book Helen has written, Helen has not read any* of Che’s. This is possibly not true, but a sign of how they insult each other. I occasionally wonder if I shouldn’t have introduced them, but then, where would I learn such a varied vocabulary?

Helen sets herself an amount of words to be written every week. If she has worked hard, she might get Fridays off. That’s when she relaxes by visiting solitary places, for the atmosphere. She can recommend graveyards.

Philip Caveney and Susan Singfield

And on that cheerful note it was time to buy copies of Ghost and to mingle and chat. There was wine.

Roy Gill

After I’d given Mr Grant a quick Swedish lesson, it was time to go home. Which, is easier said than done on a Thursday, with still no evening trains. We lured poor Kirkland to come along with us, which meant his debut on the Edinburgh trams as well as probably getting home considerably later than he’d have done under his own steam. But we meant well.

*I can recommend them.

Baby feminist

Another purchase Daughter just had to make was the little box of four feminist board books. Yes, you read that right.

Little Feminist

Little Feminist Activists, Leaders, Pioneers, Artists. Four in each of the four books, which unlike the science books really are the expected tiny format for a baby’s board book.

The illustrations look similar to the older series of books on interesting women I’ve read, but they are not the same.

Little Feminist

So here we have [fairly] easily recognisable famous women; both recent and more historical. It’s not a case of lots of words, so the books should work simply on recognition of faces. The baby/small child will chew the book much as any other to begin with. But hopefully at some point they might come to recognise some of these ladies in other situations.

And if not, no harm done, except to the edges of the books.

I hope adults will buy these books for boys as well. Suspect they won’t.