Troll Stinks

Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross, Troll Stinks

It looks like Jeanne Willis has her heart set on educating young readers, and what better way than through poetry and catchy illustrations?

This time Jeanne and Tony Ross are tackling cyberbullying, and high time, too. (It ends better than Chicken Clicking, in case you’re worried…)

Jeanne rhymes her way through a different version of the Billy Goats Gruff, where a young silly Billy  finds a mobile phone and decides to get up to no good with it, along with his friend. They take selfies and send horrible text messages to Troll.

And then they go off to visit Troll. Aren’t they brave?

Well, no, they are bullies. The thing is, just as goats – maybe – have the right to cross bridges; perhaps trolls are entitled to try and prevent them?

Shadowhunters and Denizens

It’s at times like these that I wish I’d shown more interest in popular series such as Cassandra Clare’s books. No time, though. Not so much interest, either, but that’s without being properly informed on what the books are about.

And that would be: Beautiful young men. Also young women. The odd cat.

Cassandra Clare and Cassandra Jean, An Illustrated History of Notable Shadowhunters & Denizens of Downworld

My wishing has mostly to do with the book next to me right now; An Illustrated History of Notable Shadowhunters & Denizens of Downworld, by Cassandra Clare, and illustrated by Cassandra Jean (I can’t but help wonder if they are related).

This is a gorgeous book, which should be just right for fans of these hunters and denizens. I trust you can tell that I know absolutely nothing about all this, but I do like the book. It’s the kind of book I’d love to have based on my favourite books and series. The icing on the cake, when you just can’t have enough of what you adore.

Cassandra Clare and Cassandra Jean, An Illustrated History of Notable Shadowhunters & Denizens of Downworld

Alongside the portraits of these handsome characters, you get information about what and who they are, how old, and so on, plus short descriptions with – I understand – new facts about Cassandra’s people.

It’s a very clever idea, and cynic though I am, I sort of crave this kind of thing sometimes. Would make a really attractive Christmas present for a fan.

Charley Chambers

This was quite fun, in a teen sort of way. But then, Rachel Kennedy isn’t that long past her own teenage years, so that could be why. I am quite convinced young readers will like Charley Chambers, Rachel’s story about a 15-year-old with magic.

I don’t know where the story is set, but I couldn’t help picturing it somewhere not too far from me, which added a bit of spice. You know, having demons run around misbehaving, and magic teenagers with their L-plates on.

Charley is just discovering that the odd things that have always happened to her is actually magic, when she becomes friendly – very friendly – with two goodlooking boys in her form at school. And as is always the case (or so I find) when you have two boys competing for you, it’s hard to know which way to go.

First it’s the newfound magic, and the newly found boys that fill the pages. Soon though, it’s the threat to people Charley cares about, and lots of inexplicable things that happen. It’s the usual set-up; who to trust and what to do, and who might this mysterious stalker be, the one who causes mayhem all the time?

Rachel Kennedy, Charley Chambers

The book could have lost 50 pages, and possibly also a character or two. And the point of view is all over the place. While it is convenient to ‘hear’ what everyone is thinking, it’d be better if you were left more in the dark.

But the plot is exciting and it’s a fun story. Very teen, a bit romantic, and slightly Voldemort towards the end.

Lowering the tone

I was struck by how civil everyone was. At the weekend there was a social media discussion about a celebrity who writes children’s books. There wasn’t much said that was positive, but people were discussing the topic like the adults they are.

The only reason I was a little surprised was because a week earlier I had taken part in another online chat about a fairly new, and therefore pretty unknown, YA author. In fact, I only contributed my bit on the grounds that I felt someone had to behave. The author had a couple of friends who spoke up on her behalf, and a couple of strangers who also seemed quite level headed, but apart from them it became pretty vile. And these were also adults, and I found it hard to believe so many would say so much that was so unpleasant. But they were mostly not my friends.

You may be aware I’m a long standing fan of NCIS. So far this year I have been dreadfully disappointed with the way the show is going, and the episode two weeks ago reached an all time low. For that reason I was glad to find last week’s episode pretty decent, and I even went to the Facebook page to see if people agreed with me. Unfortunately the consensus appeared to be that if they were going to be muslim friendly, then they would stop watching.

I’m sure people have always had opinions such as these, but have not been so quick to voice them publicly. Just as the YA author discussion went beyond what would have seemed decent until fairly recently.

On the morning of November 9th, I turned to Facebook as I turned off my mobile phone alarm clock, hoping for the best but knowing I’d not find it. Two friends had posted; one a relative who was now very worried about her recent – prestigious – job offer in California. The other, a friend from school, and a brand new US citizen, who was ecstatic over the result of the election.

I’m sure you can guess who overstepped the mark? Yes, the latter. She was so buoyed up by success that she started posting so many offensive comments on Facebook, insulting everyone from people like me to President Obama, that I did that modern thing and unfriended her. I was pleased for her that she was pleased, but didn’t feel it gave her the right to say what she said.

The relative? I understand she’ll head off for her new job, and I hope both she and the job will be safe. There was one thing I’d not considered before that morning. I’ve known her since she was one year old, but I’d never noticed her skin colour before.

As for the celebrity, I will leave him alone. And the YA author is someone whose acquaintance I hope to make soon. At first I thought it might have happened by now, as she took part in Book Week Scotland, at a venue within reach of Bookwitch Towers. But we decided to wait for a less frantic time.

And all this is why I enjoyed the discussion at the weekend. It showed me I know lots of people who are witty and intelligent, and they can be somewhat rude, while still spelling all the words they use correctly.

Taking refuge in a book

I sent the Resident IT Consultant into the offices of the Stirling Observer last week, bearing gifts. Every year they collect – new – toys for various charities, to give to children who might otherwise not receive any Christmas presents, due to circumstances in their lives.

You know me, I wanted to add some reading material to the enticingly packaged toys, and after checking last year if they would welcome books, I’ve had them in mind for the last few months. And that’s what he carried in. But he also came up with an idea of his own, which was that the Women’s Refuge might be able to use books. It seems they are one of the receiving charities, but I can see how they would have a use for books all year round. And I can see that it wouldn’t necessarily be just picture books for the under-fives.

It was that piece by Jenn Ashworth I had on here a week or two ago, about how she was saved by Melvin Burgess’s Baby and Fly Pie, which she discovered in the library at the age of twelve. It changed her life. And since she stole it, she clearly felt it was a book she’d need for longer than it took to read twice, in one sitting. (Btw, I’m so glad it wasn’t Junk! Good though that novel is, I was pleased someone could be that moved by one of Melvin’s ‘lighter’ stories…)

I will need to check if the refuge wants books. I’m thinking less for Christmas, but more everyday requirements. And because I don’t know if the need is temporary, i.e. a stationary library for children in a refuge to read over the hopefully short period of time they are there, or if there should be books they can pick up, but also take with them to where they go next.

If more of a library set-up, then fewer books are needed than if children can keep them. In both cases I am thinking – hoping – that used books would be fine. It’s both easier and cheaper to find lots of used, but still excellent books. On the other hand, if it needs to be new books, I could see myself trying to source them, including looking for them online, as cheaply as possible. But I know that I have books I will need to part with soon, on space grounds, and it would be great if they could find new homes. Just like the children in the refuge, in fact.

How to choose? Jenn obviously found hers by looking among many other books in the library, although her choice could still have been fairly random.

There could easily be many non-readers in a refuge, or children who find reading hard. On the other hand, the assumption that because they are in a needy situation they must be slow or un-developed readers is clearly wrong. Or that they would be quite young. Anyone could end up in a refuge. You just don’t know.

And perhaps finding the right book(s) might make a bad situation a little bit more tolerable.

I can think of several more of Melvin’s books I’d happily offer a teenager in need. But the world is full of suitable reading material. When I began compiling a mental list, it grew incredibly fast.

A spare

I reckoned I’d have a spare, once I’d placed our various Advent lights around Bookwitch Towers yesterday. It took me most of the morning, which is because we have too many lights, because I felt I had to dust before, and because it had been a very long time since any dusting happened around here.

Advent light

But at least we managed to unearth all the stuff from the building site-cum-garage, which is a good thing. The spare was expected since we are currently a room down. What was surprising in the end was that it wasn’t the spare I’d been expecting. And as it turned out to be the lightbox, I put it on a shelf in the kitchen. Near the lentils.

Obviously.

While I dusted, the Resident IT Consultant was out finishing his walk around the Fife coast. I’d forgotten to warn him to look out for James Oswald’s house or he could have popped in to say hello.

Advent books

And while searching for some other thing the other day, I came upon these two Advent books. One of them, the Jostein Gaarder is one we habitually lose, and have to buy another copy of. The other is Cornelia Funke’s Advent calendar in German, which I turned the house – almost – upside down for last month, before travelling to Newcastle to meet Cornelia.

Just my luck to miss it then and to find it now. Though I suppose it beats not ever finding it.

Thinking of translations, the Gaarder was the example at my ‘SELTA talk’ in London three weeks ago, of a book I have found to be much more readable in English than in Swedish. Both translations. Maybe I should have tried it in Norwegian. Whereas Cornelia’s story has not yet appeared in English. I wonder if that is because English-speaking children mainly eat chocolate in the run-up to Christmas, rather than mark Advent in other ways?

When books become retro

In the end it was the fonts that made me go all nostalgic.

Inger och Lasse Sandberg, Här är Lilla Anna

I was reading Scandinavian Retro, a style magazine, featuring mainly mid-20th century things. I’d expected furniture, china, textiles. That kind of thing. But here were all 105 books by Inger and Lasse Sandberg; every cover of every book they wrote and illustrated together for over fifty years.

First I wondered why, when they started in the mid-1950s, I hadn’t really read any/many of their books. I’ve always been aware of them, but had somehow felt they were after my time as a picture book reader. And mostly, it turned out they were. They had a slow start and I must have missed the early books while I was still young enough.

Inger och Lasse Sandberg, Är det jul nu igen? sa Spöket LabanI did read about the little ghost, however. Both for myself, and later to other young people, including Offspring. Lilla spöket Laban (Laban, the little ghost) is rather sweet. He is scared of many things, including the dark, which is awfully inconvenient for a ghost. Apparently he was born to help the Sandberg’s middle child who was afraid of the dark, after his older sister locked him in a wardrobe.

But, as I said, I can only have read a handful of the 105 books. They all look thoroughly familiar, however, and I worked out it’s because of the font(s) used on the covers. The pictures are also quite typical for that era, but there being so many, for me they blend into one and the same. There’s probably a name for the font, but for me it will always be the ‘Swedish children’s books font.’

Inger och Lasse Sandberg, Fixa fisk, sa Pulvret

And, as I also said, there were obviously more than one font, and styles developed over the years, but mostly they all look soothingly familiar.

Just as Laban was born to deal with the dark, many of the books were written by Inger to cover a small matter of some importance to small people everywhere. I really like the sound of the story about the man who suddenly shrinks and discovers what it is like to be small and treated like a child again. He becomes a children’s politician after that, with notes explaining to young readers what a politician is.

Never mind your ABCs. You can have a book about the number 0, which when standing next to other numbers, becomes terribly important.

And when all is said and done, this whole concept feels frightfully Swedish and egalitarian, besides being trendy and nice to look at.