Tag Archives: Barrington Stoke

The Family Tree

The Family Tree is a short story by Mal Peet, which Barrington Stoke have fashioned into a dyslexia-friendly book. I don’t know how young a ‘younger reader’ is, but it says it’s not suitable for them. I want to disagree.

OK, the book begins with Ben re-visiting the house he used to live in as a child, but this is an adult reliving what he went through at the age of about ten, and many children have been lying in bed, pretending to be asleep when the adults fight, and it’s time they get to read about one such family.

Mal Peet and Emma Shoard, The Family Tree

A family where things don’t necessarily work out, but that makes it all the more valid. Ben’s dad tries to be a good dad. It’s just hard to do, when other things in life aren’t good. His mum probably also wanted everything to be fine, but it wasn’t.

There is a tree house, which was built for Ben, but in the end it’s taken over by his dad, and maybe that’s what made things go wrong.

So yes, it’s a grown-up kind of story, but I feel it will work for anyone between nine and 99. And it’s Mal Peet magic. Everyone needs a bit of that.

Gorgeous, dream-like illustrations by Emma Shoard.

Advertisements

McTavish Goes Wild

McTavish is back. Do you remember this clever little dog? Meg Rosoff introduced us to McTavish the rescue dog this time last year. He sorted his adopted family, the Peacheys, out in their time of need. So OK, maybe he was ‘rescued’ from a dogs’ home, but he’s more rescuer than rescued.

Meg Rosoff, McTavish Goes Wild

It’s holiday time in this Conkers book from Barrington Stoke, and every Peachey has their own idea of how to spend the holiday. But Betty says they should go camping, and Ma Peachey agrees.

They have a surprisingly good time, when they don’t have a rather dismal time (it rains). But there’s no getting away from their personality differences, and Pa Peachey really is a little silly. Yes, you don’t know for certain about piranhas, but surely he could relax a little?

When things begin to look iffy, McTavish has an idea, and he rescues the holiday.

Zebra Crossing Soul Song

Lollipop man with soul. Sita Brahmachari’s latest dyslexia friendly book is different. It’s an unusual topic; the friendship between a young boy and the local lollipop man. But also the way it’s been written.

Otis the lollipop man is West Indian, and Sita has him speak in his own accent, which could potentially be hard to understand, if you don’t know how he might sound. On the other hand, I can see that this makes it even better from a point of view of including many readers who have never found themselves in a book.

The other thing is that Otis communicates with young Lenny through songs, and not just any songs, but ones from the ‘olden days’ i.e. my youth. At least I knew the songs.

Sita Brahmachari, Zebra Crossing Soul Song

There are more issues covered in this story. Lenny has two dads, and one of his old school friends has two mums. Lenny is also having to re-sit his A-level in Psychology, which means he’s a year behind his friends, and he is struggling with revising and keeping on top of things.

As he’s doing all this, he also puzzles over what happened to Otis the last time he saw him. We are kept guessing all through the book.

There’s a lot of depth here, and it feels pretty grown-up. I’m hoping Zebra Crossing Soul Song will find many fans, especially among those who don’t read much.

‘Sittin’ on the dock of the bay…’  🎵

Smile

It’s wonderful how much you can learn, when ‘merely’ reading for pleasure. In her new book Smile, for Barrington Stoke, Mary Hoffman tells us the truth about how the famous Mona Lisa portrait came to be. Or at least her truth, since we can’t truly know, but there have been countless guesses over the centuries.

Mary Hoffman, Smile

I like this one. It’s mostly about Lisa herself, and much less about the man she calls Leonardo, and who I think of as da Vinci. That’s what makes the story feel real.

So Smile is more a history lesson in how Italian women lived five hundred years ago, and then only women of a certain class. Lisa’s family was noble, but poor, so she had to marry well, meaning Lisa married a wealthy widower, who hankered after a noble wife.

It’s heartrending learning about the inevitability of a new baby every year, and the hopes that the baby will survive infancy.

And on the side, we have Lisa’s friendships with both Leonardo and Michelangelo. I had forgotten the two men were active in the same place at the same time, even if there was an age gap of twenty years. It’s the sheer normality of Lisa’s life among these greats that make for such a fascinating story.

Although personally I have never stopped to ponder the famous smile. It just is.

The power of words

Here we go again.

A parent (note, not her child) was upset by Mary Hoffman’s use of the word Paki in a book suggested by the child’s school. The parent complained to the school, and now the book – Deadly Letter – has been removed.

If only it were that easy to remove racist bullying, or worse, from schools, or even from life.

Whereas I’m really pleased that the school took notice of what the parent had to say, there are times when the ‘customer’ isn’t always right. The word was in the book to teach the reader something. The book was presumably in the school, and being suggested as a suitable read, for the same reason. It’s a book by one of the most decent authors I know, and published by Barrington Stoke, who are not exactly slapdash or careless in their publishing.

Mary Hoffman, Deadly Letter

One parent, interviewed by the Mirror, said ‘I think kids of ten or 11 need to be taught racism but young kids should be protected.’ Apart from the – hopefully unintended – suggestion that older children need to be taught racism, I am amazed at the belief that younger ones need protecting. Not that they don’t need protecting, but that they somehow are slipping happily through life with no experience of racism, or bullying and name-calling.

They know. They probably also know the swear words these parents wouldn’t tell a six-year-old off for using (because they don’t know any better…). And that is why, not having been told off earlier, they go on to much more sophisticated bad behaviour when they are older. You can tell them off, but if the teaching of what’s right and what isn’t, doesn’t start in time, what hope do we have?

But at least this parent got a couple of lovely photos of herself in the paper, while Mary Hoffman was forced to re-direct time and energy she had planned to use on other things, to defend herself to the press, for a book published years ago, with all the best intentions. And as she says, she has had to deal with racism herself, as her husband and children are not white.

It’s time for schools to learn to stand up to parents, once in a while.

Storm Cloud

Jenny Oldfield’s Storm Cloud is a horse book with a difference.

Jenny Oldfield, Storm Cloud

Well, first it’s a Barrington Stoke horse book, so that makes it more accessible. But it is also much more of a young girl’s Western than I remember from my own horse book reading days.

So Kami is spending the summer at her friend Macy’s ranch, and she gets to help with rounding up the cows, as Macy’s dad has been injured after falling off a horse. This sounds perfect to me, or would have done, back in the day of my – slight – horse interest.

There’s obviously trouble at the ranch, or there would be no story. Kami is disturbed by what’s being done to the colt they call Storm Cloud, and she feels she must do something. But what?

This would make great reading for horse-mad girls, and possibly even boys. After all, it’s a ranch and it’s cow-herding.

I Killed Father Christmas

Children! Don’t you just love them? (Well, I suppose you do, especially if they are yours.)

In this Little Gem Anthony McGowan shows us how easy it is to get the wrong idea. How you might end up believing you have killed Father Christmas. Poor Jo-Jo overhears his parents arguing, which leads him to the belief that Father Christmas is dead and it was all his fault for wanting too many Christmas presents.

Anthony McGowan and Chris Riddell, I Killed Father Christmas

This is a sweet tale of how easy it is to misunderstand, but it is mostly about how good children really are, once the excessive Christmas lists have been dispensed with. Jo-Jo will make sure it is Christmas after all.

And then, well, wearing his mum’s red coat, Jo-Jo does his thing, and Father Christmas does his bit, and with the help of Chris Riddell’s illustrations, we have ourselves a rather nice little book about what matters.

The question is, did Father Christmas really..?