Tag Archives: Barrington Stoke

McTavish on the Move

Meg Rosoff’s and the Peachey family’s dog McTavish is back. It’s time for a move in McTavish on the Move. (Well, I suppose the title gives it away.) I understand Meg has recent experience of moving house – and it’s been put to good use, making everything pretty realistic. Except possibly for the ease with which Ma and Pa Peachey sell and buy the houses involved in this move.

Meg Rosoff, McTavish on the Move

Pa seems to have had a personality makeover, which terrifies his family, but in the end his sunny disposition (hah) and general happiness make for a positive moving experience.

Although Betty isn’t keen, and McTavish notices. Trust him, though. He can work out what to do, and he does so with gusto. My own first days at new schools would have been vastly improved with the McTavish magic.

I believe this was the fourth – yes, it was – and last McTavish story. If it has to be goodbye, it’s a heart-warming and moving one. (Sorry.)

And one can always live in the hope that Pa’s personality reverts permanently to his more morose behaviour.

Seven Ghosts

Even at the best of times I find Chris Priestley really scary. I mean, his writing. Sometimes I don’t read a book of his because I’m not feeling brave enough. Other times I save it until there are people nearby. Just in case.

Chris Priestley, Seven Ghosts

For Halloween I don’t want to deny anyone the thrill, not to mention the trembling knees, of reading Chris’s latest offering for Barrington Stoke. You really don’t need to go out in the cold and dark and beg for sweets from strangers. Much better to tuck into Seven Ghosts and hope you will escape unscathed when you’re done.

It’s about a story-writing competition. Jake and a group of other children who have been shortlisted are being guided round the local stately house, to hear about, and maybe meet, the resident ghosts. Just for inspiration, you under-stand, so they can go away and write an even scarier story.

Jake seems to be the only one to feel uneasy, and the only one who can see certain things. Their guide feels a bit fishy, doesn’t she?

The dressed-up, fake ghosts strike Jake as rather feeble. But what about that cracked mirror?

Let’s just say that I was wise to wait until I wasn’t alone, and that bedtime would not have been an appropriate time to read Seven Ghosts.

Tin Boy

Steve Cole, Tin Boy

I’ve never seen Steve Cole so dark. And I’d not expected it in this short book for Barrington Stoke. But it’s excellent, and so very stirring.

Tin Boy is about a young boy in Indonesia, mining for tin in the most dangerous of ways. Just so we can have our mobile phones, and as cheaply as possible. I imagine that after reading this story about Tono, the young readers will chuck out their phones in disgust. Although, it’d be better if we all kept our gadgets until they die, so people like Tono do not have to die mining for tin.

Living with his uncle, Tono has to dive for tin, until the day he has a near fatal accident in the water. He finds a stone, which might be magic, giving him powers just like the heroes in the cartoons he inherited from his father.

And for a while that does seem to be the case, until…

This is powerful stuff; not at all like Steve’s other – excellent but lighter – fiction. I’d love to read more from serious Steve.

(Illustrations by Oriol Vidal)

White Eagles

This relatively short – because it’s for Barrington Stoke – novel by Elizabeth Wein, featuring a Polish teenager at the outbreak of WWII, is as wonderful and, yes, life affirming, as you’d want it to be.

Elizabeth Wein, White Eagles

I would obviously have welcomed a much longer novel, but White Eagles confirmed that you can have a full grown novel with few words. It’s as heartrending as Code Name Verity, as exciting and as sweet, as well.

Again, it’s worth being reminded that war didn’t only start in Britain. It broke out all over Europe, and it was equally devastating, or possibly more so. It’s easy to forget. And reading White Eagles I realised that there may well be an outbreak of fiction to ‘celebrate’ that it’s now 80 years since the war began. Unless one doesn’t mark the start?

18-year-old Kristina is a flying instructor in Warsaw, but when the Germans invade, she soon finds herself having to escape, with her plane, and before long nothing is as she’s known it.

Kristina is another young pilot in the mould of Maddie from Code Name Verity. I can read any number of stories about these early female pilots.

Cracking the Reading Code

You can’t hear enough about getting children – or even old people – to read, especially if they have extra obstacles to deal with. Well, I can’t, anyway. And I’d already heard the background stories of Tom Palmer, Sally Gardner and Alex Wheatle, but they can do with being repeated. Often. Until everyone who wants to can read.

Sally Gardner, Tom Palmer and Alex Wheatle

The three guests were ably interviewed by Mairi Kidd in Tuesday’s event hosted by Barrington Stoke, where she used to work. She knows about this business of dyslexia friendly books. And so do the three; with Tom probably having written the most books for Barrington Stoke, Sally being the most dyslexic while still writing the the most wonderful stories, and Alex for knowing what his readers know.

Tom Palmer

I do like the sound of Tom’s mother, getting him to read by giving him books and articles on football. And then he went to night school where he was supposed to read Shakespeare and Chaucer! It wasn’t until a tutor introduced him to poetry about Leeds United (!), and took students out to the actual ‘Wuthering Heights’ that Tom felt he could get on with this reading.

Sally Gardner

Not sure I like the sound of Sally’s school for maladjusted children (whose fault is it if children are maladjusted?), but at 14 when she tried reading Wuthering Heights for the second time and she suddenly was ‘in the f***ing book,’ things changed for her. As Sally said, you can be good at something and it needn’t be only academic for it to matter. We need ‘diversity in the brain.’

And Alex, who did read a bit as a child, from Huckleberry Finn and Ivanhoe to sports books, finally discovered books in jail at the age of 18. His cellmate, and mentor, gave him The Black Jacobins to read, as he ‘wouldn’t have anything better to do in there.’

Alex Wheatle

Asked to read to us, Alex again chose the bit from Kerb Stain Boys about being in detention, and this time it was Sally who asked if he reads his own audio books. And after Sally had treated us to a dyslexic pirate in Mr Tiger, Betsy and the Sea Dragon, Alex returned the compliment. Sally does have a great voice. Last but not least, Tom read from Armistice Runner, which is close to his heart, featuring both running and fells, and it still makes me cry.

Mairi asked the three about graphic novels; if they make reading easier. Sally mentioned Shaun Tan, and the ‘most genius book ever,’ which has no words at all. Both Alex and Tom were fans of Shoot Magazine, but understandably Sally’s not. Talking about Tom’s novel Scrum, and the revelation it brought a young boy at a school; ‘Miss, I can read this!’

Sally gets angry when people say to those who have listened to an unabridged novel as an audio book, that they ‘haven’t really read it.’ This is snobbery. She suggested to someone in the audience that if the can get a certificate from their GP that their child is dyslexic, then they have the right to access audio books for the blind and partially sighted.

The last question of the evening was not a question but a thank you, from a teacher who uses these books in her school. And it seems that Scotland might be better in this instance, not having reading rules, which means that teachers can let the children read anything, even if it’s not from the right part of a reading scheme. (This brings back dreadful memories of Son being forced to read ‘backwards’ so as not to rock the boat of equality.)

We then gathered in the bookshop where people were so keen to continue talking about this important subject, that poor Tom was unable to sit down at the signing table for quite some time.

This is what we like.

Letting Go

Is this my first Cat Clarke? I think it might be. Her short novel Letting Go, for Barrington Stoke, is quite a masterpiece.

Cat Clarke, Letting Go

It’s a story about Agnes and her ex-girlfriend Ellie and Ellie’s new boyfriend Steve. As will be obvious, this is painful, at least for Agnes. But a promise is a promise and here the three of them are, on their way up a mountain, where the weather is about to change for the worse.

None of them are happy and they fight.

And then things get really bad.

I loved the way the reader is allowed to get close to the characters and see what and who they are. As with most of us, they are both bad and good, but none of that matters because this soon turns into an emergency for which they are ill equipped.

It’s quite a grown-up story about three young people.

The Starlight Watchmaker

I could be wrong, but I don’t normally associate the Barrington Stoke books with science fiction. So I was pleasantly surprised to discover Lauren James and The Starlight Watchmaker.

Lauren James, The Starlight Watchmaker

This story was both fun and sweet and a little different. There is an android, my second in mere weeks, and little green men, not to mention a sort of stone character. They are all people. Although, the androids are perhaps seen as less than others.

Hugo is an abandoned android watchmaker, living and working alone, when he meets student Dorian, who is rich and spoilt.

Dorian has a problem. And soon it’s apparent that the problem is more widespread than it seemed at first, and it’s down to Hugo and Dorian to solve the puzzle and hopefully solve the danger that the planet might be in.

This is about friendship and equality, and how we are all different, but we are still valuable in our own way. And it’s exciting!