Tag Archives: Barrington Stoke

Stars Shall Be Bright

Catherine MacPhail, Stars Shall Be Bright

In memory of the lost children of Maryhill, who died in the Quintinshill Rail Disaster exactly one hundred years ago today. We don’t know their names or what they were doing on a train full of soldiers going off to war.

Catherine MacPhail has a theory, which she shares with us in this Barrington Stoke story, Stars Shall Be Bright. She reckons they were siblings James, Belle and William, who set off to find their dad who was a soldier.

Their mum has just died and to avoid being taken into a home, James decides to take his brother and sister on a trek to find their dad, lying in order to get away from a ‘well meaning’ neighbour.

They hide on a stationary train, which soon fills up with over 500 soldiers, travelling from Larbert to Liverpool, on their way to Gallipoli. Near Gretna Green the train was involved in a three train crash, with 225 soldiers dead, 246 injured, and 65 walking wounded.

And then there were the bodies of three children.

Lovely (yes really) story, but awfully sad.

Pike

Anthony McGowan had his work cut out to write another book about his two characters from Brock, that would be anywhere near as good. I adored Brock and its lovely badger, and the two brothers Kenny and Nicky. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure it was possible to return to the same world and write more.

He did it, though, and Pike is every bit as wonderful, and I’m so pleased for dyslexic readers in particular, who now have this marvellous story to look forward to as well.

Anthony McGowan, Pike

Kenny and Nicky go fishing in the nearby pond – where there is a gruesome, but funny story about a naked boy and a giant pike – and they get wet, as boys do. Nicky also thinks he’s found ‘treasure’ and plans to go back for it. Cue more stupid ideas and much more getting wet and dirty. He knows he needs to keep Kenny safe, but in the end Kenny is the smart one.

Pike features more of the local crooks, people who drop out of society for various reasons, and also shows why we need our libraries. Nice to see Anthony fitting that into his story. And there is their missing mum and what might have happened.

This is just so heart-warming and satisfying! It’s good to see someone like Nicky look out for both his difficult older brother, and their yappy, annoying dog. You love them because they are yours. Like we love Pike, because he is ours.

Anzac Boys

In time for Anzac Day tomorrow, I bring you Tony Bradman’s Anzac Boys; a dyslexia friendly short novel on WWI as seen from the other side of the world. And a little bit from ‘our’ end as well.

Tony Bradman, Anzac Boys

Tony writes about orphans Bert and Frank, who first end up in a children’s home in London in 1906 when their mother dies. They are soon sent off to Australia, to a ‘better life’ as the priest at the orphanage says. Bert is 12 and Frank is 9, so Bert needs to look out for his little brother and promises him always to be there.

When they arrive in Australia they are separated and there is nothing Bert can do to help Frank, who is shipped off to New Zealand. What follows are eight years of hard work on farms, often being treated badly, but with life getting a little better for Bert once he’s old enough to be allowed to have a say in where he goes and who he works for. And then war breaks out.

Bert enlists and is sent off to ‘Europe’ to fight, and much to his surprise and delight he finds Frank again, with the New Zealand army. But Frank hates his brother for deserting him.

We follow the brothers to Gallipoli, and I’m not going to tell you what happens there…

This is very sad, and very inspirational, and most of the ‘ingredients’ are true, even if there were no actual Bert and Frank Barker.

Desirable

Oh how I needed this book! I know, it’s been waiting for my attention a bit longer than it should have, but I was truly grateful for Desirable once I got to it.

You know, slightly bad day and you need something reliably uplifting and fun. That’s Frank Cottrell Boyce for you. Desirable. (That’s the title…)

George is a loser, and it’s brought home to him when even his Grandad can’t quite be bothered to do much for his birthday. No one else came to the party, and Grandad left pretty swiftly, after having given George the very same item that George’s mum once gave her dad (I believe it’s called re-gifting).

Although, perhaps Grandad knew what he was doing? George’s boring life suddenly changes. He becomes desirable. Not that that is necessarily as desirable as you’d think before you reached desirablity.

Frank Cottrell Boyce and Cate James, Desirable

This story is as heartwarming and funny as you would expect from Frank, and with very ‘undesirable’ illustrations from Cate James, in a desirable sort of fashion, if you know what I mean?

Those teachers are downright weird. Just saying.

Blindside

Blindside is a dyslexia friendly revised version of Aidan Chambers’s Cycle Smash, from almost 50 years ago. If you read it as an adult, your heart will be in your mouth as young Nate cycles off into the evening. Because you can imagine it being your child and you can tell what must be about to happen.

But if you’re a teenager, it will presumably just read like an interesting and exciting story about an athlete who likes running, and who is about to go on to great things. Were it not for the bike accident, of course.

Aidan Chambers, Blindside

Seriously injured, Nate is furious that he won’t be running again, and is not terribly grateful for actually being alive. We see him in his hospital bed, feeling sorry for himself and ready to do really stupid things. But then – and I reckon this is where the original date of the story shows through – his kindly nurse tells him what she thinks of his behaviour and sets him off on a new course.

Because there are people far worse off than Nate, and it’s time he realised this. As he does, you might want a tissue handy.

And if you are a parent, you’ll be out locking your child’s bike away.

The Devil’s Angel

I mentioned Kevin Brooks and his new book with Barrington Stoke some months ago. It’s great that they invite and are accepted by all these good, mainstream authors. Luckily it seems that both sides consider it an honour to be working with the other. That’s the best way.

Kevin Brooks, The Devil's Angel

The Devil’s Angel is as scarily bleak as Kevin’s other writing leads you to expect. To be perfectly honest, it is not my kind of thing. At all. I prefer a rosier outlook on life, but recognise that this will appeal to countless teenagers, and I can’t see why dyslexics should be any different in that respect.

This is good stuff if you want edgy fiction. As described on the cover, The Devil’s Angel is about Dean, who ‘just walked into the classroom. Sat down. Smiled. Then beat another kid to a pulp.’

Dean befriends the fairly average John and they have an unusual and unforgettable summer, doing the kinds of things we parents would prefer teenagers not to do.

It can’t end well.

Good Dog Lion

This Little Gems story has the most gorgeous illustrations by David Dean! I know I said these books are not picture books, but oh, what great pictures.

Alexander McCall Smith and David Dean, Good Dog Lion

The words, by Alexander McCall Smith are not to be sneezed at, either. This is a man who knows how to tell a story. Good Dog Lion is about a dog called Lion. He is very brave, and very loyal.

Set somewhere in Africa, it’s the story about Timo, who might be nine years old. He’s a good boy who helps his single mum, by picking fruit for her jam making, and perhaps finding some honey. Their hard work keeps them, but only just. No way can they afford to feed a dog.

Alexander McCall Smith and David Dean, Good Dog Lion

So it looks like Timo will have to settle for dreams. But because this is a story, we know what must happen. There is a dog, and there is courage and good behaviour and hard work from all.

It’s a very nice little story.