Tag Archives: Barrington Stoke

A Dark Trade

Mary Hooper, A Dark Trade

Mary Hooper has done what she does so well, which is to take the tales of poor servant girls in the past, and put them in a book that anyone can read. So often this kind of story only comes as an old, fat classic of 500 pages or more, and with small print to boot. Thank you to Barrington Stoke who understand that everyone would want to read this.

In A Dark Trade we meet orphan Gina, who at 16 is ready to leave the cruel orphanage and go to work. In her case a seemingly lovely big house in London in the mid-1800s. But of course it doesn’t work out like that. Big houses, however beautiful, come with their own problems, and in this case it’s a young master with the wrong idea of what a girl servant is for.

Gina makes a run for it, and disguises herself as a boy. But it’s the usual fire and frying pan scenario, and she is no better off as a male shop assistant.

Mary occasionally lets a book end less well than you’d hoped for, so I wasn’t sure what she might have up her sleeve this time. Read the book and find out!

Queen of the Silver Arrow

Caroline Lawrence has written a story to inspire girls that they can do more. Admittedly, the cover features a beautiful girl with a bow and arrow, and I understand that recent films (and the books behind them) have made bows and arrows the thing to have. But why not?

Caroline Lawrence, Queen of the Silver Arrow

This re-working of Virgil’s The Aeneid for Barrington Stoke tells the story of Camilla, who is the Queen of the Silver Arrow. Her father, who’s a King, brought her up in the woods where he fled with his baby daughter, and she learns to be of service to the Goddess Diana.

Camilla’s story becomes well known in the neighbourhood, and Acca who is the same age, dreams of being like her, and so do some of the rich girls in town. Eventually they all meet and Camilla trains the girls to be warriors, something that becomes necessary when the Trojans arrive.

Violent and bloody in parts, it’s still a beautiful piece of history (it was real, wasn’t it?), and as I said, very inspiring for girls. It needn’t all be about getting married. Or at least not without doing something worthwhile first.

Sometimes we all want to be like an Amazon, although perhaps stopping short at baring a breast.

Can’t see

Got the Resident IT Consultant to change the light bulb in the living room the other day. 18 months in, I’d finally had enough of not seeing. The room felt dim, and I felt depressed. Originally I’d imagined the room would be decorated fairly soon, and we’d change lampshades, not to mention light bulbs, at this point. Best laid plans and all that.

So the room is much brighter. Just not bright enough. I’m a very demanding customer, and I need/want more light sources, not just brighter bulbs. It’s an age thing, and for some reason I’m not getting any younger.

I gave up on another book a few days ago. It has two fonts; one ‘normal’ and one ‘different,’ to keep two aspects of the story apart. I struggled for a while, hoping the different font wouldn’t appear too often. But of course it did, and in the end I decided life is too short to struggle with aspects of print.

‘Older’ paperbacks can be tricky. It must be the same with books, as with portions of food. They are bigger these days. Get an old Penguin, say, and the font size shrinks dramatically. Recently Harriet the Spy was one such challenge. I decided it was short enough that I could manage, but often I do pass over the smaller books on my shelves, if I think the print will turn out to be age-inappropriate.

If only more people would spend time considering fonts and font sizes. Like Barrington Stoke. Although, I suppose publishers don’t make unreadable books on purpose. When they look at the pages, they presumably look fine.

There are some books I don’t even begin reading for this reason. Anything that is too much like a personal diary, or [badly planned] comic. As a child I read comics all the time. Now only the best are clear enough for me. I don’t have time to read everything, so words and pictures that fight for space is one criteria. I only wish that when I receive a book I’d really like to read, that I wouldn’t have to put it aside because of its layout.

There’s a regular half page cartoon in Swedish magazine Vi that I never read. I’ve even given up looking at it as I leaf through the magazine, just to prevent me feeling dizzy. I assume that most people don’t have a problem with it. I feel bad about this, as I’m sure it’s a cartoon I’d enjoy reading.

But when not even a new light bulb helps, I can only move on to something else.

Bookwitch bites #132

My timing is impeccable. Not only did it seem that my favourite book of the year was – belatedly – discovered in the press just as I got my own 2015 list ready, but that same day there were lists everywhere! Must have been something in the water to make us publish simultaneously.

The Irish Times splashed out on a top thirty books for all ages (children). Some of the suggestions I have read, and even agree with.

The Scotsman went the other way, and only picked five books, but that’s fine too.

And The Guardian asked lots of people; both authors and ‘ordinary’ readers for their favourites. It’s always interesting to see what people whose books you like, choose for their own enjoyment. Although with my usual careless reading, I was surprised to find that our children’s laureate, Chris Riddell, suggested ‘anything that isn’t by Chris Priestley’ which struck me as both unkind and unlikely. On looking again I saw that he actually recommends Chris Priestley’s book Anything That Isn’t This.

Barrington Stoke went political (their own words) this week over losing one of their members of staff. Publishing assistant Megan has been forced to leave her job and this country because she doesn’t earn enough money to be allowed to stay. There is something wrong about this.

Finally, it’s goodbye to a great children’s author, Peter Dickinson, who died on Wednesday, on his 88th birthday. As Lucy Coats says in her tribute to Peter on the ABBA blog, not everyone will know who he was. But he was a hero to those ‘in the business.’ There have been many lovely obituaries this week:

Publishers Weekly, Independent, The Guardian, The Telegraph, The New York Times.  I have a lot of catching up to do.

The Seal’s Fate

One way or another, Bobby, in Eoin Colfer’s re-issued story The Seal’s Fate for Barrington Stoke, won’t club the seal to death. You know this. But how will he avoid doing so?

Inspired by something Eoin’s father told him, this is set in an older Ireland, in a fishing village where things are not going well. There is less fish every time, and now they feel it’s the seals eating their catch that is the problem. And the solution is to offer the children money for every seal they kill.

But Bobby doesn’t feel like a seal killer. On the other hand, he can’t disappoint his fisherman father. His friends all seem far cooler about this clubbing of seals, too.

I couldn’t work out how Bobby was going to get out of it.

Eoin Colfer and Victor Ambrus, The Seal's Fate

(Wonderful illustrations by Victor Ambrus.)

The Fall

I confess. I’ve had a run on the various Barrington Stoke books I’ve been sent.

They are easy to read. True. After all, that’s their purpose in life. But, on average, they are also better than many other books. Length isn’t everything, you know. So I don’t consider it cheating when I binge-read Barrington Stoke. It’s a case of reading one and then needing to continue because it was that good, and you want all the others as well. Immediately.

Recently, Anthony McGowan has provided us with two award quality stories about two brothers, in Brock and Pike. Here he is again, with a third marvellous ‘boy’ read.

Anthony McGowan, The Fall

The Fall is much bleaker than the other two. Just as excellent, but it leaves you wondering, thinking about life and how it turns out. What you did wrong, and if it could have been different if you’d only…

Set, I believe, exactly where the young Anthony was once a teenage boy in a bleak area. You can tell you are in expert hands. He knows the place, and he knows the boys. Was he one of them? I don’t know.

He knows about being a loser, and how being with someone slightly cooler can save you. He knows how the slightest thing could mark someone out as ‘the lowest of the low.’

That’s what The Fall is about. A group of boys in Y9 at the bad school in town. They stay out of the way of the bully as best they can. Luckily for them there is another, so hopeless that he will take all the attention and suffer in their place. So they ought to be nice to him, oughtn’t they?

Seriously good, but pretty unforgiving. It’s life.

Clare and her Captain

I’m a bad old witch. I looked at Michael Morpurgo’s new book for Barrington Stoke, Clare and her Captain, and felt it was a very nice looking little book. (Pale green hardback, with matching ribbon bookmark.) If I read it carefully, I could probably give it away as new afterwards.

There will be no afterwards. It’s staying here. He gets to me – nearly – every time, does Michael Morpurgo. Especially this close to Christmas.

This story (originally from 1975) is based on a childhood memory of Mrs Morpurgo’s, and features a young girl called Clare, who goes on holiday with her quarelling parents, to stay at her aunt’s cottage in Devon. The aunt is a bit quarrelsome as well, so Clare escapes out on her own.

She meets a lamb, and eventually its owner, and then the owner’s ancient horse, Captain. This docile old horse becomes her friend, and then…

Well, I can’t tell you the whole story, obviously. It’s sweet. And the illustrations by Catherine Rayner are also rather sweet and suit the story perfectly. That horse is adorable!

Michael Morpurgo and Catherine Rayner, Clare and her Captain