Tag Archives: Dyslexia

The Royal Rebel

Quite often when authors write about real historical people, they are people I have at least heard of. Not so with Bali Rai’s The Royal Rebel for Barrington Stoke. He is well placed to tell us about the Sikh Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, goddaughter of Queen Victoria and a suffragette.

Sophia was proof that some of us don’t really belong anywhere. She was born in Britain in 1876, and grew up here, but obviously looked like a Sikh woman. Not quite British, Sophia felt an outsider when she first visited India as well.

Hit by relative poverty when her father’s money ran out and he abandoned his family, she eventually found her place in the suffragette movement. Sophia led an interesting and varied life, but grew increasingly lonely.

Through this book you see yet another side to the fight to win votes for women.

Know My Place

It can’t be said enough. Children often create the strangest scenarios from what they understand and what they’ve been told.

In Know My Place, Eve Ainsworth’s new book for Barrington Stoke, we meet Amy as she enters yet another home to live in. As a foster child, she’s had a few, and not because she has been a bad girl. Just because that’s the way it often is when you’re fostered.

When you’ve got a few disappointments behind you, it is hard to trust anyone.

The question is, can Amy trust the Dawsons? They seem almost too good to be true.

It’s good to, well, no, it isn’t really, but it’s informative to read about how things can be. How they might work out. And how vulnerable children can be. How easily they misunderstand.

It’s a sweet, short, book on fostering, and how good it would feel to belong, to be like everyone else.

An evening with Dan Smith and Tom Palmer

I can’t be sure, but I think Tom Palmer might have been sitting on his desk. His fellow author Dan Smith sat next to the requisite bookshelves, and their Barrington Stoke ‘boss’ Ailsa Bathgate had shelves behind her desk.

Thursday evening’s event with Tom and Dan was a comfortable sort of affair, where a few friends sat around chatting about books and writing. It was well worth rearranging dinner plans for.

They talked dogs when Zoom opened its doors. I got the impression that someone had been so smitten by Tom’s dog in D-Day Dog that they had got themselves a dog… Not all dogs are the same and real ones are not like their fictional peers. Tom apologised, saying he didn’t know he was influencing anyone to get a dog. He made it up.

According to Ailsa, Tom has written something like 17 books for Barrington Stoke, while Dan is a relative newcomer with two, and a third on the way. Tom read us the first chapter from Arctic Star, and it was nice to hear his voice again.

Then Dan read from somewhere in the middle of his Beast of Harwood Forest, and as far as I’m concerned I never want to see those creepy dolls’ eyes hanging from the trees. Or was it the dolls that were hanging? Anyway, they had eyes. Dan writes for himself, both the adult and his younger self. He read us a letter he’d sent to his parents from boarding school at the age of seven, when he was very much into ghost stories.

Tom got the idea for Arctic Star from his wife, who used to work on the HMS Belfast. He also felt there’s very little children’s fiction about the navy. To make sure he gets his books right, he ‘tests them on children’ which tickled Dan’s sense of humour. Now that Tom’s own children are older, he sees things differently than when they were small.

He also asked Dan if he ever dissuades fans from buying one of his books if it’s aimed at a much older age. Tom apparently has done this, but maybe because they are about ‘real’ things. Whereas Dan’s books are made up, and children like creepy stuff, ‘being scared in a safe way’.

Dan likes writing dyslexia friendly books. It lets him skip the boring bits, as he put it. Now he finds he shortens his ‘normal’ fiction for another publisher as well. He enjoys reading Barrington Stokes books, too, and has a shelf for them.

Having been a late reader himself, Tom knows the importance of short chapters. His have been known to be one page long. As Dan agreed, children often ask how many chapters a book has, rather than how many pages.

The next books are another one from Dan set in Crooked Oak again, and Tom has plans for a girl in WWII. I can’t wait. While Dan doesn’t worry too much about getting his chapter one right, or so he said, Tom works at getting a James Bond style first chapter to catch the reader’s attention.

For inspiration Dan recommends walking in the woods, smelling it, and preferably being alone. (Not with those dolls’ eyes!) It’s not surprising he likes Stephen King. Tom was more for watching WWII films when he grew up, which he reckons is why he is obsessed with war stories. And he loves the research.

Keeper

Alan Gibbons is staying in the world of football. He knows it well, and he writes about it attractively, especially for the younger Barrington Stoke reader. And interspersed with the actual story, there are pages of football facts, on what he’s just written about in the previous chapter.

Even for a dyslexia friendly book, this is short. But it’s powerful, and should work well for sports mad boys. (Even I liked it.)

Shane is a new boy at school, joining the class, and the football team, in the middle of the school year. Unusually he’s no shrinking violet, but starts off really bossy.

The boys handle him reasonably well, for being so young. But when his ‘dad’ comes along to the game at the weekend, there is no end of trouble.

It’s up to the boys to work out what’s wrong.

Great football story!

Arctic Star

Tom Palmer just gets better and better. Have I mentioned this before? Anyway, he does. His latest book for Barrington Stoke is called Arctic Star, and it will leave you shivering (the cold) and reaching for a hanky. I’m not sure what age it’s aimed at, but I would say teens and adult. It’s WWII and mature in its handling of the war.

We meet three friends from Plymouth, on their first posting with the Royal Navy in 1943, in a convoy en route for Murmansk, protecting the ships carrying tanks to the Russians. It’s cold, to an extent you can’t even imagine, but think of it as hacking away at your freezer, but while you’re actually in it. And worse.

There’s the first convoy, followed by shore leave in Murmansk, the second convoy and finally the third convoy. You know people will have to die, but that – probably – at least one of our three young men will survive. They are scared, and cold, but in the end they know that to drop out of the war is not an option.

It’s just awful. And it makes me even more grateful that there were so many, perfectly ordinary people going through this kind of thing so that the rest of us could have a world to live in. We need to remind ourselves, too, that everyone on those ships had families at home, be it in Germany or in Britain.

You learn a lot in these short pages about life in Plymouth, life in the Navy, and life in the Soviet Union. Tom has done plenty of research as usual, and so much of the story is true. I knew what would happen to the HMS Belfast, seeing as I have actually visited, so it’s not a spoiler to say that she’s not sunk.

I’m very grateful for these books.

The Dog that Saved the World (Cup)

Pickles is a great football player. He is also a dog, but let’s not hold that against him.

Along with his owner Elsie, he plays football all the time. This being shortly before the World Cup (in 1966), they are so excited when it turns out that their little football team will get to play at Wembley, at half-time.

But Elsie and Pickles encounter more problems when Elsie’s dad loses his job and they have to move, to somewhere really awful. And then someone steals the World Cup (as in the cup), and their Wembley plans are in danger.

Pickles is a great dog. He knows it’s up to him to fix this, find the cup and generally sort everything out. You’d think a dog couldn’t possibly do that, but it seems Pickles is based on a real Pickles, who did indeed find the missing trophy.

Lovely story about dogs, football and crime solving. But also good for the realism of having to face up to poor living conditions and poverty.

The Last Hawk

I forced myself to take reading breaks so that Elizabeth Wein’s third book with Barrington Stoke, featuring female pilots during WWII, would last a little longer. The Last Hawk is really something; the same exciting flying war stories as we’ve come to expect, but as seen from inside Germany.

Ingrid is a 17-year-old German glider pilot. And she stutters. So not only is she at risk from the war in general, and flying in particular, but she faces having ‘her own’ turn on her, because she stutters. Faulty citizens are not something Hitler wanted to keep.

This is so chilling, even when in many ways it’s not news [to me], and it would have felt good to be able to look back to this time and know that it would never happen again. But we know this is not the case, don’t we?

Ingrid is recruited as an assistant to test pilot Hanna Reitsch, to show future Luftwaffe pilots how to fly. Plus some other, less attractive, tasks, which worries her. She needs to work out what to do, and if she has the courage to do it.

Perfect reading material for teenagers today. Enjoy the mix of fiction and real facts, and learn from it before it’s too late.

The Deep-Sea Duke

This sequel to The Starlight Watchmaker, by Lauren James, is equally delightful. Science fiction, which still feels unusual for Barrington Stoke, but all the more welcome for it.

So if you like inter-species gay romance, this is the story for you. It was already hinted at in the first book, but here Hugo learns that he is not a lesser being for being an android. In fact, sometimes he is better suited for life than his – not human, because they are not – living friends. Even if one is a sort of rock.

Hugo and Ada have been invited to spend the school holidays with Dorian and his family, on a planet many weeks away. It’s a beautiful planet, but currently overrun by refugees and all the problems associated with that. Like large butterflies. Otters.

They all help in the end, but Hugo helps the most.

And as I said, there is romance. Very lovely.

Swan Song

I’m the kind of cynical reader who doesn’t automatically swoon because a book has animals and troubled children in it. When I was first told about Gill Lewis I was extremely cautious. Until I gave her a go.

If you haven’t already, please give her a go. She is one of our silent, but strong, authors for children. There are animals. In this case swans, as the title Swan Song hints at. As a vet, Gill knows about animals, and swans, and other birds, who also feature. It shows. There is a lot of knowledge without it being in your face. You kind of get to share that knowledge and feel clever as well.

There is also a troubled boy, Dylan, who has been expelled from his secondary school. He coped with Y7, but in Y8 things got too much and he punched his best friend. So off to Grandad in Wales he goes.

Grandad may not have a television, or internet, but he knows about swans. This being Wales, he also sings. Swans and singing are both good healers for troubled boys. Especially one who is so surprised to learn he can go on Grandad’s bike anywhere he wants. This boy who feels it’s ‘weird not being told what to do, when to do it and where to go’.

This, to my mind, is what’s wrong with today’s parent/teacher generation.

Give them a Grandad with swans any day!

Swan Song is another mature story in easy to read format from Barrington Stoke.

The Humiliations of Welton Blake

Alex Wheatle knows how to write about black 12-year-old boys; especially the ones who are secretly in love with the prettiest girl in school, hoping that she will see past all their awkwardness and lack of experience.

Welton finally picks up the courage to ask Carmella out, only to find his day, possibly his whole life, collapsing into a pile of unfortunate mishaps, one after the other. And with a dead mobile phone, how can he contact her? (There’s obviously the actual speaking to her at school, but apart from that.)

It’s slapstick with realism; vomiting over a girl at school (no, not that girl), being threatened by the dangerous boy, running into a brick wall, wondering what to do when your mother’s new boyfriend looks so old he won’t last longer than 15 years.

This is all very general, proving that we are mostly the same on the inside. It’s a book that will show boys that everyone else isn’t necessarily that much better off in the social stakes. You just think that others have no problems. Although, not running into brick walls would obviously be a start.

But what is it with sowing the idea that dentists live in virtual palaces? Better off, yeah. But palaces, not so much.

Still, a great book for boys and girls, with and without dyslexia.