This could have been written about me, the young witchlet. And for that reason, presumably also about many of you, and that will be why it appeals so much. Hilary McKay’s new book for Barrington Stoke is a sweet blend of loneliness and nature.
Jodie is new at school, and hasn’t made any friends. But she still has to go on the school’s trip to the field centre, staying overnight, sharing a room with five other girls, and not only has she got the ‘wrong’, new equipment, but the teacher she trusts is unable to come.
She ends up breaking the centre’s rules, partly because she needs to escape the other girls, and partly because there is this dog that keeps barking and she wants to find it, to help it. And then she gets stuck on the salt marshes.
She is so lonely, and so brave. She knows no one will come for her, no one will miss her. Or be able to find her.
This is a slightly supernatural tale of bravery, love and friendship. Not everything is as it seems.
When you have a mother who can see ghosts, you sort of learn to expect to see them too. Or at least not to be surprised if you do.
It’s what happens to James in Marcus Sedgwick’s last book Ravencave, for Barrington Stoke. And he’s not scared. There are quite a few ghosts when all’s said and done, and I must admit to having felt sad when I finished the book. Understandable, I hope, since ghosts mean dead people, and it’s easy to feel sad when people are dead.
The family are on holiday in Yorkshire, walking and looking at the sites of old houses and buildings. Things are bad, what with James’s father having been made redundant, and James having problems chatting to his brother the way they used to.
It’s a sad book. Not badly so, but sad nevertheless. Extra sad because Marcus has since died, and James is thinking of death quite a lot.
But it’s also good, in the way Marcus always wrote a good story.
It’s the tulip bulbs I’ve never forgotten. Even as a child, learning that Audrey Hepburn had to eat tulip bulbs to survive during the war, it seemed both fantastic – in a bad way – and hard to believe. Just as I couldn’t really get my head round what Audrey was doing in the Netherlands.
If you read Tom Palmer’s new book Resist, you will find out, and it will probably leave you with tears in your eyes. Unlike many novels about the resistance in the war, in whatever country the story might be set, this one is a little more – dare I say it? – ordinary. Because it is based so much on what actually happened to Audrey and her family, rather than what an author has simply made up.
You meet Audrey – called Edda here, for her own safety – in her home village of Velp, near Arnhem, as she is setting out on helping the local resistance. It’s the kind of thing you need to keep secret, because the less anyone else knows, the safer you all are. Edda’s family have had bad things happen to them, and lying low is the way forward.
Covering the last two years of WWII, we learn much about ordinary Dutch people. Except, they are not ordinary; they are brave, albeit often in a quiet, life-saving way. I learned more about Arnhem, which to me was ‘just’ a place name connected with the war, in a bad way. And the tulips.
The same age as Anne Frank, we have to be grateful Audrey survived, if only just. It’s hard to believe that starvation can be so much more of a threat than being hit by bombs, say. And people fleeing their old homes has become much more of a current thing than we could ever have thought, until recently.
This is the latest of many thoughtful books from Tom Palmer about WWII and its effects. Its brevity adds to its seriousness. And the cover art from Tom Clohosy Cole is stunning.
It’s World Book Day. Here, anyway. And children are yet again dressing up for it, and authors are cautiously returning to school visits.
Karen McCombie’s Fagin’s Girl is about another kind of dressing up. A long time ago, when poverty was – probably – even more common than now, the loss of a parent, and the subsequent loss of home and livelihood was serious.
Set in London in 1836 we meet two siblings who end up as orphans and have to try and survive by whatever means available to them. In this case it means turning to crime. And to do crime ‘well’, Ettie has to dress as a boy.
But back then, the solution to too much crime was to ship criminals off to the other side of the world, and that’s what happens here too. To one of them, meaning our two siblings are split up.
The last part of this book takes place in Australia in 1988, when children need to learn about what happened before; what some of their ancestors might have gone through. It’s seeing both sides, then and now, that will show today’s young readers cause and effect, and how quickly life can change.
In Chris Priestley’s Freeze for Barrington Stoke, he tells the story of four teenagers (are they even that? Perhaps Y7, Y8?) who have had bad dreams the night before. Except they can’t remember what they were about. Maybe they had the same dream?
At school a supply teacher has come to talk about writing creepy stories. And suddenly the ideas seem to just flow, and all four of them agree to talk to the class about their particular, creepy ideas. And what about the strange girl who turns up late?
Maya, the main character, seems to really freak out during each reading, but no one else does.
Scary snowmen, scary ice, scary corpses from the nearby cemetery, and … You get the idea.
And then the four finally realise they did have the same bad dream, and they need to wake up! And, yeah…
Boys will be boys. Keith Gray gives us two teenage boys, both keen climbers (of trees), starting out as rivals, enemies, even. It’s a small village, and Sully goes round saying he’s the best climber in the village. For some reason no one seems to disagree with him. Openly, at least.
When Nottingham arrives in the village, he seems to believe he is better. Or as good as.
There is one as yet unclimbed tree, and the first to climb it gets to give the tree its name. Sully considers this his right.
It’s interesting to see how his friends react to the newcomer as well as to the climbing shenanigans the two get up to. Sully wants to win. The question is what Nottingham wants.
This should be good for boys to read. Girls, too, but I suspect boys need this kind of thing more; a masculine competition threatening to ruin everything.
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.
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.
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.
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.