Tag Archives: Eva Ibbotson

Refugee reads

The other night, I was suddenly reminded of Anne Holm’s I Am David. This lovely, lovely story has always been on my ‘journey book’ list. But it is also a refugee kind of story. And worth reading again.

I won’t lie. A publisher presented me with a list of their refugee books, and many of them are excellent. But I will let my mind wander of its own here, and see what I come up with. It will probably mean I forget a really important one, but…

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, by Judith Kerr. I see from the comments that Judith wanted a cuckoo clock. It brings a whole more human scale to the refugee issue.

In the Sea There Are Crocodiles, told by Enaiatollah Akbari to Fabio Geda. Enaiatollah who’s a real refugee, but who was also refused a visa to come to the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Oh, those fears that everyone will want to come and live here illegally…

Like the poor souls we meet in Eoin Colfer’s and Andrew Donkin’s Illegal. All that suffering.

Life in refugee camps is no picnic, and The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon is a hard read. Necessary, but harrowing. Or you can read books by Elizabeth Laird and the Deborah Ellis stories from Afghanistan.

In No Ballet Shoes in Syria by Catherine Bruton the refugees have arrived, but don’t know if they will be allowed to stay. You need to adapt, but with no guarantee that it will be worth it.

A Candle in the Dark by Adèle Geras is almost happy by comparison. It’s Kristallnacht and Kindertransport territory, but when we read that book we believed we were improving year by year. Yes, it was bad back then, but no more…

Like the true story told by Eva Ibbotson, by one refugee about another. Still makes me want to cry.

The Star of Kazan

I re-read this after 14 years. I loved it then, but loved it more this time. Which just goes to show that returning to a good book is usually the right thing to do.

The Star of Kazan reads like Eva Ibbotson’s love letter to Vienna. I knew it had all the loveliness you always get in an Ibbotson novel, but I’d forgotten both the romance and all that humour.

Eva Ibbotson, The Star of Kazan

And I remember I thought it was less about Vienna than I’d expected. Now I see how much of the city there is in the story, even when the main character, Annika, is not there.

Set in Vienna before WWI, it is lovely, peaceful and sounds just perfect. Annika is a foundling, growing up with two servants and their three professor employers. She works hard, is friendly to everyone, and has two very good friends nearby.

That’s when her ‘real’ mother turns up and takes her away. Living in darkest North Germany, it is rather Jane Eyre-ish. There is an awful half-brother, a cousin, and a ‘gypsy’ boy with a gorgeous horse and a three-legged dog.

Once the necessary bad stuff has happened, this book will give you all that you need and had hoped for. Possibly more.

Remembering Dina

I remember the morning well, even though it’s been ten years. I was with my new laptop at the Apple shop in Manchester’s Arndale for our weekly lesson. I’d got myself up on the barstool and was opening the laptop while waiting for my Genius.

That’s when I noticed the new email in my inbox, and because I could see the beginning of it, I had to read it there and then, despite realising it wasn’t the right place to do so.

It was from Adèle Geras, breaking the news that Dina Rabinovitch had died a few hours earlier. And even though it wasn’t unexpected, it still was, and very upsetting. I’d admired Dina so long, and had willed her to live. And so had she, obviously.

After the lesson was over, I went home and blogged about Dina. It wasn’t the first time and it wasn’t the last. There was always plenty to say about this wonderful children’s books reviewer at the Guardian. Someone who interviewed like I could only dream of doing. Her ‘duel’ with Eva Ibbotson on which of them was the most ill, for instance.

Well, Dina won that one.

Less than three weeks before, I’d hoped to meet Dina for the first time. She was supposed to be doing an event, but became too unwell to go through with it. I went [to London] anyway, and had a different sort of day, instead, and Dina was interested in hearing what I’d done. I looked at the Tate Modern, and I went to the National Theatre. When I think back to that day, I see it as Dina’s gift to me, somehow.

Then there are the friends found through her blog, which I’ve written about before. Dina did so much, for so many.

And now it’s ten years since she died. I realise her little boy is no longer little. I hope her children are well, and happy.

Dina Rabinovitch

Middle grade, YA or New Adult?

Can we make our minds up, please? What is a YA book? In my post on 22nd March, which was based on an excellent list of YA novels, someone left a comment saying that despite being of almost YA age, she doesn’t read many YA books because they are all the same and mainly romances.

I’m thinking she’s only found the Twilight brigade. Even the publicity emails I get from publishers, trying to interest me in yet another one, tend to be a little same-y. But mostly those books have moved on and turned into New Adult books. Or I think they have. Basically they are today’s Mills & Boon but cooler. And M&B were (are?) read by young people as well as elderly ladies.

And then you could go the other way, and complain that YA books are far too childish. In that case you’ve been sold another middle grade book. Which is a shame, as the words middle grade describes a certain kind of age group very well, even if it sounds a little American to some of us.

But whatever you think, you’re – probably – not going to want sexy vampires if you are ten years old, and whereas you never grow too old for a really good middle grade story, some readers will not find enough action or ‘sex’ in a book by Eva Ibbotson or Rebecca Stead, say.

Publicists are there to sell books, so will to some extent say what they need to sell a book, whether or not it is true. But I feel they are doing the books a disservice by giving them the wrong label. Calling everything YA, when it isn’t, will turn readers off.

The Ibbotson fan may grow up to like dystopian romances a few years later, but the 20+ reader who is already too old for those, will assume YA is not for them, when there is a whole host of ‘ageless’ YA books out there.

YA is not the only attractive term for a good book. At least it shouldn’t be. I feel it’s a shame that readers miss out because of labelling.

Journey to the River Sea

When I came upon the audiobook of Eva Ibbotson’s Journey to the River Sea, as I was unpacking the children’s books a few weeks ago, I looked around, wondering where the ‘real’ book was. And then it hit me; I didn’t actually own a copy. I had borrowed it from the library to read (you can tell this was a long time ago, can’t you?), and returned it when I was done.

But I did buy the audiobook, because I thought it was such a marvellous story that Daughter might want to read it. This was when she was still a reluctant reader, while fully enjoying audio books. And Son was in full audiobook mode as well, although he did read too. We had a few years during which we as a family consumed an awful lot of cassette books, including the odd chewed-up tape. I remember this, as Eva Ibbotson’s book was one that got entangled, much to my horror. (Luckily the people who made it were happy to supply a spare cassette, meaning I didn’t have to buy it all over again.)

I remember buying a copy of the book to give away, too, so it’s not as if I was being particularly economical about it.

So there I was, filling my shelves with books, and no Journey to the River Sea. I looked at the cassettes, and I looked at the empty gap among my Eva Ibbotson books, and knew I needed to own this one.

Eva Ibbotson, Journey to the River Sea

What’s more, I felt it needed to be the original cover; the cover of the book I had read, and none of the newer looks. But now that you can buy used books online, it is at least possible to choose your edition, and for a reasonable price.

The gap has been filled.

(As a matter of interest, has anyone who knows this book come across an ‘adult version’ of it? Some time after I’d first read it, I discovered an adult novel by Eva that sounded similar, so I read that too, and realised she must have written it first, since it had practically the same plot, only a little more grown-up. I’m glad she re-wrote it, as the children’s story is far superior.)

The Christmas book ad

The advertisement for books for a child for Christmas; which books should it contain? I was happy to stumble upon an ad that seemed to recommend good books. And it did… but it was from The Folio Society, which sells expensive editions.

And what they suggested were classics. The kind the giver and/or their parents, and grandparents, used to read. When you see a suggestion like that you often think that’s all there is. Or you are likely to, if the only ‘new’ book you’ve heard of is Harry Potter, who will soon be joining The Wind in the Willows, Peter Pan and Wendy, The Hobbit, Ballet Shoes and Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales as a classic read.

The kind of book well-meaning adults go on and on about.

At the other end of the scale you have the books ‘everyone’ has heard of, but which don’t necessarily need advertising to sell. Jacqueline Wilson, Horrid Henry, David Walliams, Wimpy Kid. They are all fine! But like the books above, they are obvious choices.

Could we have an ad like The Folio Society’s ‘Best books for kids this Christmas’ that might mention slightly less famous books (and that could also mean the recipient is less likely to have a copy already), but ones that are so very good in a general sense that few children would dislike them if they got them for Christmas?

As The Folio Society ad says, it’s good to leave children alone to read. I’d just like them to have something more recent than what grandad liked when he was a little boy. Considering the books in the ad, they will be aiming at the age group between seven and twelve, roughly?

So, let’s see. Eva Ibbotson. Very reliable choice. What do we think of Michael Morpurgo? I find he is less of a household name among mature buyers than you’d think. Perhaps one of his less famous titles. Philip Pullman. Again, some of his less well known books, so not HDM.

I’m rambling, and you are thinking I’m picking famous names. But away from our select and relatively small group of adults who like children’s books and know about them, I hear people chatting about my big heroes as though they are minor players or newly discovered small fry. Good, but not gods. I have to stop myself from bashing their heads in. (Figuratively.)

Morris Gleitzman. Anything, really. Judith Kerr. Michelle Magorian. Jan Mark.

How am I doing? I’m avoiding picking those authors whose work might be best aimed at a particular age or sex to be successful, however excellent.

By the way, do children still enjoy The Wind in the Willows? Or is it now more of an older person’s choice, rather like Roald Dahl?

A true story for Christmas

You must ‘click through’ and read this! Even on re-reading the true story by Eva Ibbotson (from the Guardian) I found that my eyes developed some inexplicable dampness.

It’s about libraries, war, refugees and more. Eva Ibbotson is no longer with us, and our libraries seem destined to go the same way. Wouldn’t it be lovely if stories like this one could stop library closures, while also opening our hearts more to those who have had to leave their homes, through no fault of their own?

Kensal Rise library

Here is to knowledge and reading and friendship and languages, in and out of libraries!