Tag Archives: Eva Ibbotson

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!

Six to nine, please

Last week Amanda Craig pleaded with author friends to write fewer books for teens and more for six to nine-year-olds. She would also prefer them to be stand-alones.

I had sort of assumed the reason I see more teen books than younger ones is that I ask for older books more often, and I do so because deep down I am trying to please myself. It is perfectly feasible for adults to enjoy books intended for 6 to 9, but it’s rarer. I find quite a few good ones, but would still not pick them for pleasure reading.

Except, Amanda went on to say she wanted more Eva Ibbotson style books, and I somehow think of those as a little older. My own former six-year-olds would not have coped with an Ibbotson novel. Although, I could have read to them from her books.

Anyway, maybe there really are fewer young books being published. It would make sense. We get an excess of vampires because they are considered big business. I expect we have a glut of YA novels for the same reason.

My automatic reaction to Amanda’s plea was to feel that they can read books from the past. As with so many other things in life, you can recycle books. By that I mean that what a six-year-old read five or 15 or 50 years ago, can be read by a new six-year-old today. Almost. The books from when I was that age might be more suited to slightly older children today, because we were so much ‘more mature.’

It’s obvious that a reviewer needs new material to review. And bookshops might like fresh books, but a book sold is a book sold, whatever age. The wonderful thing about six-year-olds is that we get new ones every year. So they can (be made to) read what older generations read before them.

Lucy Boston, The Children of Green Knowe

I’d not really stopped to consider this before. I’ve felt uncomfortable with reading and reviewing mainly older books, but telling myself since I do this for me, I have to enjoy what I read. But once I’d got this far, I felt happier, because if I’m not ignoring new books because they haven’t been written, I can actually concentrate on catching up with classics for younger ages. There is much that I never got round to before.

Having found the first Green Knowe book in the mobile library about ten years ago I was keen to read the rest. Couldn’t find them anywhere. More recently I saw that someone was re-issuing them and asked the publisher, but got no reply. They’d be just right now, wouldn’t they? Children. History. Fantasy.

But Amanda is mostly right. Why ignore some age groups? And stand-alones are always good.

Bookwitch bites #88

As I was hinting in yesterday’s review, authors really can’t make their minds up, can they? Eva Ibbotson has very sweet, vegetarian abominable snowmen. Derek Landy’s version are the worst possible. They tried to… (oops, spoiler)

Never mind.

And then there is that J K Rowling who has a new book out that dares not to be about wizards. I like that. It’s not even about vampires. And I gather the only dystopia is our own. As it already is, and all that. I’m supposed to be getting a copy. Hasn’t happened yet, but I’ll let you know. Do you reckon after Harry and Barry, the next hero will be called, erm, Larry?

I could kill that Ian Rankin for spreading rumours J K was writing a crime novel. He should stick to balls in BSL.

Although, sticking to things aren’t always for the best. Stephen and Lucy Hawking have new covers for the George trilogy, and for such a stick-in-the-mud, I do like the new covers better than the old ones.
Lucy and Stephen Hawking, George trilogy
Aren’t they cool? Surely any child would want to read these? I would almost want to be a child again. Almost.

Whenever I receive information as a member of the Jacqueline Wilson fan club (yes, really) I do feel quite young. The message from Dame JW herself in celebration of the newly re-designed website makes me want to worship at her knee.

And there is Emerald Star still to enjoy. It was published this week, but whereas super fan Daughter has read it, I had to stand in queue and will get to it shortly. Time she grew up and let me be the child. After all, I am the shortest.

The Abominables

I only cried when I got to the last page of The Abominables, so it has to be said I held out well. And I didn’t cry because it’s the last book by Eva Ibbotson, but because by the end it was definitely well  into hanky territory. (Hidden part of the Himalayas.)

Written before Journey to the River Sea and Eva’s other more recent big successes, I wonder whether it was considerably before them? I know that Eva often wrote in such a timeless fashion that her stories are hard to date. But The Abominables feel older than twenty years, say. It’s got the feel of a true, old-fashioned children’s book. The way they were.

In a way I didn’t feel at all tempted by yetis in the Himalayas, but I knew being Eva’s it would be great. And it was.

Eva Ibbotson, The Abominables

Yetis are not terrible at all. They are lovely, kind, intelligent creatures. And they never eat people. If we are confused, it’s because they are going when we think they are coming, and the other way round.

The young Victorian girl Lady Agatha is kidnapped by a yeti, and ends up living with a clan of them. She teaches them Victorian standards, as is only right and proper, and they love her.

You live long in those mountains, and longer still if you’re a yeti, but sooner or later modern life has to encroach on their Victorian paradise. To save her yetis, Lady Agatha sends them on a journey to England and her old home, where they will be safe.

It’s both hilarious and heartbreaking, and anything but straightforward. But this being an old-fashioned kind of story, there has to be something worthwhile at the end.

There is. Hankies ready?

(I wouldn’t object to more of Eva’s stories being found.)

Extremely loveable yeti portraits by Sharon Rentta.