Tag Archives: Eva Ibbotson

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.

One Dog and his Boy

I’ve been gorging on sweet dog stories for a while. Or so it seems. Hot on the tails of Oliver and ‘his’ Barclay in Too Small to Fail we meet Hal and Fleck in Eva Ibbotson’s last book. Both boys have dreadful parents, rich and with no clue as to what their sons really need. And it’s not more of the latest toys, nor is it to spend time with housekeepers.

They need their dogs. The dogs they have fallen hopelessly in love with. Dogs that are equally potty about their boys.

But the adults rule, especially when they have too much money. Hal’s parents strike me more as charicatures. In fact, the whole book is more of a story story, but it’s one of the best. I’m not sure when it’s set. It’s sort of a mix of now and then and never.

There isn’t just the one dog, either. Fleck has friends at the Easy Pets Dog Agency, and they too need a happy end. And let’s face it, even if Hal’s parents could learn to see sense, they would never take on five dogs of varying sizes.

Eva Ibbotson, One Dog and his Boy

Unlike Oliver, Hal quickly realises that his parents really have gone too far when they rent a dog for him for the weekend, and then return it, believing he will soon tire of Fleck. So he takes action, but only after thinking things through carefully.

I don’t want to give anything away, but there are several nice girls who all love dogs, and there are some very nice and sensible adults. And because this is an Eva Ibbotson story things sort themselves out. It took me a while to work out how she was going to do it, and when it happened it was even lovelier than expected.

After a book like this I could even half want a dog.

(Irresistible doggie pictures by Sharon Rentta.)

The Ogre of Oglefort

All is not necessarily what it seems. Remember that.

Ogre-ness is not what it used to be before Shrek. Remember that.

I finally got to Eva Ibbotson’s latest (but not last, I believe) book the week before Christmas. It’s another of her fantastic, old style children’s stories, with a continental flavour, and plenty of humour.

A Hag, a Troll, a Wizard and a little boy travel to Oglefort to rescue a Princess from the Ogre. What meets them as they arrive is a little unexpected. The ogre isn’t nice, but he’s not too ogre-ish either. There are insects all over his body, which is a little yucky. He’s not too fond of baths.

And the Princess Mirella is not your common garden variety of Princess. There are Norns in this story. Really old ones. Underground ghosts of the kind we have all met when they were actually alive and travelled on the underground. Aunts can be the same the world over, and greedy people are too.

I have less personal experience of silly princes, but they seem like normal silly princes to me.

Then there are the people who don’t want to be who they are. Many of us don’t. But you could learn a thing or two from the wishes of these people, before you yourself start wishing.

Most of the story ends well, this being a traditional sort of tale.

I kept wanting to brush the insects off the page. Sometimes I thought they were insects, sometimes bits of dropped food (which tells you what a sloppy reader I am), but neither moved when shoved.

(Though in my pernickety mode I need to point out that Nils and his goose flew over Sweden. Not Norway. Easy mistake to make, however.)

Saying goodbye to Eva and Hazel

I was sad to learn two days ago that Hazel Townson has died, and only a day later that Eva Ibbotson died on Wednesday this week.

With Hazel being a local children’s author I can’t gauge how well known or not she was in the wider world, or even further afield in Britain. She was tireless in doing school events, and I witnessed her appeal to young children at first hand when Daughter required every single one of the books available to buy when Hazel came to her school. I remember it was this time of year, because Hazel signed a book saying Happy Birthday, which made it even more precious.

More recently Hazel gave up her work with the Lancashire Book of the Year, handing over the task of overseeing everything to Adèle Geras.

Eva Ibbotson was such a special author for so many. Her name always came up whenever authors expressed admiration for a colleague. But I never needed to hear that, because reading her Journey to the River Sea was enough to convince me I’d found a real star.

As another foreigner I suppose I was particularly happy to find someone who could write so well in another language, while retaining that different outlook on both Britain and Europe. It was good to read novels set in Europe as though it wasn’t abroad.

I’ve been a little slow in working my way through Eva’s books, and her recent shortlisted novel for the Guardian prize is high on my tbr list. The Secret of Platform 13 was another one that waited for my attention for far too long. But at least this way I know I have a few to keep me going.

I did nurse a secret dream to interview Eva, but felt I could never hope to improve on Dina Rabinovitch’s chat with her in 2004. I have to admit I would have quite liked for Eva to win the Guardian prize, if it’s OK now to show favouritism.

Which Witch? This is the Bookwitch saying thank you, and goodbye.

Season of lists

Having thought it’d be last Saturday, and found it wasn’t, I naturally assumed it’d be this Saturday, so swept the decks, if not much else, in preparation. And it wasn’t. It seemed. And then, come Sunday morning, I found it was, after all.

‘It’ being the Guardian children’s fiction prize shortlist. When I wrote about those other shortlists a few days ago, I felt this one was bound to follow immediately. As things tend to do. Some years ago I asked to be put on the mailing list (see, another list) for this prize, and was told I would be. I’ve since asked every year, and somehow it’s not happened.

My Sunday morning revelation only appeared in the form of a brief column in the Review by Mal Peet musing on his role as one of the judges. It was well hidden. The column. Not Mal’s role as judge.

I google and still I don’t find them. At times I get the impression that the ‘home’ website for every award is the last one to update itself. One I mentioned earlier this week only listed the 2009 award. I had thought I’d at least get an early-ish warning on facebook, but not this week.

Don’t worry. My moan is almost done now.

So, to the list. (Here is where I have to search my own blog to see what I predicted. I have a dreadful feeling I was seriously out this time.)

OK, check done. I got two right. And here is the list:

Now, by Morris Gleitzman

Unhooking the Moon, by Gregory Hughes

The Ogre of Oglefort, by Eva Ibbotson

Ghost Hunter, by Michelle Paver

Interestingly two of the choices are ‘last book in a series’ books. I believe someone criticised that as not being a good idea. I don’t think it matters. You could sort of get the prize for ‘long-standing service’.

I have only read Now. Which is wonderful. Really want to read about the Ogre. Unhooking the Moon sounds interesting, and the only reason I’ve not read Ghost Hunter is that I never got started on Michelle Paver’s books, so feel I have an awful lot of catching up to do.

Won’t say which one, but I think I may have a favourite.

Bookwitch bites #24

Book launch sign

It’s lists and launch time at bookwitch towers with my bites one day early.

Last night Keren David had a launch party for her second novel, Almost True. I wasn’t present as unfortunately there’s a limit to how frequently I can do the commute to London. And I’m afraid I’m on my way there today, although not to see the Pope if I can help it.

Keren David at her Almost True book launch

Gillian Philip

Gillian Philip has been shortlisted for the Royal Mail’s Scottish Children’s Book Awards, along with Barry Hutchison, Julia Donaldson, Debi Gliori, Elizabeth Laird, Cathy MacPhail, Lucinda Hare, John Fardell and Simon Puttock. Luckily there are several categories so more than one of these lovely people can win. I hope they do. Not sure what they win if they win. Stamps?

The Roald Dahl Funny Prize 2010 judges have also come up with a shortlist, or rather two shortlists, because you can’t have too many lists of whatever length:

The Funniest Book for Children Aged Six and Under

Angelica Sprocket’s Pockets by Quentin Blake

Dogs Don’t Do Ballet by Anna Kemp, illustrated by Sara Ogilvie

Dog Loves Books by Louise Yates

The Nanny Goat’s Kid by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Tony Ross

One Smart Fish by Chris Wormell

The Scariest Monster in the World by Lee Weatherly, illustrated by Algy Craig Hall

The Funniest Book for Children Aged Seven to Fourteen

The Clumsies Make a Mess by Sorrel Anderson, illustrated by Nicola Slater

Einstein’s Underpants and How They Saved the World by Anthony McGowan

The Incredible Luck of Alfie Pluck by Jamie Rix, illustrated by Craig Shuttlewood

Mr Stink by David Walliams, illustrated by Quentin Blake

The Ogre of Oglefort by Eva Ibbotson

Withering Tights by Louise Rennison

I gather Philip Ardagh, who is one of the judges, may almost have read too many funny books in the course of duty. I believe it was something like 130, which is enough to put you off even that which you like best.

Right, I have a train to catch. See you tomorrow.

Worthy books

Some year I will learn that the longlist for the Guardian children’s fiction prize tends to emerge just as I go away for half term in May. I may even write it down in my newly acquired blog diary. Or would that take planning a step too far?

Better late than never, here is the 2010 longlist, accompanied by a worthiness problem further down.

Prisoner of the Inquisition, by Theresa Breslin

Now, by Morris Gleitzman

Unhooking the Moon, by Gregory Hughes

The Ogre of Oglefort, by Eva Ibbotson

Sparks, by Ally Kennen

Lob, by Linda Newbery

Ghost Hunter, by Michelle Paver

White Crow, by Marcus Sedgwick

For me it’s more of an unknown list than I’m used to. Three I’ve read, with another lying in waiting. At least another couple that I like the sound of. That makes the predicting rather harder. Although, predicting is mainly an inner ‘feel’ and not something based on fact or my own tastes. So the shortlist will comprise Theresa Breslin, Morris Gleitzman, Eva Ibbotson and Ally Kennen.


There is one aspect to the list that has always puzzled me, and that is why they pick books not yet published. I have a copy of Marcus’ s book, but it’s not out yet. And if the young critics are to stand a chance, they need to be able to buy the books.

The worthiness referred to at the beginning of this post has to do with a letter in Saturday’s Guardian, where the correspondent was unhappy with the selection. The books are far too worthy and will not attract young readers.

Is he right? I’m not sure who does the picking for the Guardian longlist, but it’s true that awards where children vote, tend to pick more child oriented choices. Who are the awards for? Maybe he’s wrong? Not all children will like the above books, but many will.

As for me, I’m old and will pick like an old person. I can stand aside and say that some other books may suit some readers better. But if you leave it all to children, there are books they will never try, which is why adults are there to push and suggest.