Tag Archives: Gillian Cross

They come in waves, don’t they?

‘What if I say Beverley Naidoo?’ I asked.

I had been talking YA authors with someone; someone who had only started reading YA not very long ago. And I wasn’t thinking, so mentioned Celia Rees and was met by a blank stare. It’s understandable. If you are recommended books to try right now, it will be the most talked about books and authors, plus some olden goldies like Philip Pullman and David Almond. Names ‘everyone’ has heard of.

Whereas when I began reading current YA novels 20 or 25 years ago, there was no Meg Rosoff or Keren David or Angie Thomas. At the time Celia Rees and Beverley Naidoo were the reigning queens to me, along with Gillian Cross and Anne Cassidy. Adèle Geras and Mary Hoffman and Linda Newbery. Anne Fine. Malorie Blackman.

No matter how many I list here, I will forget someone really important. Most of them still write and publish, but perhaps not as frequently as before.

There’s the group of authors who appeared when Bookwitch [the blog] was in her infancy, with 2010 being a particularly fruitful year. Candy Gourlay and Keren David, followed by Teri Terry and Kathryn Evans. Again, I will have left someone out.

And now, those ladies have many books under their belts, and there is a new wave of YA authors. I mentioned Angie Thomas, because she’s brand new, both in the book world, and to me. She’s also American, which seems to be where things are happening now.

When I reviewed Celia’s latest novel, I compared it to Truth or Dare, and her reaction to that was that I’m probably the only person who’s been around long enough to have read both it, and the new book. This struck me as silly, as surely everyone would have read Truth or Dare. Wouldn’t they? Well, they haven’t, and it’s not lack of dedication, or anything. Most YA readers don’t last a couple of decades. Real, young people, grow up, and move on to other stuff. And if you’re already ‘old’ and catching up, you can’t read everything.

But when I first met Beverley Naidoo, I almost curtsied.

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Tricks and threats

I liked reading about the various tricks people use to get their children to read, especially on holiday. The Guardian Review had some tips this weekend, and it’s always interesting to see what others have done. They can be quite sneaky, parents.

Once I had told Son that the one thing I expected him to do at school – this was in Y2 – was to learn to read, I don’t believe I did much else.

As parents we are supposed to lead by doing, and I did read. The trouble is that parenting takes time away from reading for pleasure, so I could have read more.

I’ve mentioned this here before, but for the formative reading years I went to the mobile library just before it was time for our three to four weeks in Sweden every July/August. I looked carefully at what they had to offer, and picked books that might suit both me and the Resident IT Consultant and Son. Children’s books, obviously.

Gillian Cross, Tightrope

There was always a lot of possible choice. But the authors that stand out from that period are Philip Pullman, Malorie Blackman, Gillian Cross, Celia Rees, Tim Bowler. At the time I knew very little or nothing about all of these excellent writers. It’s a good sign that by merely picking holiday books I was able to discover many leading YA authors.

Malorie Blackman, Tell Me No Lies

I’d take about eight books. Any more and I felt the suitcases would be too heavy. But that averaged out at two books per week, which seemed fine. Son didn’t read that fast back then, and the adults were supposed to do adult stuff like feed Offspring and take them to the beach. Maybe fly kites.

But I never told anyone they had to read. I think I would have said ‘these are the books we’re taking this year’ and left it at that.

The only other discussion on what to read or whether to read that I remember was when Son was 14 and we couldn’t agree on which one of us should vet Melvin Burgess’ Doing It before the other one could read it.

I still can’t recall who did the vetting. I blame Tim Bowler, who came to school and was so enthusiastic about his friend’s book.

Occasionally I feel the pressure from Son to read certain books gets the better of me. I say ‘should I?’ and he says ‘well, I liked it.’

Emergency grade two

For August, we’ve had a lot of snow.

OK, the weather in Sweden wasn’t as great as I wanted it to be, but there wasn’t snow. It was still summer.

But I read snowy books; several in a row, with no planning or anything. As with most coincidences it was, erm, coincidental.

There was Michelle Paver’s Thin Air. Very cold, lots of snow.

Piers Torday’s There May be a Castle is very snowy indeed, and also rather chilly.

Theresa Breslin had a variety of weather in The Rasputin Dagger, and some of it was snow, and plenty of it was cold.

The latter made me think about Calling a Dead Man by Gillian Cross. Again. There’s something about snow and Siberia which often reminds me of that exciting story.

And then Daughter went to Chile again. Whereas it is winter there, snow is rare, even at 2500 metres. After all, precipitation is not what they built the telescopes for. They want clear skies and dry air so they can get on with the ‘star gazing.’

La Silla Observatory

But yeah, snow is what they got. Daughter’s colleague saw a little snow there in May which, as I said, was rare. Never let it be said we can’t go to extremes, though. Three days (by which I mean nights) in, they had snow. Lots of it. Luckily they also have snowploughs up in the Andes.

No observing for three long nights, while all those poor astronomers sat around playing games, in order to keep their night-time rythm, and being driven by staff in fourwheel drive vehicles to tend to their telescopes, because it was an ’emergency grade two’ situation. (I was quite relieved there was no driving allowed, as I didn’t fancy any of them sliding off a hillside in the dark.)

La Silla

To cheer himself up, the Resident IT Consultant googled an article from the same place thirty years ago, when one of the scientists wrote about his exciting and snowbound weekend. Shows how rare it is.

Anyway, Daughter’s telescope was fine. It had its winter hat on and was ‘fed’ liquid nitrogen by her every evening. And then it was business as usual.

It was also summer time, as the clocks changed while they were snowed in.

The Demon Headmaster – Total Control

The Demon Headmaster is back! Yes, Gillian Cross has written another book about the man with the scary eyes.

Back in the day I used to semi-watch the Headmaster on television when we got home from school. That will be why I feel I know the man so well, while never really understanding what he did or how and why. I only knew he was creepy as h*ll. Actor Terrence Hardiman did a great job of frightening at least this parent.

So it’s his face and eyes I saw as I read this new school horror. But do you know what? It is better to read. Now I get what he was and what he was trying to do. And why the children at his schools acted all funny, but also why he needed to be outwitted.

Gillian Cross, The Demon Headmaster - Total Control

In Total Control we have siblings Lizzie and Tyler returning to school after an absence, and finding the place transformed. Their new friend Ethan has become a super soccer player and all the other children excel at something, including their old bully who has become quite polite and charming.

Once Lizzie works out that this is all wrong and it must be stopped, we have a race against a hypnotist Headmaster; someone who appears to be able to read minds and is always a few steps ahead.

It’s scary. Yes. A bit. But also exciting, and hilarious.

I should have read the books much sooner.

And no, I will not look into your eyes.

Children can

Old hands Bernard Ashley and Gillian Cross have written a book each for Barrington Stoke. I feel what they have in common is that children can do many things quite well, and sometimes better than the adults.

Bernard’s Lena Lenik SOS is about young Lena who lives in London with her brother and their Polish parents. Both children are keen scouts, which is really what’s behind this story.

Lena’s mum is pregnant with another baby and Lena needs to show quite how prepared she is.

In Film Crew by Gillian Cross Lara and her class are on a school trip, doing arts for a week somewhere in the woods. They are extremely keen and have lots of ideas of what they want to do.

However, their teacher has other ideas, and he ends up getting in the way of what’s good for his students. Luckily the young ones take control and save the week.

These books for relatively young readers should help them feel that they can if they want to.

After Tomorrow, again

Quite a few books, and the reviews thereof, could do with being mentioned a second, or third time. Some of them become worryingly [even more] topical at a later stage. Gillian Cross wrote such a book; After Tomorrow, which I read four years ago. At the time it touched me deeply. Now it touches me more, and it scares me how much more realistic the situation has become in a few years.

‘By turning a situation round 180 degrees, you could find you don’t agree with yourself. If I were not an immigrant, I would most likely find it easier to cast a suspicious eye on all those foreigners flocking to Britain. Heaven on earth, and everyone made so welcome, too. What’s not to like?

Besides, the other lot aren’t quite as nice as we are.

Gillian Cross has done this. She sends her characters in After Tomorrow to France. The situation in the UK is desperate. Food is scarce and anyone caught hoarding gets rough treatment from gangs of raiders; their food taken, their homes smashed up and people injured, raped and even killed. There is a website naming the Scadgers, telling others where they live.

Matt’s family are branded scadgers, and his grandfather dies after one such attack. His mother and stepfather make belated arrangements to leave the country and escape to France before they close their borders to the British.

(When I’d got this far I felt more anxious than ever while reading ‘mere’ fiction. I began calculating what I had in my freezer. First with a view to survival eating it, and then with fear because someone would come and punish me for it. I was halfway to leaving the country myself. Where to, though? Who would have me? Yes, I know. But perhaps that would no longer be possible.)

Some of them get away, on what is virtually the last lorry convoy to leave. And on arrival they find only those with children are allowed in. People scheme and lie in order not to be sent back. They have no food to begin with. Nowhere to sleep.

Eventually there is a refugee camp set up, of the simplest kind. They are given food vouchers to shop for. Bartering becomes a new way of surviving. Matt brought his grandfather’s bike, and the lorry driver who drove them to France has grand ideas for it.

The locals hate and distrust them. Most of the refugees don’t speak French. Most don’t want to learn, either.

Now, take all these facts and change the nationalites. Even you, who are normally so fair minded, might think it sounds perfectly normal and only to be expected. But not if it’s you in that muddy field, needing antibiotics that you can’t afford. If the doctor gets there on time.

How far away are we from this kind of scenario on our doorsteps? Sometimes I think we are almost all the way to it. I hope not. And I still can’t decide whether to fill my freezer some more, or to eat most of the food.

Just in case.’

For myself I am currently not concentraing on muddy fields or the possible lack of antibiotics. But I am thinking of most of the other things.

Past Calais

I think it was Danish author Janne Teller who said she’d written a short book featuring a nice Danish family who had to leave their country and find somewhere else that would take them. And a couple of years ago I read and reviewed After Tomorrow by Gillian Cross. It was a pretty scary read, seeing as it turns those ‘migrant’ stories on their head. It’s you heading into the unknown, where you are not welcome, and because you have to. Not because you’re greedy.

Re-reading my review made my heart palpitate, and it all looked so familiar. It’s what we see in the media nearly every day, except we are the the ones not too keen to let those others in.

As I say in that review, I’m one of those migrants. And remembering how the boy in Gillian’s book doesn’t speak French and how that causes problems, I am full circle, again. Because I have created a migrant in the next generation, too. One who doesn’t speak French, and thereby missed the expected knowledge in the supermarket regarding what you have to do if you are buying grapes. Not kiwis, just the grapes. I’ve married a foreigner, too. One who has been told off in another country’s supermarket for putting the food he’s buying the wrong way at the checkout. I remember a Swedish tourist many years ago, crying over the bananas in London’s Queensway, because she’d done what she was used to doing at home.

None of us fruit shoppers are persecuted at home. We just went on holiday or moved abroad for some perfectly normal reason. That can be hard enough. Add a little peril to life or starvation and then see how you manage.

Literature is full of people like us. A long time ago it would have been enough to leave your village and move into town. Or the further away countryside to the capital, or from the poorer end of the country to the richer end. And then the move from one poor country to another country, perceived to be better. It probably takes a generation or two before life becomes almost normal in the new place. That is unless you move somewhere else again, like where they sell grapes differently.

There are different class immigrants too. Despite her poor grasp of grape-buying, Daughter is a higher class foreigner than her similarly recently arrived supervisor. He outranks her in all academic aspects, but the receiving country rates him lower. (He’s Australian…)

And speaking of Australians. The Resident IT Consultant chatted to someone here, whose son moved to Australia. There he married an Australian. And now he can’t find work. And he can’t move back home if he wants to continue living with his wife and children.

Maybe if we could all go where we want to be, it would sort of even out? Natural selection and all that.