Tag Archives: Gillian Cross

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.

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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.

Azzi a second time

I can’t believe it’s been almost three years since I reviewed Azzi In Between. I don’t often review books a second time, and I won’t here either, as you can follow the link and see what I said then.

Sarah Garland’s book is out in paperback now, and what with the election looming and everything else that sometimes feels overwhelmingly bad, I need to mention Azzi again.

There are all these powers (-to-be, in some cases) who expect nothing good to come of immigration and refugees. Many who don’t want any strangers coming here at all. Because we are all so nice here and no one else can possibly be worthy of our paradise. Nice, apart from me, because I’m not from here.

The book about Azzi is one that has stayed with me. In my mind, as well as physically sitting on my shelf. We need to see that people need to leave the place they consider to be home. They don’t come here for what they can get, unless that is to survive.

Next week, please vote sensibly. And always, please welcome those who are scared and in danger and have nowhere else to go. If you find your imagination isn’t up to this, I suggest you read After Tomorrow by Gillian Cross. That way you too can be a refugee.

The Guardian 2013 longlist

Might this list change lives, I wonder?

At first I thought there’s not much you can say about a longlist, even though I usually do when the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize lists are published. I toyed with the idea of saying nothing, but then I remembered that fateful list nine years ago. Nine years!

This older reader saw a book called How I Live Now mentioned and just knew she had to read it. (She’s a witch. That’s probably how she knew this.) The book wasn’t even out yet, so had to be ordered and waited for. Not only was it the best book she’d read, but it changed her life.

So perhaps one of the books on this year’s list will have that effect on someone, somewhere?

Of the eight, I have read three and a half. All would be worthy winners. The half, too. I can only assume the remaining four are pretty good as well. They could all be life-changers, and not necessarily for the authors.

Sally Gardner, Maggot Moon

David Almond, Gillian Cross, Sally Gardner, John Green and Rebecca Stead have already done well. And there’s no reason they shouldn’t go on and do even more well. Katherine Rundell, William Sutcliffe and Lydia Syson are new to me, but so was Meg Rosoff that time. She turned out all right, didn’t she?

I hope someone finds the reading passion of their life in amongst these books.

And then there’s the competition for critics aged 17 and under to write a review of  one of the books. In the nine years since my moment of discovery I have been acquainted with two such young winners. I hope winning changed something for them too.

You just never know what will be waiting round the corner. It could be a literary longlist.

(I seem to recall people expect me to predict. OK, the shortlist – because that’s all the predicting you get at this point – will be Gillian Cross, Sally Gardner, John Green and William Sutcliffe. And I’ve used Sally’s book cover here because Maggot Moon is truly extraordinary, and since the other books are pretty marvellous, that tells you how good it is. The 2004 winner agrees with me.)