Tag Archives: Hans Christian Andersen

Booked – Elizabeth Laird and Daniel Hahn

Booked

As Janet Smyth – who organises the children’s books programme for the Edinburgh International Book Festival – said yesterday, away from August and Charlotte Square it can be a lot of fun to revisit events and ideas in greater detail. So that’s what they are doing, with a programme under the [extremely clever] title Booked. What’s more, we are no longer suffering from bookfest fatigue.

The Bookwitch seat

I arrived at Assembly Roxy with plenty of time, and as the first one there (I know…) I was not only given the choice of best seat, but was more or less led to the most comfortable seat in the place, which happened to be a high-backed leather armchair [with just the right support for an ouchy back] which I sat down in and then simply never left. (Feel free to copy this idea at other venues.)

My back and I had come for Elizabeth Laird in conversation with Daniel Hahn, on the occasion of her nomination as the UK representative for the 2016 Hans Christian Andersen award. This IBBY book award is a global one, which looks at an author’s whole body of work. Liz has written around 30 novels, translated into about 15 languages, and she has lived in several countries, including Malaysia, Palestine and Ethiopia.

Asked how she feels about her nomination, Liz said it’s ‘absolutely stunning!’ She spoke of having a couple of her books translated into Arabic, which led her and Daniel to talk about the way so many children’s books in English are translated into other languages, as witnessed by them at a big book festival in Tehran. And Daniel compared this to the relatively few foreign books that are translated into English.

Janet asked if you have to be dead to make it into translation, and he said yes, or you are Cornelia Funke. From his own childhood he knows that children don’t care (possibly don’t know) that books are foreign. He grew up with Moomin and Asterix, and feels that publishers worry too much about what you can put into a book, in case it doesn’t translate well, and this goes for the illustrations too. As for the difficulty of translating rhyming verse, he says that doesn’t seem to stop Julia Donaldson’s books from selling abroad.

Liz said we don’t want child characters who do what their parents say, and Daniel pointed out that’s why we have so many orphans in books. As an example he mentioned James and the Giant Peach, where the parents are killed by a rhinoceros on page one; presumably because Roald Dahl felt he had to get it over with.

Children will engage in a story, and offer hope, endurance, forgiveness and love. Liz likes happy endings, and said that she wants to write hopeful, if not happy, endings. Children’s books should be something to remember as an adult. These days we have emasculated stories, making Grimm and Noah into tame versions of the original stories, in order not to upset.

Daniel Hahn and Elizabeth Laird

When it came to the Q&A, no one knew what Hans Christian Andersen did when he visited Edinburgh. (Did any of you see him?) Daniel reckons this keen but neurotic traveller probably worried about losing his passport, and that he would have had a rope in his luggage, just in case. And he’d quite like to be able to read HCA in Danish.

Asked for a racy story, Liz told us her favourite about the beautiful girl and her silly husband, equally silly father, and hopelessly silly neighbour.

They talked about Liz’s book A Little Piece of Ground, which is about football in Palestine, and she finished by saying she’s not ‘holding her breath’ as regards winning the award.

I think she could. Should.

Elizabeth Laird

There was a signing afterwards, but not before Liz had rushed to put her warm coat on, as she must have been freezing up there on stage. I finally cornered Daniel with my copy of his Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature, ‘this lethal weapon, a nightmare,’ and it has been duly signed.

Daniel Hahn

The Nights Before Christmas

This gorgeous, large volume of collected Christmas classics, illustrated by Tony Ross, contains 24 stories, poems and extracts from wellknown books. As anyone can work out from that – apart from me, initially – you have one thing to read for every night through December. In other words; the best kind of advent calendar.

Tony Ross, The Nights Before Christmas

There’s material you will already know, and hopefully brand new reads as well. I used to read The Little Match-Seller over and over as a child. It’s so very sad. And then there are things I didn’t know at all, like the fact that Christina Rossetti wrote In the Bleak Midwinter. That was a revelation.

You get extracts from Little Women and A Christmas Carol, and there are many tales about Christmas trees in various forms, and shoemakers seem to be big, too. The Bible and the hymn book both feature, as do Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain.

I believe I always say this about anthologies and collections, but I do hope it will lead today’s children to investigate some of the classics. There is more to Christmas than farting santas. This is a beautiful book, suitably ‘modernised’ by Tony’s pictures.

Next year I will begin reading on December 1st and I will enjoy every step of the way.

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?

Tinder

Tinder is for older readers. I don’t know quite how old, but don’t be fooled into thinking that if it has got pictures, then it is childish. Sally Gardner has based her new book on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Tinderbox, which I can only remember vague details of. Don’t be fooled into thinking that if it was inspired by Andersen, that it will be childish. If you are an adult, you can handle Tinder. Probably.

You can have picture books for older readers. That’s something Sally wanted, once she herself became a young adult. And now she has written such a book, and it’s been illustrated by David Roberts, in pretty scary, but fantastic detail.

Sally Gardner and David Roberts, Tinder

Set in the Thirty Years War, Tinder is about a young soldier who has seen dreadful things, and who cheats Death when he meets him. But was that a good thing?

Strange happenings occur to our wounded Otto, and he meets a girl with whom he falls in love. He meets a witch – or two – and he acquires a tinderbox. There are werewolves and other – far worse – creatures. Some of them are human. Otto finds a fortune and lives like a king. But the question is if that’s a good thing?

Sally has really worked magic on this old story, and it is fascinating and exciting, as well as creepy. You can barely put it down. It being a fairy tale, you know you’ll get both the good and the bad. But good will triumph. Won’t it?

I’ll leave you to find out.

Sally Gardner and David Roberts, Tinder

Bookwitch bites #29

I was relieved to read that someone has looked into this business of the Nobel prize for literature. Not relieved they’ve looked into it, so much as finding that being awarded this lovely prize will not generally block the happy author from writing more books. The kiss of death is what it’s been called. But it seems that aside from poor Steinbeck, there is no sign that people stop writing after they’ve become unbearably rich.

Which – ahem – brings me neatly to the Hans Christian Andersen literature award. Earlier this week the Danes handed over 500000 Danish kroner to J K Rowling. It’s a difficult thing, this. I do feel she deserves the award. I just can’t help thinking of the many other very worthy potential recipients who could use the money.

Orion Star

Orion Children’s Books have launched The Orion Star newsletter. It looks very nice, but I’d like to point out that Orion is not a star. He’s a constellation. (Subscribe to The Orion Constellation! No it doesn’t sound as good, does it?) You can read the first one here. Or if you like, you can read Bookwitch. Or both.

Speaking of stars I was really excited to receive an email telling me I could buy three Björn Borgs for the price of two. Didn’t know there were that many to go round, but who wouldn’t want three instead of a mere two?

One star I’m continually failing to see or hear is Michael Rosen. I think we might be doomed, him and me. Michael was doing a big event for the Manchester Literature Festival this week, but I still haven’t morphed into a school so didn’t succeed in getting in.

And I gather there was a good interview with Gillian Philip (surely not better than mine?) in the Times on Saturday. But because they want money for their online content, I haven’t read it. I sort of object to paying for online news articles. I don’t object to popping out to buy a copy of the paper occasionally, but by the time I have heard about something like this, it’s usually too late to get hold of the paper.

I remember once when I knocked on the door of every house in our neighbourhood to see if I could lay my hands on one or more of the Sunday broadsheets, only to find that most of my neighbours appeared not to take a paper at all. Fancy that.

(And I apologise for all those zeroes further up. I wanted to break the monotony of 00000 with, well, with something. But with what? In Sweden we/they do one thing, and in Britain we/they do the other. But right now I can’t get my commas sorted from my full stops, maths-wise. It could be 500,000 or it could be 500.000. Sorry, I’m having a nervous breakdown just looking at it.)