Tag Archives: Hilary McKay

Hilary McKay’s Fairy Tales

Hilary McKay has re-written ten well-known fairy tales with her usual charm and warmth. I love them!

There is just one thing though; if you start a child off with these as their first fairy tales, I honestly don’t see how you can then give them a more ordinary version of the same tales later.

Sarah Gibb, Hilary McKay's Fairy Tales

I have read countless varieties of most of these stories, and they are much the same. Some are older and more traditional, while others might have been modernised and are easier to read aloud. But none are like Hilary’s, and I would love to read them to a child. And if it was a child who already knew the basic tales, I rather imagine they would experience the same warm glow from Hilary’s version as I did. That in itself could be a discussion point.

Let’s see, I especially loved Chickenpox and Crystal (that’s Snow White, to you), and The Prince and the Problem (The Princess and the Pea). And The Roses Round the Palace (Cinderella) and Over the Hills and Far Away (Red Riding Hood and the Piper’s Son).

And if I mention any more, it will look as if the whole collection was my favourite. I ‘quite liked’ all of them…

There is a flavour of the Casson family over these royal family tales. It’s nice to find that queens can be sensible in the Hilary McKay way. And to have a story featuring a noddle-offer is quite something. (I believe it’s what Kings use to remove the heads of Princes who have an interest in the King’s daughters.)

I absolutely refuse to tell you more about these tales. It would mean spoilers, and you don’t want that. You want to read this collection, and you want to come to it fresh, to see what Hilary has done with our old favourites. How she has made them into new favourites.

This is really something.


The illustrations by Sarah Gibb almost require a post of their own. They are the most glorious, traditional style, black and white pictures that you need for fairy tales.

And the cover! It incorporates all or nearly all the tales. You see Red Riding Hood, but you don’t yet know what Hilary has done to her.

Sarah Gibb, Hilary McKay's Fairy Tales

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Bookwitch bites #139

At last! The tail is gone and the tale might be with us later this year. Philip Pullman has had a haircut – unless that BBC interview yesterday was recorded years ago – and there are claims that the first part of The Book of Dust will be available on Philip’s birthday in October. Well.

Philip Pullman

It’s been ten years since Son and I were in Oxford, when Philip and David Fickling reckoned Dust would be ready in 2009. What I didn’t know is that Dust would be a trilogy. No wonder Philip’s been so long in writing it, especially as it sounds like the second part is also complete. That just leaves the ending of this equel to His Dark Materials to be written.

The Branford Boase longlist has been announced. I haven’t read a single book on the list, and to the best of my knowledge I have not been offered any of them either. Would quite like to read Patrice Lawrence’s Orangeboy, which is the only one I’ve heard of. I would probably like to read a few of the others, too. Maybe I’ll be spurred into action when the shortlist comes.

I have just been followed on Twitter by Jacqueline Wilson. Well, not her personally, as I believe Jacqueline is sensible enough not to waste time on social media, but someone doing it for her. I’m hardly ever on there, so I won’t be taking up too much of anyone’s time.

Both Philip and Jacky have been the big draw names at the Branford Boase award evenings. Celebrities, perhaps, but celebrities in the book world; not in the book world because they are celebrities.

Chris Priestley has been quoted in recent discussions on celebrity authors. It’s mainly the crazy aspect of how some very good writers still have to have a day job to feed themselves, while a lot of book sales go to those who need it less, and whose books just might not be of quite the same calibre as those by authors holding down two jobs. After all, if you are doing two jobs, it means you are pretty keen to write, and you are likely to do a better job of it.

Juno Dawson does her job pretty well as far as I understand. She writes books teenagers want to read, and she knows how teenagers feel. Juno was recently booked to talk at a school, when they decided to uninvite her at the last moment. It was deemed ‘inappropriate’, it seems. As the school back-pedalled, they said it had nothing to do with Juno being transgender. Oh no, not at all.

Most books are important and worthwhile. Hilary McKay – who claims not to mind if her books are turned into motorways – sent me this link to an article about how books are being rescued from becoming landfill. Better World Books collect unwanted books in Fife and sell them online, raising funds for literacy and libraries. Books not becoming Dust, so to speak.

That’s funny

Much as I don’t enjoy the trend of famous comedians suddenly discovering that they need to write a children’s book, and doing very well and getting plenty of publisher attention for their efforts, it has caused one improvement to the state of things. Humour is now seen as something worth considering.

I have always liked humorous fiction. I have long felt there’s not enough of it, and also that it’s been so wrong to look down on it. As though humorous fiction is to children’s fiction as children’s fiction is to Booker prize type fiction; i.e. inferior.

It’s not. In fact, I’d suggest that just like writing for children requires more skill, and not less, to write good humour means you have to be really excellent at what you do. Not everyone can do it, or do it well, but when they can, the results can be spectacular.

A couple of weeks ago Adrian McKinty blogged about his twenty funniest novels and it’s an interesting list. I agree with his choice, about the ones I’ve read. I might have picked others, and it could be Adrian doesn’t find them funny, or that he’s not read the same books I have. These things happen.

I do agree with him about this, though: ‘It’s got be funny throughout too. One really funny scene as in Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim for example just doesn’t cut it. I’m also not allowing anything that people say is funny but which actually isn’t or perhaps used to be funny but isn’t anymore. I’ve read Gargantua and Pantagruel and they are not funny. Shakespeare’s comedies are not funny. Dickens is not funny.’

There’s a lot in life that’s not funny. But there’s also a lot that is. And yes, I hated Lucky Jim the first time I read it. Loved it on the second read. But Adrian is right; one funny scene isn’t enough. (Apart from The Vicar Of Nibbleswicke, I don’t reckon Roald Dahl is funny. Not in that way.)

I’ve not thought this through enough so I can give you my own list, but Terry Pratchett is obviously on it. Would be, I mean, if there was a list. And even if I stick to children’s books, I reckon Douglas Adams has to be on it. From there it is a quick jump to Eoin Colfer and from him to many other Irish authors (it must be the water?), and then jump again, to Frank Cottrell Boyce, Joan Aiken, Morris Gleitzman, Debi Gliori, Barry Hutchison, Hilary McKay, Andy Mulligan, Kate DiCamillo. And last but not least, my fairy blogmother Meg Rosoff. She doesn’t only kill goats.

My apologies to anyone not mentioned. I didn’t go about this scientifically, but merely wanted to mention that being funny is a good thing. A good read is good for your wellbeing, and a funny read is even better. Go on, find something to make you laugh! Preferably until you cry. The hankies are on me.

The 2016 best

Yes, there were good books, even in a year like 2016. Let’s not lose [all] hope, shall we? In fact, after careful consideration, there were more serious contenders than I could allow through to the final round. Sorry about that.

During 2016 I seem to have read and reviewed 154 books. Before you gasp with admiration, I should mention that 40 of those were picture books.

2016 books

And here, without me even peeping at other best of lists, are my favourites, in alphabetical order:

Beck, by Mal Peet and Meg Rosoff

Broken Sky + Darkness Follows, by L A Weatherly

Crongton Knights, by Alex Wheatle

Five Hundred Miles, by Kevin Brooks

Front Lines, by Michael Grant

Knights of the Borrowed Dark, by Dave Rudden

More of Me, by Kathryn Evans

The White Fox, by Jackie Morris

I believe it’s a good list, and I’m glad that two of the books are dyslexia friendly; one at either end of the age spectrum.

And, you are human after all, so you want to know who just missed this list. I’m human enough to want to mention them. They were Hilary McKay, J K Rowling, Malcolm McNeill, G R Gemin, Jonathan Stroud, Kate DiCamillo and Philip Caveney.

Two dozen more on my longlist, and we mustn’t forget; if a book has been reviewed on Bookwitch at all, it has passed quite a few quality tests. So there. You’re all winners. But some are more winners than others.

I love you.

The Sticky Witch

Ah, I had rather hoped for a nicer witch. Oh well, can’t be helped.

Hilary McKay, The Sticky Witch

Hilary McKay’s The Sticky Witch, for Barrington Stoke, features a useless couple of parents who set off on a three year trip round the world on a raft made with rubbish. As if that’s not bad enough, they hand their two lovely children – and the cat – over to a woman they don’t know. Called Aunt Tab, she’s no one’s aunt, and she’s a witch. And she’s mean.

Not to mention sticky. There is treacle everywhere. She has rules. She doesn’t like the children, and she likes the cat even less. With good cause, I have to say. The cat, I mean.

There’s a frog or two. Postcards in bottles. It’s pretty bonkers, but should appeal to any young child who doesn’t already suspect their parents might be of the leaving on a raft variety.

Fun, if somewhat sticky.

(Stickily witchy illustrations by Mike Phillips.)

Save that email!

Yesterday Hilary McKay said in a comment here that lovely letters from friends and fans are a problem, from the point of view of hanging on to them. Or getting rid of them, as the case may be. And I agree, apart from the fact that I have no fans. While smaller than books, letters can be harder to store. How do you file them so they can be found again?

Hilary’s books will be found on the shelf with the other M books. But a letter from someone whose name you might not remember later on? Can’t even do the alphabetical filing. (It’s pretty much like all the rubbish I have kept because it might come in handy one day. And when you accidentally come across it ten years later, you neither recall you had it, nor would have known where to look for it.)

Anyway, letters and cards are one thing, and I do hang on to some of the best and prettiest. But emails. Do you keep them?

And by keep, I don’t necessarily mean whether you let them sit in your inbox, or in a mail folder carefully labelled Hilary McKay (sorry to be using you as an example, Hilary), to be unearthed at a later point. I mean print them out and keep them as though they’re letters (which many are, in some way).

I tidied the filing cabinet some time ago. This was long overdue, and I pruned the contents much harder, being quite ruthless. I was somewhat taken aback when I came across a thick wad of authors’ emails on paper. They were from the olden days, when emails were longer and less frequent, and I was less jaded and treasured them immensely. Hence the printing out and keeping.

Well, I don’t do that anymore, I can assure you. I don’t necessarily believe that cyberspace will safeguard correspondence any more than I did then, but I’ll risk it. (Obviously I treasure every last scrap of email from real people.)

Also, I am not keeping the stash of print-outs. They have been shredded. Could have turned into bedding for the hamster, if I had one.

But I do wonder what happens to any future books about a person, where in the past letters have been one of the ways to learn about someone. Michael Faraday wrote so many letters during his lifetime that they fill six volumes of very hefty books. When a biographer comes to write about Hilary McKay, how will they find the material? I’m sure there will be lots of letters, but will any researcher know to ask me to make my inbox available? And should I do so? I mean, you never know what might turn up.

Binny Bewitched

Never was a Hilary McKay book so needed as this week. Her magic worked well, considering my state of mind, and I feel much better for having read Binny Bewitched, the third book about Binny and her lovely family. And I’m honoured that Hilary put a witch in there.

Hilary McKay, Binny Bewitched

It seems that there is a new neighbour on the opposite side to Binny’s friend’s Gareth’s house, who might just be a witch. She seems to know all about the money Binny ‘found’ by the cash machine.

When you are counting the pennies in your daily life, unexpected ‘piles’ of money will appear to be just the solution. If your mother has an impending birthday, for instance.

Poor Binny spends the entire book in a state of confusion; what to do with the money, who to tell, how to remember where she hid it, and so on. She keeps seeing stuff. Not where the money is, but many other puzzling things. It’s got to be the witch’s doing.

There are bills to pay, now that Pete the builder has more or less finished putting the house together after the roof blew off in book two. Clem is worried and James has a new, weird, friend, and Mrs Cornwallis works all hours to earn enough money.

It’s hard to see how a story about – relative – poverty can be so heartwarming, but it is. Naturally. Very satisfying that I didn’t see the end coming. Well, some of it, and then only halfway through. Loved it!