Tag Archives: Hilary McKay

The Time of Green Magic

Hilary McKay’s latest novel, The Time of Green Magic, is about the merging of families; discovering you can like an unwanted step-sibling.

It’s also about reading, the importance of doing it, what you get out of it (could be a rather damp book, or frostbite), and the many different ways you might learn to read and why you’d want to.

Hilary McKay, The Time of Green Magic

Abi and her dad Theo move in with Polly and her two boys Max and Louis, and her beloved granny finally gets to move back to Jamaica. So it’s all change for everyone, and change is always hard. And then they suddenly need to find a new house to rent, and end up in a lovely ivy-covered tall house that is much too expensive, which is why the adults work extra long hours.

That also leaves room for alarming things to happen, like the pretend – or is it? – pet Louis is visited by in his room. Just like the wet book that fell into the ocean as Abi was reading.

Like in most Hilary’s novels, this is a lovely, if unsettled, family, doing the best they can in a difficult situation. Is Iffen real, or does Louis imagine him? If so, how come Abi and Max can see him too? And where did he come from? How to get rid of him?

There is much love in this story.

Kanada bound

Well, he was. The Resident IT Consultant is now safely back from his Kanadian adventures. (Sorry about the Ks. I got a bit karried away, what with Swedish and German and all the rest.)

He decided he wanted to go and see his relatives over there, so he went. I was allowed to come too. I just didn’t feel up to it. Besides, there is so much a witch can get up to when all alone in the house. I suspect he still hasn’t found the things he’s not found yet. And it’s been a couple of weeks, so I no longer recall what I hid where.

Just like when Son went the first time, there were cousins to see. An uncle. Even a brother, if you allow for the US detour. There’d have been another uncle, but he very sensibly decamped to New Zealand. Cousins once removed (which is a really odd way of putting it).

They looked after him well.

After all, I sent along books as bribes. I chose several of my favourites, mostly with some sort of connection to Scotland, to possibly entice some of them to come and visit us. Gruesome murders is a sure way of tempting people to come. I don’t remember all my choices, but James Oswald was there, as was Elizabeth Wein and Catriona McPherson. And naturally Meg Rosoff and Hilary McKay for a bit of comfort reading.

There were oatcakes too, but I imagine the books were the best.

And when they’d swapped their Grandfather’s jigsaws with each other, the Resident IT Consultant escaped across the border near Niagara Falls. Really fishy visitors obviously walk across, and here he is, looking surprisingly all right for a man who never selfies. Anyway, he’d have needed extra long arms for this one.

The Resident IT Consultant

Another Costa for Hilary!

I sensed that Hilary McKay was most probably going to be this year’s winner of the children’s Costa award. But I didn’t want to say so, since it’s so hard to deny things in a believable way if cornered.

“Children’s writer Hilary McKay collects the Costa Children’s Book Award for the second time for The Skylarks’ War, a story following the loves and losses of a family growing up against the backdrop of World War One which the judges called ‘as perfect a novel as you could ever want to read’.”

How right that judge is.

And Hilary was up against some good ones, so it’s never easy predicting. Or for that matter – I imagine – to judge.

Yippee for Hilary and her Skylarks!

Hilary McKay, The Skylarks' War

Bookwitch’s 2018 selection

It’s that time of year again. Here are some of the books I enjoyed the most, chosen with some difficulty, because the next tier consists of really excellent books. Too.

I haven’t always felt that ‘picture books’ belong here, but the two I’ve got on my list are more literature with pictures. They make you cry. I mean, they made me cry. And that’s good. They are:

Michael Morpurgo and Barroux, In the Mouth of the Wolf

Jakob Wegelius, The Legend of Sally Jones (translated by Peter Graves)

And then for the more ‘regular’ children’s novels:

Elizabeth Acevedo, The Poet X

Candy Gourlay, Bone Talk

Michael Grant, Purple Hearts

Matt Killeen, Orphan Monster Spy

Hilary McKay, The Skylark’s War

Sally Nicholls, A Chase in Time

Maria Parr, Astrid the Unstoppable (translated by Guy Puzey)

Celia Rees, Glass Town Wars

Ellen Renner, Storm Witch

Books like these make everything worth while. There are a couple of ‘beginners,’ some ‘mid-career’ authors – whatever I mean by that – and some established authors with decades of great writing behind them. And, only two that I knew and loved before Bookwitch became famous for her reading, meaning that this blogging business has been responsible for many introductions, without which my life would have been the poorer.

The Skylarks’ War

I frequently give thanks for the writing of Hilary McKay, but never more so than now, on the publication of The Skylarks’ War. This story, which we got a sideways introduction to in Binny in Secret, the middle book about Binny, is an absolute delight, even though it’s about WWI and there will be tears, and you weep with happiness as well as that awful sadness that accompanies war stories. Who will die?

Born soon after the turn of the century, Clarry has always felt guilt over killing her mother in the process. But she has her older brother Peter and their cousin Rupert, and the three of them have their summers at the grandparents’ house in Cornwall. That’s a good thing, as Clarry and Peter’s father is a sad example of parent; one who is neither horrible, nor kind and loving.

Hilary McKay, The Skylarks' War

It is Clarry’s good nature and positive outlook on life, despite being a murderess, which make this book. The boys have to be boys, go to boarding school, be manly, and go to war, while Clarry is expected to stay at home and attend the Miss Pinkses’ Academy where nothing useful is taught.

As always there are many unusual and interesting characters, and they are what make the book, and it is they who help Clarry develop. And still, someone has to die. There is a war on. There is much on feminism, in a quiet sort of way, and you finish the book determined to do as well as Clarry. Except you know you can’t.

Did you know that back then it wasn’t too difficult to transport a horse from one part of the country to another? Trains had horse boxes and you simply put the horse on the train.

Excuse me for a moment. There seems to be something in my eye.

The ones I enjoyed the most

It suddenly struck me that perhaps it’s unwise to say anything about best books. Because this time of year I usually list the ones I liked the most, which isn’t the same thing.

And by the time December rolls round I often despair. Yes, I remember that marvellous book I read recently. This year that was La Belle Sauvage. Because it was recent. Longer ago and my memory blacks out, in much the same way as when someone asks what I did at the weekend…

No need to worry though. Out of the 137 books (2017 wasn’t the best year for finding reading time), the twelve that emerged more victorious than the rest, were closely followed by quite a few other excellent contenders.

Best of 2017

I’ve not picked a best of all, nor am I doing the alphabetical order.

Elizabeth Wein, The Pearl Thief

Sally Gardner, My Side of the Diamond

LA Weatherly, Black Moon

Joan Lennon, Walking Mountain

Michael Grant, Silver Stars

Joanna Nadin, The Incredible Billy Wild

Anthony McGowan, Rook

Phil Earle, Mind the Gap

Jakob Wegelius, The Murderer’s Ape

Hilary McKay’s Fairy Tales

Patrick Ness, Release

Philip Pullman, La Belle Sauvage

And as you can see, the 2017 colour for book covers is primarily black with some blue and teal. Rather like last year, in fact. I appear to have picked six women and six men, which feels nice and equal.

There is only one translated book, but there are two dyslexia friendly books, plus one prequel, one equel, one end of a trilogy and one middle of a trilogy. And two Scottish books. All good.

Books like these are what makes it all worth it.

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