Tag Archives: Mary Hoffman

Daughters of Time

I was in the middle of the story by Celia Rees in the anthology Daughters of Time, when the captain on my plane made an announcement. I looked up. ‘She’s a woman!’ I thought. I know. Stupid thought to have, but I did, and she wasn’t even my first female pilot. Then I looked at what I was reading, which was about Emily Wilding Davison, and I told myself off for my reaction. I’m ashamed of myself.

After that came Anne Rooney’s story about Amy Johnson, so there we had the second woman pilot of the afternoon. And of course, it felt completely normal, because I knew she was female, if you are able to follow my train of thought. I just hoped my plane and ‘my’ captain wasn’t going to crash as spectacularly as Amy Johnson did. Preferably not crash at all.

Daughters of Time

This collection of stories about women, and girls, from various times in the past, written by women and edited by Mary Hoffman, was published last year, so I’m rather late. I knew I’d love it, though, and I did.

Arranged in chronological order the book begins with Queen Boudica and ends with the Greenham Common women, with girls/women like Lady Jane Grey and Mary Seacole and many others in between. The list of authors reads like a who’s who in young fiction, and I’m now wanting to read more on some of these history heroines.

With my rather sketchy knowledge of some British history, I have also learned lots of new facts. I had never really grasped who Lady Jane Grey was, and now I have a much better idea.

This is the kind of collection you wish there would be regular additions to. Maybe not one every year, but I can see plenty of scope for more stories.

Queen Guinevere

I actually surprised myself. With my long-standing allergy to most things Arthur I somehow didn’t expect to sit down and read Mary Hoffman’s reissued Queen Guinevere. But I thought ‘it’s a rewriting and a picture book. It can’t hurt.’

Mary has written the story (well, stories, I suppose) about Arthur and Lancelot and Galahad and all those other knights with the names you have always known, as seen from the points of view of the women. It’s really interesting.

Mary Hoffman and Christina Balit, Queen Guinevere

This is not a picture book for small children. To begin with, Christina Balit’s truly gorgeous illustrations are quite grown-up, and you could get by with just looking at them. I can’t begin to guess what age group this is aimed at. It’s about sixty pages of text, and the stories are anything but innocent, with incest and killings.

But as I said, I enjoyed reading it. There was a most useful family tree to guide me as to who’s who (although I wish they weren’t all called M something, or G something), and hearing the story through the women, you presumably get a clearer view of what went on.

Here’s to Ragnell, Nimue and Elaine, and all the rest of them.

The Great Big Book of Families

It’s Mother’s Day, but it’s a bit of a nonsense, really. Let’s make it Families’ Day instead and talk about The Great Big Book of Families by Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith. Much more fun, and no need for bath salts, or dinner out in an overcrowded restaurant.

As Mary and Ros show us, a family can be anything. All you need are two people who belong together, somehow. They show us many different types of family constellations, and I’m sure there are many more.

My own, and by that I mean the one I was born into, was a two person family. Sometimes I find that any group bigger than that is pretty large. All I needed was Mother-of-witch.

Now that I ‘have the right’ to celebrate Mother’s Day (I don’t, much, though) from the opposite perspective, it feels rather unreal. Somehow I can only see mothers as an older person; not the one I am.

Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith, The Great Big Book of Families

But one thing Mary and Ros (mainly Ros, I suppose, as it’s an illustration) have got right for our family is this lovely picture. That’s me, and – erm – someone close to me. And if the hair wasn’t wrong, it could also be me and Mother-of-witch. The spiders skipped a generation.

To stop being frivolous – although I don’t see what’s wrong with a bit of frivolity – this book is another fantastic collaboration, ready to show young readers that they are normal and everything is fine, and you don’t need to be like those others who might seem to be ‘the real thing.’ (You know, the kind of family the Government have in mind as the only acceptable life form. Which always makes me wonder what’s wrong with single people.)

Happy People’s Day! Please pass the shower gel.

(PS. I was a very good daughter. Obviously. Sometimes. I rose at dawn and went into the woods to pick a bunch of lily of the valley, before serving breakfast in bed and/or homemade dinner and nice, wobbly cake. Not all in bed, or at the same time.)

The Great Big Green Book

The world needs trees. And water. And children need this book, The Great Big Green Book by Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith. I’d love to think that it can make a difference. The world needs people to do things that will make a difference. A positive one, obviously.

Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith, The Great Big Green Book

Children are nearly always very open to new ideas, and are far more prepared than adults to change their lifestyles. They just need to be told what they can do.

Words can change a lot, but I wonder if pictures – especially ones like these by Ros – do even more. You just need to see those polar bears on their shrinking piece of ice to understand.

Children do need words, though. I was reading just the other day that a children’s dictionary had got rid of a number of nature words, in favour of more ‘in’ terminology; out with the blackberry and in with the Blackberry. It can be hard to save a world of things when you don’t have words for what needs saving.

Recycle, turn the lights off, compost, don’t flush the toilet every time and share a shower. Well, actually, I might skip that last idea. Re-use, don’t fly everywhere and put another blanket on the bed.

And remember the world almost stands and falls with the bees.

To be more right than others

Honestly, I prepared last Wednesday’s blog post because I liked the list of books and its ethos, but basically I was being lazy. I imagined the list would pass silently by most of you.

But oh no. When you least expect it, trouble brews. And it brewed pretty stormily, too. Because two of the books celebrating diversity were ‘only spouting stereotyping.’ In this case of Native Americans (and I don’t know if this is the acceptable term, but it was used by my attackers), and no one could have been more surprised than I was.

The authors, on the other hand, were not. They have been the target for this kind of thing before.

As I said, I have not read Apache, so will leave it out for the moment. I have read and enjoyed Amazing Grace. My understanding of the diversity aspect of Grace is that it’s because she is a black girl in England. The fact that she spends a moment pretending to be a Native American is beside the point. There are many of us who have done so.

Now, you could (as an author or a publisher) consult specialists, to make sure you don’t go upsetting anyone. I understand this happens more often than you think. But experts can be ‘wrong,’ too, or not of quite the same persuasion as those who later complain or harass.

What’s more, the comments last week felt as if they were aimed at me. I didn’t compile the list and I didn’t write the books, although I wish I had. I am white, but that doesn’t automatically make me one of the people who have mistreated Native Americans. There are many white people who have also been – and still are – unfairly treated and discriminated against.

When you feel really strongly about something, there is a tendency to forget others. It’s ‘me, me, me’ all the way. It’s also easy to use a tone of voice that will generally not get you far. Even for serious matters, a sense of humour and a portion of intelligent conversation will get you more followers and better results.

Most children like pretending. It’s part of normal childhood. There is nothing wrong with that, unless you use violence or have access to an adult’s weapons (as is far too common in some places). As a dear friend of mine put it: ‘I don’t think little girls wearing head-dresses and sitting cross-legged is the cause of the tremendously awful situation of Indians, or if all these illustrations were wiped off the face of the earth, anything would change.’

When the young Witch played at being an Indian, it was from the perspective of admiring the people she saw in Westerns on television. They seemed exciting and they looked beautiful. To be told now that I was stereotyping, and effectively colluding in the awful treatment of these people in real life is upsetting, and also very useless. No one saw me. If they had, I’d have looked pitiful. It was on the inside of my mind that great things were taking place. I didn’t use books or obtain views of the world from the – apparently – bad British media. I only had Hollywood films.

I’m sure I am far more prejudiced than I would like to think. I don’t always have all the facts, or the totally correct, most recent facts. But I mean well, and any political correctness comes from my heart, not through clichés. It’s human to make mistakes. I’d like to think that any persecution of authors of children’s books are just that; human mistakes.

I make plenty of mistakes, all the time. And I’d prefer not be criticised for it, but I’d rather someone tells me off for the bad things I do, than for an author who has written a rather lovely book about a nice little girl who likes to play and use her imagination. Neither I, or the author or Grace have had anything to do with what mostly white Americans have done to the people who lived there first.

Nor do I believe that removing a couple of books from a list will make life better for Native Americans.

The two Marys travel back in time

The two Marys, Hoffman and Hooper, have unravelled some more history for me in their new books for Barrington Stoke. Mary Hoffman writes about the war between Venice and the Ottoman Empire in 1571, and Mary Hooper visits plague-ridden London in 1665.

Both historical events are ones I ‘know’ of, especially the plague. But that doesn’t mean I know all that much, so I’m grateful for some fiction to help me learn.

Mary Hoffman, Angel of Venice

Angel of Venice features Luca who dreams of running off to war. But he’s in love, so can’t quite make his mind up, until it’s forcibly made up for him. And war is not at all as you tend to imagine, but hell on earth and he soon wishes he hadn’t gone.

Lovely romance and history lesson all in one. The Ottoman Empire is no longer as hazy to me as it was, and Venice with Mary is always good.

Mary Hooper, Ring of Roses

Ring of Roses is pretty scary. You imagine that ‘your’ character will be all right because it’s fiction and you can’t kill off the main character, can you?

Abby has come to London to look after a rich woman’s baby, and she stays well while the rest of London succumbs to the illness. Mary describes graphically what happens to the people in houses where someone dies of the plague and it’s not good.

Very realistic, and very informative.

The Marys do this so well, and I’m pleased they have written these dyslexia friendly books. They are much needed.

Welcome to the Family

There are more than one kind of family, as most of us who are not politicians know. And knowing isn’t always enough. You want books about your own family type. In Welcome to the Family you get so much variation that surely just about every type of family has been covered?

Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith, Welcome to the Family

Families can have one or more adults. Any number, really. Any combination of the sexes. There can be one child, or lots of them. As for colour, any combination is possible.

Welcome to the Family shows the child how they might have arrived with their parents. It can be anything from ordinary homemade babies, to fostering and test tube babies. There are gay parents and single parents. Mixed colour families and same colour families.

This is not a story book, but more a way of telling a child that they are normal, whatever their own reality. It shouldn’t be necessary to have books like this, but unfortunately we still have a long way to go before some kinds of family are seen as so natural that there is no need to mention them.

The usual wonderful illustrations you expect from Ros Asquith accompany Mary Hoffman’s text.

I’d happily belong to any of these families, but of course, I have my own. Both the one I was born into and the one I helped make. Both different, and both good.