Tag Archives: Mary Hoffman

Deer Dale

And to think I was childishly pleased to see the three deer from the tram near Edinburgh Airport on Friday morning. I should have realised.

There was a stag party on my plane. Stephen was getting married. I’ve no idea who Stephen was, but I shocked Daughter by mentioning the best man by name. Dale. ‘How do you know?’ she wailed. Well, it was on his t-shirt, wasn’t it? If I met any of these stags on their own, I’m sure I’d find them as charming as, well, as anyone I meet. But together they were a noisy lot, rather drunk, and needed to go to the toilet very frequently. (I usually reserve that last activity for myself.)

We had a pleasant couple of days in the German capital, Daughter and I. Well, there was the nightly serenading outside our window I suppose; first from the karaoke, and later the happy groups of people ‘just passing by.’ Like the group of English people singing [surprisingly well] at four am. The acoustics were great down there, between the tall buildings. Made the singing really stand out.

I found myself lying in bed, wondering if that was what winning the war had been about. Making travelling to stag weekends in Berlin affordable, or enabling nightly singing in Berlin streets. And what effect will Brexit have on this wine, women and song stuff?

After mentioning M M Kaye’s Death in Berlin on Friday, I decided to reread the book. I always thought it was her weakest romantic whodunnit, and that opinion still stands. It was interesting to read from the purely Berlin point of view, though. Saturday morning found us standing more or less where the heroine was, in the Soviet part of the park, watching that woman behave suspiciously with that man. The fictional characters. Not us. That was quite fun.

We had drinking problems, too. As in how to get proper tea, with milk. After a highly unusual tea and cake session where we discovered – not surprisingly – that green tea with hot milk just doesn’t cut it, we tried to work out how to ask for black tea, as opposed to green, which is then to be made not black by the addition of milk, preferably cold. In German.

On a Sunday, when you don’t get ‘any’ open shops, you still find plenty of shops open, selling alcohol, juice, fizzy drinks, chocolate, postcards, etc. Just not milk. But it is perfectly possible to drink that black tea black. Not as nice, but perfectly possible.

A half marathon on the Sunday sent us to the zoo. When it looked like most of our potential routes anywhere would be blocked by runners, we walked the five minutes to the zoo and spent the morning looking at sad elephants and sad chimpanzees. And a panda.

Also antelopes and the head of a polar bear.

When it was time for your Witch to fly home again, by plane rather than broom, she discovered that the stags seemed to have survived the weekend and were ready to fly home with her, nicely lubricated. I recognised Dale, even without his t-shirt (=he was wearing something else), and the cute stag who actually had hair, unlike most of today’s young men, and who looked exactly as I have imagined Mary Hoffman’s Lucien, from City of Masks.

But I’d rather have flown home without them.

Berlin

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They come in waves, don’t they?

‘What if I say Beverley Naidoo?’ I asked.

I had been talking YA authors with someone; someone who had only started reading YA not very long ago. And I wasn’t thinking, so mentioned Celia Rees and was met by a blank stare. It’s understandable. If you are recommended books to try right now, it will be the most talked about books and authors, plus some olden goldies like Philip Pullman and David Almond. Names ‘everyone’ has heard of.

Whereas when I began reading current YA novels 20 or 25 years ago, there was no Meg Rosoff or Keren David or Angie Thomas. At the time Celia Rees and Beverley Naidoo were the reigning queens to me, along with Gillian Cross and Anne Cassidy. Adèle Geras and Mary Hoffman and Linda Newbery. Anne Fine. Malorie Blackman.

No matter how many I list here, I will forget someone really important. Most of them still write and publish, but perhaps not as frequently as before.

There’s the group of authors who appeared when Bookwitch [the blog] was in her infancy, with 2010 being a particularly fruitful year. Candy Gourlay and Keren David, followed by Teri Terry and Kathryn Evans. Again, I will have left someone out.

And now, those ladies have many books under their belts, and there is a new wave of YA authors. I mentioned Angie Thomas, because she’s brand new, both in the book world, and to me. She’s also American, which seems to be where things are happening now.

When I reviewed Celia’s latest novel, I compared it to Truth or Dare, and her reaction to that was that I’m probably the only person who’s been around long enough to have read both it, and the new book. This struck me as silly, as surely everyone would have read Truth or Dare. Wouldn’t they? Well, they haven’t, and it’s not lack of dedication, or anything. Most YA readers don’t last a couple of decades. Real, young people, grow up, and move on to other stuff. And if you’re already ‘old’ and catching up, you can’t read everything.

But when I first met Beverley Naidoo, I almost curtsied.

The Great Big Book of Friends

How I love these Great Big Books of… with words by Mary Hoffman and those loveable illustrations by Ros Asquith! Here is their latest one, The Great Big Book of Friends.

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

Friends are so important, but unlike family, or bodies, say, you might feel you don’t have any. But don’t worry, Mary explains that you probably do, anyway. And if you don’t, that’s OK, too.

You can be friends with your grandma. Or with the cat. You can have an imaginary friend, or a special blanket, or book. Or you can have friends all over the world; maybe lots that you’ve never met. Yet.

Here is advice on how to get a friend, and on keeping your friend. They point out that even when you’re really old, like your parents, you can stay friends with someone you’ve known all your life. Maybe because your parents were friends.

There are so many possibilities.

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

Both the words and the pictures in this book are so encouraging. They make you feel normal when maybe you believe you are the odd one out, who will never be like everyone else.

Go on, chat up the human being over there! Could be the best thing you ever did. And maybe they like frogs as much as you do.

I do hope there will be more Great Big Books.

Smile

It’s wonderful how much you can learn, when ‘merely’ reading for pleasure. In her new book Smile, for Barrington Stoke, Mary Hoffman tells us the truth about how the famous Mona Lisa portrait came to be. Or at least her truth, since we can’t truly know, but there have been countless guesses over the centuries.

Mary Hoffman, Smile

I like this one. It’s mostly about Lisa herself, and much less about the man she calls Leonardo, and who I think of as da Vinci. That’s what makes the story feel real.

So Smile is more a history lesson in how Italian women lived five hundred years ago, and then only women of a certain class. Lisa’s family was noble, but poor, so she had to marry well, meaning Lisa married a wealthy widower, who hankered after a noble wife.

It’s heartrending learning about the inevitability of a new baby every year, and the hopes that the baby will survive infancy.

And on the side, we have Lisa’s friendships with both Leonardo and Michelangelo. I had forgotten the two men were active in the same place at the same time, even if there was an age gap of twenty years. It’s the sheer normality of Lisa’s life among these greats that make for such a fascinating story.

Although personally I have never stopped to ponder the famous smile. It just is.

The power of words

Here we go again.

A parent (note, not her child) was upset by Mary Hoffman’s use of the word Paki in a book suggested by the child’s school. The parent complained to the school, and now the book – Deadly Letter – has been removed.

If only it were that easy to remove racist bullying, or worse, from schools, or even from life.

Whereas I’m really pleased that the school took notice of what the parent had to say, there are times when the ‘customer’ isn’t always right. The word was in the book to teach the reader something. The book was presumably in the school, and being suggested as a suitable read, for the same reason. It’s a book by one of the most decent authors I know, and published by Barrington Stoke, who are not exactly slapdash or careless in their publishing.

Mary Hoffman, Deadly Letter

One parent, interviewed by the Mirror, said ‘I think kids of ten or 11 need to be taught racism but young kids should be protected.’ Apart from the – hopefully unintended – suggestion that older children need to be taught racism, I am amazed at the belief that younger ones need protecting. Not that they don’t need protecting, but that they somehow are slipping happily through life with no experience of racism, or bullying and name-calling.

They know. They probably also know the swear words these parents wouldn’t tell a six-year-old off for using (because they don’t know any better…). And that is why, not having been told off earlier, they go on to much more sophisticated bad behaviour when they are older. You can tell them off, but if the teaching of what’s right and what isn’t, doesn’t start in time, what hope do we have?

But at least this parent got a couple of lovely photos of herself in the paper, while Mary Hoffman was forced to re-direct time and energy she had planned to use on other things, to defend herself to the press, for a book published years ago, with all the best intentions. And as she says, she has had to deal with racism herself, as her husband and children are not white.

It’s time for schools to learn to stand up to parents, once in a while.

The Ravenmaster’s Boy

Mary Hoffman’s new novel The Ravenmaster’s Boy, out today, is such a perfect story that you barely notice you are reading. Starting with young Kit’s rescue from a plague cart in 1520s London, it’s all go and very enjoyable, too, despite it being about the imprisonment and execution of Anne Boleyn.

Mary Hoffman, The Ravenmaster's Boy

After Kit is discovered alive underneath his dead parents, he is adopted by the Ravenmaster at the Tower of London and brought up to work with the ravens, learning to talk to and understand these intelligent birds.

He is sixteen in 1536 when the Queen is brought to the Tower, alongside the group of men the King accuses of improper behaviour with her. Kit wants to help his Queen, and with the assistance of the ravens and two young girls also living at the Tower, he tries his very best.

We know he won’t succeed, of course. This is really very fascinating, and we meet the young Princess Elizabeth as well as Cromwell, and there is a glimpse or two of Henry VIII himself. London in the 16th century was a cruel place, but it was also small and personal on a scale hard to imagine today.

It is inspiring to learn more about a famous part of history, while also being treated to an exciting historical thriller. I sort of warmed to Cromwell, and I became surprisingly fond of the ravens, and their little bird friends all over London, who make such perfect spies.

Really lovely, if you can ignore the rolling heads.

Tilt

Mary Hoffman’s new book for Barrington Stoke is about the leaning tower of Pisa. You’d sort of guess that from the title, maybe.

Mary Hoffman, Tilt

I now know an awful lot more about the tower than I did before. In fact, I have never really known much, and I’ve not been to see it. But it is iconic, and you feel you own the image, knowing it so well from photographs.

While teaching the reader about the tower, Mary provides a truly inspiring story about a young girl in Pisa, who wants what was unthinkable back in the 13th century. Netta’s father is a sculptor and stone-carver and it is his task to work out what to do to stop the tower from leaning so much, and to prevent things from getting worse.

Netta finds this fascinating and wants nothing more than to follow in her father’s footsteps. But she’s a girl.

This is great stuff. The background to why the tower leans is really interesting, and Netta is the perfect role model for generations of girls to come. You can have it all. Not that girls should have to want to wash and cook, of course.

It’s made up, but I feel it could have happened exactly like this.