Tag Archives: Mary Hoffman

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.

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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.

The Great Big Body Book

One phrase in The Great Big Body Book really jumped out at me; ‘we are more alike than different.’ Those are the kind of words we need to come across more often, the way things are.

Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith, The Great Big Body Book

The Great Big Body Book is the latest in a row of Great books by Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith, who do a Great job of putting fun and interesting facts together and then providing pictures to help us see better. The body is so simple, in a way. You have the outside, the inside and the skeleton. Interesting bits can be found in all three.

And did you know your dentist was once a baby? (Mine is still about 22, so that wasn’t such a long time ago.) I’m glad only 8% of people have blue eyes, having grown up in a place where being a brown-eyed beauty felt all wrong and boring.

And don’t get me started on colours! I bought a purple and orange (girl’s) t-shirt for the toddler Son, and had Daughter’s credentials as a girl queried by someone who felt her neutral coloured coat was wrong. Had there not been a few navy blue flowers to rescue her, she’d probably still be a boy.

It’s normal for teens to spend hours looking in the mirror, but no, that fat man is not pregnant. Older people are not necessarily useless, and we will remember our dear ones who have died.

At the back there is an illustration of Mary and Ros. I didn’t know Ros is tall and thin. I know Mary is short, but she is definitely not round. But whatever their shapes, they have yet again made a rather lovely book.

Nooooo..!

Please not the Cathy Hopkins books! Are we not finished with those? Are we not – both me and Daughter – over the age of 20? Are Cathy’s books not really quite fun?

Yes, they are. They are – almost entirely – staying. Three years on from The Move Clearances we are pruning here and there. Offspring’s sudden room switching (yes, no, neither live here any more) caused books to be looked at again. I thought maybe we could gain the half metre that Cathy’s books take up on the shelf.

But as you may have gathered, that didn’t go well. Although it depends on your point of view. Nearly all the Cathy Hopkins books will remain with us, minus the quiz books, etc.

Same with Caroline Lawrence. You can’t send the Roman Mysteries packing. Or Theresa Breslin. Definitely not Mary Hoffman. Oh no, those ladies are all just going walkabout in the house to rest elsewhere.

Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Morpurgo are semi-intact, with the very best still here. (I’m reminded of Son’s stash of toy cars. Age is no barrier to what you simply must keep. In fairness he recently parted with his third and fourth copies of His Dark Materials, sparing only two of each.)

But Doctor Who is leaving. Mostly. Even signed ones. (Yes, that was Daughter’s book you found in the charity shop. Lucky you.)

The Universe will make some other person happy, while the napkin folding guide stays. And she rather thought Helen Grant would want one of her cast-offs.

The other ‘great’ idea she had was to incorporate hers with mine, which only means taking every single book out and re-alphabetising the lot again; first and second rows on each shelf. I suggested her books might be in peril, come my next major pruning, but apparently her books can be post-it-ed.

Hah, as if I can be trusted!