Tag Archives: Peter Bailey

Odyssey – the Aarhus 39

We have a lot in common. But also, we don’t. That’s no bad thing, though.

Daniel Hahn has edited this collection of translated short stories. I think there are 21 in this, the older, group of stories of journeys from around Europe. If the list of names looks longer than 21, that is because the stories have both illustrators and translators as well as authors. So it’s been a big job to do, this collaboration with the Hay Festival in Aarhus. The Aarhus 39 stands for all the authors involved, as there is a collection for younger readers as well. (And personally I’d prefer to write Århus, but I can’t have everything.)

Odyssey - Aarhus 39

Anyway, this is very interesting. Daniel points out how similar [young] people are, wherever they come from. I agree, but it’s also obvious that we are different. Equal in worth and importance, but a little bit just ourselves.

Another thing about all the languages the stories were written in. You look at the name of the author and you think you know what language they use. But you could be wrong. So many seem to have made a journey or two themselves, and their stories are in a new language. This is fascinating and points to a new kind of Europe.

The Nordic short stories seem to be more into drugs, bullying and illegal behaviour. Further south it is more weird and entertaining. But none of that matters; they are stories about being young, and the journeys are either actual journeys, or about someone learning something about themselves.

I can’t possibly describe them, either their contents or the style. There are too many and they are too varied. The stories are short (yes, that is what a short story is), and mostly easy to read, and interestingly illustrated. They make you think.

If I were to criticise anything, it’s the size of the font. It is too small. And the very worthwhile list of all the contributors at the back; well that font is even smaller and made my eyes ache. But this is such a good idea, and we want more of it.

Just in bigger print.

The Fastest Boy in the World

I need to read more by Elizabeth Laird! Whatever the subject, she makes it interesting. I mention this because in a way I wouldn’t say that a story about a small boy in Ethiopia who likes running sounds terribly exciting. But it is.

The Fastest Boy in the World builds on the experience Elizabeth has of Ethiopia, and running, and the old Emperor. In what is a pretty short book, the reader gets not only the story about an 11-year-old boy in the Ethiopian countryside who runs everywhere (because they are poor and school is five miles away, and Ethiopians like running), but some understanding of life in Ethiopia and what it takes to become a successful runner, as well as a brief history lesson on what the last few decades have been like.

That’s a lot.

Simply put, it’s about Solomon who gets to accompany his grandfather on the walk to Addis Ababa (just over 20 miles), and when they get there he makes an important discovery about the old man, just before his grandfather collapses, and Solomon has to run all the way home to tell his father what has happened.

Elizabeth Laird, The Fastest Boy in the World

This is so interesting! You learn about Ethiopian family values, and what people in this distant country are like. You get an inkling of how very important running is, and how it can become an ambition that carries a young boy into the future, because he knows what happened in the past.

It’s so lovely I could re-read it now.

Nicely classical illustrations by Peter Bailey.

A Boy Called M.O.U.S.E.

Some books know when to tell you it’s time. Penny Dolan’s A Boy Called M.O.U.S.E. is one such – extremely patient – book. Suddenly, after years, I knew I had to read about Mouse.

Penny Dolan, A Boy Called M.O.U.S.E.

It’s a lovely book; a sort of Jane Eyre meets The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. Set in the days when wealthy parents might take off to some far flung corner of the Earth, leaving their toddler with his rich grandfather, his angry uncle and his loving nanny, before being ‘lost,’ thought dead.

The grandfather seemingly doesn’t care about young Mouse, and the uncle looks like he wants a shortcut to his inheritance, so the nanny removes her charge to somewhere safe, loving Mouse as though he’s her own son.

But uncle Scrope can compete with the worst of fictional villains, and he sets things in motion to find Mouse, and then to put him in a ‘school’ which is one of the worst I’ve come across, even for Victorian fiction. Eventually the longsuffering Mouse escapes and makes his own life, meeting good, normal people, who help him, and who point him in the right direction.

Mouse grows into a capable and loveable boy, with friends and things to do. And then…

Well, I won’t tell you. If you haven’t already, then join me in discovering Mouse and his world.

(Nicely old style illustrations by Peter Bailey.)

A Child’s Christmas in Wales

Dylan Thomas and Peter Bailey, A Child's Christmas in Wales

I had been wondering if my true Christmas feelings only come out when I read a translated book, like the Erich Kästner. More Swedish, somehow. But it works as well to travel into the past as to another country.

Strangely enough, considering my own past with Dylan Thomas, I don’t believe I had read his A Child’s Christmas in Wales before. Now I have, and it’s a most poetic excursion into the past. I’m guessing it’s Dylan Thomas’s own childhood, in which case the memories must be from the 1920s; an era I have no personal experience of.

Dylan Thomas and Peter Bailey, A Child's Christmas in Wales

The words are lovely enough, but I have to confess to having ‘read’ the illustrations by Peter Bailey even more avidly than Dylan’s poetic prose (prosy poetry?). I have never been a small boy in snowy Wales, wearing shorts even in winter, but somehow I felt right at home.

Dylan describes simpler times, and what seems like genuine pleasure in simple gifts and simple pastimes. Those historical aspects are things we would do well to return to.

And God bless Miss Prothero, who thanks the firemen who put out the fire in her house by offering them something to read…

Dylan Thomas and Peter Bailey, A Child's Christmas in Wales

The Fish in the Bathtub

I don’t often cry over carp, but I made an exception for Eoin Colfer’s The Fish in the Bathtub. It’s a beautiful little story. And the fish isn’t bad, either.

Eoin Colfer and Peter Bailey, The Fish in the Bathtub

It’s Dyslexia Awareness Week, and Barrington Stoke have their new Little Gems to offer. They are sort of in-between picture books and ‘proper’ books. Plenty of pictures, but more of a real story than a picture book, but less novel-like than their older stories. Still as easy to read, though. (I know. It’s easy for me to say.)

Eoin Colfer and Peter Bailey, The Fish in the Bathtub

Set in Warsaw, this is the story of an old man who will not let either Germans or Communists prevent him from eating carp this Christmas. (Germans – in case you didn’t know – are like Communists, but with better boots. I reckon this must have been a while ago.)

The old man has a granddaughter called Lucja. And when her grandfather finally manages to buy a fish for Christmas, she makes friends with it. So how can he eat her friend? He wants to. (Remember the Germans and the Communists!) But he doesn’t want to. The carp is Lucja’s pet.

What to do?

Lovely, lovely illustrations by Peter Bailey, makes you feel as though you are in Warsaw, and that it’s just before Christmas and you are hungry. Do you eat the carp?

Christmas beans

The trainee witch once (almost twice) worked in a bookshop in the weeks leading up to Christmas. This was in the days of Christmas Eve getting the Saturday treatment, shop hour wise. So we closed at twelve, and I recall I had a Saturday bus to catch soon after, where I was the only passenger, on the last bus for a couple of days.

Where was I? Oh yes, in the bookshop, before the last bus. It was quite nice working on Christmas Eve (well, one had a Mother-of-witch doing the kitchen stuff at home…), and something I noticed was that the world is full of people who don’t shop until there are mere hours between the buying of and the opening of presents. It takes a cool and steady mind to be that late.

They come in and spend anything, just to get the deed done. And obviously they require wrapping and all that.

According to Son it seems the wellknown online bookshop can offer the same these days, as long as you live somewhere civilised. Order on Christmas Eve morning and have it delivered that afternoon. It will cost you, but as I said, the Christmas Eve shopper can afford it.

What I’m trying to say here, in a roundabout and waffley way is that you could still manage to buy Magic Beans. I’m truly sorry for being so late mentioning this perfect Christmas book, but I’ve been feeding the cake brandy. And various other minor things.

In Magic Beans you have absolutely the cream of children’s authors doing their thing with classic fairy tales. Adèle Geras retells the The Six Swan Brothers. It’s wonderful with such sibling love. But I wonder what happened to the old King and his witchy wife? It’s funny how Princes and Kings wander around finding themselves wives all over the place.

I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by Henrietta Branford before. Here she retells Hansel and Gretel, without too much gruesomeness. And why do witches and stepmothers get bad press all the time? Berlie Doherty’s The Snow Queen is icy and season appropriate. And below you can listen to Jacqueline Wilson talking about Rapunzel.

Other particpating authors are Anne Fine, Philip Pullman, Michael Morpurgo, Kit Wright, Alan Garner, Gillian Cross, Susan Gates, Malorie Blackman, Linda Newbery and Tony Mitton. And since it’s not only writers you get, every single fairy tale has been illustrated by some pretty creamy artists like Debi Gliori, Ian Beck, Lesley Harker, Nick Sharratt, Patrice Aggs, Peter Bailey, Nick Maland, James Mayhew, Siận Bailey, Ted Dewan, Michael Foreman, Sue Heap and Bee Willey.

By good fortune I have also just found out that some of these stories can be bought as ebooks, so if you’re really desperate…

Don’t say I haven’t provided a useful suggestion. And if you were to go for the old-fashioned dead tree version you get a nice, fat volume with pictures. I’ll even wrap it for you. If you come here, that is.

Four Tales

Tell me I’m not too late! It can’t be that no one needs to buy any more Christmas presents. Surely you’re not that well organised.

Whatever. You will need to buy Four Tales. You will even want to buy Four Tales. You’ve probably read the tales, or some of them, before. Doesn’t matter. This is a very Christmassy book, just right for children. And for the purposes of this book, we are all children.

To be fair. When I asked to se a copy of this re-issue of Philip Pullman’s four ‘fairy tales’ I expected just that. Four smaller books put together in a larger book. A blue book, as I could see from the press release. But it’s so much more. The cover alone is of the must-stroke variety. Dark blue with silver, and a little bit soft.

Four Tales

The stories are The Firework-Maker’s Daughter, I Was a Rat! or The Scarlet Slippers, Clockwork or All Wound Up, and The Scarecrow and His Servant. They are illustrated by Peter Bailey, although I think it’s just the first one that Peter hadn’t illustrated before. They are of that nice, old-fashioned kind that you remember from your childhood books.

Clearly Philip’s publisher needs to publish something, and while he dithers (or whatever it is he does) over the Book of Dust (come on; it was almost finished five years ago!) they are getting the store cupboard stuff out. But what a store cupboard!

The tales are truly wonderful. The Scarecrow is very very good, but I think for me nothing beats the former Rat. The fireworks story is uplifting, and Clockwork is pretty scary.

Excuse me while I go off to gaze at my copy again.