Tag Archives: Sally Gardner

Some February wisdoms

It’s not only the books from my February calendar page (by Kerstin Svensson, who does very nice calendars) that I like, although they look fine. The ‘thought of the month’ appeals to me as well. Hope I’m not showing some dreadful ignorance if I say I don’t know who the Jean Paul who is credited with saying it is:

Calendar page February 2015, by Kerstin Svensson

‘Life is like a book. The fool leafs through it quickly, but the wise man reads slowly, thinking about things, because he knows he can only read the book once.’

Well, that’s my translation, of what is probably a really well known quote…

I felt a bit down in the dumps yesterday (not in a romantic sense, I hasten to add), so pondered this business of re-reading favourite books. Many do, not least authors, who seem to have certain books they re-read every year. My time tends to run out before I get to the re-reads, however.

But as I was sitting there, my newly arranged personal shelves, next to my reading chair, beckoned. Because on the shelf closest to me, I have my top three books. So I got them out, and read the first few pages of all three, as a treat.

They still feel as wonderful as I hoped they’d do, and what struck me about them was how all three start by introducing the main character by letting them talk about a person close to them. No sudden explosions or crazy ways to grab the reader’s attention. Just a low key mention of one of the other characters; a male cousin, a pilot from Stockport and an old woman neighbour.

Very lovely. And if I do go off on a re-reading spree, you know where I’ll be.

The Door That Led To Where

Whenever there is a new Sally Gardner book out, I just know it’s the best she has written. Same this time, with The Door That Led To Where, which features time travel, and is set in the part of London where Sally grew up. Thanks to the time travelling, she also manages to fit in almost-Dickensian London, which is something she knows a lot about.

Both these factors explain why the novel works so beautifully, on so many levels.

It begins with, if not bullying at home, then some serious discord between poor AJ and his single mum. He has achieved exactly one GCSE (but at least he got an A*) and his mum is fed up and sends him out to get a job. And what a job! He ends up as baby clerk at a law firm in Gray’s Inn.

Sally Gardner, The Door That Led To Where

And that’s where the trouble starts; AJ discovers a key with his name on, and it leads to London in 1830, and it’s a fascinating place. Dangerous, but no more so than AJ’s modern London. He and his two best friends are forever getting into serious scrapes with people, and being able to escape to an older London seems ideal.

Except, that also has its problems. The three of them need to decide where to stay, and they must sort out some time travelling problems that have escalated over the centuries.

Sally deals with both modern social problems and 19th century crime as though she was born to it. And that’s the thing. She is the most wonderful of storytellers, and she spins fantastic yarns and makes it all appear totally plausible. I believe I’ve finally worked out how she does it; Sally is a time traveller. She has been to old London, as well as living in the city we know now. It’s the only explanation.

This is one of the best books I’ve read.

And the cover in its simplicity is fiendishly clever and attractive.

Tinder

Tinder is for older readers. I don’t know quite how old, but don’t be fooled into thinking that if it has got pictures, then it is childish. Sally Gardner has based her new book on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Tinderbox, which I can only remember vague details of. Don’t be fooled into thinking that if it was inspired by Andersen, that it will be childish. If you are an adult, you can handle Tinder. Probably.

You can have picture books for older readers. That’s something Sally wanted, once she herself became a young adult. And now she has written such a book, and it’s been illustrated by David Roberts, in pretty scary, but fantastic detail.

Sally Gardner and David Roberts, Tinder

Set in the Thirty Years War, Tinder is about a young soldier who has seen dreadful things, and who cheats Death when he meets him. But was that a good thing?

Strange happenings occur to our wounded Otto, and he meets a girl with whom he falls in love. He meets a witch – or two – and he acquires a tinderbox. There are werewolves and other – far worse – creatures. Some of them are human. Otto finds a fortune and lives like a king. But the question is if that’s a good thing?

Sally has really worked magic on this old story, and it is fascinating and exciting, as well as creepy. You can barely put it down. It being a fairy tale, you know you’ll get both the good and the bad. But good will triumph. Won’t it?

I’ll leave you to find out.

Sally Gardner and David Roberts, Tinder

Translated

It should have been like Desert Island Discs, where you are encouraged to think beyond the world of the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare. The authors should have been told that ‘no, you can’t have the Moomins; people always pick it. Think of another translated book!’ (Apologies to Gill Lewis who was allowed to choose the Authors’ Author.)

After all, the rest of the world must be able to offer one or two children’s books not originally published in English (which is a great language, but not the only one). There’s the Moomins. Still leaves at least one other book.

In The Guardian’s list of favourite – translated – children’s books nine authors have picked theirs. It’s everything from Tove Jansson and Astrid Lindgren to Janne Teller and Kim Fupz Aakeson and Niels Bo Bojesen. It is a varied list. But I suppose I’d hoped for something different. As I said, ban Astrid and Tove, and probably Erich Kästner, too, and what do you get?

The Resident IT Consultant muttered about classics, but it’s hard enough to get children to read English language classics. I’d like to see more recent fiction translated. You know, the kind of books German and Italian and Finnish children have enjoyed in the last five or ten years. (And I don’t mean Harry Potter!)

I don’t know what they are. That’s why I rely on publishers, whose job it is to bring out books. But I do know that the few modern French books I’ve read, have all been better than average. I’m suspecting there could be more where they came from.

Even setting aside very country specific fiction, there must be a few books that would appeal to British and American children? I’m not counting the Australians or readers in New Zealand, because those countries seem more open to books from ‘other’ places.

Mårten Sandén, whose book I reviewed on Monday, has written lots of books. He’s not the only Swede to have done so. Take a group of successful children’s writers from maybe ten countries, and you should have a lot of choice. Nordic crime is popular with older readers, so why not for children?

There are one or two ‘crime novels’ from my own childhood which still stand out in my memory. I have no idea how well they’d do today. It could be that the grass seemed greener then. In which case there must be some fresh grass to replace my hazy memories.

Gunnel Linde, Osynliga Klubben och Kungliga Spöket

And if you think children don’t want to read about strange children in strange places, there were millions of us who consumed Nesbit and Blyton despite their foreign-ness, and don’t even get me started on Harry Potter…

The EIBF 2013 programme

It’s not exactly a bad programme this year. It’s not exactly short on authors, either. I’ve probably missed a few, seeing as I have only browsed the pdf  in a hasty fashion, but even so, were it not for the fact that I actually know I am unable to cover the full two and a half weeks of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, I’d sign up for the complete works. Again.

I’d been thinking a weekend. Maybe a longish weekend, but no more than four days. But which longish weekend? And what about the fantastic midweek offerings?

This is going to be an easy post to write! I could simply list authors, one after the other. But that would be boring.

For the time being I will not cover the adult writers, although I noticed Salman Rushdie is coming. Roddy Doyle. And Patrick Ness is an adult this time.

So, first weekend ‘as usual’ we have Meg Rosoff, as well as her stable (yeah, right…) mates Eoin Colfer and Cathy Cassidy. Anne Fine, Tommy Donbavand, Helena Pielichaty, Linda Strachan, Andy Mulligan. Carnegie winner Sally Gardner. Obvious choice. First weekend it will be.

Meg Rosoff

On the other hand, during the week when it grows a little quieter we have Elizabeth Wein. Hmm. Debi Gliori with Tobermory Cat. Nicola Morgan. Lari Don and Vivian French. Damien M Love. Well, that would be good!

But Elen Caldecott is someone I’ve always missed. She’s there the second weekend. It will have to be the middle weekend. Charlie Fletcher, Teresa Breslin and Eleanor Updale, Jon Mayhew and Darren Shan. Need I say more? OK, Tom Palmer, Chae Strathie. Melvin Burgess. Keith Gray.

Jonathan Stroud has a new book coming, which I like the look of. And he’s there the second week. So are Julie Bertagna and Teri Terry, and Daniel Hahn is talking translation. That is interesting.

Having said that, the last, extra long weekend looks by far the best. Doesn’t it? Judit Kerr. Neil Gaiman. Our new children’s laureate, Malorie Blackman. Our own Liz Kessler, and Tim Bowler. Philip Caveney from ‘home’ and Derek Landy, whom I’ve not seen for a long time… Jo Nadin and Spideyman himself, Steve Cole.

Yes. No competition there. Except maybe all the other days.

What do the rest of you think?

(Sorry. I see I have done a list after all.)

The medalists

There is something special about the CILIP Carnegie and CILIP Kate Greenaway Medals isn’t there? Being awarded a medal sounds so very right and proper. I often imagine past winners as walking around wearing them.

From now on Levi Pinfold can impress with some metal on his chest, and I’m really pleased for him. I have not read his wonderful looking picture book Black Dog (and why not??), but I will rectify it as speedily as is physically possible. So, no meaningless waffle from me on what I don’t know, but Black Dog certainly looks like a Kate Greenaway Medalist sort of creature.

Levi Pinfold, Black Dog

And – DRUMROLL – Sally Gardner has won the Carnegie Medal for Maggot Moon! I’m particularly happy that she receives it for what I feel is her most outstanding novel, even for someone who specialises in outstanding books. Worth the wait, and all that.

Sally Gardner, Maggot Moon

These Medals are also such decent prizes, since they actually benefit others. I hope Levi and Sally both still have a local library to which they can give their £500 worth of books.
Sally Gardner
And, in a way I don’t want to harp on about Sally’s dyslexia again, but I hope her win today will persuade those in power that they need to change how they think and act in regard to ‘hopeless’ children. I know it’s what Sally will want to talk about in her speech.

‘Sadly’ both winners will have to enjoy today’s ceremony without my ‘help’ but I should have some photos for you later…

The Guardian 2013 longlist

Might this list change lives, I wonder?

At first I thought there’s not much you can say about a longlist, even though I usually do when the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize lists are published. I toyed with the idea of saying nothing, but then I remembered that fateful list nine years ago. Nine years!

This older reader saw a book called How I Live Now mentioned and just knew she had to read it. (She’s a witch. That’s probably how she knew this.) The book wasn’t even out yet, so had to be ordered and waited for. Not only was it the best book she’d read, but it changed her life.

So perhaps one of the books on this year’s list will have that effect on someone, somewhere?

Of the eight, I have read three and a half. All would be worthy winners. The half, too. I can only assume the remaining four are pretty good as well. They could all be life-changers, and not necessarily for the authors.

Sally Gardner, Maggot Moon

David Almond, Gillian Cross, Sally Gardner, John Green and Rebecca Stead have already done well. And there’s no reason they shouldn’t go on and do even more well. Katherine Rundell, William Sutcliffe and Lydia Syson are new to me, but so was Meg Rosoff that time. She turned out all right, didn’t she?

I hope someone finds the reading passion of their life in amongst these books.

And then there’s the competition for critics aged 17 and under to write a review of  one of the books. In the nine years since my moment of discovery I have been acquainted with two such young winners. I hope winning changed something for them too.

You just never know what will be waiting round the corner. It could be a literary longlist.

(I seem to recall people expect me to predict. OK, the shortlist – because that’s all the predicting you get at this point – will be Gillian Cross, Sally Gardner, John Green and William Sutcliffe. And I’ve used Sally’s book cover here because Maggot Moon is truly extraordinary, and since the other books are pretty marvellous, that tells you how good it is. The 2004 winner agrees with me.)