Tag Archives: Stephen Davies

All Aboard for the Bobo Road

It took me a little while to realise that this extremely colourful picture book featuring a bus trip somewhere in Africa, is actually a counting book. I am a bit slow, and was so mesmerised by the colours that I missed the counting of items that entered the bus.

Stephen Davies and Christopher Corr, All Aboard For the Bobo Road

As is always the case with Stephen Davies and his picture books we are back in Africa, learning something of what people do in a particular area (I’m not sure exactly where).

Big Ali drives the bus from Banfora bus station to Bobo Road. His children Fatima and Galo are there too, sitting on the roof, helping load everything. The ‘wheels on the minibus go round’ and the children ride on the roof where the air feels fresher.

You see so much from the bus, and if my assumption that this is somewhere real is correct, then we see many interesting looking places. As well as the four cans of cooking oil and the five sacks of rice and…

On arrival everything has to be unloaded and counted again.

I like a place where the bus driver wears a lime green shirt and pink trousers!

(Christopher Corr is responsible for all the colour.)

Good, better, best

2015 is a rare year. Its best book happens to be my third best book ever. So no contest as to who sits at the top of the Bookwitch Best of 2015 Books list. It’s

Sally Gardner with her The Door That Led to Where. Among many stunning books, this is the stunningest of them all. The Door That Led to Where is a novel that has it all, to my mind. Just getting it out to look at again as I write this, I feel all twitchy.

It is red. Perhaps that is a sign I can re-read it over Christmas? It’s been almost a year. (And on a different note, I was pleased to see Sally’s book finally reviewed in the Guardian this weekend. High time indeed. And I’m not the only one to think so.)

Sally Gardner, The Door That Led To Where

So, now that this obvious choice has been announced, I come to the rest. Eight books stand out as having been that little bit more ‘stand-outy’ than others. They are books that made me feel all warm inside as I read them. (Apart from Helen Grant’s book which made my blood go cold. In a good way.)

These warm ones are, in alphabetical order:

Stephen Davies, Blood & Ink

Helen Grant, Urban Legends

Andy Mulligan, Liquidator

Sally Nicholls, An Island of Our Own

Andrew Norriss, Jessica’s Ghost

Ellen Renner, Outcaste

Jenny Valentine, Fire Colour One

Elizabeth Wein, Black Dove White Raven

On the longlist were another 25 books, so the tip of the iceberg was pretty big. But the point of a best of list is that it is a litte bit short.

Thank you to all who wrote these, my bestest books of the year. You make a difference.

Blood & Ink

I must state here that I do know Timbuktu is real. I also know where it is – roughly, anyway – on a map of Africa. It’s placing it in the right country I wouldn’t have been able to do. I’m sorry. Will try to remember it’s in Mali from now on.

Stephen Davies, Blood & Ink

Someone who really knows his Africa is Stephen Davies. A story like Blood & Ink wouldn’t work if the author didn’t. If you disobey Stephen and read the foreword, you’ll learn that this novel is set in 2012 when there was a military coup in Mali. If you look at the news now, you’ll learn that there is recent unrest as well. I think it’s very brave of Stephen to have set his story at such a recent time with real events, including one real character.

But it works, and Blood & Ink is just as good, probably better, than even I had imagined. It could be those ninjas…

It’s about Ali who is a teenager fighting with the Defenders of Faith, invading Timbuktu. That’s where Kadija lives peacefully with her family, helping guard the town’s ancient manuscripts. She likes to sing, while Ali is there to outlaw such frivolous behaviour.

So, how can these two fall in love, and how can the author make anything like that actually work, and still look realistic? Well, I obviously won’t tell you, but rest assured this is a fascinating journey in religion and humanity, and love. Lots of humour and quite a bit of education for those of us who don’t know our Malis properly.

There is the incongruous use of mobile phones. Forbidden after the invasion, but still. You sit there reading about what seems like quite basic lives in Africa, but then you have these teenagers and their heavy use of and dependence on mobile phones. This is what makes it so real; what I suspect someone who ‘just made it up’ wouldn’t get right.

Blood & Ink offers hope, while still making it clear how difficult it is going to be to outlaw all this outlawing of normal human life. There is so much that is good in this world, in Timbuktu and elsewhere, but we need to become aware of the appalling truth of flogging, and the irrational behaviour of power-crazed people. Anywhere.

Of milk and goats

These two picture books are filled with love. And by that I don’t only mean that Ali, Alu, Fati, Faruk, Halima, Talita and Zamp’s father has three wives. I rather imagine that could cause some discussion when you read to your young child. Or not. Children are sensible creatures.

Al Haji Amadu also has seven children (which you know, if you counted) and a number of animals (this is a great book for counting), the worst of which are the five goggle-eyed goats.

Stephen Davies and Christopher Corr, The Goggle-Eyed Goats

The Goggle-Eyed Goats – as the book is called – is set somewhere near Timbuktu, and it is so colourful you almost need sunglasses. I imagine reality in the Timbuktu neighbourhood is equally full of colours, and must be a sight to behold.

Anyway, these goats are trouble, and eventually they have to be taken to the market to be sold. Or do they?

You can love troublesome goats, you know. Just try.

The second picture book by Stephen Davies and illustrator Christopher Corr is Don’t Spill the Milk! and it is equally loving. A smaller family, with little Penda being allowed to take her mother’s role and walk to where her father is looking after the sheep.

She has to balance a bowl of milk on her head all the way there. And it is such a long way for one girl and one bowl. But she can do it. All the way to…

Oh dear. (It was the mango’s fault!)

Penda’s dad is a nice dad, and he’s not angry. He shows her how much he loves her. Then they eat the mango.

Stephen Davies and Christopher Corr, Don't Spill the Milk

There couldn’t be more colour in these books if you tried. They are fantastic, both in looks and in simple but loving content. As long as your child doesn’t start balancing their Weetabix – with milk – on their head.

Bookwitch bites #73

How about we go totally miscellaneous today? I feel all higgledy piggledy, completely lacking in plans and any greater pictures.

This lovely pirate photo appeared before me only yesterday. It’s really Marie-Louise Jensen behind that mask, and I gather the handsome young assistant pirate is her son. I wholeheartedly approve of people who make full use of their children, and junior is to be admired for agreeing to be dressed up. The event was for Marie-Louise’s new book, aptly titled The Girl in the Mask.

Marie-Louise Jensen

In fact, authors who dress up to ‘go to work’ in support of their work are to be admired. Normal people just have normal clothes to fret over. Have you even considered what it must feel like to get on the bus dressed like a pirate?

Stephen Davies (of Ouagadougou fame, if you recall?) also has a new book out, which is anything but masked, seeing as it’s called Goggle-Eyed Goats. I’ve not read it, and am very intrigued about Stephen’s comment re polygamy. That’s  not your typical topic for a young child’s book, but no doubt reading it will reveal all. Sort of.

I am busy missing book events here. Friday night saw Joan Bakewell at the Stockport Plaza, launching yet another new book. It’s an adult novel, so I know nothing. The reason I heard about the event was that Mrs Pendolino mentioned that her father, being childhood pals with the beautiful Joan, was wanting to go along and renew the friendship. I hope he had a good time.

And I probably won’t be going to Formby. At least not this Thursday evening, because it’s a long way and it will be dark. But I do want to. I have been meaning to visit Tony Higginson’s bookshop, and the weeks and months are simply slipping by. The fact that I won’t be there is no reason for the rest of you not going, so do pop along if Formby is within your reach.

Tony is offering a Night of Crime, for a mere £3, at six o’clock on Thursday 15th March. The ‘criminals’ are two favourites of mine, Kate Ellis and Martin Edwards, who both write crime novels, and they do it much closer to home than Formby, so perhaps I should ask them round for tea instead of haring across Lancashire in the dark.

Actually, once you start looking for events (not) to go to, there is no end of them. Although I am not totally ruling out Stephen Booth, another fairly local crime writer, at the library in Dukinfield on Wednesday. That’s at ten in the morning, so will require getting out of bed. I know they all do, but not as early.

I’ll think about it. I am always more willing the further away it is in time…

Witch’s Eleven

Here’s the 2011 top ten. Because it’s my top ten, it has eleven books. Because it’s 2011. Eleven is such a nice number. You know.

Anyway, I can’t have the same number every year. I need to keep my readers on their toes. There could have been many more. Books. Not toes, unless we count them individually, since every extra reader ought to bring around ten when they join.


I was aiming for some sort of order of colour in this pile, but eleven isn’t enough. And rest assured, I didn’t choose my list according to colour of spine.

Whereas in the photo the books are rated by colour, I will list them here based on titles in alphabetical order. It’s an even year, and almost impossible to pick a ‘winner.’

Being Billy, Phil Earle

Bloodstone, Gillian Philip

Caddy’s World, Hilary McKay

Cat’s Paw, Nick Green

In the Sea there are Crocodiles, Fabio Geda

Life, an Exploded Diagram, Mal Peet

Outlaw, Stephen Davies

Return to Ribblestrop, Andy Mulligan

There is no Dog, Meg Rosoff

The Unforgotten Coat, Frank Cottrell Boyce

Wonder Struck, Brian Selznick

My rules are few. The books need to be from this year. I need to have loved them more than I loved many other excellent books. They need to have made me go ‘Yes!’ when reading them. Made me laugh or cry, or both, that little bit more than average. I’m also hoping to have at least partially avoided what someone was complaining about on facebook the other week, which is that recommended books often have very little to do with what children read. Or rather, since I don’t know what children actually read, that I’m not recommending books suitable for adults only.

If I’m to elevate one book above the others, it will have to be Fabio Geda’s Crocodiles. And it’s not even fiction. And it’s a translation.

Home sweet home


You might recall Our Man in Ouagadougou, from back in May? Stephen Davies sent me some more photos later on, and I was very taken by the satellite image of his house in Djibo. It opens your eyes, seeing where other people live. And whatever we think about the intrusiveness of overhead photos, it’s fascinating seeing new places.


In contrast, here is a photo from a green and traditional England. Not even in 1976 could this country manage brown to the same extent. For further contrast, there is the green and blue below. Ignore the arrow. No Indians here. (Ice cream, should you need it.)

Halland coast

Our man in Ouagadougou

There are some things you just wish you could say at some point in life, and there isn’t much that beats ‘And now for the news from our man in Ouagadougou.’ Even when that man is not quite in Ouagadougou, but more like Djibo. Still Burkina Faso, so good enough. (OK, I wouldn’t mind mentioning Tegucigalpa, but for now we’ll stick with Africa.)

Having been put in touch with Stephen Davies who wrote the rather good Outlaw, we’re embarking on a blog tour where a blog tour really makes perfect sense. It’s very hard to tour in person from Djibo. So we’ll do the virtual stuff until such a time as Steve makes it back here. I won’t call it civilisation, as I’m having my doubts about the truth of that now.

We had half planned for him to contribute to Bookwitch earlier this week, but Steve was unexpectedly somewhat stuck in Niger. As you tend to be, sometimes. But now, without more ado; ‘Here is the news from Ouagadougou, and more!’

Fulani friends

“Last month my adopted home Burkina Faso went mad. Students protested on the streets of the capital (the deliciously named Ouagadougou), gangs of phonecard-salesmen smashed up traffic lights and petrol stations, and before we knew it the presidential guard had mutinied and the army was roaming around shooting and looting.

Even in my home town Djibo in the north (described in the Brandt travel guide as a ‘sleepy desert outpost’) schoolboys were on the streets yelling ‘Justice! Justice!’ and throwing stones at the police headquarters. I asked Oumaru, my next door neighbour’s fourteen year-old son, what justice they wanted, and he told me about a schoolboy from a faraway town, Justin Zongo, who had died of head injuries after being beaten up by a policeman. Zongo lit the blue touchpaper, but it could equally have been any of a million other big or small injustices committed over the last twenty-four years by policemen, soldiers, mayors, councillors, and corrupt mid-ranking officials.


Must be something in the water. Whilst Oumaru and his schoolmates were protesting, my new book ‘Outlaw’ was being printed, and that also contains – no, is – a cry for justice. The main character – the Chameleon – is an outlaw who lives in the desert near Djibo. Surrounded by his loyal gang, he cheerfully goes about righting wrongs, outing villains, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. How I wish he would come to life!”

Well, who doesn’t? The Chameleon is a worthy modern successor to the Scarlet Pimpernel and others.

I might have forgotten to mention this, but I do think you should read Outlaw. If only for Justin Zongo.


Move closer to your computer screens now. I’m about to tell you about A Very Good Book. I’m so much more excited about it, because it’s precisely the kind of book I would not have picked up in a shop. But I have thought long and hard about why not, and it’s simply due to my advanced years. This book has ‘young appeal’. The cover, the title and the blurb are all aimed at low to mid-teen readers, and there has most likely been very little thought to the needs of witches of a certain age.

Stephen Davies, Outlaw

Which is all as it should be. Really. I’m ashamed to admit I had never heard of Stephen Davies. Outlaw is not even his first book. All I know is that I do not intend for it to be my last Stephen Davies novel, if I can help it. I also have a dreadful urge to ‘run around town’ waving a copy of Outlaw at every potential reader I can think of.

When I was first told about Stephen’s book I almost groaned. ‘Not another African book!’. And when it appeared in these parts I mentioned it to the Resident IT Consultant, and he could tell I was dithering, so offered to taste it for me. Before the evening was out he had finished it and he said it was ‘good’. When he says ‘good’ it means much better than when you and I say ‘good’. So I began reading straight away.

I had to stop reading to go to bed, even though I’d got to a good bit. What am I saying? All the bits were good, but you know what I mean. The advantage with pausing like that is that you know you’re in for some extra good stuff when you return to reading.

Oh dear, that’s four paragraphs just waffling about me.

Stephen lives in Burkina Faso, and he has worked as a missionary there for ten years, which means he knows the place, and it shows. Outlaw is about Jake who is suspended from his school in England, and he travels out to join his family in Burkina Faso, where his father is the British ambassador. He has barely arrived when he and his younger sister Kas are kidnapped.

The question is by whom? And who can they trust?

There is a terrorist organisation that the British want to get rid of. Is it them? And are they truly bad? Jake and Kas are two very attractive characters for this ‘Alex Rider in the real Africa’ kind of story. They have to learn to look at things in a new light, and there is both excitement and real danger.

I don’t want to say too much, in case it ruins your reading (because you will read this…), but while it sounds like your run-of-the-mill adventure, it is anything but.

And I must say that finishing the book just after news broke about Bin Laden added some unexpected thoughts on terrorism and the west. And things.

There aren’t too many Burkina Faso thrillers available, and this is one of the best. Certainly the best I’ve read…