Tag Archives: Suzanne Collins

At least there were some children’s books

It’s the Guardian top 100 bestselling books of 2012 I’ve got in mind. Maybe I’m wrong to feel pleased there are 23, or 24 if you count The Hobbit, children’s books in the top 100. It’s children from the Hunger Games age group down to the Julia Donaldson age level, with The Wimpy Kid and David Walliams in the middle.

There are rather a lot of Wimpy Kids and David Walliams books on that list, at the expense of more individual fiction. But if the books have been bought, they have most likely been read too, because that’s the kind of books they are. And that has to count as A Good Thing, surely?

The Hunger Games film caused hundreds of thousands of books to be bought, and if the Bookwitch Towers experience is anything to go by, they were definitely read, and very quickly, too. Not by me. The film was enough. But I recognise that fervour, awakened by a cinema visit. I saw Five On a Treasure Island before reading the books. Almost before I could read, but that didn’t stop me. And look where it got me.

War Horse stage play

Even theatre can cause book buying, as evidenced by Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse. I would guess the books are bought by adults, but most likely read by children as well. Or was it ‘just’ the film effect again?

War Horse film

Whereas I am – reluctantly – conceding that it might be mainly adults who bought and read John Grisham’s latest Theodore Boone, simply because they are Grisham fans. Or possibly because they didn’t realise it’s a children’s book.

But what of Terry Pratchett’s Dodger? It comes in the top twenty children’s books in the 100 list, but has not made it into the children’s top twenty. Might that be the adult fan reading everything by their favourite author again?

The fact that Jacqueline Wilson is not in the top twenty, is an indication of how well the film industry sells books. (Did I just say that?)

Wimpy Kid film poster

What makes me happy, is that at least a couple of million readers benefitted from the top twenty titles. I hope they will also be reading other books, lower down in the sales league, and that they will continue reading. Always.

The future is bleak

You need to be very afraid. The future looks bad, but the good news is that there will still be writers to inspire, and scare, us.

Julie Bertagna

Two or three of you might recall there was a short story competition launched during the Manchester LitFest in October last year? Julie Bertagna came and talked about her futuristic writing and the idea was that Manchester’s young hopeful writers would come up with stories featuring their city in the future.

Saci Lloyd

On Friday at the Museum of Science and Industry we saw the results of the competition, and it was impressive. Julie was back to meet the winner, and she and Saci Lloyd and Jane Rogers talked about their own writing, and read excerpts from their books to an audience of participating teenagers from various schools.

Julie felt the day was prophetic, with all the rain and floods everywhere. Her Exodus trilogy is all about flooding, and here we were, practically washing away. She had even travelled to Manchester a day early to make sure she’d arrive in time, while leaving behind a flooded kitchen at home. But we are the children of survivors (or we wouldn’t be here at all), so it’s good. She even managed to fit in Higgs Boson into her talk.

Jane Rogers

Jane Rogers had a scary story about humanity being wiped out, and I believe it’s set in Tameside, so is uncomfortably close to home. Saci Lloyd likes laughter, and feels her books are ‘quite nice stories.’

After the readings, there was a short panel discussion on science fiction. Julie feels that outdated science is all right (cf Mary Shelley), and knows of scientists who have been inspired in their work by fiction. Saci is worried that the young today have lost too much, and have little to look forward to.

Jane Rogers, Helen Clare, Saci Lloyd and Julie Bertagna

It has to take time to write books. Jane said she needs four years for a book, and her last one took five. Turning off the internet is useful. Saci is simply very jealous of Suzanne Collins and the Hunger Games.

Then it was time for the 31 shortlisted teenagers to have their names read out, and the two runners-up were given signed copies of Julie’s and Saci’s and Jane’s books. There is an anthology printed, containing all 31 stories from the shortlist.

Kaye Tew and Cathy Bolton with short story winner Josh

The overall winner was Josh Degenhardt, with When the Rain Falls They Talk of Manchester, which is a story about a very dry Manchester. Julie read it to us, and if there are more teen writers like Josh we needn’t worry about the future of fiction. His story was exceptionally good, albeit scary and frightening. And I always knew the Hilton building would fall down one day.

The Hunger Games – the film

The book surfaced quite suddenly from nowhere four years ago, and one moment I had never heard of it and the next everyone was enthusing like mad about it. I thought it sounded horrible. The plot, I mean. And then I wondered if I was missing something and needed to read it. And then when I started investigating, someone suggested it was great for younger readers but not necessarily a book for adults.

So I never did read it. Even Little Flower’s Granny read it, which surprised me somewhat. Some weeks ago Daughter caved in as well, and went out and actually bought (!) all three books.

All I had to offer when she returned to Bookwitch Towers the other day (apart from my lovely company to go and see the film, of course) was a Hunger Games mug (beautiful red) and a Mockingjay pin. The pin narrowly avoided being binned, because I could see it would merely waltz around the house for years, littering, before someone finally threw it away.

Turns out it’s very much the item to have. Some people pay money for it, even.

So, we went to see the film yesterday (and you can read more on CultureWitch for some sort of film review) and it was good, just as they said. It makes a change, really. I’d say that unlike the Harry Potter films, which must have left anyone who had not read the books totally bewildered, The Hunger Games made sense. I got what it was about, although I allowed Daughter to explain a few things, because I could tell she wanted to.

The Hunger Games - Jennifer Lawrence

I’m really very good at hating badly cast actors, and I have a fervent dislike of some actors and actresses (usually for no good reason at all). Wonderful to find someone like Jennifer Lawrence whom I actively loved. Whether I will support Team Gale or Team Peeta I couldn’t say. In fairness, we didn’t see much of Gale, so perhaps leave the decision a little longer. Gale is more handsome, but I suspect Peeta might be nicer.

And it’s a shame that we have to be so suspicious of any novel-to-film in the YA world. There are several fantastic books optioned, but it’s easy to be cynical and expect very little good to come of it.

(Speaking of Cynical, she had quite a bit to say on the subjet of this film. It would seem Cynical is rather an expert. I read her lists of dislikes and minor niggles – which for a film that she loved is an interesting concept – and they made no sense to me at all. So I returned to them after seeing the film, and they made perfect sense.)

Age-appropriate advice

Would you suggest to a proficient 14-year-old reader that they read The Witches by Roald Dahl?

It’s not the first thing that would come to mind, is it? Especially if the advisor is someone in publishing, who knows about books for young readers. I’m reminded of my Swedish teacher when I was that age. She kept suggesting books that were far too young for me, even if I hadn’t been permanently glued to Alistair MacLean. In English.

The magazine ViLÄSER arranged a meeting between a children’s publisher and a 14-year-old for a discussion on books, and I was appalled to find the Dahl being her first idea when the girl said she likes exciting books.

Even the previously mentioned Petrini crime novels are a little young, although the girl had enjoyed them. I could barely keep up when the next suggestion was Aidan Chambers, which is a huge jump. The girl’s current favourite is The Hunger Games.

In the end they produced a fairly good list of books, including Ink Heart, His Dark Materials, The Princess Diaries, The Diary of a Wimp, and Before I Die.

But why should it be so hard to give advice?

I found an interesting thought in an interview with a children’s author called Åsa Lind. I have no idea of what her writing is like, but like this quote: ‘You don’t need to write for everyone. It doesn’t have to be easy to digest or easy to buy. Better chewy than soft. But still enjoyable, rather like Romanian poetry.’

Left hanging?

I’m near the end of a new book, and I sincerely hope it ends when it ends. Cliffhangers can be good, but right now I can do without them.

Patrick Ness wrote one with his The Knife of Never Letting Go. There was a blog in the Guardian about his book and cliffhangers in general, a couple of weeks ago. It seems that his cliffhanger is followed by a new book out now, that is also a cliffhanger. Aargh…

If Patrick’s second book had been to hand at the end of book one, I would have reached for it. His cliffhanger is very cliffhangery. But now, I’m not sure. It’s not that I don’t want to, but my urge has subsided. And I seem to have had a narrow escape by not reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, which was very, very highly praised my my young reviewers last year. Their wait is not over yet.

It must be tempting to end a book, leaving the reader hanging on for dear life, and they’ll come back and buy the next book, too. But will they?

I know we all waited for Harry Potter. But he wasn’t about cliffhangers. And the waiting worked best for adults and those children who began at the right age. Twelve to eighteen months is a lifetime for the really young. For the older ones, they may well have moved on to other reading by the time the sequel turns up.

The reason I’m concerned about my current read, is that among the comments from young readers printed in my proof copy, there is a wish for more. To my thinking, this story has to end here. In the ‘disaster’ genre, you don’t want a new disaster next year for any surviving characters.

Or do you?