Archives for children’s books

#BookReview ‘La Belle Sauvage’ by @PhilipPullman #BookofDust

I’m a great Philip Pullman fan so when word of his new series The Book of Dust was first announced, I was excited. La Belle Sauvage is volume one in the series and tells the story of eleven-year old Malcolm who lives beside the River Thames at The Trout pub at Godstow, near Oxford. One day, a baby arrives at the priory on the other side of the river. Called Lyra, mystery surrounds the child, her parentage, and why she is cared for by the nuns. This of course is Lyra Belacqua, so familiar and beloved of Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. La Belle Sauvage is the story of Malcolm’s fascination with the baby Lyra, his relationship with scholar Hannah Relf and his suspicions about a mysterious stranger who visits The Trout. Everyone dislikes this man, despite his ready smiles and chat, because of his daemon, a three-legged hyena. Common with the first book of every series, there is a certain amount of scene setting, the laying-down of foundations for the forthcoming books. Pullman takes time and care to develop the character of Malcolm, the love he has for his canoe La Belle Sauvage, his relationships with his parents, the
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Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read: Chantelle Atkins @Chanatkins #books #YA

Today I’m delighted to welcome young adult author Chantelle Atkins. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is The Catcher In The Rye by JD Salinger. “I first read this novel when I was fifteen years old, so around 1993/94. I discovered it when I was flat and cat sitting for my oldest sister for a weekend. Every now and then my sister and her boyfriend would have a weekend away and she would ask me to flat sit from Friday to Sunday. Of course, at this age, I absolutely jumped at the chance. I was allowed to have a friend if I wanted, but on the occasion, I started reading The Catcher In The Rye, I was alone for the entire weekend. My sister, who back then was obsessed with 1950s music and memorabilia had the coolest flat in the world. It was crammed full of retro and vintage furniture, clothes, records and books. It was a treasure chest full of goodies. “That weekend, browsing her bookshelves, I discovered so many intriguing old books. I started reading The Catcher In The Rye [above] and could not put it down. It’s fair to say I fell completely and utterly in love. I have been in love with
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

First Edition: The Hundred and One Dalmations

My first memory of the iconic children’s book The Hundred and One Dalmations by Dodie Smith, is actually the Disney animated film. This was quickly followed by a Puffin edition, which I sadly no longer have. That films are still being made of the story, and there is demand for old copies of the novel at rare booksellers, is, I think, testamount to the longevity of the book. Long may it continue, even if it includes no fight scenes, no dragons, no magic, no vampires or spaceships. First editions At bookseller Peter Harrington, there are three first editions available [at time of going to press].   A special edition by Heinemann 1956, £1,500, bound in white morocco with black onlay patches to resemble the coat of a Dalmation dog [above left]. The second example for sale is also a 1956 Heinemann first edition, £975, including black and white illustrations by Janet and Ann Grahame-Johnstone [above top right]. The third book, a pink leather first edition by Heinemann, 1956, £2,000, features an onlaid Dalmation on the front cover plus paw prints above lower right]. The story Pongo and Missis are a pair of spotty Dalmation dogs which live with Mr and Mrs
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Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read: RV Biggs

Today I’m delighted to welcome mystery writer RV Biggs. His ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. “I first read the book as a child, which is a very long time ago, so would be in the 1960s. I’d hazard a guess at 1966 when I was nine or ten years old and probably as a book we were given to read at school. I recall having my own hardbound copy a little later, given to me as a present, but one of my uncles borrowed it to read to my cousin. After a while I never saw it again. Many, many years later my sister-in-law brought me a new hardbound copy as a birthday present and this is the copy I still have.  “I’ve read Wind in the Willows many times over the years and mostly when nothing else seems to appeal. It draws me in because of the childhood magic of it… animals having adventures… the Wild Wood… but also because of the setting and style. Kenneth Grahame describes the landscapes with exquisite perfection, setting the scenes of the seasons so that I’m there… inside his world. I believe that the description of
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

Book review: The Outsiders

I came to this Michelle Paver series late, years after reading the award-winning ‘Chronicles of Ancient Darkness’ series which starts with the wonderful Wolf Brother. Doubtful that any character could be as admirable as Torak, it was a joy to read about Hylas who, like Torak, is an outsider. The Outsiders starts at a run from the first page and doesn’t slow up. Hylas has been attacked, his dog is dead, his sister missing and a fellow goatherd killed. And the killers are after him. Adrift at sea, disorientated, Hylas fears he must die. And then there follows a glorious section about dolphins. I won’t give away any more of the plot. The narrative is a shape familiar from Wolf Brother – wild boy in trouble, on the run, not sure who is friend or foe, sets off on a quest where he makes new alliances – but that doesn’t mean this is not an entertaining read with new characters, a new setting, and different myths and gods. Michelle Paver’s books for children and young adults are set in mystical places but are based on solid research about the way our ancestors lived and survived in wild lands, the animals
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Roundabout Man

A clever and involved story by Clare Morrall about a man, his real mother, father and triplet sisters, and the seemingly identical fictional family created by his author mother in her popular series The Triplets and Quinn. It is a gentle story which reels you in. At the age of 60 Quinn is living in a caravan parked in the middle of a wooded roundabout. He enjoys the quiet and the solitude. He forages for items to reuse, and scavenges for leftover food at the nearby Primrose Valley service station. We learn he fled the family home, The Cedars, the setting for The Triplets and Quinn series, after spending his adult years there caring for his eccentric widowed mother and showing fans of her stories around the house. The real story of this family has been subsumed by his mother’s fiction, easy answers to inquisitive fans who spout fiction as if it is reality, and his unwillingness to face up to unpalatable truths. As real life and his mother’s fiction merge in Quinn’s head, it is a while before Quinn (and we) start to piece together the real story. Meanwhile real life intrudes at the roundabout and Quinn is forced
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Categories: Book Love.

First Edition: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Surely every child and adult knows the story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll or has seen a film version. I remember receiving the LP [below] of a musical production for Christmas as a child and being enchanted. Perhaps it is a story we think we know, but re-reading may surprise us. Listen to my British musical version of the story, featuring Dirk Bogarde, Tommy Cooper, Beryl Reid and Frankie Howerd, at You Tube. The story Bored and drowsy one afternoon, a young girl called Alice notices a white rabbit, wearing a waistcoat. She follows him and falls down a rabbit hole, entering a fantasy world where she encounters fantastical creatures. She is questioned by a caterpillar smoking a hookah, plays croquet using a live flamingo, and attends the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. When Alice awakes, it seems that Wonderland was a dream. The American first edition  This is a first edition, second issue book featuring 41 illustrations by John Tenniel and published in New York by D Appleton and Co in 1866. The issue consisted of 1,000 copies. The selling price is $9750. The current UK edition Lewis Carroll’s Alice has been enchanting children for 150 years. Curious
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Categories: Book Love.

How Robin Stevens writes

Robin Stevens “I do a massive spreadsheet of the murder, with the time of the murder and where everyone was in five-minute chunks leading up to it. It helps me get into the heads of the different characters, understand their motives and make sure their alibis work. Everybody has to be in the right place at the right time and all the clues have to be seeded.” [in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, July 22, 2016] I wish Robin Stevens had been writing books when I was a child, I would have devoured them. My bookcase was full of Mallory Towers. The Famous Five, The Secret Seven, Arthur Ransome’s The Big Six and Agatha Christie. Apparently Stevens grew up reading the same books. Her detective series is very popular with eight to 12-year old girls. Her use of spreadsheets is interesting and I will try it out for my third novel, Sweet Joy. My novels are not crime stories, but they are about secrets and lies and it is essential to manage the twists and turns of the plot. Read more about Robin Stevens’ books at her website.   See how these other novelists write:- Rose Tremain Bill Clegg Tracy
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

First Edition: Watership Down

It is a book which begun as a tale told by a father to his two daughters. Surely everyone has read Watership Down by Richard Adams. The story In Southern England lives at Sandleford Warren, a community of rabbits. They live in their natural environment but anthropomorphized so they have their own voices, culture, language, proverbs and mythology. This is a book which rewards re-reading. Fiver, the runt of the litter, is also a seer. When he forsees the destruction of their warren, Fiver and and his brother Hazel try to convince the other rabbits to flee with them. Unsuccessful, they set out on their own with 11 other rabbits to search for a new home. Hazel, previously an unimportant member of the warren, finds himself leader of the group. Fiver has visions about a safe place to settle, and so they find Watership Down. But still, they are not safe. First UK edition The first UK edition was published in November 1972 by Rex Collings. At the time, Collings famously wrote to an associate, “I’ve just taken on a novel about rabbits, one of them with extra-sensory perception. Do you think I’m mad?” The book took Adams two years to
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Categories: Book Love.

Favourite Lines from Favourite Books: Swallows and Amazons

“I should have been sorry to lose the old box, because it’s been with me all over the world. And I should have lost the book I’ve been writing all summer in spite of the efforts of Nancy and Peggy to make any writing impossible. Never any of you start writing books. It isn’t worth it. This summer has been harder work for me than all the thirty years of knocking up and down that went before it. And if those scoundrels had got away with the box I could never have done it again.” Captain Flint, on the return of his manuscript Mixed Moss [excerpt from Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome] To see why my old copy of Swallows and Amazons [below] is important to me, click here.    ‘Swallows and Amazons’ by Arthur Ransome [UK: Vintage Children’s Classics] Buy now And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Favourite lines from SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS by Arthur Ransome #books http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1Ia via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love.

A writer who inspires me: Judith Kerr

Where do I start? Judith Kerr. You perhaps don’t know her name but you will know her books. Mog the Cat and The Tiger Who Came to Tea are ageless books for children. I don’t write children’s books, so why am I inspired by Judith Kerr? It’s difficult not to be. Here are some inspiring facts:- Mog. The Tiger. In 1933 when she was nine, she escaped from Berlin with her parents and brother. After moving around Europe, they settled in London in 1936. Her father was a writer and drama critic whose books were burned by the Nazis. Judith continued drawing throughout the whole experience. She’s 91 and still drawing and writing. She has written countless books for children, which never go out of fashion. She has no time for trendy education methods, and thinks children need to be sat down and taught spelling, grammar and times tables. Her trilogy Out of the Hitler Time – comprising When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, The Other Way Round and A Small Person Far Away – is the story of Anna and her family from 1933 and the rise of Hitler, through the war to Anna’s return to Berlin many years later.
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Book review: The Cardturner

This is a book about bridge. The card game. And it’s also a book, by Louis Sachar, about relationships. Alton, a seventeen-year-old is tasked by his mother of ‘keeping in’ with his rich blind uncle Lester Trapp by driving him to bridge club in the hope that Trapp will remember their family in his will. What starts as an arduous weekly task becomes a new hobby for Alton as he is caught up by the game of bridge, his uncle and the mysteries of his life. It is a story about friendship between the generations, all brought together by the game of bridge. Alton doesn’t care about his uncle’s will, he just wants to play bridge better. And get to know his cousin Toni better too. Alton is his uncle’s cardturner, he sits beside him at the bridge table and plays the cards his uncle tells him to. I am not a card player and I have to say I skipped some bits, but Louis Sachar [below] allows you to do this: he bookends ‘bridge technique’ sections with a line drawing of a whale so you know you are safe to skip a bit and won’t miss the plot. For
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Mysterious Beach Hut

This is a traditional children’s tale centred on a beach hut on the seafront at Brighton which is the doorway to another world. The Mysterious Beach Hut by Jacky Atkins is a time-travel tale in which sisters Holly and Beth find themselves on Brighton beach as England stands on the brink of the Great War. Brighton today is recognizable, but as soon as the girls step back into 1914 it is a radically different place. The costumes, the games, the speech, the West Pier in all its glory, the things that people are talking about. The sisters struggle to come to terms with what their eyes are seeing but their brains can’t process. “Something had changed. The light was different. Just for a moment, it felt as if they were looking at a heat mirage when the bottom of the picture you see becomes slightly waxy and hazy. It was almost as if, for a split second, time had stood still.” The sisters meet Marjorie who becomes their new best friend and guide to this strange world. But being a time-traveller is difficult. Holly, the older sister, knows something of the history of World War One from school, and finds it
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Holes

This book by Louis Sachar has been sitting on my shelf forever but I picked it up this week when I exhausted my Kindle’s battery. How lovely to hold an actual book again. I know this is a book for tweens, but I’d heard such good things about it that I wanted to see for myself. I loved the premise: that Stanley is wrongly found guilty of stealing a pair of trainers and is sent to a juvenile correction camp where the punishment is to dig a hole a day. Five feet deep and five feet wide. Every day. It is supposed to be character-building, but Stanley thinks there is another agenda. “There is no lake at Camp Green Lake. There once was a very large lake here, the largest lake in Texas. That was over a hundred years ago. Now it is just a dry, flat wasteland.” It is a story about finding out who you are, standing up to bullies and finding your bravery. “Out on the lake, rattlesnakes and scorpions find shade under rocks and in the holes dug by the campers.” Woven in with the day-to-day tale of hole-digging is the background to Stanley’s unlucky family;
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Stay Where You Are and Then Leave

I’m sure this will be the first of many books about the First World War which I will read over the next two years, and what a one to start with. Written by John Boyne, probably best known for The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas [now released as a film] this is a touching story of a boy’s determination to help his soldier father. Destined to become a children’s classic, it is a tough tale with a tender touch. Boyne doesn’t shy away from the difficult subjects of enemy aliens, conscientious objectors, loss, injury, death and fear. On July 28th 1914, war is declared. It is also Alfie Summerfield’s fifth birthday. His biggest wish is to go one morning with his father Georgie on the milk cart with his horse Mr Asquith. Life changes for Alfie and his mother without Georgie. As the years pass, Alfie stops believing the grown-ups who say the war ‘will be over by Christmas’. Then his father’s letters stop arriving. Alfie’s mother says Georgie is ‘on a special mission and cannot write’ but Alfie doesn’t believe her. He doesn’t like being treated as a child, so he decides to do something about it. This is a
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Categories: Book Love.

If books were real, Torak…

Torak …would not worry about eating Toad in the Hole, no matter what the sausages were made of.   ‘Wolf Brother’ by Michelle Paver [UK: Orion] How would other fictional characters behave, if they were real? Agatha Raisin in ‘Something Borrowed, Someone Dead’ Mikael Blomkvist in ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo’ Hermione Granger ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: If #books were real, Torak would not eat veggie sausages: WOLF BROTHER by @MichellePaver via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-b9
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Categories: Book Love and If books were real....

A book I love… The Wind in the Willows

One of the reasons I still love my copy of The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, is the actual edition: a green cloth-covered hardback with a green paper cover.  I can remember the excitement at being given a hardback book which in 1969 was expensive. I was more used to devouring as many Famous Five and Secret Seven books as possible that we could pick up secondhand at the school fete: my reading at that age was voracious. The book was a birthday gift from my parents for my ninth birthday, the birthday greeting inside is written in my elder sister’s neat italic script. It never dawned on me that the language was old-fashioned – Oddsboddikins! – I just lapped it up. Today the book sits on my bookshelf between Kate Grenville’s The Secret River, and Stamboul Train by Graham Greene.   ‘The Wind in the Willows’ by Kenneth Grahame [UK: Wordsworth Editions] And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS by Kenneth Grahame http://wp.me/p5gEM4-cZ #bookreview via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love.

A book I love… Swallows and Amazons

What a heady mix: adventures on a lake, sailing, camping on your own island, a battle with a pirate. I did so want to be Nancy, though I admired Titty’s night alone on the island. I eventually went to the Lake District on a school trip, and learned to sail in Filey Bay with my brother. I never fought a pirate though. After this book I read all the other adventures of the Swallows and Amazons, and the Big Six. ‘Swallows and Amazons’ by Arthur Ransome [UK: Vintage Children’s Classics] And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS by Arthur Ransome http://wp.me/p5gEM4-dQ #bookreview via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love.