Review policy

I am very happy to review any novel that fits in with the theme of this blog: novels aimed at 9-14 year olds, preferably with a fantasy/ speculative world setting. However, I will make clear in the review that I was sent the book by the publisher and I will write my honest opinion. Please feel free to contact me via Twitter or Facebook, or fantasticreads at gmail dot com.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Guest post: Books and reading as a child – a personal memoir part 5

This is the final guest post from Richard, which today brings us up to date with some books he has enjoyed reading with his own children. I've really enjoyed reading these posts; thank you Richard!

Adrian Mole was, I think, the last children’s book I read whilst still technically a child. I kept a lot of my childhood books (to be honest, my mum helped a bit with this) and didn’t look at them again until I had children of my own in my mid-thirties. Four years ago we moved into a semi-detached house with a front lounge with built-in bookshelves, and although the children (then three and one) were still rather small I instinctively set aside the lowest shelf by the sofa just for children’s books so they were easy for them to get at. I’m very proud to say that I’ve read to them every evening since then barely without exception, always allowing them to choose the books they want.

image: booksforkeeps.co.uk

 Since having the boys, a steady stream of children’s books has come into the house, either bought by friends and family or given through the wonderful Bookstart scheme. My children’s own favourites include Owl Babies by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Patrick Benson, a lovely young child’s picture book about three baby owls who worry what’s happened to their mother when she flies off one day; Tiddler by children’s laureate Julia Donaldson, a fantastically-illustrated (by Axel Scheffler) rhyming adventure about a small fish who always turns up late for school with a risible excuse; The Night-Pirates by Peter Harris (illustrated by Deborah Allwright), about a small boy taken on an adventure by a group of girl pirates; and A New House for Mouse by Petr Horáček, in which a mouse tries to find a new home big enough for her and a huge apple she’s found. The latter is engineered with beautiful simplicity, with real holes in the pages allowing you a peek of something on the next page and then as you turn the page, focusing on a detail from the previous page. The mouse finds larger and larger “holes” in the landscape but each is occupied by a larger animal with a different reason for not wanting to share their home. As she travels, she takes bites from the apple, which becomes imperceptibly smaller and smaller, so that by the end she’s left with just the core which fits perfectly into an unoccupied den, which we then realise is her own home. The story is like a beautifully structured poem. The illustrations are big, bold and colourful, the mouse’s house furnished zen-fashion with only a bed covered with a lovely striped duvet and a jug.

image: justimaginestorycentre.co.uk
Another recent book my sons and I both love is Mr Big by Ed Vere, concerning a sensitive gorilla who, being the largest person in town, is forever inadvertently frightening everybody else away. Spotting a piano in a shop window, he buys it “because it looked just as lonely as he was”, carries it (by himself, effortlessly) upstairs to his flat and simply starts playing it whilst “thinking of all the things that made him sad”. Because his window is open, the whole neighbourhood can hear the beautiful music pouring out of him, until eventually a local jazz band invite him to sit in with them. The gig is a great success and he’s never lonely again. As a musician myself I think it’s a fabulous theme for a young child’s book, and again the illustrations are appropriately rough, chunky and jazzy.

image: miroslavsasek.com
A wonderful recent discovery of mine is This is London by Miroslav (“M.”) Sasek. Written originally in 1958, it was reissued in 2004 in a delightful hardback format making it perfect for a gift and for a child to keep. It’s a non-fiction tour of London’s landmarks and culture, filled with funky, cartoony illustrations typical of the era ranging from spindly city gents to bowler-hatted tube travellers (their newspapers collaged from real newsprint) and tattooed Smithfield fishmongers. London as a city is first seen from the air as a stippled, modernist canvas, then close-up onto landmarks both still here (most of them) and since gone (Lyons’ corner houses). Parts of the original text are annotated to bring them up to date (in 1958 London was “the largest city in the world”, a title now held by Mumbai) but otherwise the book is unchanged. We lived in Surrey when I was a child and I have fond memories then of being taken up to Town in the train by my dad and going for long walks around the West End and the City, something that is harder for me to do with my own children now that we’ve moved to the more affordable Midlands, so it’s a nice book to have in the house.

image: wikipedia.org
Our best recent acquisition is a storybook version of The Beatles’ film Yellow Submarine, a wonderful large-format hardback reproducing much of the original surreal artwork from the movie. The story is much condensed (I hadn’t seen the film for many years, and when I bought a copy on DVD and played it to the kids they gave up to do something else at about the 70-minute mark) but is otherwise faithful to the original plot of Pepperland securing the Beatles’ help to defeat the Blue Meanies and the “Dreadful Flying Glove”. I also try to read it to the boys in a Liverpool accent, although this isn’t strictly necessary for enjoying the fabulously imaginative illustrations, especially the “undersea” section.

image: amazon.com
I can’t complete this article without a special mention of two excellent children’s books by a friend of mine, Elizabeth Hoffman – Miss Renee’s Mice and Miss Renee’s Mice Go To An Exhibition (illustrated by Dawn Peterson). Miss Renee is a miniature maker whose dolls houses become inhabited by a family of mice. Miss Renee lives on her own in an idyllic setting by the sea in Maine and is used to her own company, so when the mice create too much noise she sends them away on a little ship, tricking them into thinking they’re going on a world cruise. Having left, she feels guilty and lonely, but one day the ship comes back: the mice have indeed been on a cruise and they’ve brought her sweets and samples of fabric from each country they’ve visited. In the second book, the mice persuade Miss Renee to take them to a dolls’ house exhibition which she agrees to on the basis that they pretend to be toy mice; they co-operate, but the visitors ignore her dolls’ houses and fall in love with the “realistic” mice instead. Jealous, she denies them lunch, and chaos ensues when the hungry mice escape and run amok looking for food. They’re both very witty books, the illustrations excellent and detailed (look carefully and you’ll see a dental appointment for the punworthy “2.30” noted on a calendar, and a photo of Elizabeth’s favourite musician Tiny Tim pinned to Miss Renee’s wall).

Elizabeth has also sent any number of lovely books for the boys from the US, including Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney, which I understand is a modern American classic, and at least four books by Christopher Wormell, who I am surprised to find is English, including The Animal Train and Off To The Fair. Wormell is a fantastic illustrator and tells great little stories usually involving animals; in the latter an elephant, a bear and a seal attempt to go into town to see the fair but keep stopping along the way for things to eat (trashing an ice-cream parlour), for a swim (emptying the pool of water) and to see a film (sitting in the front row and blocking the view of most of the audience). He’s also illustrated some lovely alphabet and numbering books for small children.

7 comments:

  1. What a lovely lot of books! Love the sound in my head of thoughtcat reading with a liverpudlian accent!

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  2. Aren't they gorgeous! Owl Babies is a real favourite; the Miss Renee books look lovely too.

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  3. Popped over b/c I saw the Owl Babies in the feed - we just love that book! And happy to learn about so many new ones. If I recall, Miss Rumphius is the one about the flowers - that is a wonderful book. Lovely post.

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  4. Thank you! I don't know the ones that Elizabeth sent Richard; I think there will be a book-buying frenzy on my next New York trip!

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  5. Belated thanks for the comments guys! My Liverpool accent is limited to the few lines in the Yellow Submarine book. I love the quips attributed to Lennon, such as when Captain Fred first finds The Beatles and asks for their help against the Blue Meanies, John says, "I think he needs a rehearsal."

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  6. It sounds wonderful. I've never seen the film right through: a shameful admission from a half-Liverpudlian!

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  7. You can find collection of books at snapdeal.You can buy fiction, non fiction books, competitive exams books, novels, etc online.

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