A blog mostly about children's reading and literature.
A note on ages: I am interested in children's literature from an adult, academic perspective, as well as my own enjoyment. However, many of my readers have children and I thought this may be useful. Please use my age banding as a very rough guide for minimum ages- this is sometimes due to content and sometimes accessibility of text.
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.
Friday, 28 October 2011
Spooky reads for Hallowe'en
This lovely book for 3-5 year olds is a great autumnal read for children that may be too little to enjoy the scary side of Hallowe'en. Cat, Squirrel and Duck live together in a house, making pumpkin soup every day. They each have their own jobs to do, following the same routine, but one day Duck wants a go at stirring the soup, which is Squirrel's job. So a squabble ensues, and Duck runs away. Squirrel and Cat regret that they didn't take turns, and set out to find him. This is a gorgeous book that won the Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration, and would be a great read after making and eating pumpkin soup from the indides of Hallowe'en lanterns! And here's a nice easy pumpkin soup recipe that children could help with!
Another lovely book for younger readers is Tracey Corderoy's Hubble Bubble Granny Trouble. With beautiful illustrations in purple, mauve and grey by Joe Berger, this rhyming picture book is told in the first person by a little girl whose granny is a little bit different. She eats gloopy soup, she has bats, cats and frogs as pets, and wears a pointed hat. The little girl is embarrassed by her granny, especially when while helping out at school, Granny accidentally makes the teacher's trousers disappear! The little girl persuades her granny to change her image and look more like a stereotypical granny. However, on seeing how sad her granny is, she changes her mind. I loved this book; it is affectionate, funny and works beautifully with the illustrations. Highly recommended for 3-7: younger children will love it read to them, and older readers will enjoy reading it to themselves.
The late and wonderful Diana Wynne Jones' posthumous Earwig and the Witch is the story of a little girl named Earwig who is happily living in an orphanage; happily because she is able to control the staff and all the children. One day however, a strange couple come and take her home with them; living in a suburban house is Bella Yaga, a witch, who has taken Earwig in to be her servant. With the help of Thomas, a talking cat, Earwig manages to take control of this household as well, and all ends well. Marion Lindsay's quirky illustrations fit beautifully with the slightly sardonic prose; all in all a fantastic book for 7-9 year olds. I loved it.
I adore all Jones' books, but a special book for me is Charmed Life, as it was the first I read. Published in 1977, I think I first read it a year later.
Everyone says that Gwendolen Chant is a witch of exceptional ability. She and her brother Eric (known as Cat) survive the steamboat accident in which her parents die: Gwendolen because witches can't drown, and Cat because he is holding on to Gwendolen. Initially the children are looked after by a local witch, but after Gwendolen writes to Chrestomanci (a very powerful enchanter who controls the misuse of magic in the parallel universes in which this series of novels is set) they go to live at Chrestomanci castle. It is here that Gwendolen, who has initially seemed to be arrogant and bossy, is shown to be malevolent and, once we learn the source of her magical powers, positively evil. One scene is particularly chilling, being reminiscent of the triumph of the White Witch over Aslan in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. I make absolutely no apologies for including two Diana Wynne Jones' books in this post; she is an astoundingly good writer for children and young people, and I hope that (unlike Joan Aiken, sadly) her death doesn't mean that she falls out of the public eye again. It's a wonderful book for readers of roughly 8-13. Neil Gaiman wrote in his blog after Jones' death that she is a great writer to read aloud.
At the end of the English Civil War, Mary sees her grandmother hanged as a witch. A strange woman rescues her, and buys her a passage on a ship heading to the New World with a puritan community. Along the way, Mary keeps a diary which she sews into a patchwork quilt, as she starts to realise that in New England she has not found freedom of belief or expression that the pilgrim fathers were seeking. The juxtaposition of a very repressive Christian community alongside the Shamanistic Native American people leads to fear and suspicion, but finally it is jealousy that leads to accusations and danger for Mary and the family sheltering her. This is a wonderful book by a brilliant writer of historical fiction for young people. Highly recommended for readers of 12+.
Are you reading anything special for Hallowe'en? If you're going to buy a book for you or for your children, maybe you'd like to add one for a class of school children in Africa? Pelican Post is a wonderful new charity sending hand-picked books to African schools (a far better idea than bulk donations of completely unsuitable texts), at the moment books written in English that are culturally appropriate. I'm sending Akimbo and the Elephants to a school in Zambia (a great book by Alexander McCall Smith about a boy who is the son of a ranger on a nature preserve). I heard about this charity from Zoe from Playing By The Book; read an interview with the founder here.