March 2009 Archives

Suanday Times Children's Book of the Week

The Ant Colony by Jenny Valentine


Valentine's observation and language is both unexpected and refreshing: when, for instance, possessions are thrown out of a window, 'Clothes float with grace and land silently, while cutlery is more chaotic.' NICOLETTE JONES

"Classics Illustrated" Relaunched

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Classics Illustrated

I was recently sent a batch of Classics Illustrated review copies by the Classic Comic Store and told that, since their relaunch last autumn they are "being well received both by former collectors and new, younger readers, teachers, students and parents."

The quality of the comic strip artwork varies quite a bit, as you would expect from a series that published from 1941 to 1971.

Slightly confusingly - as I discovered from the somewhat rudimentary website - the relaunched titles have been renumbered and so no longer tally with the originals. I imagine collectors of the originals are happy about this :)

For example, Robin Hood, No.3 in the new editions, was originally No.7.

What cannot be denied is that at £2.99 each they represent amazingly good value.

The two examples I was sent from Classics Illustrated Juniors are cheaper at £2.50, but it shows. They are printed on matt rather than glossy paper, with the result that the colours appear wishywashy.

The two that stand out are The War of the Worlds and Les Miserables.


Guardian Review

Guantanamo Boy by Anna Perera


There's no doubting Guantanamo Boy's integrity, nor its seriousness of purpose in documenting this shocking situation. If it does not achieve everything that it might as fiction, it stands as an important work that deserves a wide audience - not only among teenagers, but anyone who cares about the big issues of our time. S F SAID

I Festa do Livro Infantil de Lisboa

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The Enemy

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Puffin Books has sold 'The Enemy', a new action horror series from Charlie Higson, to the Disney-Hyperion imprint at Disney Book Group in the US. Higson's Young Bond books have sold over a million copies and have been translated into 24 languages.

'The entire Disney-Hyperion team read The Enemy over one weekend, putting aside plans because we just couldn't stop reading it; we all knew we had to publish it,' says Lola Bubbosh, Executive Editor, Disney Book Group. 'Charlie Higson has turned his hand to another subject entirely and made it his own. The Enemy is full of unexpected twists, peril and breathless adventure with children living in a world of unimaginable horror who are constantly making difficult decisions, and showing bravery far beyond their years. We are confident this will be a tremendous hit.'

I remember Lola Bubbosh when she was Auberon Waugh's assistant at Literary Review. It's good to discover she now has such a significant role in children's entertainment.

A recent video posting from the Disney Book Group

Bad Faith

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Early on in this superb novel, the main character comes across a half-killed rabbit, with bulging eyes and a crushed spine. She shows her strength of character by doing the humane thing. And the author shows us how good she is at choosing her words and modulating them so that exactly the right tone and atmosphere is achieved.

I hesitated, because it was adorable, but half-shut my eyes and hit it twice on the neck, then once more for luck. I opened my eyes, feeling a complete heel, and saw its hind leg jerk skywards, then sink gracefully back to the ground. When I poked it with the stick its head lolled loose on its fragile neck. There was blood trickling from its ear that was a simply beautiful colour: jewel-red, sparkling so vividly against the tarmac you'd think the rabbit's life had drained out of its eyes onto the road. I touched its unblinking eyeball with the tip of a finger, then snatched it away; it was dead now, all right...

Make no mistake, this is not an easy scene to write well. So easy to overdo. So easy to underdo. So tempting to be either sensationally vivid or evasively poetic.
After reading this passage (page 30 in a 240 page long novel), I knew I could sit back and enjoy a story being told by a writer of the very highest calibre.

Bad Faith is a murder mystery with a dystopian backdrop. The trouble with most dystopian fiction is that it is laid on too thick. The horrors of the envisaged future swamp the drama being played out in its midst. But that is very much not the case here. The personal drama - the predicament of a young couple forced to dispose of a corpse - is always the driving force of the novel. Small details - cars driving past blaring religious trance music - are cleverly dropped in to suggest the daily living atmosphere in a society governed by the One Church and the gangs that intimidate unbelievers.

Cass's own father is a vicar of the One Church who, though sickened by its values, plays the game for the sake of his family's safety. The darker secrets that lurk in the family's past are gradually revealed by Philip with consummate skill.

Thematically and atmospherically Bad Faith recalls the early work of Kevin Brooks, a name I mention with due care, since I am eager to convey how very good I think this novel is; those who know my reviewing will know how highly I rate Brooks' work.

After I had finished it, I looked on Amazon to see if there were any reader reviews. There are (as of March '09) eight reviews, every single one of them 5-star reviews. So I am not alone by any means in thinking this a first-rate, five-achukachick read. I urge you to hunt it down.

I am now looking forward with much excitement to reading Crossing The Line, to be published by Bloomsbury in April (2009).

New Faber Series From Philip Ardagh

Children's writer Philip Ardagh is to write a new series for Faber Children's Books. 'Grubtown Tales' launches in May 2009 with the first two titles Stinking Rich and Just Plain Stinky and The Year That it Rained Cows.

Ardagh has also been selected as a World Book Day author for 2010, and will write a special 'Grubtown' tale for the promotion. The new story will paired with a brand new 'Pongwiffy' story from Kaye Umansky (Bloomsbury) for a 2010 World Book Day flip book.

Amanda Craig reviews three for older readers....

Solace Of The Road by Siobhan Dowd

Dowd writes with economy, sympathy and an unflagging perceptiveness about the human condition; Holly's odyssey could have been far more harrowing than Dowd's first novel, about teen pregnancy, but becomes something unexpectedly life-affirming, wise and mature.

Running On The Cracks by Julia Donaldson

Well researched on both the Chinese community and runaway teenagers, it shows that Donaldson's flair for a good story extends way up the age-scale.

The Ant Colony by Jenny Valentine

Valentine writes so beautifully and so convincingly that you're instantly swept into the mystery of these people's lives: the bright but "home schooled" child living on Pringles, crotchety, clever old Isabel, Steve the landlord with his badly-peeled face, and 17-year-old Sam who has his own reasons for disappearing. The raffish house and Camden Town are drawn in all their squalor and vitality, but it's the people you care about...

Michael Holroyd laments the low priority given to anything but celebrity biography by booksellers...

Patrick French, the biographer of VS Naipaul, told me a poignant story the other day. He was going round a bookshop looking for the paperback of his biography of the explorer Francis Younghusband. Eventually he came across it. Younghusband, that great adventurer, had found his way into a section of the shop devoted to marriage and parenting....

Mark Lawson Talks To Michael Morpurgo
Feature interview from over a week ago. Recommended.

The controversy over Julie Myerson's memoir has spectacularly revived a long-running debate over the use that writers make of family material. Has Morpurgo ever been accused of exploiting parental experience? He examines the remaining potato crust on his shepherd's pie before looking up and nodding slowly. "Yes, I have faced that accusation. I really can't say any more about it than that. But it is a problem. I face a version of it at the moment. The book I've just finished is an attempt to write a Jungle Book of today. I knew that I wanted the story to have a boy who was lost for a period of time and then became involved with elephants or tigers or so on. Then, in the newspaper, I read a story from the tsunami of 2004 about a child who was carried to safety by an elephant who seemed to sense the danger from the sea. My book is not his story - it was just a way to get my character into the jungle - but I am aware that somewhere out there is a child to whom that experience belongs...

Guardian review

Running On The Cracks by Julia Donaldson


The manner in which the subject matter is handled makes this a book for younger teenagers. It doesn't attempt the under-your-fingernails gritty realism of, say, a Kevin Brooks novel. It intentionally lacks that dreadful bleakness. PHILIP ARDAGH

ACHUKA's own review

Sunday Times Children's Book Of The Week

Tales From Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan


This collection of stories is a work of art. The illustrations include etchings, woodcuts, collages, pastels, lithographs and paint, and are variously indebted to, among others, comic strips, Edward Hopper and Samuel Palmer... NICOLETTE JONES

apologies for late posting

Philip Pullman Feature

We are living in a little bubble of time. It might not last much longer, but it is a bubble of time that is still warmed by background radiation from the Enlightenment. We are very fortunate to live in a time and place where you don't get dismembered for having the wrong political convictions, and we should be thoroughly grateful for it every day of our lives. PHILIP PULLMAN

Go4It Radio Program To Be Axed

Radio 4 has axed its only children's series, the magazine show Go4it, after admitting that its average audience was aged over 50...

A shame, but unsurprising.

Clara Vulliamy Feature

An excellent Sunday Times feature about the illustrator Clara Vulliamy, written by Nicolette Jones:

Clara Vulliamy has been illustrating children's books for 17 years. In 24 volumes, she has brought us a toy mouse called Small, a mischievous Bear with Sticky Paws, and, most recently, the Lucky Wish Mouse, who can be found in a matchbox at the back of a series of stories. But not until this year has she shared a festival platform with her mother - Shirley Hughes, OBE, inventor of Alfie and Dogger, fabled children's author and illustrator, and a national treasure...

JW's Secret Diary

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Jacqueline Wilson Feature

Another Jacqueline Wilson feature occasioned by publication of the second instalment of her memoirs, My secret Diary


...Two years ago she wrote the first instalment of her memoirs, Jacky Daydream, which covered her life up until the age of 11. The follow-up, My Secret Diary, has just come out and focuses on when she was 14. It's a typically quirky, heartwarming read, including scraps from old diaries about the clothes she used to wear, the rows in her home between her mother, Biddy, and her father, Harry, her schooldays, first romance and above all, her writerly ambitions and the books she devoured. "I didn't want to write a misery memoir," she says. "I think you're a slightly sad person if in late middle age you're still stamping your feet and saying it's not fair, my mum and dad didn't give me this."

Guardian review

Frank Cottrell Boyce reviews Solace Of The Road by Siobhan Dowd

The last two paragraphs of Cottrell Boyce's review:

...Stories are chains of consequence, one thing leads to another. But some of the most sublime stories end when an act of grace or love that means "it ain't necessarily so". Abraham doesn't have to sacrifice Isaac. The Green Knight has the right to decapitate Gawain but barely nicks him with his sword. The prodigal son thinks he has spent all his father's love but discovers that it is endless.


Dowd's glittering career fits more or less into the fearful gap between diagnosis and death. Here's a story about a journey which is equally fearful but which turns out to be worth it, thanks, as Holly says, to people who "did something to help me and asked for nothing back". This is a book which, despite its grim-sounding subject, turns out to be about the graces we gain when we just set out on the journey, and about good will which is the means of that grace and, which - to quote Cormac McCarthy - has the power "to heal men and bring them to safety long after all other resources are exhausted." FRANK COTTRELL BOYCE

Eric Carle Feature

There was a big feature on Eric Carle in yesterday's Guardian Magazine

Eric Carle, the rock star of children's literature, has cobalt-blue eyes, gently accented English, and braces holding up his trousers, which together make him seem like a character from fable; part Raymond Briggs' Father Christmas, part Pinocchio's father, Geppetto. His most famous book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, has sold 30 million copies, bringing his total to roughly 88 million, a fact that, in his 80th year, still amazes him...

Pop-up version of The Very Hungry Caterpillar:

Geoff Bird meets Alan Garner

Brief article ahead of a BBC radio 4 programme about the book and its author...

Alan Garner: Return To Brisingamen R$ Tuesday 11.30am

No Puffin Party In 2009

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Sign of the times?

I've just opened post and received an invitation to the annual summer Puffin Party.
But wait, the invitation is for 2010, for a 70th Year extravaganza.

And at the foot of the card it reads: "There will be no Puffin party in 2009..."

Shame - it's always such a great photo opportunity...

Jacqueline Wilson Feature

Omitted to blog this Times feature a week ago...

Guardian Review

Short but fulsome review of The Vanishing of Katharina Linden by Helen Grant


The excellent writing, and the eschewing of anything remotely winsome or mawkish, make this an eerily subtle literary page-turner. Wonderful. LAURA WILSON

British Library Poetry Exhibition

A celebration of poems and rhymes that have shaped generations of children and that remain popular today will open at the Folio Society Gallery of the British Library on 1 April, running through to 28 June. Curated by Michael Rosen and Morag Styles, "Twinkle Twinkle Little Bat" will show how language can bring to life journeys, tales and rhymes for a younger generation... The exhibition features volumes of poetry from the 17th Century to the present day, including the earliest surviving printed collection of nursery rhymes, Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song-Book (1744), as well as copies of classics, such as Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses; William Blake's Songs of Innocence; Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland; Michael Rosen's Don't Put Mustard in the Custard, and Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes. Recordings of poets reading their own work will be available at various points throughout the exhibition.

Children's column: make 'em laugh

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BookBrunch Children's Column

Nicolette Jones shouts Hooray for the "partnerships with publishers [that] are making a Comic Relief connection between laughter and books.

Click the link to read her weekly column.

Bisto Shortlist

Eoin Colfer - Airman
Ré O'Laighléis, Susan Edwards & Emily Colenso - An Phleist Mhór
Mary Finn - Anila's Journey
Siobhan Dowd - Bog Child
Áine Ní Ghlinn & Carol Betera - Brionglóidí
Kate Thompson - Creature of the Night
Roddy Doyle - Her Mother's Face
Kate Thompson - Highway Robbery
PJ Lynch (illustrator) - The Gift of the Magi
Oliver Jeffers - The Great Paper Caper

The Bisto Children's Book of the Year Awards, in partnership with CBI are presented annually in recognition of excellence in writing and/or illustration of books for young people. The awards are administered by CBI, the national organisation for children's books and sponsored by Bisto gravy. The awards are open to any children's book by an author and/or illustrator born or resident in Ireland, written in Irish or English and published between 1st January and 31st December each year.

The Awards will be announced at a reception on Wednesday, 20 May 2009 at No. 6 Kildare Street in Dublin.

Write Away - Morris Gleitzman

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Morris Gleitzman Interview on Write Away

Excellent, very fully answered interview in which Morris Gleitzman talks at length about Then.

Highly Recommended

Five & Five

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New 5 & 5 Q&A Feature

kicks off with Michelle Harrison...

be sure to check out the fullsize view of her ornamental letter illustrations!

Children's Laureate Selection Panel

Andrew Motion, the Poet Laureate and Chair of Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA), is to chair the selection panel for the sixth Children's Laureate, who will succed Michael Rosen later this year. The panel comprises Sarah Clarke - Children's Buying Manager, Waterstone's; Julia Eccleshare - children's book critic, Co-Director of the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education, who will represent the Children's Laureate committee; Nikki Heath - SLA School Librarian of the Year 2008, librarian at Werneth School, Stockport; Jake Hope - Children's Librarian for Lancashire Libraries and a freelance consultant; Fiona Smith - representing the Federation of Children's Book Groups; and Charles Butler - Senior Lecturer, University of the West of England.

The new Children's Laureate will be announced on 9 June.

Although it seems only a moment ago that Michael Rosen was appointed Laureate, and I would personally like to see him remain in post for two more years (the length of a single Presidential term), we are nevertheless delighted to see two people on this panel previously connected with ACHUKA: Jake Hope (regular reviewer) and Charles Butler (previously a moderator on the old ACHUKA forum). Good on you, Jake and Charles - I know you'll help the panel make a wise choice.

Jake - how ARE you?? You've been off my radar for a long while now!

Times/Chicken House Children's Fiction Competition Winner

Threads, the winner of the second Times/Chicken House Children's Fiction Competition for an unpublished children's novel, is utterly different from last year's winner (Emily Diamand's futuristic adventure Reavers' Ransom) in every aspect but talent. Bennett's story - about how the 14-year-old Nonie and her friends Jenny and Edie help Crow, 12, a dyslexic and bullied African girl, by uncovering her genius for haute couture fashion - is a real find... AMNDA CRAIG

There seems to be quite a bit of exciting surrounding this as-yet-unpublished novel. Chicken House will publish it in September. Amongst those singing its praises in this report: Jonathan Douglas, Wendy Cooling and David Almond.

Shirley Hughes - Major Guardian Feature

Although Hughes is best known for characters such as Dave, and even more so for Alfie, the perennial pre-schooler whose small-scale triumphs and disasters have sustained a dozen bestselling books, her work for young children forms only part of a remarkably varied and productive career. She has written more than 50 books - and illustrated many more than that for other people - that include history, memoir and stories for older children. At any one time she'll usually have four or five different projects on the go. At the moment she is at proof stage with a story featuring another pre-schooler and also has in her head an idea "that's too early in gestation to talk about sensibly."...

"When I look at a 32-page picture book, written, illustrated and designed with a classic story for a young child, I still think that is probably what I was put on this earth to do." SHIRLEY HUGHES

Highly Recommended

Kate Wilson leaves Scholastic

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Kate Wilson Leaving Scholastic

BookBrunch reports that Kate Wilson is to leave Scholastic after four years. "Wilson joined Scholastic from Macmillan four and a half years ago. She attracted to the company a team including Macmillan colleagues Marion Lloyd and Alison Green, as well as Elaine McQuade, who arrived from Puffin as MD."

The Bookseller report adds this quote from Wilson herself: "I am excited about my own plans for the future, and will be communicating these in due course."

ACHUKA will watch what Kate Wilson - one of the most talented and influential figures in chilsren's publishing in recent years - does next with acute interest.

BookBrunch has announced that it will move to a subscription based setup next week, with some barebones information still freely accessible.

Blue Peter Winners

The category winners of the Blue Peter book awards were announced on air on the television programme today.
The weblink gives details.
For a reminder of the full shortlist go here

The overall winner was Shadow Forest by Matt Haig

Booktrust Conference Report

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Rosen's 20-point Plan

from BookBrunch report on Booktrust Conference 2009:

[Michael Rosen] had, he said, twice sent a 20-point plan that "any teachers I have ever met could implement" to Government Ministers Ed Balls and Jim Knight, but had never received an answer...

Just Like That

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Just Like That Books

A new blog, in its infancy... from Stella Lisa Samuels, who has just left Annick Press

Dublin Book Festival

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Dublin Book Festival

This weekend - Friday 6th to Sunday 8th March

children's events included in the programme

See also this blog, maintained by MAGS WALSH is Director of Children's Books Ireland (CBI)

Blog Recommendation

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Blog Recommendation

Excellent review blog by a teen reviewing mainly teen fiction.

ST Book Of The Week

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Sunday Times Children's Book of the Week

Don Quixote retold by Martin Jenkins, illustrated by Chris Riddell


The comic, fantastical images, with their cornucopia of characters, from grotesque monsters to sweet-faced girls, are executed with Riddell's idiosyncratically decorative exactness, while also suggesting the medievalism of Quixote's dreams. NICOLETTE JONES

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This page is an archive of entries from March 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

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