August 2008 Archives

Waterstone's Writer's Table - 40 books selected by Philip Pullman

A wonderfully eclectic list, as you might imagine. Good to see Buddenbrooks getting a mention. I can remember being just as amazed when I read this book at about the same age as Thomas Mann when he wrote it. As Pullman says: "How could a 25-year-old know so much, and write so perceptively? The first of Mann's great novels, and still astonishing today."

Follow this link to read about how Pullman made his selection:

ST Book Of The Week

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Sunday Times Children's Book of the Week

The Famous Five's Survival Guide

a book in the spirit of Blyton that combines the nostalgia of The Dangerous Book for Boys with publishing gimmicks that are more sophisticated than Blyton ever knew. NICOLETTE JONES

"this new book purports to be by Blyton, but isn't. Pastiching the style of the Famous Five stories, it intersperses a new adventure - in case the existing 21 are not enough"

Guardian Review - when illustrations give too much away

The Toymaker by Jeremy de Quidt reviewed by Philip Ardagh

The story is pacy, exciting and inventive with strong and interesting characters. It's violent in places too, with threats, torture (fingers snapped "like dry twigs"), and death. The hero, Mathias, seems to be constantly sustaining new and painful injuries. The plot is essentially a race to uncover a secret: a battle between good and evil and shades of grey in-between, but the revelation of the secret is really worth waiting for. This is no MacGuffin, here simply to justify the chase. It is a dark and dirty secret at the very heart of what the story is all about. It's a shame, therefore, that in a number of instances the positioning of an illustration gives so much away: pivotal moments can be seen at a glance, rather than when the writer chooses to reveal them in the text...

Times Reviews

Three short reviews by Amanda Craig, The Times

Time Not Moving

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I don't want to be little again. But at the same time I do. I want to be me like I was then, and me as I am now, and me like I will be in the future...
from 'Jackdaw Summer', a forthcoming novel by David Almond (November 08)

It's about a year now since I stopped reviewing for the print press. For twelve years I had been reviewing children's books for TES and Literary Review and young adult fiction for The Scotsman. It was a grand time to be a children's book reviewer. Already established writers such as Anne Fine and Philip Pullman began writing better than ever. Extraordinarily appealing writers from America and Australia (Sharon Creech, Ursula Dubosarsky, Sonya Hartnett, Jack Gantos, Morris Gleitzman to name a few) were being published here for the first time. And magically talented new UK writers such as David Almond and Kevin Brooks [see reviews below] appeared upon the scene.

Why did I stop reviewing? The simple answer is that it was becoming a chore. Less and less rewarding. More like homework. New authors were still emerging but I couldn't get as excited by them as I had by the early work of, for example, Julie Bertagna and Keith Gray. I am sure that part of the reason for this lies within myself. I had acquired a kind of reading numbness.

I am still reading, of course. Reading and sifting the books that arrive daily, deciding which ones merit mention on the website. And I relish the freedom I have now only to 'review' or write about the books that really stand out or otherwise demand attention.

Yesterday, I finally got round to reading Black Rabbit Summer by Kevin Brooks (now out in paperback).

Perhaps it was just me in the middle of being particularly negative, but I found Being, his first book for Penguin, a touch on the cold side. It was ambitious, different, page-turning, very good... but for me (at the time) it lacked that quintessential Brooks atmosphere that made those first few novels for Chicken House so memorable.

Black Rabbit Summer is back in the groove. Dialogue-driven but also occasionally poetic in its choice of epithet - 'soured silence' - Brooks' style is a joy. I cannot imagine his writing requires any sentence-level editing.

Brooks must remember his own adolescence well to be able to write about teenagers as he does. He remembers in particular how important terrain is. How young people have their own routes for getting from A to B. In particular, the off-road suburban terrain of footpaths, derelict areas, embankments, cut-throughs. He describes these so well. He writes about them as if he were still a 15-year-old himself, dashing through an alleyway.

He also remembers that for 15/16 year olds their 13/14 year old selves are an age away. There is emotional tension at the start of this book between the main character, Pete, and Nicole. They had been boy and girlfriend a couple of years ago, but not since. Meeting in a den before attending a local fairground the group of friends drink and smoke. The tension mounts.

Established early on is Pete's feeling for Raymond, a boy ostracised by everyone else. Raymond is a loner who spends much of his time out in the garden beside the hutch of his pet black rabbit.

Pete's father is a policeman and when people start to go missing following the night at the fair, Pete becomes both investigator and investigated. The second half of the novel is so well plotted and developed one hopes Penguin will have the sense to enter this book for a regular crime fiction award. It's a fantastic read, to be recommended for adoloscents and adults alike.

Brooks and Almond share a capacity for evoking and empathising with strangeness - with characters that don't fit the mould. They are very different writers. In Almond's hands I imagine something more would have been made of Raymond, perhaps a little less of the police procedure. (Although there is an Almondesque interlude in which Raymond visits a fortune teller at the fiar.)

Indeed less is the word these days with Almond's writing. Always a compact writer, his style is becoming ever simpler. If editing of Brooks' sentences is redundant I daresay any tinkering with Almond's sentences is just as unimaginable. It's amusing to imagine what writing Level he would be awarded by a SATS marker. I reckon he would be deemed a borderline level 3/4, confident with simple sentences, but not varying them sufficiently and failing to give any evidence of beginning a sentence adverbially.

I am halfway through Jackdaw Summer, the new novel to be published this November. It makes the heart sing to find this author writing as well as ever. The novel has a contemporary setting. The main character's mother is an artist, his father a writer, and Almond seems to be having some genial fun at his own expense in this regard, which makes reading the book an additional pleasure.

It begins with a boy and his mate following a jackdaw and stumbling on an abandoned baby, with a note saying she is a 'childe of god'. There is wonderful writing about the landscape and heritage of Northumbria. The savagery of war in Iraq is related to the wars and battles that took place hundreds of years ago on those northern fields.

I have just read a passage in which a group of boys dare one another to cross a pit of captured adders. It is a brilliantly realised piece of writing. And it evokes a theme that is already a prevalent one in this novel - the place of beastliness in this world, from where it derives, and in what manner it is displayed by humans.

So, as always in a David Almond book, there is darkness and there is light. "Have you seen how big his bum's getting?... It's a writer's hazard. He's hardly moved for weeks," says the wife to her son.

Well, thank you Kevin Brooks and David Almond. Thank you for the time not moving. The time spent writing has been enormously appreciated by this reader.

Another reason I stopped reviewing was that I began to spend more of my spare hours on a private passion - photography. Spent more time taking photographs, more time processing them, more time looking at other people's photos. The artist in Almond's book is also a photographer. She takes closeup photographs of her son's skin and scabs and then blows them up so they look like wild landscapes.

How wonderful to be a new reader, with Skellig, Lucas and all the other great books by these authors still to discover. I feel that jealousy sometimes when I look at my favourite photographers on Flickr (where I have spent much time for more than three years now) and see someone commenting, "I have just discovered your stream...." Lucky thing, I think to myself. And lucky all those who have not yet read anything by these two authors. What a time they have ahead!

From The Indpendent

The children's laureate, Michael Rosen, is a fierce critic of the Government's education policies. He's against testing - and wants pupils to be excited by literature again. Andy Sharman talks to him...

Shanville Monthly 98

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The Body Shop Of Publishing?

"Barefoot Books is like the Body Shop of children's publishing," [Leonard Marcus] says. "There's a New Age-y feel to the company." As for the books themselves, Marcus says, "They've chosen the easy way to be multicultural by mostly sticking to so-called timeless tales."

Age Banding, Yes To

>The only convincing argument against age-banding is that Little Timmy on the school bus might be caught reading a 7+ book when his friend Vernon is reading 9+


It is nothing to do with that. My objection to age b(r)anding is as passionate and principled as my objection to identity cards - based upon what I foresee as the inevitable restrictions on freedom that will ensue.

Freedom to read widely, irrespective of age, is a fundamental liberty. Age-branding, in this sense, is just as pernicious and potentially authoritarian as the introduction of identity cards.

ST Book Of The Week

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Anthony Horowitz feature

An excellent feature on Anthony Horowitz from the Irish Indpendent.


The Kiss of Death by Marcus Sedwick reviewed by Amanda Craig

It took me a couple of goes to really fall for Sedgwick's first vampire novel, My Swordhand is Singing, but it turned out to be brilliant - about a boy called Peter who discovers that his father has the only sword that can stop vampires and save his sweetheart, deep in a Eastern European forest. If you haven't read it, do, because The Kiss of Death is an equally gripping sequel.

Age out of the question - Times Online

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Twit Twat

Random House Children's Books has agreed to remove a four-letter swearword from a popular book by Dame Jacqueline Wilson after complaints from Anne Dixon, who insists she is standing up for values of common decency. The 55-year-old said she was horrified when she came across the expletive in the best-selling book My Sister Jodie - a gift for her nine-year-old great-niece, Eve Coulson. She complained to Asda where she bought the book, and the store initially removed it from sale. Asda is owned by Walmart, the US chain which refuses to sell music with explicit lyrics. Now the publisher, in order to appease Mrs Dixon and the supermarket, has said it will - by altering one letter - substitute the word with "twit" when the book is reprinted.

Anne Fine on Age Branding

This is merely a stupid, cruel idea invented by some marketing maven who thinks only of the convenience of supermarket shelf stackers and nothing of the way in which children come to books.

ST Book Of The Week

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Sunday Times Children's Book of the Weeek

Angelo by David Macaulay

The central friendship between man and bird, and the theme of an enduring bond recall Oscar Wilde's short story The Happy Prince, except that this book loves statues without turning them into living things. NICOLETTE JONES

Stephenie Meyer, smartly reviewed by Nicolette Jones

"For all but enslaved addicts... the strongest aftertaste of this series is soap. NICOLETTE JONES"

Do Read This

splendidly well-written blog entry by Sophie Masson recalling her childhood experiences as self-appointed president of The Bluebell Club...

CBCA Winners

Older Readers Book of the Year 2008

Younger Readers Book of the Year 2008

Early Childhood Book of the Year 2008

Picture Book of the Year 2008 [see previous blogged item]

Eve Pownall Book of the Year 2008

Controversial Australian Prize Winner

A FORMER Children's Book Council president [Kate Colley] has criticised a decision to award one of Australia's most prestigious prizes or children's literature to a book containing swearing and violent images.
Requiem for a Beast today won the Children's Book Council of Australia Picture Book of the Year prize.

Quotes Refused

The Poetry & Popular Culture blog reports that a forthcoming young adult novel - Freaked by J. T. Dutton - has had to be revised because the copyright holder for Grateful Dead lyrics refused permission to publish quotations at the start of each chapter...

Dutton originally titled the book "Ripple," but her editor lobbied for "Dark Star" instead (both titles of Dead songs). Although the publisher is legally allowed to use the song title in this way, Ice 9 expressed its objection by withholding permission for the epigraphs quoted above. Shortly after the change to "Dark Star" and the conflict with Ice 9, Harper's marketing department decided that "Dark Star" sounded too much like a sci-fi novel title and wouldn't work for Dutton's book. Hence the change to "Freaked," which has no official connection to the Dead. One wonders if Harper had in fact gone forward with a title like "Freaked" from the beginning, whether Ice 9 wouldn't have gone into such a tizzy, whether it wouldn't have withheld permission for the epigraphs, and whether Dutton's book would have been published in a form much closer to the one she initially wanted. But hey, who ever said publishing is actually about the author and the work?

Pauline Baynes - Times Obit.

In addition to her assocaition with Narnia:

The rabbits she drew for the cover of the bestselling Puffin edition of Richard Adams' Watership Down are equally familiar, and other well-known children's books she illustrated include Mary Norton's The Borrowers Avenged (1982), Beatrix Potter's Wag-by-Wall (1987), two volumes of nursery rhymes edited by Iona and Peter Opie, and -- in spite of her frank admission that she couldn't really draw horses -- Anna Sewell's Black Beauty (1984). ...

Stephenie Meyer profile

...the success of the Twilight series appears to have unleashed a torrent of creative energy - all those stories she once told herself are now possible future novels. She claims that she has already written 15 outlines for new books - more vampire stories, yes, but also books about aliens, ghosts and mermaids.

"Now I've found out that people actually like my stories, it's definitely not a problem coming up with ideas about what to write next," Meyer said.

She works best, she added, when the house is wrapped in silence, her children are asleep and her husband has gone to bed. Like the vampires she creates, she really comes alive after midnight.

Raymond Briggs profile

launch of Guradian's graphic story prize

to enter go to

Liz Kessler's blog

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New Blog

Emily Windsnap author, Liz Kessler, has a new blog and a newly designed website:

She is about to set off for a year in camper van and the blog will record her travels.

Just found and very much recommended

cynsations: Author Interview

Zu Vincent, author of young adult novel, The Lucky Place

The book is written in vignettes, which is just how it came out, so I didn't want to mess with it. I wanted to create a cinematic feel that speaks to the pace of life today, to give some punch, but also some poetry. But I didn't know if I could pull it off. You have to write quick scenes which give glimpse after glimpse of your characters that eventually add up to a complete story.

At the same time, each vignette has to stand on its own, as a kind of story within a story. And Cassie's voice needed to mature through these scenes as she grew older, to reflect her emotional growth.
... ...

Getting the message across...

Two new publishing houses for children's books have sparked debate in gender-equal Sweden over their professed aim of instilling the country's open-minded social values in the next generation...

Observer summer roundup

Main link to Geraldine Brennan reviewing junior fiction

Kate Kellaway on picture books
Stephanie Merritt on young adult fiction

Guardian Blog

Random House is trying to discourage unwholesome behaviour in its children's writers, with an additional clause inserted into standard contracts: ""If you act or behave in a way which damages your reputation as a person suitable to work with or be associated with children, and consequently the market for or value of the work is seriously diminished, and we may (at our option) take any of the following actions: Delay publication / Renegotiate advance / Terminate the agreement."

Blogging from SCBWI Nationals

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Prokidwriter Blog

with Notes from keynote speeches, including by Leonard Marcus


39 Clues

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The 39 Clues

The 39 Clues, an interactive multi-media adventure series, launches on September 9, 2008. The first book, The Maze of Bones, written by multi-award winning and Number 1 New York Times bestselling author Rick Riordan, is scheduled for simultaneous worldwide publication in the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

The official 39 Clues online game will also launch on September 9, 2008, on Combining reading with online gaming and card collecting, this interactive series for children aged 8+ will include 10 books, collectable cards, and an online game where readers uncover information beyond what is revealed in the books and cards and compete for prizes against children around the globe.

Children's Poetry Competition

Michael Rosen, the Children's Laureate, is to chair the judging panel for a worldwide poetry competition for 7-11 year old organised by the Children's Poetry Bookshelf, a poetry book club for young people run by the Poetry Book Society. Children are asked to write a poem in English no longer than 25 lines on the theme of 'Work'.

Now in its third year, the competition has been renamed the Old Possum's Children's Poetry Competition after T S Eliot's much-loved children's poetry collection about cats. The competition is open to both individuals and schools. Cash prizes of £250 for first prize, £100 for second and £50 for third will be awarded, along with books and CPB memberships, in two age groups, 7-8 year-olds and 9-11 year-olds.

Entries will be accepted from Thursday 11 September, up until the closing date of Monday 20 October.

The winners will be announced at a gala celebration in London in December.

Five Leaves

New titles from Five Leaves include a reissued classic from Helen Cresswell, a new crime thriller by Berlie Doherty, a yound adult thriller from Diamond Dagger award winning author, John Harvey and (not shown below) the first ever book of Romany short stories, Spokes:Stories from the Romany World edited by Janna Eliot

| best conditions for best book |

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| best conditions for best book |, originally uploaded by Kmye.

Rainy Sunday morning in ACHUKA's part of the world, but hopefully some of you are doing this kind of reading right now :)

Shanville Monthly 96

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Shanville Monthly 96

Darren Shan's excellent online monthly newsletter

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This page is an archive of entries from August 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

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