February 2009 Archives

Amanda Craig reviews....

Auslander by Paul Dowswell

Although it demands a patient and sophisticated reader because it takes time before the action gets going, Auslander is a splendid novel. In showing how an essentially nice boy is so nearly corrupted by evil, it steps outside the victim culture of novels such as those by Morris Gleitzman and comes close to classics such as The Silver Sword. Admirers of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas should look at this novel as a model of imaginative sympathy, rather than the exploitation of a period. AMANDA CRAIG

and The Escape by Robert Muchamore

Muchamore's plain, punchy, often funny style makes Horowitz look like Proust, but it is highly effective. CHERUB aficionados will know what happens to Henderson in the future, and this clever, tense novel is a great way of getting bored boys interested in history - but it falls apart at the end. All the Germans are no more real than those in an Xbox game such as Call of Duty, and Muchamore is writing too much too quickly. Though this will please his fans, he owes it to his craft to slow down and try for a little more of Dowswell's subtlety - just as Dowswell could do with a jolt of Muchamore's adrenalin. AMANDA CRAIG

Muchamore responded on Twitter: "Today's times says that my 'Plain, punchy, often funny style' is highly effective but makes Horowitz look like Proust. Who's Proust?"

You can follow achuka on Twitter too: www.twitter.com/achuka

Guardian Review

Patrick Ness reviews Gullstruck Island by Frances Hardinge

It's JK Rowling's fault. After the mammoth Order of the Phoenix, so primed were readers for a concluding epic that The Deathly Hallows's 607 pages seemed, incredibly, a bit mean. Have you noticed, though, that it's only middle-aged reviewers who complain about the length of children's books, not the children themselves? Frances Hardinge's delightfully inventive Gullstruck Island cooks along for 504 ripe, rollicking and endlessly creative pages. If that sounds exhausting to you, maybe that's the point. Maybe that's why it's a kids' book...

Regarding the length of this and similar children's books, children may not complain exactly, but very many of them simply don't attempt to read them because of the daunting bulk. The J. K. Rowling effect has misled writers and publishers into believing that the average young reader is indeed capable of reading books of 500pp plus. This is simply not the case. Of course there will always be the readaholics who will lap up books of any length. In a class of 30 you will get one or two of them. And how many more children aged 10 or 11 would have the facility or inclination to read a book of this length, without special encouragement? Probably no more than another three or four.

J. K. Rowling was able to gradually increase the length of her books because of the groundswell of fan worship and media coverage. Special circumstances are necessary before books of this length can command a solid readership amongst the under-12 readership. An author visit will often work. When Eoin Colfer recently visited the children I know best, huge numbers of them bought and actually read Airman, a book that the vast majority of them would not have been persuaded to read had the author visit not happened, despite the popularity of his other work.

Can science explain teenage behaviour?

No, says Michael Fitzpatrick in his review of Teenagers: A Natural History by David Bainbridge

Contrary to current fashion, science can tell us little about how to raise our children or how to deal with their adolescent difficulties, though it often serves as a convenient device for legitimising prevailing prejudices.

St Book of the Week

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Sunday Times Children's Book of the Week

Ferocious Wild Beasts by Chris Wormell

...Impressively skilful in the way its pictures make the creatures realistic as animals, yet human in their attitudes and expressions, this tale is both delightful and suspenseful and has a punch line that will encourage children not so much to disobey their mothers as to respond without prejudice to the people and creatures they meet. NICOLETTE JONES

When I read this recently to a group of 5/6 yr olds one boy dragged his mother in afterwards and and insisted on showing her every single page. It's that kind of picture book. Really first-rate.

Guradian Reivew

Meg Rosoff gives Morris Gleitzman a deservedly glowing review for Then

...he has accomplished something extraordinary, presenting the best and the worst of humanity without stripping his characters of dignity or his readers of hope. He has succeeded in grasping the unimaginable, where others have merely blundered about in history. MEG ROSOFF

Running On The Cracks - achukareviews

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Running On the Cracks

New review added...

STOP PRESS: Waterstones Winner

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Michelle Harrison is the winner of 2009 Waterstones Children's Book Prize.

Ultimate Book Guide Launch Gallery

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Guest Pass to the rest of the set...

As a search of this blog will reveal (if you scroll down after clicking the link), I was not an immediate fan of the Ultimate Book Guides. Coming to them from the point of view of someone who was used to contributing to works of reference such as Larousse Dictionary of Writers, H. W. Wilson's World Authors and the New DNB, I initially found the tone irritatingly enthusiastic and exclamatory and, in the worst instances, such as the entry (unrevised in the new edition) for The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer, vacuous.

But I was missing the point. These are not books for the reference shelf, but hands-on guides intended to encourage and help young readers to move on from one book to the next. In this context, the range of contributors and the pervasively jolly and upbeat tone are essential ingredients.

The first Guide for 8-12's is now five years old, so a revised and updated edition is timely. The first book had 288 pages. The new one has 416, but is more compact in its dimensions (a much better size for reading and carrying around) and only has room for two entries per page in comparison to three in the earlier edition.

Additions include recent titles by the likes of Frank Cottrell Boyce (a shame he is not one of the contributors), A Dog Called grk by Joshua Doder (a shame neither Chris Priestley the contibutor nor the Next? sidebar make reference to the fact that this is the first book in a sequence rather than a one-off title) and Fly By Night by Frances Hardynge. Caroline Lawrence who was only represented in the first book by The Thieves of Ostia, Book 1 in her Roman Mysteries series, now deservedly has her entry retitled to refer to the series as a whole. I was pleased to see Rodman Philbrick's Freak The Mighty in this new edition, and although losses from a book of this type are to be regretted and can be somewhat poignant, they are inevitable. I noted that there were no longer entries for The Ennead by Jan Mark or Farm Boy by Michael Morpurgo, though bouth authors remain sufficiently represented by other entries.

Entries receive one, two or three dots "as a rough indication of the relative difficulty of a title". This is a new feature and although much better than any attempt to give age advice, the allocation of the dots does appear to relate to age appropriateness rather than reading difficulty. Morris Gleitzman's Once, a very accessible and easy book to read from the point of view of vocabulary and simple sentence structure, is given three dots, presumably because of its subject matter. As the entry itself says, "it is a quick read and written in simple language, but the subject is not for young children." All credit to the editors for including the title in this book, rather than reserving it for the teen guide.

As important as the entries themselves, are the sidebars giving suggestions for what to read next. At the book's launch party, Leonie Flynn announced that the Ultimate Book Guide blog would henceforth be having a Book Of The Week entry (each Monday) with the all-important What To Read Next as an essential feature. Those present at the launch were encouraged to contribute. ACHUKA will blog the next few recommendations to help spread the word.

Follow achuka on Twitter: www.twitter.com/achuka

Ultimate Book Guide 2nd edition launch

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A completely revised and updated edition of The Ultimate Book Guide for 8-12's has been published by A&C Black...
Full gallery of the launch event will be uploaded later on Tuesday.
In the meantime, a couple of shots of Justin Somper and Shoo Rayner returning camera fire:)

Then by Morris Gleitzman - ACHUKA review

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Morris Gleitzman
January 2009

Last summer I was sent a very early proof copy of the new novel by Morris Gleitzman, a sequel to Once, a book published at the same time as and - media-attention-wise - unjustly overshadowed by The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas.

I have always had the highest regard for Gleitzman and regard him as one of the very best writers for the young of the past twenty years.

For months that proof copy lay untouched. A second proof copy arrived. I did not read that either. I had, I realised when I finally started reading the book in its final published format, been nervous of encountering ten-year-old Felix again in case any further adventures had a reptrospective lessening of the impact of the first book, read with so much admiration.

Picking up from the end of the previous book, Felix is accompanied by six-year-old Zelda (not his sister) and from the first words, "Then we ran for our lives..." this is the story of how they together attempt to escape being captured by Nazis.

We see many atrocities through child's eyes (the most painful of all at the end of the book) but there is sufficient good fortune and good deed-doing to make this an ever-hopeful edge-of-the-seat read. The character of Genia - a woman who makes her home a safe-house for Felix and Zelda, giving them different names - is strongly drawn and helps ground the central part of a novel which might otherwise, as its title suggests, have been a then-fortunately-then-unfortunately continuum.

Another grounding motif is the figure of Richmal Crompton, described by Carol Ann Duffy in The Ultimate Book Guide as 'the patron saint of childhood'. Certainly, in this book the creator of William acts on more than one occasion as the guardian saint of Felix, helping him to avoid potentially fatal dangers.

Gleitzman's style is always highly accessible, so this book can be highly recommended for any child who is ready to confront the horrors of Nazi tyranny. Thank heavens there is no age-banding on its cover.

Darren Shan On Book Quiz

Darren Shan is on the panel of Book Quiz again tonight on BBC4 at 20.30h

Sunday Times Children's Book Of The Week

Dogs by Emily Gravett

Gravett, who has twice won the Kate Greenaway medal for illustration, captures the attitudes and energetic movement of these creatures with her sure pencil line, which is both fresh in its appearance and old-fashioned in its skill, while small touches nod towards cartoon tradition - a fishbone in a dustbin, for example... NICOLETTE JONES

Guardian Picture Book Review (2)

The joy of anticipation and the disappointment that can follow are zippily charted in this vigorous story about the aptly named Bridget Fidget, a girl who is constantly on the move... JULIA ECCLESHARE

Guadian Picutre Book review (1)

Award-winning illustrator Helen Cooper's hugely imaginative dog fantasy carries the reader on a wild and explosive night-time caper after Bridget eats a dog biscuit by mistake. JULIA ECCCLESHARE

Deakin Newsletter January-February 2009

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Andrea Deakin Newslatter Jan-Feb 2009

Highly Recommended, as always

Betsy Byars feature

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How secondary schools stop kids, especially boys, being creative - by a top children's author

Joe Craig, author of the Jimmy Coates series, argues that children's creativity - particularly boys' creativity - is stifled from Y7 on by teachers who only accept 'sensible' ideas.


A book is something to take to bed with you...

The LRC [Learning Resource Centre] is an educational disaster. Here, where books are merely "learning resources", reading is about functional literacy instead of pleasure. A paperclip is a learning resource. Google Earth is a learning resource. But a book is "the distilled essence of a human soul". A book is something you take to bed with you. It is not a learning resource any more than a kiss is a coordinated interpersonal labial spasm... FRANK COTTRELL BOYCE

Sunday Times Children's Book Of The Week

Guantanamo Boy by Anna Perera

Readers will be wrung out afterwards, but will appreciate the small comforts and kindnesses of normal life that Khalid vividly remembers in the midst of the horror. This powerful and humane book shows that hatred is never an answer, and proves the pointlessness of torture and the danger of thinking of anyone as 'other'. NICOLETTE JONES

was reviewed by Amanda Craig in The Times yesterday as well, but I can't locate the url for that yet

Guardian Review
Philip Ardagh reviews Numbers by Rachel Ward

Numbers is a high-concept, it-could-go-anywhere idea taken down an unexpected and interesting route. Seemingly downbeat, it is both intelligent and life-affirming. First-time author Rachel Ward is certainly one to watch. PHILIP ARDAGH

BookBrunch Children's Column

Nicolette Jones considers the impact made by reading books in childhood that feature the snow...

The snow in my soul (not like the chip of ice in The Snow Queen) includes the snow on the other side of Lewis's wardrobe - reflected lamplight on the snow is always instant Narnia. And there is Mole trudging behind Ratty in 'Dulce Domum', forever associating snow with somewhere near Home, somewhere we came from and want to go back to...

Scholastic UK has announced that it has become a supporting partner for Red Nose Day 2009.

There will be a six week campaign culminating on Friday 13th March to encourage the people of the UK to 'Do Something Funny for Money'. Scholastic is working with thousands of schools across the UK to support Red Nose Day and to 'Read Something Funny for Money'. The aim is to raise over £50,000 for Comic Relief.

Kate Wilson, Group MD at Scholastic UK says, "We are proud to be a supporting partner for Red Nose Day 2009. We work with teachers and children every day to promote the enjoyment of books and reading and to provide free books for school libraries. Red Nose Day gives us the opportunity to highlight what Scholastic does, while also supporting the great charitable work that schools do to raise money for Comic Relief and adding to the range of fund-raising activities available."

Review & Interview - Guantanamo Boy

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Review of Guantanamo Boy

Young Adult book reviewed on politics.co.uk

And the same site has an an interview with the author

VAT Threat Thwarted

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VAT Threat Thwarted

An attempt by Brussels to impose VAT on particular types of children's novelty books has failed, according to this report in The Bookseller

Life, Interrupted

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Damian Kelleher is well-known on the children's books scene. He was book editor in the glory days of Young Telegraph and T2, frequently chairs children's book events and is seen at all the best publisher parties. For that reason, if I had not genuinely liked this book I would probably have kept my thoughts to myself.

The first thing to be said about it - this is Kelleher's debut as full-length novelist, as far as I'm aware - is that it is extremely fluently written, in an unpretentious, unshowy first-person continuous present. The second thing to say is that the subject matter - a mother of two boys dying of cancer - is not one I exactly relax into.

There is a puff on the back jacket from Jacqueline Wilson in which she uses the phrase "searingly sad at times", so I was braced for a hard read. As it happens, the mother is only a peripheral part of the story. The focus remains throughout on Luke and his brother Jesse, and the uncle who arrives to take care of them.

Conicidentally, as soon as I had finished Life, Interrupted I picked up The Paris Review Interviews vol. 3 and read the interview with Ralph Ellison, in which the interviewers remark at one point, "A common criticism of first novels is that the central incident is either omitted or weak." It's possible that some may feel in this book Kelleher does not give the central incident sufficient weight or emotional cache, relegating it, as the title of the book implies, to an interruption.

It seems to me that that would be to grossly misunderstand what Kelleher is trying to show here. In concentrating on an important schools football final and in optimistically acclimatising to life with their gay uncle, the boys are coming to terms in their own way with what has happened, and doing what boys often do differently from girls when life is interrupted by major events - moving on more quickly and with less overt emotion.

Sunday Times Children's Book Of The Week

This week

This page-turner invests mundane experience and everyday language with the resonance of poetry. Its last line quotes Holly's friend who dreamt of being a catwalk model: 'It's like walking up to heaven, Holly, without having to die first.' This, and the thought that there was no more of Dowd's work to read, brought a lump to the throat. NICOLETTE JONES

Last week

One of the reasons this humane and carefully crafted book is so readable is that the author celebrates ordinariness and childishness even as he chronicles terrible cruelty. But prepare for shock and tears. NICOLETTE JONES


This dense, imaginative fantasy, involving a tribe of outcasts and a landscape that seems to have a mind of its own, is distinguished, as is all of Hardinge's fiction, by her writerly precision and phrase-making: children picking up a local patois, for instance, bring it home "like mud on their shoes". NICOLETTE JONES

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