November 2011 Archives

The Flute

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Rachna Gilmore ill,. Pulak Biswas
June 2011
32 pp
Whole book read
Read On? n/a
Movingly told, simply but effectively illustrated by one of India's best-known illustrators, this is a lovely short story by Governor General Award-winning author, Rachna Gilmore. Set in a countryside prone to flooding, it tells the story of Chandra who is left an orphan after her parents are swept away by floodwater. All she has to remember them by is the wooden flute that her mother used to play so beautifully. Taken in by a cruel and merciless aunt and uncle, Chandra is treated as a slave. The flute is the only object of comforrt in her world. Even after she loses it (swept away by swollen river waters) the flute is able to perform its magic, filling her spirit with hope, and even feeding her body. Finally, after another flood, Chandra is taken in by a kind couple, who treat her not as a slave but as their own daughter. Pleasingly designed and printed, this is a picture book to keep in a home library for many a year. Warmly recommended.


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Emily Gravett
October 2011
24 pp
Whole book read
Read On? n/a
Emily Gravett is already a two-times winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal. Her new picture book is another class act. The book-within-a-book tells the tale - in splendidly executed, easy to read aloud rhyme - of Cedric the Dragon, whose end of day refrain is "Tomorrow I'll do it all over again." The young dragon who is being read to by parent dragon also shouts "Again" on every alternate double spread. But in his case it is the storybook he wants to hear again.

In a clever twist at the end, dragon fire burns a big hole in the final page and right through the back cover of the book. The fly-leaf carries the message DO NOT BLOCK FIRE EXIT.

I like the way the jacket designers have continued to play the game and aid suspension of disbelief by making this "fire exit" obscure a big chunk of the back page blurb. One thing is for sure, young children will want to share this book Again and Again even if it's just to poke their fingers through that hole.

Wish Me Dead

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Helen Grant
June 2011
441 pp
Whole book read
Let me begin with a reminder of how much I admired Helen Grant's first two novels, each of which received ACHUKA's top rating of five gold chicks. You can read my reviews of The Vanishing of Katharina Linden ("not one single moment of disappointment, not one wavering of tone, not one narrative misjudgment awaits the reader in this impressively assured debut novel") and The Glass Demon ("as she did in her first novel...Grant cranks up the drama and excitement with impeccable pace and timing") here: archive (scroll down - this review will be on top).

Her third novel is, like the first, set in the small town of Bad Munstereifel, and begins reasonably lightheartedly as a kind of Five Children and It in reverse. Instead of child characters, the friends in this book are all in their late teens, and act and behave accordingly. Instead of their wishes (made on scraps of paper and left in a deserted house) going comically wrong, they are granted precisely as asked. Each time it is Steffi (the book's narrator) whose wish is granted. For obvious reasons this unsettles her, particularly when people begin dying.

Steffi, who works in the family bakery and cafe, is a vivid presence and her voice is the driving force of the novel, as it has to be. The experiences she undergoes become increasingly horrific. The ratcheting up of the tension is not, however, as well handled here as in the first two novels. There are signs that it was not so tightly edited, both at individual paragraph level, and in terms of its narrative trajectory and structure. Grant is a fluent writer, but at times her fluency produces more words where fewer would serve more strongly. The novel would be better for being fifty pages shorter.

An Amazon reviewer feels that the brief return of Steffi's sister was 'pointless'. I agree with that. The father's illness is sufficient in itself to add roundness to Steffi's character (as well as ensuring Steffi is alone in the bakery at a crucial time in the plot's development) and allows Grant to ensure the reader remains sympathetic towards her main character.

It's still a good read and like the first two books would make superb TV drama.