Recently in Reference Category

edited by Julia Eccleshare
October 2009
This lovely whopper of a reference book weighs in at just under 1000 pages. The first thing to be said about it is that has been splendidly designed and presented, as well as printed to a high quality. The typeface is sharp and easy on the eye. The page layouts are straightforward and uniform throughout the book. For the most part the illustrations used are the book jackets from a title's first edition. Indeed, much pleasure can be derived from 1001 Children's Books without reading a single entry; just admiring the book jacket designs and (for an older consumer such as I am) taking a trip down memory lane is delight enough. Of course there are omissions. That goes without saying. Each of us might have found room for titles not included here if we had been the book's editor. I would have wanted a place for Robert O'Brien's Z for Zachariah (in addition to his Mrs Frisby and the Rats Of Nimh, which IS included here), for Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff, for at least one book by Joan Bauer. But to be honest a couple of dozen changes out of the 1001 would probably be sufficient to bring the selection closer into line with my own editorial preferences, and I daresay the same would be true for everyone. Achieving a 98% satisfaction level should more than please Julia Eccleshare. A fine book currently available at a cutdown price.

ed. Leonie Flynn, Daniel Hahn & Susan Reuben
A & C Black
January 2009

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. ACHUKA will blog these recommendations to help spread the word.

Looking for Enid

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Duncan McLaren
Portobello Books ltd
Oct 2007
As well as being ubiquitous in the children�s literature field, Enid Blyton�s legacy has been highly influential. With around 8 million copies of her various titles sold annually and a body of work that embraces some seven-hundred-books, Blyton was and remains a true phenomenon in children�s publishing.

Purporting to guide readers through the �mysterious and inventive life of Enid Blyton�, Duncan McLaren�s �Looking for Enid� documents the geography that lay behind much of her life and attempts to place this in context of her work. The major initial problem with this line of thinking is that the hypothesis it posits is reliant upon the weight of emphasis and significance that McLaren places upon particular works and characters at the exclusion of others that are in contravention of his pre-defined ideologies, making this a curiously single-sided work. Only those out of the many tunnels and secret passages that fit with McLaren�s slightly aslant psycho-analytic reading, only those towers which fit with the autobiographical detail he feels permeates the works are granted accord, the remainder meanwhile are dismissed.

In spite of this, parts of McLaren�s work are revelatory and parts of his research � where it is grounded and does not involve flirtatious theorising that seems to serve its apparent primary purpose, the titillation of his travelling companion Kate � are to be applauded. This, however, is too dilute and embedded within too much supposition to be of major interest.

With the literary equivalent of a nervous-twitch, McLaren appropriates Blyton�s characters and lives out parts of his own thoughts, feelings and desires and those that he projects upon Blyton herself. This occurs most inappropriately when Enid and first husband Hugh have an imagined bed-time conversation as rabbits, Binkle and Flip discussing the hope for a fully-developed uterus� �Oh, it wouldn�t have to be a fully developed one. Not an arterial road running right through me! But perhaps I could wish for the uerus of an 18-year-old girl. Do you think that would be too much to ask for?� It becomes hard not to recoil!

Blyton�s position within the children�s literature world and the sheer mass of work she produced means that further consideration � and that which travels beyond the shifting trends and tectonics of political correctness � is needed, but this title is unequal to that. Barbara Stoney�s official biography is far more engaging, more precisely written and of lasting interest than the current work.

Portobello must be praised for the high-production values on this work, however, whether the self-indulgent content in its current form warranted publication is certainly questionable.

Pick Me Up

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David Roberts and Jeremy Leslie
Dorling Kindersley
Oct 2006
�Pick Me Up� was the showcase new publication by Dorling Kindersley, offering a new means for cataloguing the information of the traditional children�s reference encyclopaedia that draws upon the tangential sensibilities of web-browsing. This makes it possible to follow interest areas from Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948), through to colonisation, to World War Two, arriving at the prehistoric via a journey of oil! Linkage between knowledge area and these �learning trails� make for a particularly impressive journey of discovery.

As with any reference work whose knowledge-base and scope is so wide, �Pick Me Up� deals, for the most part, with its topics quite cursorily as such the book provides a useful �backbone� to reference collections and a springboard from which it is possible to garner that all-too-rare and real context and understanding to given topics and to leap-frog into more in depth publications and websites as the desire takes.

As with a standard encyclopaedia, the work is structured under disciplinary subject areas � �Science, technology and space�, �Society, places and beliefs�, �History�, �The natural world�, �People who made the world�, �Arts, entertainment and media�, �You and your body� and �Planet Earth�. This gives options for more standard usage by readers alongside those who wish to meander along �learning trails�.

The highly illustrated, magazine-style content, makes the book both easy on the eye and quick to engage with and from which to assimilate knowledge. A wide-reaching and thoughtfully structured development to the often seemingly static reference genre, a picture perhaps of the future?

Believe it or Not! 2007

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Ed. Rebecca Miles
Oct 2006
Continuing the global quest for what is always strange, often unsavoury and sometimes sordid, �Ripley�s Believe It or Not! 2007� is the third annual compendium that draws upon the wide history and geography of oddities, following the tradition established by sports columnist for the New York Globe, Robert Ripley. Much like Ripley�s own work, the success of this book is achieved through its documentation of the unusual and extraordinary and its ability to avoid reproach or reprove.

Thematically arranged under eight headings, �Strange World�, �Weird and Wonderful�, �Breaking Boundaries�, Amazing Animals�, �Larger than Life�, Impossible Feats�, �Simply Unbelievable� and �The Final Reckoning�, the book provides a perfect antidote for times when life feels humdrum.

Archive features tap into the rich historical vein of Ripley�s meticulous research, in depth features provide interviews and background to a number of participants and interludes showcasing features from amongst Ripley�s 29 museums in 10 different countries relay the type of geographical spread of the phenomenon that �Believe it or Not� has become.

�Believe It or Not! 2007� is one of those rare books that is genuinely so engaging that it can be opened at any page and guaranteed to entertain, to educate and to enrich. There is Jim Mouth, the man with the outrageously outsized mouth � able to fit 157 straws in it at once � Wang Yide, the lick artist from China, Bruce the goldfish who meausres in at an enormous 17.129 inches, Cathie Jung aged 68 who has worn a corset for over 20 years and now sports an incredible 15 inch waist and much, much more�

Our world is often a peculiar one dominated as much by the exceptional as by precedent. There can be few better ways to celebrate this uniqueness and colour than through perusing this astonishing volume.

Under the Spell of the Moon

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Katherine Paterson et al
Frances Lincoln
Jul 2006
The styles and cultures of world illustration are magnificently show-cased in �Under the Spell of the Moon�. This impressive and highly collectable collection of illustrations from across the globe is a celebration of artists put together by The International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) who administer the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen awards.

Donations of the illustrations by the artists allows royalties from the sales of the book to go to IBBY enabling it to sustain and develop it work in ensuring children the world over have access to high quality books. Each artist presents a short text � nursery rhymes, poetry, riddles, idioms etc � to accompany their illustration.

Thirty-two double page spreads by different illustrators are included, as well as a short summary of biographical and bibliographical information. Countries represented include the United States, Japan, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Canada, Austria, Iran, Brazil, France and many more�

A wealth of recommendations for artists and books to seek out makes this a most welcome addition to the multi-cultural bookshelf and a book to pore over and admire.

Jacqueline Wilson et al
May 2006
Current children�s laureate Jacqueline Wilson has made her campaign focus during her tenure, the promotion of reading aloud. Last year�s announcement that the government would fund BookStart�s three book interventions make this both a timely and admirable drive.

�Over 70 Tried and Tested Great Books to Read Aloud� does exactly what it says on the tin. Within this practical and highly affordable little book � priced at only a pound it really is a snip � is an endorsement by Jacqueline Wilson who is - as any of her fans will testify - an avid reader, a brief overview of the benefits of reading aloud providing by Guardian children�s literature editor Julia Eccleshare and some top tips for reading aloud.

A soiree of celebrities have endorsed the book providing personal anecdotes and favourite books for reading aloud. Whilst some of the celebrity choices seem a little arbitrary � though effusive Cherie Booth QC says little that does more than to add to the overall cumulative effect that reading aloud with children is good � those which work best are perhaps the authors - their recommendations and anecdotes at points provide real insight into their work and reading habit serving to genuinely inspire.

Needless to say with just over 70 recommendations, this is far from being a comprehensive guide, nonetheless some excellent titles are recommended here and they come with the assurance that they have been �tried and tested�. There are, however, some shocking oversights, any of Philip Ridley�s books should be featured here, they lend themselves perfectly to being read aloud and in many instances the lyricism of his text is best appreciated when audibly read. The brilliant and highly innovative picture books �The Wolves in the Walls� and �The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish� are carefully crafted by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean so that they can be read aloud with alacrity � the illustrations help allow for really dynamic readings! Any of Jan Mark�s wonderful and highly diverse collections of short-stories make for a real treat when read aloud. The Portuguese poetry collection �The Moon has written you a poem� stretches mind and imagination alike and has a superb, dream-like quality that lends itself to being read aloud in hushed-tones prior to bedtime� [Which books would you recommend? Why not click here and go to ACHUKACHAT to have your say?!]

In short this is a great collection of recommendations to read aloud and offers some worthwhile guidance notes. It is still no substitute for browsing and trying and testing books on one�s own children, the children one knows, or any child who can be introduced to their local library or bookshop where a whole world awaits them�

Deborah Hallford & Edgardo Zaghini
Nov 2005
What a tremendous resource this is. It opens, after a short introduction by the editors and foreword by Philip Pullman, with a series of articles by a reviewer (Nick Tucker), a translator (Sarah Adams), an author (Lene Kaaberbol), an academic (Gillian Lathey), a publisher (Kalus Flugge) and others. Then there are the book recommendations themselves, organised in five age categories plus graphic novels, non-fiction, and dual language books. The last quarter of the book is given over to author and illustrator biographies and helpful resource and organisation details. Finally, there is a very good index.

Most guides of this type have to be produced on a shoestring of a budget and often appear in dowdy pamphlet format. This one has been designed and produced to an extremely high standard (it has benefitted from Arts Council sponsorship), with cover and inside illustrations by Pablo Bernasconi. An essential resource for anyone seriously interested in giving children the widest access to all that's best in children's books from around the world. More than being a handy signpost to what's available today, this bright user-friendly production ought to serve as an incentive for publishers to produce an increasing number of books in translation in the future.