This is a great little book – one I’m so grateful to the author for bringing to my attention. It’s essentially self-published, but don’t let that put you off. Apart from an annoyingly long first-line paragraph inset, it’s an exceptionally polished presentation. As a short chapter book about bullying and pacifism, set at the time of the First World War, it presents moral and behaviour conflicts in a manner that makes it eminently accessible for children of primary school age. It would make a very good group read.
The author is a primary school teacher and says (his experience is one I can share from my own time working with this age range), “I believe there are many very capable readers in upper key stage 2 who are put off by longer novels but who do want to read challenging and interesting subject matter.”
The book is presented as the first in a series of “BigShorts” – short novels for strong readers, that Wootten intends publishing and promoting through his website. If subsequent titles are as good as this, ACHUKA will be happy to help promote them.
The writing is clear, visual and uncluttered. The characters are finely delineated – the bully, the victim, the pacifist father, the strict schoolteacher, the friend & accomplice – but all very believable. The conflict between the main character’s parents – his father the conscientious objector, and his mother who has to bear the brunt of fellow women’s resentment that while their husbands are away fighting hers is at home shirking – is one of the best aspects of the book.
Female readers might want George’s friend, Emma, to play a more forthright role in subsequent adventures.
Oh, and there is animal interest, in a cat named Azar.
The formula is a good one.
Literature did wonders for my early vocabulary By the age of five, I was writing couplets that featured the word “alas”. I suppose I had a way of speaking that was not always suitable for my age. It made me stand out at school – and not in a good way.
School can be hell I was bullied from the age of seven, and I had to share a classroom with the main bully, my nemesis, for the next nine years. I was made fun of, stabbed with pencils in the back. It was all pretty unpleasant, and made me very anxious, very scared. I didn’t talk about it to anyone, I didn’t ask for help; I just thought that this was what life was. I coped by reading; books were a window to another world.
Dead Ends by Erin Lange, reviewed by Annabel Pitcher
Erin Lange’s subject is bullying. In her debut novel, Butter, we were on the side of the victim, a fat boy attempting to eat himself to death on the internet for the grisly viewing pleasure of his peers. In Dead Ends, we are rooting for the bully – hot-headed thug Dane Washington, who kick-starts the action by unapologetically smashing his foot into "some guy’s throat". In Dane’s world, violence is justified if people are "asking for it", the only exception to the rule being girls and "retards".
If you balk at the use of that word, Dead Ends is not the novel for you. Like RJ Palacio, with whom Lange has been compared, she pulls no punches when describing the mistreatment of "freak" Billy D, a teenage boy with Down’s syndrome, who moves into Dane’s street on the wrong side of town (Columbia, Missouri).
In keeping with their recent books, they were both being presented as ‘geeky’ authors, or rather authors who had been geeky when children.
In Andy Robb’s case this was because he had been into role-playing games before it had been cool to be so. There’s a rather good promotional video on his website:
From the way Holly Smale spoke, her own childhood geekiness came across as an uncool thirst after knowledge for knowledge’s sake.
She was an avid reader and her mother read adult poetry and fiction to her from an early age. She completed her first rhyming couplet poem – “The Unicorn” – at the age of seven, and still brings it out at dinner parties, as demonstrated (just an extract) in this clip.
The session started with both authors reading a passage from one of their recent titles. After that the hour passed very quickly, with Robb and Smale chatting freely about their life and work, ably prompted and facilitated by Jo Nadin.
I confess I haven’t yet read either of Andy Robb’s Geek books, Geekhood or Geekhood: Mission Impossible. I have read and enjoyed the first Geek Girl, but not the sequel. What Smale brings out very well in the first novel is the double-edged predicament faced by her main character – ridiculed and bullied at school, then becoming the target of more spiteful abuse in the modelling world, which in turn compounds the comments she receives from her school peers. And this, by all accounts, is based on her own experiences as a gangly 15-year-old ‘spotted’ by a fashion scout. She has managed to transform the painful experiences and memories of her own adolescence into an entertaining and diverting read, light enough for children as young as 7 years old (she told us her readership goes this young).