Monthly Archives: April 2007

The Museum Book

Jan Mark, ill. Richard Holland

Walker Books

1844287491

Apr 2007

A tribute to human knowledge and achievement, Jan Mark’s final completed work, ‘The Museum Book’ forms a fitting epitaph to an author whose work constantly challenged and was illuminated by a sense of curiousity and intrigue. As with her fictional output, the unique quality coursing through this extraordinary book is the intricate connections between experience and understanding that Mark has teased out.
‘The Museum Book’ insinuates the desire for macrocosmic realisation, yet accomplishes this down to the most minute detail, outlining the importance of individual experience and knowledge.
Richard Holloway has done a sterling job in epitomising through his illustrations, the wealth and breadth of knowledge that museums provide us access towards, and in making visual Mark’s verbal challenges as to what constitutes a museum, and to looking beyond the mere fabric and architecture of the buildings themselves.
Not always easy, or comfortable, consideration is given here to the nature of a museum and the plunderous acts that have sometimes underpinned their collation throughout history.
Here is a lasting gift, a tribute and testament to the skills of an author whose creative output, rather than sales figures, marks her out as one of the most remarkable authors of recent years. A welcome and an arguably necessary addition for the bookshelf of the everyman, whether they be young or old…

Pelle’s New Suit

Elsa Beskow

Floris Books

0863155847

Feb 2007

One of the founders of Swedish children’s literature, Elsa Beskow reported drawing joint influence for her work from her own childhood experience and from the fairytales and folklore told to her by her grandmother. Floris books who have not only brought these classics of European children’s literature to the English market, have now made one of her classic picture books ‘Pelle’s new suit’ available in a new mini book format, meanings it affordability makes this treasure of translated literature, accessible to many…
Extended across from the baseline of the animal provider ‘ the sheep with his wool ‘ Pelle must exchange his own skills, trade and time to acquire the assistance needed by others in this picture books that operates as a child’s externalised sense of social conscience. Roles in society, and the need to utilise our own abiities to gain access to the skills base of those surrounding us makes this a perennially valuable tale. Experience for Pelle placed in a Christian context as the newly made blue suit is completed just in time for Sunday.
A sweet little picture book whose subtle Christian message does not overshadow its imperative for social adeptness through the meeting of our needs and desires. Clear naturalistic illustrations make this book as fresh today as upon initial publication in the early 20th Century.
Look out for ‘The Sun Egg’, another of Beskow’s classic picture books made available in miniature format by Floris books, whereby the woodland community pontificate over the possible background and nature to the sun egg. The reality of this being something much more commonplace and the mystery weaved around it and the mythical and magical overtures cast around it make this a delightful and unexpected picture book.

Charlie Small: The Perfumed Pirates of Perfidy

Nick Ward

David Fickling Books

0385611234

Mar 2007

‘We’d had enough of cleaning and cooking while the men went off and had all the fun. So Ivy called a meeting of all the pirate wives, and we decided to become pirates ourselves. The first all-lady pirate crew in the world. And we’ve not done any cleaning since!’

Found encased in a solid block of ice on the Himalayas, Charlie Small’s second journal recounts our heroes detainment and endeavours to escape the treacherous gang of lady pirates who have become his captives.
This second exciting adventure sees Charlie do battle with a deadly sea slug, become the most wanted felon on the high seas, attempt a rescue attempt from the clutches of Turncoat Craik, pit his wits against a crew of ghost pirates and find cunning use for a puffer fish.
Still unclear as to the exact nature or cause of his current predicament and term of leave from home, Charlie strives to regain possession of his mobile telephone, the only device via which contact with home ‘ albeit a somewhat repetitive and unfulfilling contact ‘ is made’
More excitement and adventure on the high seas than you can shake a curious and inventive Jakeman’s clockwork limpet at, keep your eyes peeled for the next thrilling instalment’!

Tug of War

Catherine Forde

Egmont

1405220058

Apr 2007

Based around the true life experiences of her grandmother, dual influences are played out in Catherine Forde’s latest novel, ‘Tug of War’. Set in the near future, the book sees the United Kingdom subject to repeated and increasingly endangering attacks from terrorism. Ship building in Glasgow makes the city a particular target, thus it is that that siblings John and Molly are preparing to be evacuated to safety.
Experiences for the two siblings from this point forth could scarcely be more divergent. John is evacuated to Mr Nott’s where he is abused and used as forced labour. Molly meanwhile is ‘molly’-coddled by the excesses of Pernilla, a larger than life, glamorous individual who teaches at the local school and is keen to lavish upon her evacuee the source behind each of her every whim and desire. Personal intent behind this becomes increasingly clear as Pernilla’s efforts to extend influence become ever more overt and desperate.
Caught between her own mother and Pernilla who, unable to have children of her own, is keen to adopt Molly and is most persuasive about the type of lifestyle she could expect with her, Molly faces a difficult choice . Town is played out versus country, modernity versus the pastoral, indusrial versus agricultural and emotional versus materialism as Molly is forced to assess what is important to her.
Skilfully observed and rich in its emotional depth and charge, the importance of this book is its ability to stimulate real consideration as to the modern meaning and worth of family ties in the develoment of childhood.

Barnaby Grimes

Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell

Doubleday

0385611889

Jun 2007

‘I heard a hiss. Then a low, menacing snarl. And as the clouds cleared again and the moon shone down, I found myself staring into a pair of blazing yellow eyes.’

Proving once more their exceptional talent for realising their own worlds down to the most minute, vivid and therefore utterly convincing detail, ‘Barnarby Grimes‘, the first book in a new series, sees their work and unique collaborative techniques transposed from the fantasy oeuvre to a more historic setting.
The eponymous Barnaby Grimes is a ‘Tick Tock’ lad, a delivery boy of sorts, whose method of ambulation is across the roof-scapes and skyline of the city. This provides ample helpings of cliff-hanger suspense and tensions in addition to providing spectacular striding panoramas across the city.
The city is replete in its surface veneer of finery and elegance, yet throbbing beneath it is a seedy underbelly of deep, dark secrets, of corruption and power-struggles that has the transformative powers to imbue readers with the sensibilities of an intrepid explorer and an astute sleuth.
The prose is almost poetic, imbued as it is with rhythm and pace and a crystalline crispness. The narrative is lithe and lively. It leaps and bounds as does the lyncathrope that tears at the heart of the novel. Interplay between story and illustration brings to mind a more dynamic version of the dialectic between Harry Furniss and Charles Dicken!
Rich in literary allusion, the book has shades of Stephenson’s ‘Jekyll and Hyde‘, a tinge of Barrie’s dark humour with the ‘Tick Tock’ referencing Hook’s nemesis, the crocodile that swallowed the clock thus emphasising the importance of time in delineating childhood, societal cross-sections that bring to mind Dickens and of course the werewolves themselves, a construct of European folkloric legends with possible literary originations in the Icelandic Volsunga Saga. A thought-provoking and highly engaging new read penned by the hands of one of the most exciting creative collaborations in children’s literature.

Tell Me a Story Mummy

Carl Norac, ill. Mei Matsuoka

Macmillan

1405021896

Feb 2007

An internalised fear of a solipsistic existence whereby only her own fears and turmoils delineate her character is in danger of verification through external stimuli as Salsa the goat finds herself unable to sleep or to gain solace from those around her… The edginess of this dark subject is made more comfortable by the softened, idealised naturalistic illustrations that Mei Matsuoka lends the work.
Unable to sleep, Salsa finds herself anxious made anxious by her inability to waken any of the other sleeping animals. Tiring of making so much her exertions, Salsa seeks a different place to sleep and eventually recruits the aid of Cork, a passing sheep who she believes will have soporific effect if jumping a fence!
Unable to assist, Salsa eventually requests a story from her mum who starts with one that is too exciting, moves on to another that is too funny, to a third that is too scary. Salsa decides there is nothing for it other than to tell her mother the type of story that would be ideal, in so doing’ she begins’ to feel’ a little sleepy’ The ability to find rest and relaxation was within her all along. A sensitive and touching picture book where story and illustration move towards peaceable slumber.

The Hunting Season

Dean Vincent Carter

Bodley Head

0370329120

Mar 2007

‘This was the sound of death. The door hand began to turn, there was another snort of breath, then ‘ A gunshot, followed by someone yelling, then more gunshots.’

Fear of uncertainty and of the unknown with the ultimate culmination of these being death, is the driving force that powers all horror. Psychological horror, however, takes this one step further examining the means and manners via which we are able to exert control over our lives and the types of influence and affect that cause their gradual corrosion.
‘Hunting Season’, Dean Vincent Carter’s second novel explores and unpicks these ideas through the balancing of juxtaposing ideas. Lack of control arises when experience dictates that these contradictions are no longer capable of equilibrium.
Urban influences are pitted against those of nature, visibility in lightness in marked, stark contrast against the obfuscations of darkness, most significant of all, however, is the interplay between the tamed and the wild as urges and desires are painted against societal control and civilisation.
Set eight years after an accident in Austria that apparently killed both of his parents, Gerontius Moore (named after Elgar’s ‘The Dream of Gerontius’) is living with his Aunt and Uncle when he becomes unwittingly embroiled with gangland activities in an abandoned theatre. Played out in this theatrical setting, the first part of the drama takes on a post-modern level of self-awareness. This develops in quick-fire succession to endeavours to escape being the ‘hunted’ of the title and for Gerontius, to learn more about the death of his immediate family. A heart-thumpingly gripping read with revelation and surprise at every turn!

Jacky Daydream

Jacqueline Wilson

Doubleday

0385610157

Mar 2007

Handed the dubious mantle of being somehow wholly attuned to the minds and sensibilities of her child readers, Jacqueline Wilson’s prose has become increasingly emotionally dispossessed, as the marketing surrounding her books appears to have forced her further and further into a creative cul-de-sac.
Jacky Daydream‘, her latest work epitomises this process by mythologising her own childhood alongside the preoccupations and ideas that have bubbled through the body of her work post-‘Tracy Beaker’. What feels palpably frustrating to readers here is that the obvious capability of Wilson as a writer, her curiosity, intellect and intrigue, all of that potential is neither attained nor even properly attempted. Simmering preoccupations are never given full time to gestate, to develop and grow and thereby to reach the exhilarating climax of a rolling boil. By consequence, Wilson’s output has begun to feel, at best, increasingly formulaic and at worst, unashamedly stale.
With the exception of touchingly considerate and astute passages ‘ notably those recollecting her father’s sensitivity and the manner through which his inability to achieve expression led to manifestations of anger ‘ much of the book is enigmatic choosing to focus on the trivialities of which plastic dolls were favoured on lustful trips to Woolworths, rather than on the emotional grist of grappling with what inspires her as a writer, of what aspects of her own childhood burn bright at the heart of her own fiction.
As an autobiographical work ‘Jacky Daydream” appears peculiarly one-dimensional, it operates best as a series of reminiscences and on this level is not without appeal. That it chooses to omit reference to any of Jacqueline’s early work is strangely elliptical .
A sad lack of pride or sense of fulfilment in her body of work per-se pervades the book and is entirely disparate to the sparky enthusiasm and intellect with which professionals in the field will have experienced first-hand as Jacqueline articulated her literary tastes, beliefs and considerable enthusiasm during her time as laureate. This together with the quote ‘I was delighted to discover that children in adult novels were much more characters’ with rich inner lives and fears and fancies‘ leaves readers anxious in the hope that Jacqueline will be afforded and indeed will afford herself as much time and emotional free-reign as is needed to write a book that truly matters to her, which realises the types of inner-life and motivation that modern children’s fiction is able to embrace, and in which justifiable pride is able to be taken.

Charlie Small: Gorilla City

Nick Ward

David Fickling Books

0385611226

Mar 2007

Occasionally one holds a book in one’s hand that is the subject of much torment, trial and tribulation. Found on the banks of the Rivery Wyre at Skippool, Lancashire, ‘Charlie Small: Gorilla City’ is one such book. Its protagonist, the eponymous Charlie who, paradoxically reveals he has lived for over four-hundred years has been flung headlong into adventures of the most extraordinary kind…
When trying out a raft that he and his father built, Charlie gets struck by lightning. From here-on-in, Charlie’s adventures begin as he befriends a wonderfully inventive Steam Rhinoceros, is attacked by a monstrous giant snake and finally is kidnapped by a gang of gorillas who hold the expectation he might present marital material!
A rip-roaring, page-turning adventure that will leave readers wondering, just what has happened to Charlie, what misfortunes will before him in the next thrilling instalment, just where that instalment might be found and’ whether he will ever return home in time for tea! Serialised young adventure of the most imaginative and exciting, but also reassuring type, look out for episodes recounted through the journals of Charlie himself…

Ottoline and the Yellow Cat

Chris Riddell

Macmillan

1405050578

Feb 2007

Seamless transposition of the atmosphere and ethos from classic film noir against his signature eccentricity and wit contribute to making ‘Ottoline and the Yellow Cat’ the latest highly distinctive and original offering from Chris Riddell.
Ottoline, daughter to two adventurers, finds that her parents’ activities influence her twofold. Firstly she has inherited a sizeable portion of their curiosity and intrigue as to the world that surrounds her in and around the pepperpot shaped P. W. Huffledinck tower. Secondly, sustained absence of her parents constitutes an ideal base from which exploits, mystery and escapades are able to be had in the firmest traditions of children’s literature!
Accompanied by the solemn, unbedgrudging constancy of the sombre, but ever-true Mr. Monroe, Ottoline finds herself embroiled in attempts to uncover the strange happenings that are afoot concerning the disappearance of the city’s dogs.
Utilising cunning, guile and the skills and specialties of the various employees who cater to each of her needs during her parents’ absence, Ottoline exposes the plots and ploys of the phantom pooch pilferer whose influence has outstretched across the city.
Opulent in feel and imaginative in focus, this makes a welcome addition to any bookshelf and, like its eponymous protagonist, readers will doubtless find themselves subject to similar collecterly urges! A crisp, clear and affectionate prosaic style belies the immediacy of Riddell’s inspiring illustrations ‘ reproduced here in a striking red and black two-tone print that harkens back to the earlier reprographic production of children’s comics.
Exceptionally high production values, a format that is ideal for small hands and a loving attention to detail give a solid backbone that bodes well for the future of the series. Secrets, surprises, style and sophistication make this a superbly special story of sleuthing’ a standing ovation for the astounding Ottoline!