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.