Annabel's House of Books

Noli domo egredi, nisi librum habes – Never leave home without a book.

Tag: Childrens (page 1 of 8)

The Carnegie Medal Longlist 2015

The books longlisted for the 2015 CILIP Carnegie Medal were announced a couple of days ago. The CILIP Carnegie Medal is awarded annually by CILIP for an outstanding book for children. (CILIP is the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals.) As usual, many schools will be shadowing the awards, especially once the shortlist is announced on March 17th. The Medal will finally be awarded on June 22nd. Does the fact that the shadowing process appears to be mostly undertaken by years 6, 7 & 8 (10-13yrs) mean that the trend towards giving the Medal to books for older children will continue?

Call me a cynic, but there some wonderful books in the list to explore. As always there is a real mixture, and it will be interesting to see which way it goes. There was much controversy over the bleakness of the 2014 winner – The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks (wonderful, but so bleak – read my review here). What will come from this year’s crop.

Here’s the longlist – I’ve read a couple of them, and have six others on my shelves already.

My Brother’s Shadow by Tom Avery (Andersen Press)

Us Minus Mum by Heather Butler (Little Brown, Young Readers)

year of the ratWhen Mr. Dog Bites by Brian Conaghan (Bloomsbury)

Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan (Bloomsbury)

The Company of Ghosts by Berlie Doherty (Andersen Press)

The Year of the Rat by Clare Furniss (Simon & Schuster Children’s Books) – my review for Shiny New Books here

Tinder by Sally GardnerTinder by Sally Gardner (author) and David Roberts (illustrator) (Orion Children’s Books) – on my shelf.

Monkey and Me by David Gilman (Templar)

Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge (Macmillan Children’s Books)

The Fastest Boy in the World by Elizabeth Laird (Macmillan Children’s Books)

More-Than-ThisBuffalo Soldier by Tanya Landman (Walker Books)

Scarlet Ibis by Gill Lewis (Oxford University Press)

The Middle of Nowhere by Geraldine McCaughrean (Usborne Books)

Hello Darkness by Anthony McGowan (Walker Books)

More Than This by Patrick Ness (Walker Books) – on my shelf.

picture me goneClose Your Pretty Eyes by Sally Nicholls (Marion Lloyd Books) – on my shelf.

Trouble by Non Pratt (Walker Books) – on my shelf.

Picture Me by Meg Rosoff (Penguin Books) – My review for Shiny New Books here.

Smart: a Mysterious Crime, a Different Detective by Kim Slater (Macmillan Children’s Books) – on my shelf.

grasshopper-jungleGrasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith (Electric Monkey) – on my shelf.

Do share your reactions to the list?
Have you read any of them?
Which should I add to my own YA reading list?

A Childhood Rediscovery …

The Martin Pippin books by Eleanor Farjeon

Coincidence is a funny thing. I moved a pile of my old children’s paperbacks, and at the top of the stack I left was this book. Martin Pippin in the Daisy-Field by Eleanor Farjeon. It sort of looked familiar, and when I opened it up and saw the coloured in pictures (I always added to the illustrations when I was a child!), it got a bit less vague. Then I read a little, and it took me back…


Martin Pippin is a wondering minstrel, and one day he encounters six young girls who beg him to tell them stories…

Two were standing, two were stooping, two were sitting at their chain-making; and as they strung the daisy heads, they sang scraps and snatches of songs, no longer than a daisy-stalk…
Overhead the sky was going green, and the stars were making pin-pricks where the green was deepest, and the moon a yellow hole where it was palest, along the shoulder of Rackham Hill, and the dome of Amberley Mount. It was high time that the six little girls were in bed.
Martin thought so. And though he was afraid of nothing so much in the world as girls big and little, he made two strides across the boundless river, and stood in the daisy-field.

Martin Pippin 1SALLY: It’s him!
SYLVIA: What’s he come for?
SUE: To send us to bed, you know.
STELLA: I shan’t go.
SALLY: Let’s shut our eyes tight, so he’ll think we can’t hear him.
SOPHIE: I shall put my fingers in my ears.
STELLA: I shan’t. I just won’t go.
SELINA: I wonder why it’s so horrid going to bed, when it’s so nice being there.
SOPHIE: Oh it isn’t, S’lina. There’s nothing to do in bed, except go to sleep. …

They bicker some more until they realise Martin has come amongst them, whereupon they ‘shut their eyes tight, and put their fingers in their ears‘. They chat and Martin agrees to tell Sophie a story…  He tells each girl a story in turn – from the tale of Elsie Piddock who Skips in her Sleep, to the Mermaid of Rye who was born in a winkle.

Between each story is an interlude where he and the girls talk – sometimes in normal prose, sometimes as a script – just like above. The book is set in Sussex in and around the Long Man of Wilmington chalk hillside figure, who makes an appearance in one of them.  It is utterly charming – how could I have forgotten about this book? which I got or was given in 1969 – (I know that, I put the date on the inside cover, along with my full address – the one with the solar system etc.).  I shall have to make time to read the stories once again.

Martin Pippin in the Daisy-Field was first published in 1937, some 26 years after Farjeon’s first book featuring the story-telling minstrel – Martin Pippin in the Apple-Orchard.  The first book of stories was not written for children, but a young soldier who had been a friend of Edward Thomas, like Farjeon herself.

The coincidence came when I looked up the books on Amazon to see if they are still available – and lo and behold, a new paperback edition is due out next week!  Better news still, Martin Pippin in the Apple-Orchard is available for download on Project Gutenberg (no illustrations though).

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To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Martin Pippin in the Daisy-Fieldby Eleanor Farjeon, re-pub 31st March by Red Fox books, paperback
Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchardby Eleanor Farjeon, re-pub 31st March by Red Fox books, paperback

A charming adventure inside fairy tales …

goodbye yellow brick roadMost of you will know Ian Beck’s work without even realising it. He is an illustrator of renown and amongst many other things designed the cover of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John.

In the early 1980s, he started to write and illustrate picture books for young children, and later moved into writing children’s novels. I read and loved his book for older children, Pastworld (reviewed here), which featured London reinvented as a Dickensian theme park.

I’d bought a copy of Tom Trueheart, his first children’s novel, back when it was published. My daughter had enjoyed many of his picture books, yet somehow it stayed on the shelf until I rediscovered it the other day …

The Secret History of Tom TrueheartBoy Adventurer by Ian Beck


I do love it when authors find an original way of using old fairy tales and that’s just what Ian Beck has done in this charming novel for children.

Tom Trueheart is nearly twelve. He comes from a celebrated family of adventurers – he has six brothers all called Jack (or variations thereon).

They are all employed by the Story Bureau who devise adventures and send the Jacks off to play the roles in ‘The Land of Stories’ and finish the tales. When it’s over the Jacks tell the Bureau what happened and they write it up into the story books that everyone reads.

The basic plots are thought up by the Story Deviser at the Bureau – Brother Ormestone, who is to present his latest ideas at their meeting:

‘If I may, Master,’ said Brother Ormestone, ‘I have been completely redrafting the ideas for the story which we discussed at our last meeting. “The Adventure of the Fair Princess Snow White and the Seventeen Dwarfs”.  During the second half of the story, by allowing the young Snow White to escape the hunter and his knife, she can then be found in the woods and sheltered by the seventeen dwarfs. Or she could even find them in her panic to escape. We will use the north-eastern area, the deep woods in the mountains, if our Brother Treasurer could supply a nicely turned-out bright cottage, able to house eighteen, well hidden away, for them all to live in.’

‘The cottage will not be a problem, there are several we can dress ready,’ said the treasurer, a severe bearded figure in grey, who sat at the other end of the table. ‘The seventeen dwarfs, now that is your problem: I can supply a maximum of seven for any story.’

‘Seven,’ said Brother Ormestone in his most chilling voice. ‘Seven. Dear me, dear me no. I have worked long and hard on this story and it definitely involves seventeen dwarfs of varied and, I am afraid, somewhat twisted character.’ He emphasized the word ‘twisted’ in such a way that it caused the Master’s skin to crawl, …

… ‘In any case, Ormestone, we have heard enought for now. You have, as usual lately, gone too far in the planning of these stories,’ said the Master shaking his head. ‘There is nothing left for the adventurers to actually do. Your story plans have got longer and longer. It is almost as if you are tying to get rid of the adventurers’ role altogether. You know the rules as well as the rest of us. We suggest the beginning of things only. We set things up for the adventurers, and they carry out the adventure. It is not up to us to wrap it all up for them and tie a ribbon round it with our name on it.’

Thus embarrassed again, Ormestone in his jealousy of the adventurers hatches a dastardly plan to have his vengeance on the Trueheart family.

Over the next days, one by one, the brothers Jack get sent off on new adventures, one to be Prince Charming, one a frog prince, another to rescue the sleeping princess and so on – you get the picture.  They all swear to be home in time for Tom’s twelfth birthday, the age at which he can become an apprentice adventurer – but one by one they don’t return.

Tom has to celebrate his birthday with just his mother. The next day a letter arrives for him by sprite-mail with an adventure.  As the last adventurer left, it will be Tom’s job to find his brothers and get all the tales finished.  He bravely sets off, accompanied by a talking crow called Jollity (a sprite in disguise who is to keep an eye on him).

Young Tom will have the adventure of a lifetime.

I was captivated by this story.  It touches upon all those fairy tales we know so well, but which are held in hiatus by their missing princes. Tom passes through each of the tales in turn and stops them from collapsing in on themselves, keeping them alive for the return of his brothers.

This is done with surprising subtlety and gives each of the classic tales in their basic form some added depth, as we see how the cast are actors playing parts. (At some subterranean level, I wondered whether Beck’s ‘Land of stories’ is a satire on Disneyland?’ – theme parks seem to be a fixation of Beck’s!)

Ideal for those children who aren’t quite ready for the small print of Harry Potter, they will love spotting the familiar tales, and thrill along with young Tom as he finds himself in peril from the evil machinations of Brother Ormestone. The book is also full of Beck’s lovely silhouette illustrations as on the hardback’s cover which make it a pleasure to read.

Beck has since written two more volumes of Tom Trueheart’s adventures, and I must say I’d love to read them. (9/10)

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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Tom Trueheart by Ian Beck, (2007) OUP Oxford, paperback 320 pages.

A lecture by Alan Garner

This week I went to see the ‘Magical Books: From the Middle Ages to Middle-earth’,  exhibition at the Bodleian Library in Oxford during its final days (it finishes tomorrow) – I’ve been meaning to go all summer ever since Alex at Thinking in Fragments alerted me to it in this post. Alex described the exhibition which concentrates on the works of ‘The Oxford School’: JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, Philip Pullman, Susan Cooper, and Alan Garner, together with many medieval manuscripts and a first edition of the first Harry Potter, annotated by JK Rowling, brilliantly, so I won’t go into detail here.


I will say though, that it felt like a room of power in there, I’m so glad I didn’t miss the exhibition.

I was particularly interested in parts relating to Alan Garner, for I read his books alongside Lewis’s Narnia series. Both authors were hugely influential to me around the ages of eight to ten, but Garner’s novels, being only published a few years before I read them, felt more contemporary and edgy.

The picture on the left from the exhibition shows a little of Alan Garner’s manuscript for Carnegie-winning novel The Owl Service (1967). There were also pages from his MS for The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (WB) – his first book published in 1960. The handwriting on these showed lovely calligraphy in an almost runic style – slightly reminiscent of Tolkien’s Elvish script. It appears that had worn off by his fourth novel though!

Alan Garner

My visit also alerted me to the fact that there had been a lecture series running alongside the exhibition, most were lunchtimes so I wouldn’t have been able to go anyway, but the final one was last night at Magdalen College, given by Alan Garner himself. Now aged 79, he doesn’t speak often, and they still had a few tickets available, so I went!

This was the first time I’ve been to an author event which was a formal lecture, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, and Garner is an alumnus of Magdalen, having studied classics and greats. He entered from stage right, looking slightly frail, and took out a sheaf of papers from his briefcase. The lecture was entitled “A Bull on my Tongue” – which Garner explained was from Agamemnon by Aeschylus. At the start Clytemnestra awaits Agamemnon’s return from Troy, (translation from an Open University text).

And may it be my master, when he comes,
will clasp this hand with his love-hallowed hand.
There’s more, but I won’t say it. The saying goes:
“My tongue’s become where the trampling oxen stand.”
You could ask the house. If this house had a mouth,
this house would speak.
I mean my words just so.
They’re dark to those in the dark: not to those in the know.

However, he soon put us at our ease, recounting his days in the Magdalen Players before getting into the real meat of the lecture. “Creativity and its expression in modern English fiction” – telling us of his own journey as a writer over 57 years (so far), and in particular how fifty years after he wrote WB and its sequel The Moon of Gomrath, he was inspired to make it a trilogy. I was also grateful to finally find out how to pronounce Brisingamen – ie: Bri-ZING-gamun, not BRIZZing-GAMmon as I had always said as a child.

bonelandAfter deciding to become a writer, and writing two novels about the adventures of twins Colin and Susan, he was totally fed up of them – he gave us a hilarious alternative ending!

Instead Garner left unfinished business, and in the noughties he was inspired to think of what would happen to children who’ve experienced another dimension, but then had to grow up and live in the real world. CS Lewis had a way of dealing with that, he quipped, he killed them off.  In 2012’s Boneland, the third part of the trilogy which I’m longing to read – he wrote about the adult Colin and Susan – for adults, bringing things to a close.

He went on to tell us about his writing process – describing crafting a book as an archaeological excavation of ideas. ‘I’m a spectator – I watch‘ and write it down.  He emphasised several times during the lecture that he sees creativity as a pathological state, not a job, and quoted Jung, and many great poets to support this.

Then he asked, ‘So what have I learned about language after 57 years as a delver in the word-hoard?‘ (love that phrase).  He told us about his preference for words with Germanic, romantic roots finding them clearer, and how unless it is part of the fabric, he won’t use the same colourful word even twice in a novel.  To him, adjectives are superfluous, so when he uses one it has more impact, and adverbs mean I haven’t thought about what I want to say, he told us. He believes strongly that you need to learn grammar and syntax etc, in order to break the rules well.

He also told us about his experience adapting his novel Red Shift for BBC TV in the late 1970s. This was his fifth novel, and he’d moved on to a more dialogue driven style of writing. So not much work needed to make a screenplay out of it he thought – Wrong! ‘The word in the air, is not the same as the word on the page.‘  On the page, the dialogue has to tell what’s going on around it.  In the air, the TV camera is doing half of that job for you, so less is more.  This technique now influences writing on the page more directly.

And finally (she said, deliberately breaking a grammar rule or two), he brought us back round to that Magdalen Players production, alongside Dudley Moore no less, and the bull on his tongue.

Sadly, given Garner’s age, there was no Q&A or book signing, but there was an opportunity to write down questions which will be responded to by email via The Blackden Trust, which Garner set up with his wife to celebrate arts, crafts and heritage in their corner of Cheshire. I wanted to ask about the runic handwriting in the WB manuscript – so I await my reply with anticipation.

Being linked to the Bodleian exhibition, I had been expecting a talk about the myths and legends that Garner has built into his novels rather than exploring his writing process and its evolution. No matter, it was lovely to hear him deliver this erudite and witty lecture. Now, I can’t wait to read the WB trilogy in its entirety, alongside revisiting and reading all his other works.

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To explore Garner’s books on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (50th anniversary edition), paperback
The Moon of Gomrath
Boneland (Weirdstone Trilogy 3)
The Owl Service

The joy of Ladybirds…

Playing with my books this morning, I spotted my pile of Ladybird books from my childhood. I had stacks of them, all the nature and music titles, most of the historical ones, and an assortment of others. The format never changed – a page of text on the left, and illustrations on the right, mostly full page illustrations too in glorious and bright colours.

One of my favourites was from series 601, No 7 – The Story of Clothes and Costume, first published in 1964, with text by Richard Bowood, and illustrations by Robert Ayton. I like the way the title distinguishes between clothes and costume, practicality and decoration.  The book goes from cavemen in furs, through togas, wimples, chain mail, ruffs, farthingales, lace, wigs, Beau Brummell, crinolines and bustles, flapper dresses to the dress of ‘today’.

Naturally, I’d like to share selections with you. Firstly, my favourite illustration as a child – from the Medieval Court of around 1360.


The man in the front of the picture wears very wide sleeves, which are ‘dagged’ or cut. He has rather long hair and such very long toes to his shoes that they have to be fastened to his legs with thin chains.
There were strict laws about dress … Even the length of the pointed shoes was regulated by law, allowing different lengths for nobility, gentlemen and commoners.

Those shoes would crop up in my own drawings many a time, and I dressed many of my medieval princesses ladies in flowing gowns and wimples!

Upon revisiting this book, I have a new favourite though – the last spread – Clothes of Today (click to enlarge). The family pictured are such archetypes of new middle-class suburbanites out for a picnic. I’ve included the hilarious text this time too…


Such wonderful stuff!

If you’d like to find out more about Ladybird Books, do visit The Wee Web which has information on all the old publications and collecting them. (I note that they have a first edition of this book for sale at £34. Sadly, mine is not a first, and – I’ve coloured in the endpapers and it had Thorn family library paraphernalia in!) Ladybird themselves are still going strong, as part of Penguin children’s books.

Rewarding YA reading for Grown-ups! Let me persuade you…

I’m in my early fifties prime (!) and I’m not afraid to say that I love reading modern YA books now and then … but only good ones, naturally.  By using the term ‘YA’ here, I’m distinguishing them from those books we usually call ‘children’s classics’ (which still appeal to readers young and old alike).  I’m concentrating on contemporary novels specifically aimed at older children/teenaged readers, usually 12+.

I passionately believe that the very best of modern YA writing can be as good as books for grown-ups, and equal to that of the children’s classics that we remember from our youth.  Many remain to be converted to this way of thinking, so I’d like to explain a bit, maybe encourage you as a grown-up to give a YA book a go, and offer a few suggestions for reading.

There’s an incentive if you make it all the way to the end of this post.  You may disagree with me too, and I don’t mind that at all. We each find our way to the things we like to read, but I’m trying to encourage an open attitude to at least try reading something different.  I will, however, be the first to admit that as an adult reader of a YA novel you do have to be a bit more picky …

That black cover!

One barrier is making your way past all the formulaic black covers of all the ‘Twi-likes’.  The paranormal romance genre has been the big marketing success of recent years in teen fiction, spawning werewolves, witches, angels – stories featuring all kinds of undead following in the vampires’ wake, (paralleled to a lesser extent by zombie mayhem aimed at boys).  Twilight wasn’t the first teen vampire novel by a long shot – L H Smith’s The Vampire Diaries were there way before for instance, but it was Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight (my review here) that became the publishing phenomenon and really kick-started the whole shebang.  I’ve read a good variety of these paranormal high school romances; more than enough to know that although they can be enjoyable fun, they are for teenagers.  As an adult reader, I don’t need to read any more of them, even the rest of the Twilight series, (I have watched all the films though).

Now we’ve got that out of the way …

What are the differences between adult and YA literature?  

Well, they share the three major common elements of plot, character and writing style of all novels.  Many adults tend to favour writing style to dominate over plot or character – a debate that was the subject of a great post a while ago at Stuck in a book. What use is a great character or story if you can’t get into reading it after all.  Well, the same is true of YA books too,  but the balance between the three elements is often different.  I realise that by necessity I’m having to generalise here, but using my daughter’s reading experiences too, so go with me if you can …

Writing style in literature for younger readers does tend to be more direct.  Authors have to take great care with their language,  not using bad language unnecessarily, but keeping it appropriate to their audience.  Difficult subjects such as sex, drugs, alienation and all the good and bad bits of growing up – all these emotive issues need to be tackled with tact and sensitivity, again appropriate to their audience.  Sometimes I wish more adult books would moderate their language a bit – you can get fed up of too many profanities and graphic sex scenes.

What would a novel be without strong characters?  Pretty uninvolving, I think.  The only difference here is that the main protagonists in YA books tend to be younger, older teens themselves – an age their main readers can identify with.  This shouldn’t be a problem for the adult reader either.  There are so many adult novels with child or teen lead characters – the ‘coming of age’ novel in particular being its own sub-genre (see some of my reviews of these here.)  YA characters can, however, can often be defined by their actions, rather than their thoughts.

Plot though, does tend to come more highly up the scale for teens.  Younger readers need action.  They need things to happen all of the time – they can’t cope with pages of descriptive atmosphere or scene-setting.  This can sometimes make a YA novel seem rather relentless, you wish for a break.  The clever YA author will build in descriptive elements throughout whilst keeping a cracking plot going and coming up for breath now and then.  As we progress up the age scale, the action-quotient typically decreases a little to let the setting speak, and allow characters to pause for thought more too.

So, are you willing to have a go yet?  If yes, what could you read?

For starters, you won’t go far wrong if you pick one of the books that have been awarded the Carnegie Medal – an annual prize in the UK made to a writer of outstanding fiction for children. The medal is awarded by CILIP: the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals.  Admittedly, many of these winning books are for older children rather than teens – but they’re all great books.

The real King Arthur ...My favourite Carnegie winner from 2008 is Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve.  It is a very different and brilliant take on Arthurian Legend with Merlin as a spin doctor.

I’m also a big fan of Patrick Ness, who won in 2012 with A Monster Calls (and 2011). It’s a simple story of a boy whose mother is dying of cancer, who can’t accept what’s happening, and a monster comes to help him through. As our book group found, this one wasn’t universally popular as an adult read, but did provoke good discussion.  You can hear Patrick talking to Simon Savidge about his writing for adults and children in a podcast at You Wrote the Book!.

This year’s Carnegie Shortlist (award in June) has some brilliant novels on it; I’ve read three so far, plus several that were longlisted that didn’t make it onto the shortlist. Some previous thoughts on the longlist are here, but the highlights for me are:

  • Blood red snow whiteMidwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick (review coming soon).  Sedgwick is my favourite YA author. Many of his novels have a magical edge to them, they nearly always have a darkness at their heart and are based on folktales and folklore. My favourite book of his though, is his fictional account of Arthur Ransome’s years in Russia Blood Red Snow White.  I particularly enjoy his writing style which seems ‘ageless’. My fingers are crossed that he may win this year.
  • A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle.  A bittersweet novel about dying which tells the story of four generations of women with great empathy and humour, and is typically Roddy Doyle too!
  • The Double Shadow by Sally Gardner. A complex and fantastical philosophical novel for teens. While The Double Shadow didn’t make it onto the shortlist; another of her novels did however – Maggot Moon is narrated by a boy with dyslexia, which Sally suffers from. I shall be reading it soon.

Some other authors of YA books that I’ve read and reviewed include Sally Nicholls, Charlie Higson for ‘zombie mayhem to scare your pants off’, Matt Haig creator of the crossover vampire family The Radleys, Cliff McNish.

These are just a few of the contemporary authors writing primarily for teens that I’ve read and enjoyed on an adult level; authors I will be returning to again and again.  There are so many more for me to explore, not least Diana Wynne Jones who died in 2011 and who has an army of adult fans, Meg Rossoff too, and, and, and … the list could go on for pages.

Which contemporary YA authors & books would you recommend to me?
Would you consider reading a YA novel?

As a final incentive, I’m offering one copy each of Here Lies Arthur, and Midwinterblood as a GIVEAWAY – open to any country to which the Book Depository delivers to.  To enter – just recommend any children’s or YA novel that makes a rewarding read for adults, ancient or modern.

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