Wednesday, 18 November 2009

The Gates by John Connolly, Hodder £12.99

This treat for any bright, enquiring child of ten or twelve or even older slipped through our net this autumn. Perhaps the review copy arrived late.

News that the scientists are about to restart the Hadron Collider sitting under the Swiss Alps makes this most enjoyable novel even more timely. John Connolly is known for his pretty tough (well nasty) adult detective novels but here brings all his considerable writing skills and views of the dark side of life to bear whilst writing a book which is wholly suitable for children. Perhaps not for those of a nervous disposition, but for all others.

The hero of the tale is a small boy called Samuel Johnson and his faithful dog Boswell - and yes the novel is full of those sort of wordy jokes. Samuel is the sort of boy who drives teachers mad but who is wholly logical and endearing. The problem is with his neighbours and the effect of the Collider opening up a portal to hell. The book is littered with wonderful footnotes (pace Jonathan Stroud) giving comments on the story and helping with satanism and quantum physics for example. There is a lot of humour, some terror and plenty for a bright, enquiring child to think about and enjoy. Excellent winter reading, a real page-turner.
Enid Stephenson

Friday, 6 November 2009

Illustrated Children's Books

Illustrated Children's Books published by Black Dog Publishing £24.95 isbn 978-1-906155-81-0 first published September 2009

At first glance this book looks just the job. Good layout and full of colour illustrations, good paper, well bound, good cover design (no jacket). So one could assume the perfect Christmas present for someone interested in or studying illustration.

The idea, I imagine, behind the book is to take a look at illustrated books from the 17th century to now. There are two essays. One entitled The World in Pictures by Peter Hunt (Professor Emeritus in Children's Literature at Cardiff University) and the other by Lisa Sainsbury (who is based at the National Centre for Research in Children's Literature at Roehampton University) who covers Contemporary Children's Books. There is a foreward by the current Children's Laureate Anthony Browne. And to complete trust in the book at the back there is the logo of The Big Picture, Book Trust.

But look a little further and this book is a complete expensive mess.

The lack of clarity begins on the contents pages. We can all play games over why a certain person was left off but to list the Authors and Illustrators sometimes under title and sometimes under illustrator is confusing to say the least. So the section headed Authors and Illustrators 1659-1945 begins with Alice in Wonderland and then continues to Edward Ardizzone, Babar, Helen Bannerman, Thomas Bewick etc. You get the idea? Authors and Illustrators 1945 - Now runs Emily Gravett, Mini Grey The Gruffalo, Shirley Hughes... And I am confused about who wrote the short essays that accompany each illustrator, I can't imagine either Peter Hunt or Lisa Sainsbury could be responsible.

There is the odd sentence in the essay by Peter Hunt which I would query "Initially, the horrors of the First World War produced a protective and retreatist attitude to childhood, epitomised by AA Milne's Winnie the Pooh, 1926, Hugh Lofting's Dr Dolittle series, from 1920 and Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons." Ransome's children seemed to be able to be independent and adventurous.

There is the odd proofing error viz Anthony Bowne (instead of Browne), routes instead of roots in the piece about Jan Pienkowski, Anderson instead of Andersen Press.

There appears to be a misunderstanding between a reprint (albeit by a different publisher) and first published. Francis Lincoln is repeatedly cited as the First Publisher viz Tim in Danger, Tim to the Rescue, Captain Pugwash, Sunshine, Moonlight whereas what they have clearly done is publish reprints.

Then the odd phrase making the paragraph read as a rather poor translation as when talking about The Very Hungry Caterpiller "...the endearing humpbacked, obsolete look of the caterpiller" or when writing about Polly Dunbar "written by her mother, Joyce Dunbar, also a writer..." or in the article about Ezra Jack Keats "But in order to get more of this kind of work it became clear that Jacob Ezra Katz would have to become Ezra Jack Keats. This reality was a sad result of the anti-Semitic attitudes still prevalent at the time" or (and sorry to go on so) in the bit about Helen Oxenbury talking about her husband John Burningham "She learned a great deal from him, and has likened his influence to that of a teacher or illustration course".

And how could any book on illustation worth its salt not include articles about Maurice Sendak or Raymond Briggs.

I rest my case!

What a shame though as it looks so very very good and is so very very disappointing.

Enid Stephenson

Monday, 13 April 2009

A clutch of book reviews...

That’s Not My Puppy... Written by Fiona Watt
Illustrated by Rachel Wells Usborne Touchy-Feely £5.99

Touching and feeling are an essential part of the way babies explore the world. This very special edition celebrates ten years of a series designed to develop sensory awareness and an early ear for language. A hairy coat is rejected on the cover, as are fluffy tails, bumpy paws, shiny collars, shaggy ears and squashy noses. All the pictures are bright and lively offering different textures to explore, and the book is made in strong materials that will last.

Jenny Blanch

My Little Prayer Board Book Written and compiled by Christina Goodings
Illustrated by Melanie Mitchell
Lion Children’s Books £4.99

As part of the winding down procedure, prior to sleeping, this book may well become an essential item. With bright colours, and familar objects drawn in clear lines, the text offers the traditional appeal of strong rhyme and rhythm which makes them easy to remember after a few readings joining-in becomes a familiar pattern. Gentle verses reflect activities shared during the day - getting-up, going out and about, playing with other children - before quietly
reflecting on night-time and going to sleep.

Jenny Blanch

Curious Clownfish Written by Eric Maddern
Illustrated by Adrienne Kennaway
Frances Lincoln £6.99

This story is as fresh and appealing as when it was first published almost twenty years ago. Baby Clownfish wants a life that is different and more adventurous than that of the rest of her family, who live timidly within Anemone’s tentacles. So, with a swish and a swirl, she swims off through the coral, to face the big brave reef world. She meets up with various sea-creatures, and each encounter brings with it a new experience - and danger. The text is alliterative and rhythmic, and set against vivid backgrounds of sea and coral through which all sorts of creatures swim into view. Each species that Clownfish encounters looms large on the page, reaching centre stage in a blast of bold patterns and striking colour. A non-fiction page on coral reefs and the creatures that live in them concludes this attractive book.

Anne Faundez

The Church Mouse Written and illustrated by Graham Oakley
Templar Publishing £10.99

The first edition of this tale appeared thirty seven years ago. New parents and grandparents may well recall their delight when they first heard the adventures of Arthur, the church mouse, who determined to enlarge and liven up his life in the closed ecclesiastical community where his diet was restricted and his opportunities for fun so limited.
Oakley’s pictures are a joy, ranging from sweeping panoramic views to intimate close-ups with lots of dramatic incidents to engage and delight the young observer. The text is equally generous. Here is an author who knows that growing minds can be stretched and challenged by references which lie outside their limited experience, and with language which is new to them but makes increasing sense because of the context in which the absorbing encounters are placed.
Sumptuous and bursting with life, colour and humour, this book is a ready reminder that the very best stories for young children carry within them the promise of happiness.

Jack Ousbey

Sheep in Wolves Clothing Written and illustrated by Satomi Kitamura
Andersen Press £5.99

This is a welcome reprint of the hilarious 1995 publication - it’s just as funny today!
One morning in late summer Georgina jumps over the fence and voices her intention of taking ‘the last swim of the year’ then extends an invitation to Hubert. Of course he can’t refuse and soon Gogol is part of the expedition too, speeding them along in his expensive convertible so that Georgina happily exclaims ‘I love to feel the wind fluffing my wool’.
Little do they realise then that carefree times are to be short-lived. First there’s the hiccup of the car breakdown, then the antics of the conniving wolves, the intervention of Captain Bleat, followed by Detective Elliott Baa, but there’s lots of fun and a comforting optimism even in these exhausting and perilous times. Ultimately they are resigned to what must be, and contentedly make-do with temporary rig-outs, to which the other sheep do not even baat an eye!

Gill Roberts

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Pop-Up Book Written and illustrated by Eric Carle Puffin £14.99

To celebrate forty years this classic title has been released with even more dimensional appeal. The reader joins in by moving the central character along the leaves and through the fruits until finally transforming into a stunning luminescent creature. Sit back and wonder at the visual spectacle you have helped to create.

Mike Simkin

Soldier Boy Written by Anne Rooney
Evans : Sharp Shades £4.99

When Martin’s younger brother digs up a bone in the garden, it sets off a creepy chain of events. The tension and mystery build right up to the satisfactory conclusion. Black and white photographic illustrations adds dramatically to the atmosphere. The writing is simple yet compelling - a great read.

Jackie Marchant

Watch Over Her Written by Dennis Hamley
Evans Sharp Shades £4.99

When two dodgy lads arrive at the Alderman Wix estate looking for their old auntie before the last crumbling flats are demolished, a chatty old chap is happy to help, correcting the name they gave him and telling them of Mrs Cattermole’s ‘Treasure’. Using the Water Board as cover to gain entry, the two lads discover where the old lady keeps her money and then leave. Mrs Cattermole, meanwhile, dreams about kind children who run and skip and play and visit each day to hear her stories. These children are not happy to learn about the Water Board checking the tap in the ‘Treasure’ cupboard, and when they return, undercover of darkness with an iron bar to persuade the old lady to release her savings tin, the dream children come to her aid in a startling and unexpected way to calm and soothe her. The investigating police find three bodies and Mrs Cattermole’s ‘Treasure’ plus an explanation, making this a completely satisfying short and illustrated story for older, less than enthusiastic readers.

Tina Massey

Four of Rod Sterling’s The Twilight Zone have been adapted by Mark Kneece and issued in graphic novel format by Bloomsbury at £7.99 each. Originally broadcast in 1959 as part of the cult-classic TV series, they are now available for fans, and a new audience, to enjoy the supernatural, thrilling and chilling tales in this accessible format.
Each contains a story that defies the realms of possibility!

The After Hours Illustrated by Rebekah Issacs ISBN 9780747587897
A department store is not as it seems

The Monsters are due on Maple Street Illustrated by Rich Ellis ISBN 9780747587910
People are plunged into darkness as a meteor passes overhead.

The Odyssey of Flight 33 Illustrated by Robert Grabe ISBN 9780747587880
An aeroplane gets caught on a tailwind that sends it hurtling through time.

Walking Distance Illustrated by Dove McHargue ISBN 9780747587873
A man drives back to the town of his birth and finds it exactly as it was when he was a child.

Existing fans will enjoy these books as the illustrations retain the spirit of the originals, but remember, these are not comics - they may be disturbing and are for mature readers.

Davy Hall aged 14 years

Monday, 6 April 2009

Fair's Fair by Leon Garfield

It is good to see this short, well-written novel first published in 1981 being reprinted. Just a shame that Wayland have chosen to use the illustrated version first published in 1990 as the illustrations strike me as particularly unappealing. Issued as part of the Gripping Tales series and good for those just starting to Read Alone.
Wayland £4.99 978-0-7502-5651-3

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

4 Teens: Mary Hooper "Newes from the Dead"

The paperback edition of NEWES FROM THE DEAD by Mary Hooper has just been released (5 March 09) at £6.99. Reviewed by Dennis Hamley in Issue 39 of Carousel, page 38. He says " The novel is a remarkable stylistic feat: the various voices never slip into bathos...the emotional level is charged throughout...this research is used creatively and constructively and is an example to any historical novelist of how it should be done".

Monday, 23 February 2009

Love Ya Babe, Chris Higgins - Teenage

Love Ya Babe by Chris Higgins £5.99 978-0-340-970750-1 Hodder Children’s Books
Everyone has been there as a teenager: you feel your parents are old and embarrassing and your siblings are annoying. Everything they do makes you cringe and the only people who understand you are your friends.
Welcome to Gabby’s world. She is a typical teen, when every little thing is amplified and magnified, making a huge impact on who she is and what she wants to be. Gabby does normal things: she goes to school, parties, fancies boys and every day brings its challenges.
Her father is a hard-working loner, a man in the City who finds solace in the drinks cabinet after an excruciating day at the office. Her mother is an eccentric, flamboyant dresser, a woman who is impervious to the impact her behaviour has on her children.
So you only imagine how Gabby feels when her “ancient” mother announces that she is pregnant. She decides she wants nothing to do with this third sibling, but circumstances take over and she realises she has to take on more than she thought.
Higgins is an entertaining writer, who somehow keeps us wanting to read more, even though much of it is about the more mundane aspect of a teen’s life.
Eminently readable, this story, with its amusing anecdotes, touching scenes and the dissection of teenage angst, will speak volumes to young adults who are trying to find themselves amongst the detritus of growing up.
Jayne Howarth

Tantrums and Tiaras, Sarah Horne - Young Readers

Tantrums and Tiaras by Sarah Horne. £4.99. 978-1-84715-045-5. Stripes Publishing.
When Molly moves to the countryside she suspects that she might get a little bored, after all there are only trees, sheep and cows to be seen.
But she hadn’t accounted for the rather strange neighbours, the Von Volavons, who live in a most spectacular-looking castle and their even odder pet: a talking pure-bred Persian Mimi.
Molly is asked to look after the pet when Mrs Von Volavon, in a fit of pique, decides to take her spoiled children on a break.
But – having got over the fact that the cat actually speaks – she finds she cannot satisfy the demands of this overbearing moggy, which refuses to eat mere cat food.
Instead she wants trout a la maison (the goldfish) and pork de la Bon-Von-de-la-Mon (the guinea pigs) and talking quail (the pet parrot).
But can Molly win over the tiara-wearing ball of fluff? Young readers will love this slapstick tale, with its succinct lessons in good behaviour and manners.
Jayne Howarth