Monday 31 December 2012

It's a Wrap: British Books Challenge 2012

We're ending the year with a wrap on our first book blogging and reading challenge. We both signed up to the British Book Challenge 2012. This was hosted on The Overflowing Library blog this year.

The aim: to read and review 12 books by British authors - or books published in Britain first.

And we've done it! Here are links to our reviews:

M's Review List
1. My Name is Mina - David Almond, Hodder
2. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - David Haddon, Vintage
3. Slated - Teri Terry, Orchard
4. My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece - Annabel Pitcher, Indigo
5. Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein, Electric Monkey
6. After the Snow - SD Crockett, Macmillan
7. Emma Hearts LA - Keris Stainton, Orchard
8. Changeling - Philippa Gregory, Simon & Schuster
9. Secrets of the Henna Girl - Sufiya Ahmed, Puffin
10. The Other Side of Truth - Beverley Naidoo
11. Velvet - Mary Hooper, Bloomsbury
12. All Fall Down - Sally Nicholls, Marion Lloyd (Scholastic)
13. The Seeing - Diana Hendry, Bodley Head (Random)
14. Noughts and Crosses - Marjorie Blackman, Corgi (Random)
15. Muddle and Win: The Battle of Sally Jones - John Dickinson, David Fickling
16. Raspberries On the Yangtze - Karen Wallace, Simon & Schuster
17. I Capture the Castle - Dodie Smith, Vintage
18. Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome, Vintage
19. Maggot Moon - Sally Gardner, Hot Key Books
20. Flip - Martyn Bedford, Walker
21. Silenced - Simon Packham, Piccadilly Press
22. A World Between Us - Lydia Syson, Hot Key Books
23. Katya's World - Jonathan L Howard, Strange Chemistry
24. Obsidian Mirror - Catherine Fisher, Hodder
25. The Night Sky In My Head - Sarah Hammond, OUP Childrens
26. A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness, Walker
27. Breathe - Sarah Crossan, Bloomsbury
28. This Is Not Forgiveness - Celia Rees, Bloomsbury
29. Knife Edge (Noughts & Crosses #2) - Malorie Blackman, Corgi (Random)
30. Pigeon English - Stephen Kelman, Bloomsbury
31. Hold On - Alan Gibbons, Indigo
32. The Weight of Water - Sarah Crossan, Bloomsbury
33. A Boy and a Bear in a Boat - Dave Shelton, Random House Children's

Little M's Review List
1. Sky Hawk - Gill Lewis, Oxford University Press
2. Hitler's Angel - William Osborne, Chicken House
3. Dolphin Song - Lauren St John, Orion
4. White Dolphin - Gill Lewis, Oxford University Press
5. A Stallion Called Midnight - Victoria Eveleigh, Orion
6. Tiger Wars - Steve Backshall, Orion
7. Codename Quicksilver: In the Zone - Allan Jones, Orion
8. The Twice-Lived Summer of Bluebell Jones - Susie Day, Scholastic
9. Girl, Missing - Sophie McKenzie, Simon and Schuster
10. Kentucky Thriller (Laura Marlin #3) - Lauren St John, Orion
11. Missing Me - Sophie McKenzie, Simon and Schuster
12. Codename Quicksilver #3: Burning Sky - Allan Jones, Orion
13. A Sea of Stars - Kate Maryon, Harper Collins

The British Books Challenge 2013 is being hosted by Feeling Fictional. And we've both signed up. Here's a link to our Challenges page.

Saturday 29 December 2012

Our Carnegie 2012 review list

We've been blogging about the most recent Carnegie medal longlist and our following of it. Here's our look back on what we read from the 2012 nomination and short lists. Links are provided for titles that we have reviewed. The Carnegie medal is awarded to a writer who has written an outstanding book for children.

A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness (winner)
My Name Is Mina - David Almond
My Sister Lives On the Mantelpiece - Annabel Pitcher
Between Shades of Gray - Ruta Sepetys (M's review , Little M's review)

Flip - Martyn Bedford
Sky Hawk - Gill Lewis
One Dog and His Boy - Eva Ibbotson (loved but not reviewed)
Shadow - Michael Morpurgo (loved but not reviewed)

What titles did you read?

Tuesday 25 December 2012

Secret Santa came to town

Seasons greetings one and all, wherever you are!
Look what I got from my book blogging Secret Santa!

There's a copy of Black Heart Blue by Louisa Reid which has been nominated for the Carnegie 2013, so it's great to receive a copy of that. Earth Girl by Janet Edwards is a dystopian (which Little M has been trying to snuffle away) and Wentworth Hall by Abby Grahame looks like a period drama.

Thank you Secret Santa :)

And thank you also to Lynsey for organising the UK Young Adult Book Bloggers Secret Santa giftswaping scheme this December. I love finding and giving gifts and the added secret surprise element was irresistible.

Thursday 20 December 2012

Dave Shelton chat

We Sat Down For a Chat...with Dave Shelton

A Boy and a Bear in a Boat has been nominated for the CILIP Carnegie 2013 and has also been shortlisted for the 2012 Costa Children's Book Award. It is a lovely (and funny) storybook with some gorgeous illustrations and a fantastic cover. We're delighted to host its author, Dave Shelton, on our blog today. He is very funny.

M: I’ve heard that you have a cat whose name is too stupid to reveal in public. Is that the case for the boy and the bear in the boat too (because neither of their names are revealed)? And of course, who named your cat?

Dave: The cat was named by my partner's daughter and her dad. I never really considered giving names to the boy and the bear, I just always thought of them as "the boy" and "the bear". It wasn't a particularly thought out decision, so far as I can remember, it just felt like the right thing. The bear has done a few school visits though (including one to Australia) and a lot of schoolchildren have suggested names for him.

M: Like the bear in your novel, imagine you have a selection of sandwiches in your lunchbox. What would be your favourite fillings? And your worst?

Dave: Sandwiches are great aren't they? I'm a very limited cook but I like to believe I make a pretty good sandwich. I think the fishfinger sandwich is a desperately underrated landmark on the culinary landscape, so that's certainly one of my favourites. That said, you really want a fishfinger sandwich to be served up freshly made and hot, so for a lunchbox I'd maybe plump for salami and cream cheese, or ham cheese and chutney. As for worst ... I remember a fishpaste sandwich from my childhood that I really didn't get on with at all.

Dave Shelton
M: If you discovered that you were not lost in the middle of nowhere, where would you like to be?

Dave: I haven't really travelled outside of the UK very much (or very well) so all my favourite places are in this country. Happily, I like Cambridge, where I live, very much but the one thing it lacks is the sea. I love the sea. I like to swim in it when the temperature isn't absolutely life-threatening, but otherwise I just like to be near it. It's very calming. I love A L Kennedy's quote: "No one should go to church - take them all to the seaside, do them good." And my favourite bits of seaside are in North Norfolk (Holkham Beach is particularly fine), so I'd most likely go there.

M: The bear in your novel has a little ritual he likes to practice at 4 o’clock. Do you have any routine rituals?

Dave: Well, I certainly drink a great deal of tea, but that's more a compulsion than a ritual. I don't think I do have any rituals really, but maybe I do and I'm just not able to spot them. I certainly have a few habits (and most of them bad ones) but I'm a bit too disorganised to be ritualistic. Oh, apart from ... whenever I read or hear the word seal I have to do my renowned impression of a seal. And if I hear the word phenomena I have to sing do doo be-do-do, but everyone does that don't they?
M: Sure, Dave, of course they do!???

M: Have you ever found a message in a bottle?

Dave: Ah, now, yes I have. Or at least somebody in our family did back when I was ... ooh, I'm not sure how old, maybe eleven or twelve? I think either I or my younger brother found it. As I recall, all it had in it was a name and address (and I can't remember for the life of me whereabouts it had come from). It was me that wrote back. I think all I said was, hey, we found your bottle, more or less. But I got a reply anyway. All I can remember now is that the chap who had sent it described himself as "of the grandfather generation", and he had quite spindly handwriting. If I replied again then I can't have been very interesting because that was the last I heard from him. But then any more correspondence was only ever going to be a progression of disappointing normality compared to the initial thrill of finding the bottle in the first place. Hmm ... I think next time I'm at the seaside I'll have to send one in the hope that someone else can have that.

M: If you were the captain of someone’s journey, what ‘on-board entertainment’ would you offer?

Dave: Books, comics, drawing paper and pens, and Radio4. And I might talk to them (though I wouldn't claim that that's always entertaining).

M: Are you good at navigation?

Dave: Hah! No, I have a hopeless sense of direction and very shaky map-reading skills. It's a wonder I can find my way home.

M: Is there anything else you are bursting to tell us?

Dave: Yes, I'd like to share my philosophy for life, which is this:

 It's never too late for breakfast.

 Also, I'd like to share someone else's philosophy for life. John Finnemore is a comedy writer and performer whose Radio shows I greatly admire and in one of his programmes he summed up his guidelines for a good life as:

"Be kind. Have fun."
Which pretty much covers it, I think.
M: I might just have some breakfast now. Anyone want to share it :)
Dave Shelton is also a cartoonist, comicker and illustrator. Check him out here.

Tuesday 18 December 2012

A Boy and a Bear in a Boat - M's Review

A Boy and a Bear in a Boat by Dave Shelton

A Boy and a Bear in a Boat has been longlisted for the CILIP Carnegie and the Kate Greenaway medal 2013 and shortlisted for the 2012 Costa Children’s Book Award. This review has been written from a 'reading for leisure' perspective but consideration was given to some of the judging criteria set for the CILIP Carnegie medal.

To begin, the cover for this book is mesmerising – at least, it is to adults. Its dustjacket looks old and tatty with a tea cup stain on it. I keep picking it up and moving it around to look at it. Very big brownie points to the design and print team who have pulled this cover off. There are also lots of beautiful illustrations throughout the book.

A Boy and a Bear in a Boat by Dave Shelton
Storywise, A Boy and a Bear in a Boat is a wonderful tale that many parents and young children are sure to take great delight in sharing at bedtime (or other times: like maybe on a boat when they’re not lost at sea – joke). Equally, younger readers new to chapter books may enjoy it too. It’s a story about a boy and a bear in a boat. The bear is rowing the boy somewhere and the boy is trusting but equally a bit impatient to get there. The story is all about this little adventure that takes place in not-quite-the-middle-of-nowhere. You’ll find that a lot of ‘not much’ and also a lot of ‘much’ happens. The developing banter and camaraderie between the boy and the bear is especially delightful.

We don’t know the boy’s name. We don’t know the bear’s name. So the main characters could be anyone and children will either take great delight in this – or query it. But we do know the name of the boat. This is one of those books where even the least curious of readers and listeners are sure to ask questions.

The boy is an average boy, primary school age probably – maybe a bit younger. He’s a bit brave going on a journey by himself but he behaves as if this is something he normally does. Typically, he gets bored easily. Who wouldn’t after all that time on a boat? I liked him. The bear is like a cuddly grown-up who is calm and in charge, but maybe also just a little bit dipsy.I liked him too. I loved the little details that Dave Shelton provides throughout the story. The lunchboxes are wonderful but my favourite bits really are about the maps and the on-board entertainment. My least favourite chapter was the one with the sea monster. I don’t like monsters.

While the journey starts straight away, the story builds up slowly. The pleasure in the book is the slow pace, and the detail that this affords. Also, that bear is in no rush to get anywhere. There is a lot of dialogue but there is also a lot of description. There is a lot of attention to small details, the kinds of details that young children are very curious about. For me, a calm and tranquil mood was created – for most of the time (although I think some younger readers may get quite excitedly frenzied in some parts where there is...some action!).

Dave Shelton's A Boy and a Bear in a Boat left me feeling happy – and a little bit curious.
Publication details:
2012, David Fickling Books, Oxford, hardback
This copy:
Received for reviewing the Carnegie longlist from the publisher

Thursday 13 December 2012

The Story of Father Christmas

Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way......

It happens towards the end of almost every year in our family. The lists. The whisperings. And then the questions start.  How does he....? What about...? Is it real? Do you believe in Father Christmas? Well, I believe in all sorts of things and I especially like a good story. With great pictures. So, whatever anyone else says, this is the story about the story I believe.

The Story of Father Christmas is a scruffy 32 page picture book written byAnn & Denis Mallet. It is probably authentic vintage. The pictures are gloriously detailed and it's a fun story that tells you all about Father Christmas and what he does throughout the year.

This book was probably given to me before I started school. I'd never seen snow and the idea of it at Christmastime! That was mindblowing. The Story of Father Christmas has been well and truly thumbed for a good many years, and has been passed down the generations. Each December it comes out. No matter how young or how old we are, it comes out. Probably at the same time as mince pies, chocolates and carols.

Here's the cover. In case you're wondering, this is December 24th, Christmas eve.

The story starts at the beginning of the year, in January. This is the month when Father Christmas and the reindeer take a relaxing month off. I've always thought that this just looks like so much fun.  Obviously, they're living in the northern hemisphere.
The story moves on to all the other things that he and all his friends around the world have to do throughout the year in order to be ready for that time-defying sky journey on 24th December. Some of the best pages are ones that show him training the reindeer!
And then, after that journey - and a great long sleep - Father Christmas' village gets ready for a party on Boxing Day. Here's a picture of everyone making their way by torchlight through the snowy valley. I've always wanted to be invited to that party!
Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever you believe, here's wishing you peace and goodwill.

Publication details:
1977, Sackett & Marshall, London

Tuesday 11 December 2012

Michael Morpurgo and us getting Christmassy

Yes, with a twinkle in his eye and a ruddy smile, Michael Morpurgo said it at his own event in October at the Ilkley Literature Festival: "It's early for Christmas, isn't it?" So we've saved this for December!

Michael Morpurgo and a fan
To a packed hall with audiences of all ages, Michael Morpurgo, accompanied by the Coope, Boyes and Simpsons singers, told the story of The Best Christmas Present in the World. The narrator finds a letter in a secondhand desk and he reads it: it's December in 1941 in the war trenches....... It is a beautiful story, a typical Morpurgo tear-jerker: and with those acapella singers! Tears. For those who missed it, put some carols on, gather round and read it yourselves: the story was published in 2004 and is available as a lovely picture book.

After the singing, storytelling, jokes and tears, a lengthy queue of excited children (and their families) formed to meet and greet Michael Morpurgo, pick up some signed bookplates (he'd dislocated his shoulder and couldn't do personal signings), and snap a couple of photos. We also caught a glimpse of his latest novel, A Medal for Leroy which was inspired by the true story of Britain's first black army officer.

The thing I discovered most at this event was that while so many children love Michael Morpurgo's books, he's also a very, very entertaining performer. He's also a bit tall.

Are you a Morpurgo fan?
And......seeing as it's December,
now we've gone all Christmassy at home!
Paying homage to our blog, this year's festive tree is made up of all the books that have come into our home during 2012. Some have been read, some have yet to be. Some books have come and gone back to libraries or been passed on to share with other readers.

In front of the Christmas tree


The bird's eye view
And like all good treats, our tree has books in the centre too.

Friday 7 December 2012

Classics Club

It's got to that time when planning for the next year for a lot of us is already well underway. And in the book blogging world, sign-ups for reading challenges start appearing.

One that has caught my eye, and can be signed up to at any time is the Classics Club. Over the summer, we had a family adventure reading some of the children's classics from Vintage. We enjoyed that and it spurred all sorts of discussions. We also just received a copy of The Ultimate Teen Book Guide (thanks YA Library UK) which includes recommendations for all sorts of classic books, some teen, some children's and some adult.

The Classics Club challenge is a big one and it's longitudinal: 50 classics over 5 years - and you need to start off with a proposed list of 50 books.

Because our blog has always tried to focus on sharing and discussion in reading, we thought that this would be perfect for us, so both  myself and Little M are signing up for it. It will be fascinating to see whether our reading lists diverge - or whether we both read the same 50!

We'll likely start this in the new year so we're setting out goal end date as 31 December 2017.

The club leaves the definition of 'classic' open. We'll start off by defining it for ourselves as books that publishers have deemed 'classic' or books that have passed among generations of readers. Our We Sat Down 50 Classics Club reading list includes some books that will be rereads for M and some brand new reads for both M & Little M. Some of the books have been chosen because they are already on our bookshelves! New additions and progress will be posted as time goes on.

1. A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
2. Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll (on our shelf)
3. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase - Joan Aiken (on our shelf)
4. Emil and the Detectives - Erich Kastner (on our shelf)
5. Black Beauty - Anna Sewell (on our shelf)
6. Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier (M's re-read)
7. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett (on our shelf; M's re-read)
8. The Little Prince - Antione de Saint-Exupery
9. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte (M's re-read)
10. My Friend Flicka - Mary O'Hara (on our shelf; M's re-read)
11. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - John Boyne
12. A Wizard of Earthsea - Ursula le Guin (M's re-read)
13. The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien (M's re-read)
14. A Dream of Sadlers Wells - Lorna Hill (on our shelf; M's re-read)
15. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, aged 13 3/4 - Sue Townsend
16. Franny and Zooey - JD Salinger
17. The Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger (on our shelf; M's re-read)
18. The Chocolate War - Robert Cormier (M's re-read; on our shelf)
19. To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee (on our shelf; M's re-read)
20. Tamar - Mal Peet
21.  Discworld: Monstrous Regiment - Terry Pratchett
22. The Color Purple - Alice Walker (on our shelf; M's re-read)
23. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood (on our shelf; M's re-read)
24. Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury
25. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley (on our shelf)
26. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings - Maya Angelou (on our shelf)
27. The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
28. The Trial - Franz Kafka (on our shelf)
29. Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
30. Catch-22 - Joseph Heller
31. East of Eden - John Steinbeck (M's re-read)
32. Waiting For Godot - Samuel Beckett (M's re-read)
33. My Name is Red - Orhan Pamuk (on our shelf)
34. The Name of the Rose - Umberto Eco (on our shelf)
35. The Prince - Niccolo Machiavelli
36. A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
37. The Story of an African Farm - Olive Schreiner
38. My Antonia - Cather Willa
39. Breakfast at Tiffany's - Truman Capote
40. The Unbearable Lightness of Being - Milan Kundera (on our shelf; M's re-read)
41. Revolutionary Road - Richard Yates (on our shelf)
42. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
43. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
44. Ulysses - James Joyce (on our shelf)
45. The Sea, The Sea - Iris Murdoch (on our shelf)
46. The Importance of Being Earnest - Oscar Wilde
47. Hamlet - William Shakespeare (M's re-read)
48. Othello - William Shakespeare (M's re-read)
49. Travel Light - Naomi Mitchison
50. A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess
51. Nineteen Eighty-Four - George Orwell (on our shelf; M's re-read)

If you're wondering why there is 51, that's because there was a small typing error which meant that no.51 was originally not numbered!

Thursday 6 December 2012

Write Your Own Creepy Christmas

No review, no booklists, no reading discussions, no interviews today. No. It's all about Christmas and writing.....

To celebrate the launch of Chris Priestley's new e-book, Christmas Tales of Terror, Bloomsbury's short story writing competition blog, 247 Tales, is running a special Christmas story competition for writers aged 10 - 16.  All you have to do is write a frightful festive story in 247 words - or less. And submit it by Wednesday 12th December. There's a prize too. Full entry details are on the 247 Tales blog.

To give you some idea of how it's done, here's a specially crafted 247 tale written by author Chris Priestley:

That end of the park was empty and Lilian’s footsteps were the only ones to trouble the pristine blanket of pure white snow.  It was so beautiful, so magical.  She was breathless with excitement and, looking back only once at her now distant friends, walked on.

Lillian’s neat and charmless park was utterly transformed.  The grim old archway that stood as a lone reminder of the workhouse that had once stood here was smothered in snow and feathery snowflakes fell and tickled her face.  Lilian stepped through the arch as though stepping into another world. 
The park was unrecognisable here.  Lilian felt she was walking through a deserted wood as she reached an area thick with trees where the snow was especially deep and her whispered footfalls were the only sound. She had never thought of the children who lived and died in the workhouse but now they came unbidden into her thoughts.  She even thought she could hear them whispering.

Then looking up she saw children sitting in the branches above her head.  They looked like roosting owls.  They were ragged children, poorly dressed and pale, eerily lit from below by bright snow.  Their thin, wan faces looked down at her with large eyes twinkling in the snow light.  They bore an expression she thought at first was one of tragic longing, but which she realised too late was in reality some kind of terrible and cruel hunger.

And, before she could even scream, they jumped.

Chris Priestley, (247 words)

Good luck!

Wednesday 5 December 2012

The Weight of Water - M's review

The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan

The Weight of Water has been nominated for the 2013 Carnegie medal. It is a quick and enchanting read, and I really can’t recommend it highly enough. I read it a few weeks back, made some notes and now....I actually can't fault it. Amazing.

The Weight of Water tells a contemporary tale about twelve year old Kasienka. She travels with her mother from Poland to England. They are in search of her father and have little money. The unwinding story is a familiar bildungsroman of a twelve year old immigrant who is the new girl in school trying to understand and form her own identity. Within this story, the main plot with its heavy themes of bullying, loss and immigration are lightly buoyed  by the sweet-and-scary joys of pursuing  interests, love and the prospects of newfound  happiness.

What makes this story truly beautiful though, is the way it is told. The Weight of Water consists of a set of poems. Its form takes a poetic shape but uses narrative prose to great effect. At first, I was alarmed when I saw the unfamiliar shape of poetry lines in the pages of this novel rather than the familiar chunks of paragraphs. But, the writing has a beguiling rhythm which adds a simple but beautiful flow to what is an easy story to follow. It is an engrossing story that you’ll read easily in a single sitting. Or in little bits if that’s what you prefer.

The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan
Here are some of my further thoughts about the book in relation to the Carnegie shadowing criteria that we're using:

My first impression of Kasienka was that she was a good girl who felt loved and loved her family – although she felt terrible that her dad had left them. She seemed like a pleasant child who tried hard and was content. The descriptions of Kasienka’s thoughts, looks, behaviour are all very plausible and aspects of them are likely to be familiar to most people, especially twelve year old but nearly thirteen year olds girls.
Many of the main characters change as the novel progresses. While the plot is important and strong, the main focus is on how the main characters in this novel, Kasienka and her mother, adapt to their changing environment and relationships in England.

Kasienka has important relationships with a number of adults and students at school. Some of these relationships are positive and supportive, others are more negative. Many of these relationships change.

Despite the poetry, the language (vocabulary and syntax) is straightforward. The story dives straight in with Kasienka and her mother leaving Poland with just an old suitcase and a laundry bag. From the first page, you know already that this change in their life is not going to be easy.

The Weight of Water is told from Kasienka’s point of view. There is very little dialogue with other characters but there is a lot of internal dialogue. There is also a lot of description which helps to fill in the details of the story and to create an atmosphere of passing time and change. However, Crossan does not linger on irrelevant detail and the story moves swiftly, flitting past that which is not integral to the main developments of the character and plot.

The main plot about Kasienka and her mother's move to England in search of her father is well-supported and enhanced by the interweaved sub-plots. For me, it is the sub-plot around developing personal identity which are the highlight of this story.
This book definitely stays with you after you have finished it. You know where you finish the last page and just sit staring......and wondering what happens next in the characters' lives? And then wish you could quickly find someone else who has read it so you can talk about it with them? Yes, it was like that for me.

This book would probably fit into a contemporary genre because it is set in current times and is realistic (but you might also find it on the poetry shelves).

I would recommend this novel to readers approximately 11+ and think that it could have a broad appeal to a variety of readers.
Publication details:
Bloomsbury, January 2012, London, hardback
This copy: received for Carnegie reviewing from the publisher


Tuesday 4 December 2012

Pippi Longstocking - M's Review

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

If you have never met her before in your life, let me introduce you to a nine year old thing-searcher called Pippilotta Comestibles Windowshade Curlymint Ephraimsdaughter Longstocking, more commonly known as Pippi. The locals think she lives alone but she doesn’t: she lives with Mr Nilsson (who’s a monkey) and a horse in a house in Sweden.

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
The first book, Pippi Longstocking, tells about her moving into Villa Villekulla, settling into the town and establishing herself as the super-strongest and most remarkable girl who is quite capable of dealing with the worst of the town bullies in the most non-violent way.  She sees things differently to other people and her neighbours, Annika and Tommy are quite taken in by her – as am I. But boy, can that girl lie!

Underneath the rollicking good fun of the stories, Astrid Lindgren’s  Pippi stories also raise more complex issues like whether children (like Pippi) should live on their own in a house or whether they should go into a children’s home; should they be educated in a school or can life provide them with another sort of education; and of course, what is hygiene and the best way of walking? And is the best thing about school the holidays?

Each chapter is a semi-adventure with Pippi and as such, it’s not really a very linear narrative with a strong storyline. It is an easy and fun chapter book for young independent readers and it would also make for wonderful bedtime or family reading. I’d also be tempted to go all out and read it in conjunction with a copy of something like Keri Smith’s How To Be An Explorer of the World (which is a non-fiction activity journal good for kids of all grown-up or grown-down ages).

I don’t think I ever read Pippi Longstocking as a child but I watched and loved the television series (a dubbed version). She was one of my all-time favourite characters because she thought and did some very unexpected and wildly cool things.

I was properly introduced to Astrid Lindgren's writing and the Pippi books by the funny and interesting Alaric Hall, a lecturer in Medieval English Literature at Leeds University (note: Pippi is not an example of medieval literature). He has a personal interest in Scandinavian children’s literature (think Pippi, Moomins and Hans Christian Andersen).

If you haven’t read any Pippi, I urge you to do so. Likewise, if you ever get the chance to meet Alaric Hall, I urge you to do so. In his own special way, he is as vibrant and enigmatic as Pippi.

Alaric Hall, image courtesy of Leeds University

Publication details:
Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2012 edition, paperback

 This copy: received for review from the publisher

OUP has republished two more of the Pippi books in a paperback edition: Pippi in the South Seas and Pippi Goes Abroad. In these books, the adventures of Pippi, Annika and Tommy continue. There is also a beautiful hardback edition with illustrations by Lauren Child.

Saturday 1 December 2012

Dash & Lily's Book of Dares - M's review

Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

I have saved this review especially to kickstart December!!!! It's a cheesy, fun-filled, romantic, Christmas read.


Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares is about a red Moleskine notebook that is found by a snarly-looking sixteen/seventeen year old boy in a New York bookstore alongside the JD Salinger titles. Good start. It has clues in it that send him on a bit of a goosechase to find Lily, the ‘writer’ of the first few clues. And it’s Christmastime – December 21st.

The first two chapters are really very promising, alternating between Dash and Lily’s story. Their voices are truly distinct, which is wonderful and either down to the good writing of the individual authors or clever writing by having different authors take on each voice (as they claim to have done in this case). But then, the cat and mouse type chase becomes a bit Christmas-movie-cheesy. And then the story interest picks up again, descends into sit-com cheese again, and so on.

But I stayed with it because I wanted to know what happens. Do Dash & Lily meet? Do they want to get together? And (I can’t believe it is me writing this), will anybody (other than the boys!) kiss??

The writing style will appeal to fans of John Green. Apart from removing some of the cheese, my main gripe with this book is that I wish I'd waited ‘til 21 December to read it (now who’s being cheesy?)! Anyone who likes a little bit of festive, light romance, read this novel in December - and have some fun. Who knows, we might all find little red notebooks with messages popping up around the place. Now that would be dashing!

This novel made me feel all light and cheery (and that has nothing to do with the way the story goes but it does have a lot to do with some of its details), so at the start of December, here's wishing you all a very merry Christmas season.

Who'll be dashing through the snow.......?

Publication details:
MIRA Books, October 2012, Surrey, UK, paperback

This copy: received for review from the publisher