Monday 29 July 2013

Paper Aeroplanes - M's review

Paper Aeroplanes by Dawn O’Porter
Paper Aeroplanes is a story about friendship and being a teenage girl. Renee and Flo are finishing their GCSEs at an independent, all-girls school on the small island of Guernsey. Their families have suffered break-ups and deaths, and they’re not coping very well. Both girls are desperately lonely and struggling with awfully bullying friendships, overbearingly sexist brothers, difficult parents and carers, boyfriends and puberty.

The novel’s appeal is in its depiction of schoolgirl friendships, the highs and the lows, and the really nasty bits too. A warm, frank tone, with a few funny and emotionally teary moments, is mixed in with crudely graphic yet honest representations of puberty and sex. Many of the characters make choices that impact on both themselves and other people, and have long term consequences.

Paper Aeroplanes has been viewed as brutally honest - it is definitely mortification highway! (Thankfully), Renee and Flo’s experiences were more embarrassing than anything I ever experienced at school and the novel may present some extremes.  The narration from both Renee and Flo’s perspectives was interesting although the two voices were not very distinctive . I frequently got lost as to what was happening to whom.

Inspiration for the novel came from the author’s teenage diary and there is a nostalgic and self-indulgent element to the novel that offers a strong appeal to readers who were teenage girls in the 1990s. I’d say it was aimed at these readers as well as young adults. If you're younger and haven't read Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume, I'd probably start there first.

Paper Aeroplanes Hot Key Ring (by Hot Key Books)
Reviewed by M

Publication details: Hot Key Books, May 2013, London, paperback
This copy: uncorrected proof received for review from the publisher


Wednesday 24 July 2013

Liar & Spy - M's review

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

Liar & Spy is like a stand-alone twenty-first century and urban version of The Secret Seven but written in a stylised John Greenish voice for tweens with the warm depth of David Almond or Patrick Ness. This novel is everything that it looks like on the cover – and a whole lot more.

The central storyline belongs to Georges, a boy who’s moved into a block of New York apartments and becomes involved in an intriguing Spy Club. But it cleverly and pleasingly draws together multiple mysteries and threads from other characters’ lives too.

Liar & Spy by Rebecca SteadI enjoyed a connection with most of the characters: Georges is immediately and wholly endearing, his dad should learn to cook, his mom is wise and hardworking, Candy is delicious (‘though is she a bit too clever for her age?), Safer’s mom is cool, Bob English Who Draws wants new spelling rules and so on and so on. Safer – well, you’ll have to make up your own mind about him. If I was a fan-fictionista, I’d look forward to many more tales of either The Spy Club or the Blue (this’ll make much more sense if you’ve read the book!).

The writing is good and smooth. The scenes are interesting and clever. The characters are warming. There are funny bits. It’s the kind of book readers will go back and read again – to savour some of the delights (umami!) or re-check for clues they missed. Tissues may be required for some readers (probably those of the adult sort). If you find that the first few chapters seem a bit slow and leave you wanting something more, like suspense or anticipation, press on because the whole becomes beautiful. Georges’ mother would probably say it has things in common with a Seurat masterpiece. I highly recommend it.

Fans of either Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven series, A Monster Calls (Patrick Ness), My Name is Mina (David Almond), The Treasure House (Linda Newbury) or pointillism in art will probably find some aspect of charming delight in Liar & Spy. And if you’re 8, 9, 10, 11 or maybe even 12, and you enjoy this novel, you may well go on to enjoy John Green’s novels when you’re a teen.

Pssst...don’t leave until after the credits, you never know what will happen.

Publication details: 2012, Andersen Press, London, hardback
This copy: hardback signed copy (yes!) won from the publishers

After the credits:
  • Liar & Spy is useful reading for anyone trying to decide on what name to give their baby (Pigeon, Safer, Candy, Georges anyone?).
  • Do tweens like birds a lot? I keep seeing them in middle grade novels lately.
  • The character, Safer, is ok by me - but I'd have been very cross with him.
  • I would like to have been homeschooled by Safer’s mom.
  • The fortune cookies in this novel are great.
  • I’m going to try and identify the umami taste whenever I eat: delicious.
  • When I was about 9, my uncle signed my autograph book as The Man from U.N.C.L.E. I thought he was strange. (U.N.C.L.E is referred to in this novel)

Reviewed by M

Monday 22 July 2013

Marvellous librarians...Anna James

Our blog history and the involvement of some marvellous librarians continues...

2012/13 was our big year for shadowing the Carnegie, from longlist through to winners. During that time, we met up (virtually) with Anna James, the fingers and brains behind #tweetckg, CILIP Carnegie’s first twitter shadowing group. Generationally, Anna is somewhere inbetween Little M and I, and there are multiple convergences in our reading tastes, which is fantastic (you’ll know our tastes from this blog and Anna is over at A Case For Books).

Anna works “in a large secondary school and sixth form inbetween Solihull and Coventry. We have just over 1000 students in main school and around 250 in sixth form. I'm the only librarian in school and am based in the main library although do as much as I can with sixth form.”

Anna's schedule for the CILIP Carnegie 2013 online reading group #tweetckg
WSD: You ran a huge Midwinterblood project. What other sorts of things are you involved in?

Anna: “I try to get involved with as many different things as possible. The Midwinterblood project came about because my line manager had a Year 8 class once a fortnight and was keen to try something different with them and asked me if I had any ideas. I had just finished Midwinterblood and thought it would be perfect to do some interesting lessons around so we created a set of five lessons full of students choosing activities, lots of group work and independent exploration and open creative writing. We also got involved with Drama and Media for some cross-curricular lessons. We also had Marcus Sedgwick (the author) come into school for the last lesson which was brilliant.

The longer I'm here the more teachers have been coming to me and we've been working together to do exciting things, which is wonderful. My pet project has to be our Man Booker shadowing group though. I started this in autumn 2011 as a way to try and engage our sixth formers with exciting contemporary literature and it's been brilliant to see students who just sign up to put it on their UCAS form really get involved and find books that they love. We then take them down to the event in London to meet the authors and it's wonderful seeing them so excited to meet them and get their books signed.”

WSD: What is your library space like and what sort of atmosphere/experience do you try to create with it?

Anna: “I inherited a very drab and neglected space, lots of big metal bookcases, over 60 computers and no reading area. It was mainly used as a computer classroom. Over the years we have reclaimed the space, redecorated and created two comfy reading areas. It's now used regularly for research and reading lessons and is packed at lunchtimes.”

WSD: What do you like most about the CILIP Carnegie awards?

Anna: “I love Carnegie! It's such a wonderful way to introduce students to a real variety of fiction. The shortlist always provokes brilliant discussions, whether we loved or hated the books - we're rarely indifferent to them. It's a wonderful way for our Book Club to bond and get to know each other as well. Taking my students to the ceremony last year and this year have been real highlights of working here.”

WSD: Any top recommended 'adult' fiction reads for 13 or 14 year olds?

Anna: “I end up recommending quite a lot of adult fiction to my keen readers. One of my best readers, who is just finishing Year 9, has been reading Kazuo Ishiguro, Donna Tartt and Kate Atkinson recently! Adult books I would recommend to keen teen readers would be The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Radleys by Matt Haig and The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon to name just a few.”

WSD: Anything you're burning to tell us?

Anna: “Just that for all the difficulties and stresses of working in a school library, I love it. I feel very privileged to have a job working to inspire children to read. My students are wonderful and I don't think I'll ever get old of that feeling of a child returning a book you've recommended that they absolutely loved.”
Thanks Anna, and we're looking forward to #tweetckg 2014 - or maybe even a Man Booker shadowing.


Friday 19 July 2013

Bookclubbing and A World Between Us

We had our first proper sit-down-together-in-real-life-and-discuss-a book meeting!

When we first started this blog, Little M hoped it would be about sharing and discussion and a bit ‘bookclubby’. That’s much more difficult than we thought it would be – but we’re getting there. We seem to do more of that offline with real life events. We've tried a small book group with Angel Dust by Sarah Mussi, we shadowed the CILIP Carnegie 2013, and we discussed Wonder by RJ Palacio.

Recently, The Reading Agency supplied us with reading group copies of A World Between Us by Lydia Syson and we have become a little more organised (only a little !). The books came with some author and novel background notes as well as discussion prompts, and feedback forms.  It worked so well that we’re carrying on with book groups (though expect the 'form' each one takes to be somewhat different)!

Our next planned reading group discussion is Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher, again supported by The Reading Agency (Reading Groups for Everyone). If you’re interested in joining in with us online, more information on that will follow.
Here’s what we sat down together and thought about A World Between Us:

Four of us got together – it was quite difficult to find a time that suited everyone, especially with after-school activities and exams/school tests. Other than me (M), the rest of the group were 13 and 14 year olds. They all really enjoyed the novel. Please note, some of you may consider what follows to contain small spoilers – but there’s nothing major that would spoil your own first reading.

The group enjoyed the history/war/romance mix and were pleased that it wasn't a soppy romance. Even though terrible things happened in the novel, most of them saw it as a hopeful novel. They felt there were lots of surprises in the novel and they enjoyed that. The Dolores question (what she did and what happened to her) raised a lot of discussion. Felix was the favourite character. George was their least favourite character and they couldn't quite see his point in the novel other than being a plot device (getting Felix to Paris). On the otherhand, George was my favourite character! They all liked the writing style.

One of the readers hadn't quite finished the book yet (time constraints) and it was quite interesting to talk about what she thought might happen, what she wanted to happen and what would leave her in despair. The general feeling was that everyone would have been distraught if the novel had ended differently.

Towards the end, we used the discussion points that were sent to us. They weren't the sorts of topics that we would voluntarily have picked up in the novel to talk about. However, the questions led to some interesting discussions that weren't directly about the novel. There was some very deep discussion about making spontaneous decisions with long-term consequences like Felix does; considering whether killing in war is murder and what books people would/might not take to a war zone/battlefield. On the question of whether politics can be romantic, I thought that it could, but only one other agreed with me. The notion of romanticising ideological commitment wasn't felt by the others (equal split then!). We chatted for over an hour, the cake was finished, and that was that.

This was the first time a group of us had sat down to discuss a single novel that we’d all read. They enjoyed it and want to do more. So we will.

A World Between Us was recently Highly Commended for the Branford Boase Award 2013. You can read M's review here, Little M's thoughts here, an interview with Lydia Syson here, and see the different design processes that went into the cover here.

If you’re interested in online book discussions here are some other ones to consider:

Nosy Crow and The Guardian run a superb reading group for adults to discuss children’s books. They run a real life meeting in London which simultaneously links up with participants on Twitter (use the hashtag #NCGKids) and The Guardian online. Their next reading group book is: A Boy and a Bear in a Boat by Dave Shelton, 8 August 2013.
We Sat Down's summer book club read:
Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher.





Wednesday 17 July 2013

When You Reach Me - M's review

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

I wish this novel had been written when I was about ten. I’d have loved it. I loved it now but I’d have loved it so much more back then. It has everything in it – endearing characters, comedy, friendship, mystery, shock, surprises, twists and turns and an intriguing title. It's probably one of my favourite children's books I've read in a long time. Think clever and endearing Time Traveler's Wife for children....

When You Reach Me by Rebecca SteadWhen You Reach Me is set in New York in 1979. It starts off with Miranda having kept a box of notes from ‘you’ and we find out that her single mom (with the perfect boyfriend except for his one-shorter-than-the-other leg) is practising for a TV show competition. For a while, this seems to be the main focus of the story but then something awful happens to Miranda’s friend Sal and we realise that this novel is even more of a mystery than it seemed. Just like Miranda, we’re in the dark about so much but we both know that April 27, 1979 is the key date to everything.

Basically, Miranda keeps finding notes from ‘you’, a friend has to be saved (oh but who is it?!), Miranda’s friendships are becoming complicated and even falling apart, and some things are getting lost. All your questions will be gloriously answered by the end but, when you reach the end, don’t be surprised if you’re still trying to figure out some of the scientifically mind-bending possibilities...or if you keep looking overly curiously at mailboxes...or if you suddenly have the urge to visit New York (Rebecca Stead makes it sound somewhere like the best place for home). Genre-wise, this is a mix of contemporary realism, mystery and science-fiction. This novel is full of wonderment, suspense, surprise and tenderness.

Highly, highly recommended.

A little note: I haven’t read it, but I think Rebecca Stead thinks this novel will appeal to fans of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time as When You Reach Me makes many references to it.

Publication details: Andersen Press, 2011, London, paperback (first published in USA, 2009)
This copy: ours

Monday 15 July 2013

Yellowcake - M's review

Yellowcake by Margo Lanagan


Yellowcake by Margo LanaganYellowcake is very good and I’d highly recommend it to a variety of people of all ages. It’s a fantasy collection of ten short stories.  They’re all a bit weird, thought-provoking and rumbling. I’ve heard some readers say they enjoy fantasy because it provides a form of escapism. Yellowcake is quite the opposite and forces you to look at biological human life and social associations in a very non-sentimental, yet richly magical, consideration of mortality. As a whole, the collection seems to explore relationships through all of the seven senses and gets stuck right into the stickiness of our living, decaying and judged physicalities. Anyone interested in inclusion and diversities should take a look at this anthology.

If, like me, you’re neither a short story nor a fantasy fan but enjoy a good story and are curious, Yellowcake will probably appeal to you. The stories are short enough for quick dips. And now, I may return to reading Lanagan’s novels because her writing is gorgeous and her ideas are both playful and daring: I started reading her novel, The Brides of Rollrock Island, a while back, and while the writing was atmospheric and compelling it was a bit too discomforting for me. The short stories in Yellowcake are similar – atmospheric and compelling – and they push you: but because they’re short they let you go from the detail quicker than a novel and I really liked that. But of course, short stories leave so much unsaid leaving you to fill in lots and lots of gaps – if you dare.
My favourite stories included 'Ferryman' (living people who ferry the dead), 'Night of the Firstlings' (based on a biblical story) and 'The Point of Roses' (altogether unusual and if you can’t smell roses while readers it...!). My least favourite story was 'An Honest Day’s Work' (all about dissecting a creature).

Yellowcake has nothing to do with yellow, cake or nuclear production. Once you’ve finished reading, make of the title what you will – Lanagan has confirmed it has nothing to do with any of the stories but that each of her short story collections has a colour in the title.
Reviewed by M

Publication details: David Fickling Books, June 2013, Oxford, paperback (originally published in Australia, 2011)
This copy: received for review from the publisher

Saturday 13 July 2013

The best award (and party) in children's literature!

“The best award in children’s literature - in the world!” that’s what David Fickling thinks of the Branford Boase Award. He says this because the award is all about nurturing new writing talent in children’s literature and highlights the role of the editor in shaping brilliant authors (it awards the author and editor of an outstanding debut children’s novel). It also supports the Henrietta Branford Writing competition for budding authors who are under 18. The ethos behind this award is one I readily support and I was delighted to be invited to the award party.

Well might David Fickling think this is the best award (he’s won it as an editor three times including this year!) but the atmosphere at this award party was phenomenal. Welcoming and friendly, it was so well attended that some wine drinkers resorted to French style tumbler drinking. Amidst a tumultuous climate of library funding cuts, business model and ethical challenges for publishing, and curriculum changes afoot, the mood in the room was buoyed, determined and excitedly celebratory. If this party represented the future of publishing’s ship, what an onboard journey it will be.

Speaking of journeys, because our travelling times clashed with school times, Little M couldn’t attend with me and she had to wait til the next morning for the full gossip. And from her perspective, it was good! I’ll share some of it here, for her, for you and for me.

Of course, I was delighted that Dave Shelton and David Fickling won for A Boy and a Bear in a Boat (abbreviated from her on to Boy & Bear). Of the two Daves, one is big and loud, the other is quiet and shy, but both are very funny and exceptionally talented. Their winners’ speeches were highly entertaining and meaningful.

David Fickling is big and loud and enthusiastically infectious. He chose his words very carefully when he described Dave Shelton’s Boy & Bear as being a novel full of “affection”, more so than most other writers he knows have achieved. For him, Boy & Bear was striking in its originality and by this he meant that he couldn’t imagine the world before it nor without it. He thinks it will be around for a long time. He also mentioned something being like a “rocket”. I can’t remember what but he was so enthused he almost shot us all off to somewhere fizzingly exciting. Little M was delighted to hear that he wore a red bow tie!  Dave Shelton said he was glad Sally Gardner wasn’t eligible for this award. We laughed (she pipped him at the post in the Costa and the Carnegie).

Little M was over the moon for Lydia Syson and Sarah Odedina being highly commended for A World Between Us, a novel that she loves and that we have used in one of our teen reading group gatherings. This is the first time a commendation has been awarded since 2004.
In one of the speeches (I think it was Julia Eccleshare's), the speaker gave a firm shout out to the role of editors. She said that whatever publishing comes to mean, she's convinced that the role of the editor remains essential and she doubts whether any of the esteemed and successful authors in the room would be writing as they are without their editor's encouragement.

Other information I gleaned was that Jacqueline Wilson (yes fans, she was there!) had finished two novels by the time she was fifteen but thought they were rubbish (she actually said 'rubbish'). She never won any writing awards when she was younger and her mum even threw some of her old writing notebooks away (“shock horror,”gasped her audience). So her advice to budding writers is keep going. She was full of praise for the young writers who won the Henrietta Branford Writing Competition.
Jacqeuline Wilson at the Branford Boase Award ceremony, 2013
I met Annabel Pitcher for the first time. Chatting to her was lovely and she is very mild-mannered for someone who has achieved so much with her writing in such a short time (My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece and Ketchup Clouds). She did a tremendous job in introducing the shortlisted titles for this year. And, can you believe she said that winning the Branford Boase last year really made her feel like an author at last?!!

Lydia Syson was beaming, as usual, and I’m not sure if she was more pleased to have been Highly Commended or to have been presented her award by Jacqueline Wilson! I met Sophie Crockett who was a shortlisted author for After the Snow. I was especially excited to meet her because After the Snow was my favourite (remember, it was on my personal Carnegie shortlist). We also talked about Sarah Crossan's The Weight of Water, which we both thoroughly enjoyed. Mara Bergman, Edward Hogan’s editor at Walker talked excitedly about the award and working with Edward who has a new book coming out soon – I think it has just gone to print. It was also heartwarming to see so many families and personal guests supporting the shortlisted authors.

I met a few book publicists in person too for the first time: Hannah Love from Walker and Nina Douglas from Orion. Funny, felt like I’d known them for ages – which I have: online!

Just before I left, I had a little conversation with an author who kindly signed a bookplate for Little M. We talked about how we wished we had more time because it’s so difficult to say no to really good projects and causes. He said he might look our blog up. Oh my, Philip Pullman.
Philip Pullman and David Fickling
Thank you so much to Branford Boase for inviting me, congratulations to the winners and all the shortlisted author and editor pairs. From my tumbler, cheers! Here’s to publishing more and more good stories, for children and everyone.

Here's an interview that Dave Shelton and David Fickling did with me. It's all about writing and editing together, covers, reading aloud and the future.

Friday 12 July 2013

We sat down for a chat...with Dave Shelton and David Fickling

Double Daves win the Branford Boase Award 2013 for A Boy and a Bear in a Boat!

The Branford Boase is an exceptional award in children’s literature as it promotes debut children’s authors and highlights the guiding role of the editor’s hand in crafting the published text. This year, author Dave Shelton and editor David Fickling won it for the unusual and charming A Boy and a Bear in a Boat. I asked them a bit about working together on editing, covers, reading aloud and the future. Funny and mutually affectionate, it’s a bit of a boy and a bear story, delightfully told in their own words.....

M: When reading a novel, I imagine most readers don't consider the editing processes that shaped it into its final published form. What sorts of advice or tips did either of you garner from the other on this particular editing adventure?

Dave Shelton wins the Branford Boase Award 2013
Dave Shelton
Dave Shelton:
David is a very subtle, hands off editor. So there weren't many easily identifiable tips or pieces of advice, so far as I recall. About the only one I remember was to concentrate on 'the concrete', i.e. to portray the setting and action of the story through solid description, to make the reader inhabit the world of the story by making the actual things in the story seem real to them, to give them heft and weight and solidity. I'm probably explaining this rather badly. But I took his point and removed several bits of pretty phrasemaking that actually didn't mean very much if you stopped to think about them for more than a second. Mostly David only ever made gentle suggestions, and he was always at pains to stress that I was free to act upon them or ignore them as I saw fit. I suspect he got his way in almost every instance though. And that's because he's clever and he's usually right.

M: Having won the BBA three times, what magic wand are you waving, David?

David Fickling:
There’s no magic wand.  Winning three BBA’s may be just luck, but if it isn’t luck it is that I am a ‘potato print’ type publisher, by which I mean I read it! I Iike it! I publish it! That’s important. To be decisive. If you really like something and you ‘know’ (as in no one could dissuade you) it’s good, then, if you are a publisher, it’s important to get on and do something about it and not to dither too much. In the case of Dave Shelton I already knew he wrote wonderfully well from his brilliant comic strip Good Dog Bad Dog. (Read it immediately if you haven’t already). I didn’t really have to do any research to see if other people like it too.  I knew they would.  So when Dave said he would like to write something else I was keen from the off.  When I first read it I liked it immediately. From then on it was just a case of can I say anything at all that will help him make it exactly what he wants it to be, as good as it can be.  I don’t think I gave him any tips. 

M: A few of us have said we think A Boy and a Bear in a Boat would work beautifully as a 'read aloud' story with younger children. Was reading aloud ever part of the editing process?

Editor David Fickling wins the Branford Boase Award for the third time
David Fickling
David Fickling:
Ha! I think the sound words make, aloud or in your head, the rhythm of them, is hugely connected to how good we think the writing is. You can’t really judge a poem without reciting it yourself.   But I don’t remember Dave or I reading to each other.

Dave Shelton:
I don't recall reading aloud being part of the editing process as such, but I think we both talked about whether or not it did read aloud well. And it was a conscious aim that it ought to. I think I mostly succeeded in making it a relatively easy ride for parents reading aloud. Although a comics friend of mine, Glyn Dillon, told me he was press ganged into reading and rereading it to his son and by the end he rather regretted the early decision to give the bear a low, growly voice because by the third time through it had done terrible damage to his throat.

M: The hardback cover: it's been talked about, it's won awards. Tell us some more.

Dave Shelton:
The cover is entirely me, save for the blurb text and the placement of publisher's logo, barcode and suchlike. This is not to diminish the role of Ness Wood, who designed the book as a whole and did a fantastic job. But the cover is very much mine. It was very far from the first design I'd proposed. There had been dozens of thumbnail ideas discarded without showing them to David, and at least half a dozen more substantial proposed designs that he did see (and suggested were not quite right) before I came up with an early version of the eventual design. The problem had partly been that I'd been second guessing what I thought David (and everyone else at David Fickling Books, and at the sales and marketing departments at Random House) might want rather than just doing what I wanted. Once I did that I very quickly came up with something that I liked very much but that I only showed to David out of interest, not with any serious expectation of it ever becoming the actual cover. Then he almost immediately okayed it, much to my amazement.

This is, as I understand it, a virtually unheard of level of control for any author to have over his or her book cover, let alone somebody as unestablished as I am.

Hardback cover for A Boy and A Bear in a Boat by Dave SheltonNow, obviously, most authors aren't also illustrators or designers, so you wouldn't expect them to create their own designs but I do find it surprising how little say even very well known and successful authors seem to have in how their books are presented to the world. Some of my favourite authors' books almost always have terrible covers. I wonder if they don't know, or if they don't care, or if they care very much but have given up trying to argue.
But I want them to argue. I want them to be saying 'you are NOT going out dressed like that! Now wipe off that filthy foil type and make yourself presentable!' Although, in fairness, I don't actually object to a bit of garish trashiness as much as I do to the really dull ones that are just a bit of type bunged over a stock photo that make no statement at all about the book they ought to be representing, as if the main intention is not to attract the kind of reader who might enjoy this particular book, but instead to avoid putting anybody off (even the readers who would definitely hate it).
I think a good cover should say something about the book. And that's why I'm proud of the hardback cover for A Boy and a Bear in a Boat: it's odd, and seemingly rather low on content, but closer observation rewards the curious reader. At least that's the hope.

David Fickling:
I love the cover and it is entirely down to Dave.  It makes me smile every time I look at it. We publishers often judge too quickly. Luckily we waited for this cover to arrive.  I don’t know if that is unusual, but I just loathe a cover going out on a book when it is not right. That doesn’t mean I know what the cover should be. I couldn’t make a cover to save my life.  So for me it really isn’t a problem waiting for the right one to come along.  If you’re going home, no point in taking a bus that doesn’t go that way, might as well wait. Waiting can be both tedious and nerve wracking. Has the last bus gone?  Should I have got on the one that at least drops me two miles from my house? 

M: Looking to the future and an imminently independent David Fickling Books, what can we expect?
Without giving too much away David Fickling said: “They are going to be good. I’m crossing my fingers that one of them will be by Dave Shelton.” Luckily for him, the other Dave hopes “to be continuing to contribute to DFB's output for as long as they'll have me.” Good news all round then.
A Dave and a David in a boat....?
Here's my review of A Boy and a Bear in a Boat.
Here's an earlier interview with Dave Shelton.

Wednesday 10 July 2013

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 ¾ - M's Classics Review

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 ¾  by Sue Townsend
Reviewed by M - especially for our Classics Club Challenge

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 ¾ has followed me around for years but I’d never read it. Having achieved what seems like cult status, I popped it onto our Classics Club reading list and I thought a humorous read for our 24 hour readathon would be good. So I bought a copy (the 30th anniversary edition) and I’ve read it.

It’s written in diary form and we get to hear all the ins and outs of Adrian Mole as he enters his teenage years in 1980s Britain. Did I like it? Not especially and nowhere near as much as I'd wanted. Did it make me laugh out loud? Yes, but not as much as I wanted it too. I wanted it to make me laugh so that tears rolled down my cheeks. It didn’t do this. For other people it might (and has!). Bit of a let down for me.....but my initial expectations were very high.

Would I recommend it to anyone else I know? My expressive face is screwing up and twisting all over the place in answer to that. Probably not. Depends on who you are and what you want. If you want to read something that defies political correctness - probably (some of the honesty is one of its strengths). If you want something that’s funny – perhaps: there are lots of funny bits but it felt like the sort of humour you find in stand up comedies or sitcoms – a bit stilted and obviously placed. Lots of one liners (for me, one of its weaknesses). 

I’m sure a teacher tried to read this novel to us in primary school – but we didn’t live in Britain. I didn’t ‘get it’ back then and now I think I understand why. At heart, it’s a satire and like so many satires, it is very idiosyncratic. I often find satires too self-indulgent. If you’re researching British 1980s or lived through it, maybe you should read it. You might like it a lot more than I did.

Characterwise, I’m not sure I especially liked Adrian Mole. Apparently, he’s supposed to be an endearing character. For me, he wasn’t. There was too much about him that was unbelievable. For example, he’s a real hypochondriac; I’ve never met anyone who gets house calls from doctors so much - especially for spots! Also, the situation with Adrian visiting the old man Bert: I don’t think Adrian would have behaved that way – I think he’d have told the school and handed the responsibility of Bert back to them. I also think he was made out to be older than he actually was. His ‘voice’ sounded like an adult’s not a young teen's. This, along with the political satire and the one liners, suggested a lot of authorial presence.

Would I read the next book in the Adrian Mole series? No. It wasn't really my cup of tea - but then, I don't really like tea either!

Verdict: A classic? I’m on the fence. I don’t think it scores highly on many points of literary merit (what those are, of course, is always in debate) but I think it might be a classic example of humorous fiction that points political fingers at 1980s Britain. In this sense, it could go down as classic or cult. In the sense of it being passed on to generations of readers, it looks like some readers already do  this. After all, I found it on the shelves of two small local bookshops thirty-one years after its original publication! But, I don’t think I’m going to be one of those readers.

Publication details:
First published 1982
This copy: 2012, Penguin, London, paperback, my own copy that I bought (wish I'd borrowed it from the library!).

Monday 8 July 2013

5 one line reviews - Little M

More 'strapline' style reviews: Little M's recollections about five books she read aged 12 but has not reviewed.

Covers for Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer, Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman, The Christmas Truce by Carol Ann Duffy and Flip by Martyn Bedford

Silverfin - Charlie Higson (not pictured)
A brilliant story of the young well known 007 agent, James Bond.

Flip - Martyn Bedford
It is about two boys who switch bodies but one is in a coma. Brilliant book.

Artemis Fowl - Eoin Colfer
A magical tale of a genius boy and magical elves; okay.

Noughts & Crosses - Malorie Blackman
Very thought provoking novel with a twist that no one would think could happen today.

The Christmas Truce - Carol Ann Duffy
A nice little Christmas tale; a good little book; poetry!

Friday 5 July 2013

Marvellous librarian - Duncan Wright

Hints of purple, some hand-drawn swirly bits, and other stuff we liked. That was the background for our blog in its first days. Of course, we like all sorts of other stuff too and within days Little M had denounced the use of pink or anything that could be interpreted as ‘too girly’* on our blog. And, this was all because of Duncan Wright – or rather his post about boys and reading on the Hot Key Books blog.

Duncan is a school librarian and runs a book blog, Literature for Lads. Along with Anne Thompson and Hot Key Books**, he’s ingrained in the history of We Sat Down. Without further ado and continuing our series about marvellous librarians, here’s Duncan....!

author Moira Young
Author Moira Young's school visit
Duncan works as the school librarian at Stewart's Melville College, an independent, fee paying, boys school for ages 12 -18. The Sixth Form is co-educational. The library is for boys aged 12-18 and school staff.
And there’s something spooky: “Our library is in the old school chapel so we have an amazing space with an enormous high ceiling and lots of stained glass windows. We also have an organ loft with an organ still in situ! We also have a library ghost which some pupils and staff have seen...”. Yikes!

Duncan has been a recipient of The School Librarian of the Year award. We asked him what this is: “It is awarded annually by the School Library Association and is the SLA's prestigious honour to recognize the excellent work that is carried out in school libraries every day, and to highlight the best practice of those whose work is outstanding. It was a great honour for me to be awarded this title.”
Duncan Wright, Literature for Lads, school librarian of the year
Duncan Wright- he's not strict!
Little M will be delighted to hear that Duncan does not consider himself “to be a 'strict' librarian and I certainly don't enforce silence in the library.” Rather than shushing, Duncan sees the job of a school librarian as putting “the right book, in the right child's hands, at the right time.”

We asked him for a top recommended read for teen boys that might be viewed by some boys as 'a bit girly': “Mary, Spy for the Queen of Scots by Theresa Breslin could easily be ignored by boys due to the 'girly' cover but it's a great historical adventure story full of excitement with a dash of romance. I really don't think girls are influenced as much by covers, lead roles, etc. as boys.”
*Too girly – we like pink, blue, purple and all sorts. We don’t endorse fixed gender roles and our use of the term ‘girly’ is not an endorsement of gendered thinkin. We agree with Duncan, we think book covers affect boys more than girls - and that is a pity (not just for books).

** Hot Key Books - the first publisher to send us a book proof (we didn't know what it was!) and their reader engagement has been exceptional (in our experience).


Wednesday 3 July 2013

Vortex (Insignia #2) - Little M's review

Vortex by S.J. Kincaid
Review by Little M

Vortex is the second book in S.J Kincaid's WWIII trilogy (there are spoilers for the first book, Insignia, in this review; you can read M's review of Insignia here). The novel is set in World War 3. The war takes place in space, but no one gets hurt because they control the ships by computers that have been put in combatants’ brains.

Book cover for Vortex by SJ KincaidTom Raines is the main character who has completed his Pleb training as a combatant and has now moved up into Middle section. Tom's best friends Vik, Wyatt and Yuri all train together but because Yuri is a suspected spy for the Russians, he has to stay as Pleb till more has been found out about him.

As they train they must also try and get sponsors, though Tom can't quite mange that. Then when one of the big companies asks Tom to do something for them, they promise him that they will make him a combatant but if he doesn't do what they want, they will tell all the other companies that they shouldn't sponsor him. This will leave Tom with not many choices after he has finished training.

I really liked the novel because I found the way people could control ships in space via a computer in their brain, very exciting. Though I think the first one, Insignia, is better but Vortex is still very good!

There are many subplots in the book but one that stands out for me is the relationship between Tom and Medusa. I think it is very cute but also it shows that no matter what side of the war they are on they still like each other.

I would say this book is for teens or older, I think this partly because there are some aspects that some people may not understand and also because the main character is around 14, 15 and he does what 14, 15 year olds do.
Publication details: 4 July 2013, Hot Key Books, London, paperback
This copy: digital proof received from the publisher for review




Monday 1 July 2013

Friday Brown - M's review

Friday Brown by Vikki Wakefield

My expectations for this novel were high but I was also anticipating that they would be dashed. They weren’t. My expectations were exceeded as Friday Brown threw out a few surprises, intakes of breath and a raised eyebrow or two. Friday Brown left me bereft. Not empty; but as if I’d lost something special. There aren’t that many novels that leave me like that. I want it back please.

Friday Brown by Vikki Wakefield
Set in Australia, the novel is about a teen called Friday Brown. Her mother thought calling her Friday would protect her from the family curse which goes that all the Brown women die from drowning on a Saturday. When Friday’s mother dies, she takes off and starts all over again, the one thing that she has been doing all her life. Just this time, she’s doing it on her own and she’s in search of her dad whom she’s never met. And then, a train station incident changes everything and the novel took me places I’d never expected and at times I was a little afraid to follow – but I’m so glad I did. Had she known, I’m sure Friday would have changed things....I wish she had.

One of the standouts of this novel for me was the characters. There are quite a few of them: Friday, Silence, Arden, Darcy, Carrie, Bree, AiAi, Joe, Malik and Wish.

Other than Friday, you don’t get to know too much about their pasts other than that they were troubled. At the same time, you really get to know them in the way that you might get to know someone in real life (you know how you often don’t actually interview someone when you meet them).  For me, Silence and Arden really are the most interesting characters of all, partly because there’s so much left unsaid about them and you just know that there is so much to say. Silence is a terribly endearing character. Arden, well, what can I say! Bree is interesting, living a double life. That is curious. Wish. I feel like he was a bit of a superfluous character. However, I suspect that other readers, especially teen readers, may feel that he is a very important character.

Friday Brown is a very contemporary psychological thriller and a novel that deals with big and unsettling topics: like mental and sexual toying, mutism, homelessness, death, abuse and worse. But it is not gritty. As Arden (one of the characters in the novel) does with her ‘children’, Friday Brown reels you in with its warm, beguiling charm, spinning you like a yoyo. Up and down, up and down....leaving you dangling...and up again....and down – and then it cuts the string.

One of my favourite novels this year,  I have a feeling Friday Brown could be one of those novels that in ten years time I’m still pulling its name out of the bag when someone  asks for a recommendation. Good for young teens right through to adults.

Silence is silver and then I wished upon a star.
PS. The author, Vikki Wakefield, set out to explore very different themes to those that I identified. Reading is so interpretive and its iteration continues to reproduce something different.

Publication details: July 2013, Hot Key Books, London, paperback
This copy: uncorrected proof received from the publishers for review

Friday Brown was originally published in 2012 by Text Publishing, Australia.