Tuesday 25 February 2014

Julie Berry chat

We sat down for a chat...with Julie Berry

All the Truth That's in Me is a special little book that had me reading through the night. It is currently longlisted for the CILIP Carnegie medal 2014 and M asked its author, Julie Berry, some questions.

WSD: There's a lot about silencing and persecution in All the Truth That's in Me. Did stories like Joan of Arc's inspire the novel?

Author Julie Berry
Julie Berry: Joan wasn’t the inspiration, as in the starting trigger for the story. The project began as an exercise in point of view – just a random challenge I gave myself after reading something about second person voice in a craft book. The end result isn’t true second person, but the constant address to Lucas evokes second person, I guess you could say. At any rate, Joan wasn’t the catalyst, but as the project got underway, Joan became a recurring motif in my thoughts, so much so that I had to introduce her as an idea in Judith’s mind. Since writing All the Truth I’ve studied more about Joan, and I suspect she’ll be haunting my novels for some time to come. Sadly, she’s only one famous example of strong women being violently silenced; she’s not unique but part of a tragic tradition, and this is an idea that will appear in my upcoming young adult novel from Viking, due out in Fall 2015.

WSD: I likened the novel to poetry, particularly the emotion and adoration that you find in oral praise poetry. Can you say a bit about this and perhaps Judith's voice and her relationship to Lucas?

Julie Berry: First of all, thank you. I admire poetry intensely, and while I did not consider this a novel in verse, I often felt that the short segments, and Judith’s mode of expression, nudged the novel in a poetic direction. I am especially fond of praise poetry, as my inclusion of a psalm in the novel reveals. In both passionate love and religious worship, the lover succumbs to the bliss of devotion, which effuses into language. The challenge is to raise their expression to heights worthy of their feelings.

One of the first things I knew about Judith was the intensity of her feelings for Lucas, and the depth of her heart, her capacity for caring. An exchange from Pride & Prejudice which has always stuck with me is this:

“You might have talked to me more when you came to dinner.”
“A man who had felt less, might.”

Hardly earth-shaking at first glance, but the impression it left upon me at a tender age--a very Romantic-era notion and probably one tinged with aristocratic snobbery, nevertheless--was the idea was that a greater heart can love deeper and feel more. Darcy, that paragon, had feelings running so deep as to prevent trifling, wasteful expression. In Judith’s case, her heart and mind were rich and profound but entirely stoppered from any outlet, so these poignant but private words for Lucas were all she had, and thus she embroidered them richly. 

WSD: What books would you recommend to teen readers who enjoyed All the Truth That's in Me?

Julie Berry: Two that I speak about when I visit high schools are Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, and The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I also think The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare is a great choice, and The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak needs no introduction from me, but I can’t help recommending it for how utterly perfect it is.


M highly recommends this book and you can read her review here

Friday 21 February 2014

Rachel Campbell-Johnston chat

Little M sat down for a chat...with Rachel Campbell-Johnston

Little M adored The Child’s Elephant and she’s crossing fingers for a Carnegie 2014 shortlisting. She had a host of questions for its author, Rachel Campbell-Johnston.

Little M: Have you been to a savannah (anywhere in Africa)?
Rachel Campbell-Johnston: I have spent quite a lot of time in Africa, perhaps most memorably when I was invited as a journalist to go to Kenya and write about the setting up of a “Born Free” camp in the dry thorn forests by the river where Joy and George Adamson had reared their famous pride of lions. Also, shortly before I started writing the book, I was asked by a charity, Send a Cow, to go to northern Uganda to interview the children who had returned to their villages after fighting as soldiers in the Lord’s Resistance Army. I drew heavily on the diaries that I wrote in both these places for The Child’s Elephant. I tried to make it as true to life as possible.

Little M: Have you ever seen or touched an elephant?
Rachel Campbell-Johnston: I first saw a real elephant in a zoo. My mother took us. My sisters and brother and I were all standing and gawping and trying to feed it the soggy bits of the sandwiches we didn’t want. I don’t really remember what I felt about it. But what I do remember is suddenly turning to my mother and seeing that she couldn’t even bear to look. It made her too sad to see such a magnificent creature trapped in captivity. There were tears in her eyes. But she pretended it was just the sun.
Later, in Africa, I saw elephants in the wild. To see them browsing in the distance sends shivers down your spine. They look so massive and powerful and yet so patient and peaceful. You feel as if you are in the presence of some prehistoric force. Then, as you draw closer you smell their thick musky smell. It prickles the hairs on the back of your neck. I longed to go up and touch one.
But then, one day, a small group of them shambled into the yard of the farm where I was staying. I ran out to get closer and one of the cow elephants charged. She made a farm tractor look more like a toy to be smashed. And I had to run for it. That was my first practical lesson in their awesome strength.

Little M: What is your favourite animal from the African savannah, and why?
Rachel Campbell-Johnston: I suppose I would have to say the elephant. The more I have read about these animals the more wondrous they have come to seem to me. They are so gentle, so intelligent, so sensitive. As one of the characters in my book says: if elephants ruled this world it would be a better place.


The Child's Elephant by Rachel Campbell-JohnstonLittle M: Did anyone/anything inspire you to write this novel?
Rachel Campbell-Johnston: I was brought up on a farm with my sisters and brother. It was quite a lonely childhood and my animals became my best friends. I had a fat white pony, a dog with no teeth, a useless billy goat, a goose with a twisty leg, and every year we would be given a lamb to bring up. When our mother wasn’t looking, we would sneak them up to our rooms. They would wee on the floor. I thought about how much I cared about all these childhood pets and all the animals that I have kept since when I was writing The Child’s Elephant.And I suppose, very sadly, I was moved to write the book too by the fact that the elephant is threatened with extinction. I wanted to help children to understand these animals better, to make them realise how important they are.

Also, as a journalist, I have sometimes had to write about armies of child soldiers in Africa. It’s so hard for a British child to imagine what it is like to live in a country at war where, one minute everything is normal and the next the whole world has changed. It’s like living in a nightmare. But the courage of the former child soldiers whom I interviewed inspired me. I wanted to write something that would show that, however dreadful the things they have sometimes done, it is not necessarily their fault.

Little M: If you had to be someone from your novel, The Child's Elephant, who would you be and why?
Rachel Campbell-Johnston: I would definitely be Muka. I based her character on one of my best friends. And I really liked her because she was so fierce and feisty and wild – like the elephants, she could never be tamed.

Little M: Is there anyone (or anything) you couldn't have written this novel without?
Rachel Campbell-Johnston: I couldn’t have written this novel without my dog. I have a scruffy grey lurcher called Flea and she lies by my feet when I am writing. I thought about my relationship to her a lot when I was writing because really my book is all about how powerful and strong the relationships between humans and animals can be.

Little M: Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Rachel Campbell-Johnston: Try not to think about who might be reading your book too much. Remember it’s just you and the characters that matter at the moment of writing. Try and tell their story as truthfully as you can – even if sometimes it makes you cry.


You can read Little M's review of The Child's Elephant here.

Wednesday 19 February 2014

Geek Girl - Holly Smale

Geek Girl by Holly Smale

Guest Review by Alice (14)

Geek Girl by Holly Smale
A funny book with lots of interesting facts, I was crying because I was laughing so hard!

It is about a teenage girl called Harriet Manners, who is a geek. No-one seems to like her at school, then she gets the chance to remake herself and become a new person. Holly Smale is an author who can write a good book and draw readers into the plot quickly.

A book full of personality and inspiration, I would definitely recommend Geek Girl to anyone who enjoys random but fun bits of trivia and a good laugh. I rate this book ten out of ten because it is something unique and I love it! A book for anyone over the age of 12 who also likes a bit of romance thrown into the funny and fun facts brew!

Publication details: 2013, HarperCollins Children’s Books, London, paperback
This copy: review copy from the publisher

PS. Recommended age on the back cover is 11+.

Friday 14 February 2014

International Book Giving Day 2014

We think that there's something very exciting about giving and receiving books and that's before you even start reading them. Today is International Book Giving Day, which aims to get books into the hands of as many children as possible. So, we've been busy doing that.

International Book Giving Day 2014Random House Children's Publishers offered us three copies of RJ Palacio's Wonder to give away. We've bought this book for oursevles, we've bought it as gifts for others and our teen book group has reviewed it too. We love Wonder and its 'choose kind' theme so of course we said, "YES, PLEASE!"

This got us thinking. We'd do three givings. Each book pack would have a copy of Wonder and some old review copies that we no longer have space for at home (and from publishers who are happy for us to pass them on). We would aim to reach many children and we'd give books to someone who was 'being kind'.

Our first pack went to Thornton Grammar School. I met Thornton's literacy leader last summer when I volunteered on the pilot scheme for Booktrust's Summer Active programme. This programme aims to support children's literacy during the summer of transition from primary school to secondary school. The programme was great fun, the children were great to work with, and they loved being surprised with book gifts. They've now implemented DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) where students read in form time (and in the library).

Our second pack was a contribution to a Year 7 Readathon. Their month long Readathon is also doubling as a charity fundraiser (and readers of this blog will know how much we love readathons). And our third pack went to a community cafe which supports adults with learning difficulties.

We loved giving these books. We hope everyone enjoys opening their packs and exploring the different books. And then we hope they'll enjoy the stories.

Tuesday 11 February 2014

Katherine Rundell chat

We sat down for a chat...with Katherine Rundell

Katherine Rundell has a freeing sense of humour and is the author of the marvellous Rooftoppers, which has been longlisted for the Carnegie medal 2014. We haven’t asked her about growing up in Zimbabwe, or living in Brussels, or whether she’s currently working on anything other than her doctorate. We asked her other things instead.

WSD: Never ignore a possible. This is what Charles Maxim teaches Sophie in Rooftoppers. Katherine,what have been your most adventurous or unexpected 'possibles'? And, have you ever ignored a possible?  
Katherine Rundell:
I was once told it was possible to climb across more than half of the Oxford colleges without touching the ground - that was both an exciting possible, when we tried (and failed), and the root of Rooftoppers. I have ignored possibles, and I regret the things I've not done far more than the many, many stupid things I have done. Like Molière says - 'It's not only what we do, but also what we do not do, for which we are accountable'. The world is too huge and extraordinary for us to be sceptical of hope.

WSD: I compared your character, Sophie, to Pippi Longstocking. Are there any literary (or even real life) characters who have inspired your stories?

Katherine Rundell:
I think Eva Ibbotson's characters were a great inspiration; they have a gorgeous sense of inquisitiveness, and they are unafraid to have wild, bone-deep enthusiasms, which I loved as a child. And, because my doctorate is on Renaissance literature, there are a few Shakespearean-heroine jokes in there.

WSD: I read that you do a cartwheel everyday and that you compare it to the experience of reading. Can you say a bit more about this please? (And did you ever want to be a gymnast or trapeze artiste?)
Katherine Rundell:
I think reading is such a huge and varied thing that you could probably compare it to anything in the world - because at bottom, reading fiction is to temporarily live another life entire. But I meant - cartwheeling wakes you up, shakes you down, makes you see the world from a different angle, and so does reading. (Yes, I did want to be an acrobat, once! I have a tightrope in my study at All Souls, and walk it every day. In the first draft of Rooftoppers, Matteo was a lot more of a show-off with his parkour, and the working title was The Acrobats.)

WSD: Do you play a musical instrument?

Katherine Rundell:
No, alas! I wish I played the cello: I think it is the most beautiful of instruments. But my brother is a professional percussionist, and I loiter in jazz bars and listen to Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Bird while I write.

WSD: If you were shipwrecked, what would you most likely be found floating on?

Katherine Rundell:
Ooh good question! A grand piano. (Or, realistically: a lifeboat, please.)


Now, before you go off to do your cartwheel, you can read M’s review of Rooftoppers here.

Tuesday 4 February 2014

CILIP Carnegie 2014 Longlist

The CILIP Carnegie 2014 nominations list has been whittled down from 76 to just 20 books.

We've read 10 - so that's half of the longlist. From our our anticipated (books we'd read) and suspected (gut feelings from covers, blurbs and word of mouth) where are the delights, susuprises and disappointments for us in the longlist?

Here's the CILIP Carnegie 2014 longlist, annotated with M's thoughts.

From what we've read and reviewed, eight made it into our 'longlist' shelf so we're delighted for these:

1. Ghost Hawk - Susan Cooper
2. The Child's Elephant - Rachel Campbell-Johnston
3. Liar and Spy - Rebecca Stead
4. Rooftoppers - Katherine Rundell
5. Ketchup Clouds - Annabel Pitcher
6. All the Truth That's in Me - Julie Berry
7. Monkey Wars - Richard Kurti
8. Charm and Strange - Stephanie Kuehn

Two we've read and were feintly surprised to see on the list:

9. Brock - Anthony McGowan (didn't think it would get here, but pleased it did; definitely worth a read if you haven't read it for all sorts of good reasons)
10. Blood Family - Anne Fine (I wasn't a big fan of this novel, but Fine's a big name, the the subject matter is tragic and difficult and I was held (albeit uncomfortably) until the last page)

Six Books we haven't read but thought it likely to appear on the longlist:

11. The Boy Who Swam With Piranhas - David Almond (the clue's in the author's name)
12. The Wall - William Sutcliffe (intrigued by this one)
13. Hostage Three- Nick Lake (again, the author's name, but I was scared to read it - now I'm not)
14. Infinite Sky - CJ Flood (heard a lot of good things through the grapevines)
15. Heroic - Phil Earle (again, heard a lot of good things from all the right places)
16. Far Far Away - Tom McNeal (again, heard things in all the right places)

Two books we haven't read and didn't really suspect:

17. The Bunker Diary - Kevin Brooks (heard lots of good things and it looks chilling)
18. The Positively Last Performance - Geraldine mcGaughrean (it looks entertaining)

One we tried to read but couldn't

19. After Tomorrow - Gillian Cross (so many people have raved about this title, and it looks great but neither Little M nor I could get past the first few pages; we'll wait to see if this one's shortlisted before trying again)

And the biggest surprise for us:

20. Binny For Short - Hilary McKay (it didn't appeal strongly to either of us and we haven't noticed any significant chatter. We'll give it a closer look).

So's that the top 20! Gut feeling, the winner's in titles 1-8 - but there are still nine we have not read at all.

I'm a bit disappointed that Phoenix by SF Said didn't make either of the longlists because, barring one or two books from my numbers 1-8, reading a hardback of Phoenix had a very lasting and enjoyable effect on me

Fast forward to shadowing and the shortlist on 18 March!