Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Wed Wabbit by Lissa Evans

2017, fluent reader, Key Stage 2, upper primary, ages 9-11    

This is a proper book.  It has a thick spine.  It is 243 pages long. The text is blocked .  It uses a serif font and has difficult ‘a’s  and ‘g’s.   However, it does make a few concessions to the fairly new  reader:  it has short chapters,  it uses double spacing and includes some different fonts for different types of text.  The chapters are short. 

Fidge is thrown into a bizarre fantasy world with her awful cousin Graham shortly after her sister Minnie has been run over. Thus  Lissa Evans cleverly gets the adults out of the way.  Fidge grows in the other world:  she takes responsibility for Minnie’s accident.

We have a recognisable story arc: Fidge crosses the threshold, refuses the call and faces trials and enemies. 

The novel may remind us of other stories. Fidge and Graham are perhaps like Mary and Colin in Secret Garden.  It may also remind us of the Alice book; toys come to life and there is some nonsense verse. 

Pace is maintained through the short chapters, a quick exchange of dialogue, cliff hangers at the end of many chapters and plenty of action. 

It is certainly quirky.     

Peter in Blueberry Land by Elsa Beskow

2003, pre-school, ages 3-5  

This book was originally published in 1901 in Sweden. The pictures and the story are delightfully old-fashioned.  Peter wears a smock over short trousers.   As always in good picture books the pictures tell more of the story.       

There is rather more text than in a modern picture book. The text uses a serif font with difficult ‘a’s and ‘g’s.  Oddly, every other page is blank. 

Peter is looking for cranberries and blueberries to give his mother on her birthday but there are none to be found.  He is helped by the King of Blueberry Land and Mrs Cranberry.  (Are blueberries more important than cranberries and / or men more important than women?)  Anthropomorphic animals also help. 

There is a fantasy element; Peter is shrunk to the size of the blueberry and cranberry children then returns to his normal size easily at the end of the story.     
Friendship is a strong theme here. 

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Today's Specials: A Selection Of Literary Delights

Today's Specials: A Selection Of Literary DelightsToday's Specials: A Selection Of Literary Delights by Oldham Writing Cafe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This anthology is produced by the writing group that call themselves the Oldham Writing Café. They meet twice a month in Oldham. See their Facebook page here .
As a publisher who produces anthologies I know how difficult it can be putting together a cohesive book where every piece pleases the reader. This can be even more difficult when it is a collection by diverse connected writers rather than something where all pieces revolve around a central theme.
However, this one succeeds in keeping the reader engaged throughout. Whilst I liked some pieces more than others there was nothing I disliked and I enjoyed reading some fine writing.
The stories and poems are grouped in to Starters, Main Courses and Deserts. The final section of the book is called Speciality Coffees and gives information about the writers and the group. This section also includes acknowledgements.
Worth a look.

View all my reviews

Friday, 23 November 2018

The Tracey Beaker Trilogy by Jacqueline Wilson

2006, Key Stage 2, ages 9-11, fluent reader, upper primary  
For all Tracy Beaker fans this volume combines three of Tracy’s best-loved stories:  The Story of Tracy Beaker, Starring Tracy  Beaker and The Dare Game.  
Tracy Beaker has become one of Wilson’s iconic characters. A television series arose from the books and another one, The Dumping Ground, followed on. The concept of The Dumping Ground is important to Tracey. It is a home for children whose parents cannot look after them. Though they are supported by caring adults, and they also support each other, the children lack the attention they would be given if they lived with their own well-functioning parents. Many of the children in the Dumping Ground are damaged and are gradually working through their issues. Tracey herself is no exception and her problems are quite severe.
At times she is exceptionally naughty and shocking to normal parents. Some Mumsnet subscribers decided to ban the TV series and the books (Mumsnet 2013). We see Tracy make many mistakes but she gradually learns to take responsibility for her actions and to control herself to the extent that in the TV series, when she grows up, she actually takes on a role as a carer at The Dumping Ground.
Tracy horrifies us at times and we may understand the Mumsnet stance. She “borrows” £10 form Cam and doesn’t see it as stealing. She also “borrows” a good pen from Cam. She fiddles with Cam’s locket that has a picture of Cam’s mother inside it. Tracy wants to put a picture of her own mother there. She manages to damage the locket in the attempt. Even worse, Tracy cannot see that she is wrong in her attitude here. She also thinks that Cam should be spending more money on her. Sadly, when Tracy’s mum does actually come back on the scene, Tracy interprets Cam’s reasoned reaction as indifference.
As Tracy packs at Cam’s place to go and spend time with her real mum, her insecurity makes her quite cruel towards Cam. However, the good life is soon over. Mum is pale and the curtains must stay shut. The house smells of cigarettes and alcohol. Though Mum has a present for Tracy she claims she is not made of money. The dream begins to break. Mum become irritated with Tracy and leaves her home alone. Later she comes back with a strange man, forgetting Tracy will be on the sofa. Tracy overhears her mum say that she is funny looking. At breakfast Mum tells her she has the chance to meet a film producer. Tracy understands that she is lying. She steals some money and runs away.              
Football dares her to take her knickers off and hang them on the fir tree outside. Sometimes the naughtiness gets out of hand.  She, Alexander and Football almost set fire to an abandoned house because they get mad as their parents don’t want them. Alexander gets hurt.                         
Tracy is frequently antagonistic towards the other children. Fellow resident Justine helps with interviewing children who live at the Dumping Ground but finds operating the tape-recorder difficult. She is scathing. She admits that she can become violent when the others tease her if she says her mum is a Hollywood star.
Tracy is acutely self-aware and presents the readers with truths that may be difficult to accommodate. Yet she continues to dream about her mum becoming rich and famous and that she will come to fetch her. She becomes so obsessive about this dream that she almost gives up good reality e.g. a trip to MacDonald’s with journalist Cam. Is Wilson warning her readers off grandiose dreams or is she suggesting a practical means of being happy? However, when Tracy “downsizes” her dream to that of Cam fostering her she encounters other obstacles. Cam claims her flat would be too small and we sense that she is not too keen on this idea.                           
There is some mitigation. When Tracy’s punishment for fighting with Justine is to clean the whole of the Dumping Ground, the others rally round had help her. She gives a marvellous interpretation of Scrooge in the Christmas play. However this is spoilt; her mother is not there. A bouquet arrives- supposedly from her mum.  Tracy complains that the writing on the card isn’t her mother’s but Cam explains how flower deliveries work. We suspect that Cam may have sent it all up. Tracy describes the miserable Christmas she would have in the Dumping Ground. She and Cam decide to join forces. Tracy does not yet realise that this is a solution that could lead to happiness. 

Theatrical by Maggie Harcourt

2018, Key Stage 3, age 10-13, lower secondary

This is a long book –some 439 pages in fact – excluding end matter. It use a serif font with difficult ‘a’s and ‘g’s .  It is also quite a small font.  So, this presents some reading challenges. 

The novel is packed with details of the theatre. This would be a very good read for any young person who is thinking of a career in the theatre. Maggie Harcourt, a lover of theatre herself, includes  all of the technical details into the story, without detracting from it.   

Hope Parker is the daughter of well-known theatre costume designer, Miriam Parker, but secretly applies for an internship in stage management with the Earl Theatre.  It is important that she manages her life in the theatre world without relying on her mother’s influence.  To her great surprise she is successful at her interview. 

There is a gentle romance as well. 

Hope’s relationship with her parents and her two perfect sisters is strained but all of the characters remain rounded. 

There is plenty of tension and pace as Hope overcomes problem after problem.      

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Thornhill by Pam Smy

2017, fluent reader, Key Stage 2, Key Stage 3, YA, junior school, lower secondary, tertiary college , ages 9-11,  ages 10-13, ages 13-17      

This is a very tactile book and quite heavy. I t tells two parallel stories. One is in normal prose.  The other  is told in black and white pictures.  

The pictures to some extent work the same way as they do in a picture book for pre-school children; there is more story in the pictures, though here it could be argued it is a supplementary story rather than an extended story. The eye is drawn from left to right, from the top of the page to the bottom.  Double spreads create drama.

The text is formatted raged right and this may suggest it is suitable for an emergent reader.   However, if follows a normal story arc. The font has a serif and the difficult a and g.   

It may also be suitable for the teen reader :  it contains the themes of peer pressure and bullying.  In these two stories adults let the protagonists down.  The prose story includes a first person narrative and reads like a diary. The story in pictures contains a newspaper article.  The reader needs to have a sophisticated level of understanding. 

The first person narrative may also make the books suitable for young adults.  There is a high emotional engagement with the girl who writes the diary. There is also a shock element: was Ella burnt alive?  

Above all else, this is a beautiful book and I can quite understand why it was short-listed for the 2018 Greenaway medal.