Thursday, 28 February 2019

Cat Tales (Smoke Cat) by Linda Newberry

This a one in a series of stories about cats.  Further subtitles are: The Cat with Two Names, Rain Cat, Shop cat, The Cat Who Wasn’t There and Ice Cat.  Author Linda Newberry is a cat lover and keeps cats herself. 

There is nothing in the book or on the cover to indicate that this is a book for early readers. The child can have the delight of picking the book to read. It has a respectable spine.  Yet the props are there: There are short chapters, the text is printed in a large font (though it has a small serif and difficult ‘a’s and ‘g’s), the lines are double-spaced, it is formatted ragged right and there are line-drawings which mainly illustrate but occasionally tell more of the story.  

There is plenty of story, a ghost story at that.  Protagonist Simon has moved into a new house – which is actually quite an old house and sees a strange old lady in the garden next-door.  No one else can see her. She seems to talk to the plants but she is actually talking to the cats who are buried beneath them. She is troubled about Smoke, who is also confused and distressed. Simon helps them both.        

Friday, 15 February 2019

Secrets of the fearless by Elizabeth Laird

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2005, fluent reader, Key Stage 2, Key Stage 3, ages 9-11, ages 10-13, upper primary, lower secondary
There is a little romance and there is a marriage near the end of this story but this is very understated. This is mainly an adventure on the high seas and includes espionage, danger and risk-taking. It contains much of the drama that we would expect to see in works by Dickens or Shakespeare.   We even have a girl dressed up as a man.   

There is plenty of pace in this novel. The chapters are relatively short and each contains several exciting plot points.    

This is a slight departure for Elizabeth Laird. Much of her work is set in different cultures in the modern world. This story however takes place in a past that is just as exotic in another way, and we have details about press gangs, battles with the French and the Empress Josephine.  Laird demonstrates here that she is an excellent story-teller. 

It is a long read – 351 pages of a point 12 point serif font with difficult ‘a’s and ‘g’s.  The text is blocked.  The book has a robust spine.       

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Think seasons and festivals

It will be Valentine’s Day tomorrow. I go to a Spanish Conversation group once a month and this month we have been asked to prepare something about the day. Have we got a story? I’m sure it will be an interesting session.     

I’ll often accept something seasonal for CafeLit. I schedule in advance and we’ve had something ready for Valentine’s Day for some time now. I even have several Christmassy stories scheduled for December 2019.       

Days of the Year  provides useful tips about significant days. gives a more succinct day by day description.  

There are the obvious ones of course: just a few coming up in the next few weeks include Pancake Day, Ash Wednesday, Mothers’ Day (UK) Easter and  - dare I mention it - Brexit Day.
Then there are the seasons.  If you write with the senses you are sure to make good use of the cold crisp days, the warmer afternoons blessed with spring flowers, the balmy warm days on favourite beaches and the glorious colour of the autumn.

You may have to rely on memory a lot. You could find yourself writing about Christmas on beach days, about spring on the dark days after Christmas and about seaside holidays in February because of publishers’ deadlines. One good thing about being a writer is that you can enjoy all of these sensations-packed scenarios from the comfort of your own writing-den.  

These settings may provide another resource when you’re all out of ideas.                 

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Fantastically Great Women Who Made History by Kate Pankhurst

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2018, fluent reader, Key Stage 2 , ages 9-11

This book introduces the young reader to fourteen women who have made their mark on the world: Boudicca, Harriet Tubman, Flora Drummond, Qui Jin, Noor Inayat Khan, Dr Elizabeth Blackwell, Valentina Tereshkova, Josephine Baker,  Pocahonta, Hatshepsut, Mary Wollstonecraft,  Mart Shelley,  Sayyid al Hurra and Ada Lovelace. Each woman has a double spread to herself though mother and daughter Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley share a spread.  A final double spread displays a series of book spines, one for each woman featured.  The sub-title to each book is a reminder of that woman’s main characteristics.   

Each double spread is filled with snippets of factual material.  The text is enlightened with quirky two-dimensional drawings and some extra extraordinary facts.  Each page is very busy and the reader may not wish to read in a linear fashion.

There are a variety of fonts – mainly serif and with difficult ‘a’s and ‘g’s. Some chunks of text are boxed off. This make it easier to distinguish the different sections.  
There is also a glossary at the end of the book of some of the more demanding expressions.
This is a good book for dipping into and it’s likely that it will be read over and over again.
It seeks to motivate girls.    

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Jiddy Vardy by Ruth Estevez


Jiddy Vardy by Ruth Estevez

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2018, YA, Key Stage 4, Key Stage 5, ages 14-17, adult 

Jiddy Vardy is an extraordinary young woman, living in a world that is dangerous and exciting. She is later introduced to another world, a world that is her birth right, and she finds herself conflicted. 

Is it a young adult book or one written for adults? Certainly Jiddy is a young person who encounters many of the dilemmas facing young people even today. She experiences her first kiss. She is kissed by another man but this second lover doesn’t come up to expectations. The ending is upbeat but open, so typical of a young adult text. Yet the novel would also be very appealing to adults.   

This is arguably also an historical novel. Estevez creates a convincing setting and makes good use of the senses to pull us right into the story. 

Estevez’s prose style is very evocative, making the novel an excellent read.  It may be a little rich for some young adults but certainly very readable by many of them.