Claude: Going for Gold by Alex T. Smith – A Book Review

Tags

, , , , , ,

My family are united in their love of Claude, the delightful dog and his equally delightful sidekick Sir Bobblysock. We have loved Claude from the beginning and he never fails to please. Claude, Going for Gold was sent to me to review by the Amazon Vine programme in exchange for my honest opinion.

tumblr_o3siphgvbw1ts9lrho1_1280

Honestly and promisedly, we love it. Alex T. Smith is both a brilliant illustrator and a brilliant writer. His books work for both adults and children because his humour is beautifully multi-layered. Children will enjoy the slapstick nature of Claude’s adventures and adults will love the subtle humorous asides. I particularly love the character of Sir Bobblysock for these qualities.

In Going for Gold, Claude and Sir Bobblysock are stumped as to how to spend their day when they get inadvertently caught up in a sporting parade that takes them to an arena sports day. Claude dons a pair of borrowed ‘snazzy knickers’ and competes in many different events. Success eludes him until Sir Bobblysock spots some nefarious activity going on near the trophy table.

A wonderful transitional book which would be a fabulous addition to any primary school library and which would work equally well for both boys and girls. A delight to share as a bed time story and from my own experience, Claude books make excellent stocking stuffers for those in their late teens as an unexpected and wholly welcome Christmas gift.

Giant by Kate Scott – A Book Review

Tags

, , , ,

Kate Scott was kind enough to send me her earlier series of books for young readers, Spies in Disguise, which you will find reviewed on this site. I enjoyed them very much and it was a pleasure to receive her latest book, Giant.

c14w7brwqaegef5

Giant is not in the Spies in Disguise series but is none the worse for that. It’s an altogether more thoughtful book than its predecessors, telling as it does, the story of Anzo, a young man who is deeply distressed by the fact that he is so short that his drama teacher casts him as all seven dwarves in the school play. As with Spies in Disguise, there is humour here, but it is humour that is laced with sadness and for those of us who never fitted in at school, a sense of recognition for Anzo’s plight.

The story is told from Anzo’s point of view and we see how hard it is for him in a family of extroverts, a school full of regular sized people and teachers who are unwittingly patronising and adding to Anzo’s problems. This is before we get to the inevitable fact that Anzo is being bullied.

Anzo believes that all his problems would be solved if only he were taller. His friend Elise, a girl who wants to be a therapist when she grows up, suggests that Anzo tries the power of positive thinking. He’s not convinced, but decides in a moment of desperation to give it a go. Much to his amazement it seems to work, except that what he hoped would happen when he was taller, doesn’t happen at all.

Anzo has to find a way to be himself, short or tall, and this book is his journey to that awareness. It’s sweet, and at times rather poignant. It’s funny and sad, and it really struck a chord with the child me who knows exactly what it feels like to be Anzo.

A perfect read for eights and ups. It would be a particularly good addition in school libraries and for any teacher trying to find a book that tackles the subject of fitting in. It reminded me a little of Wonder, but perhaps for slightly younger readers.

The Painted Dragon by Katherine Woodfine – A Book Review

Tags

, , ,

The Painted Dragon by Katherine Woodfine is the third book in her Sinclair’s Mysteries series, which feature the young women detectives, Lil and Sophie. The first two books in the series are The Clockwork Sparrow and The Jewelled Moth. I actually own these as the series was highly recommended to me by someone last year. I hadn’t got round to reading them, but I will be putting them higher up my to read list after finishing The Painted Dragon for the Amazon Vine review programme.

themysteryofthepainted-dragon-thumbnail

I loved this book and there are already a list of people I know who will love it too, and I can’t wait to recommend it to them.

The books are set at the time of the beginning of women’s emancipation. The suffragette movement is on the march, and girls are beginning to get jobs and a real sense of independence. Lil is an actress. Sophie works in the millinery department of Sinclair’s famous department store, but what excites them both most, is solving mysteries, which it turns out they have a knack for.

In this book, things are in the doldrums rather and Sophie is beginning to get bored selling hats all day, when things look up. A famous art collector proposes to hold a unique art exhibition at Sinclair’s. Not only will it feature rare and famous paintings, but it will also turn the shop windows into living art displays and feature new works by up and coming art students at the famous art school, The Spencer. Lil is abuzz with the news, as she is about to become one of the living paintings. Sophie is less enthralled until the most famous painting in the exhibition, The Green Dragon, is stolen on the very morning the show is supposed to open.

The two girls and their friends are drawn into investigating the theft when their friend from the art school, Leonora, is framed for the theft and it quickly becomes apparent that Leonora’s life is in danger.

This is a wonderful whodunnit featuring great heroines, a wonderful cast of extraneous characters and set against a brilliant depiction of Edwardian England. Woodfine’s attention to detail brings the story alive without bogging it down under the weight of historical detail. The atmosphere is perfect, the pace is fast and the story intriguing. It can be read as a standalone novel, which I did with no trouble at all, but it is clear by the end of this book that the adventures of the previous books are all interlinked and that there is more to come in the next volume.

I recommend it to children aged eight and up. It’s exciting without being scary, clever without being tricky to read and utterly absorbing. I loved it.

Survivors of the Holocaust by Zane Whittingham and Ryan Jones – A Review

Tags

, , ,

Survivors of the Holocaust by Zane Whittingham and Ryan Jones was sent to me by the Amazon Vine review programme in exchange for my honest opinion.

survivors-book-cover

The book arrived a few days ago, but I didn’t have time to read it straight the way. Yesterday I found my ten year old son, Oscar reading it at the kitchen table. He was utterly absorbed in it. I waited until he had finished and asked him what he thought. You could tell that he was really struggling to find the words. In the end he said: ‘Mum. It’s good…no. That’s not the right word for it. Powerful.’ I asked him if he wanted to talk about it with me, but he wanted to read it with me and talk about it then. That’s what we did today.

The book is divided into separate stories from real life survivors of the Holocaust, all of whom had very different experiences. They are told in the form of graphic novel, style stories with very simple words, a few lines to a page. Mostly the pictures do the talking and the stark simplicity of the words really works well here.

At the end of the book is a section about the real life survivors and how they look now and what happened to them after the war. There is also a time line and a short bibliography.

This is an excellent book. The production quality is high, the content has been really thoughtfully selected and arranged and it is age appropriate (Primary age, Ks2). It deserves to be a classic in my opinion and would work as a fantastic spring board to a companion piece like Judith Kerr’s When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit for example.

Oscar and I discussed every page. He asked questions about the things he didn’t fully understand. He drew my attention to numerous clever quirks the illustrator had added to really bring the book to life. He was utterly engrossed in the entire thing and was so excited to show me the photographs of the people at the back of the book. It kick started a discussion between us that was profoundly affecting and he was able to draw parallels with a lot of what is happening in the world today without my prompting.

A must read.

Jingo by Terry Pratchett – A Review

Tags

, , , , ,

Jingo is the twenty first Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett that my son, Oscar and I have shared together. It isn’t my favourite. We’re now into the middle years for Pratchett, where I lost enthusiasm for him and we parted ways for a few years. It’s interesting to read them again after such a long break (twenty odd years).

pratchett-terry-jingo

Jingo deals with the emergence of a new island between Ankh Morpork and Klatch that both cities decide belong to them. A small squabble over fishing rights and who gets to occupy the land, turns into the threat of all out war, and the mobilisation of ancestral armies on the streets of Ankh Morpork.

Samuel Vimes, commander of the Watch, smells a rat and investigates, or he would do if he wasn’t hampered by the political machinations of his aristocratic haters, in particular, Lord Rust, a man who wants to shut Vimes down for many reasons.

Oscar loved this because it is a book about the Watch. He brings to his reading, a wealth of knowledge amassed from the previous books and it suddenly makes him realise how valuable things like back stories are. He is beginning to predict how characters will behave in certain circumstances, and it gives him enormous joy when he is right.

I disliked this less, this time around, but then it seems to echo a lot of the political landscape in which we are forced to live at the moment, jingoism, xenophobia, racism and casual intolerance are all lampooned on Pratchett’s sharpest pen and I was moved to laugh more than once by parallels with current events. Despite the fact that they aren’t really funny. Current events that is.

It holds up better than I expected and there are some wonderful moments between Nobby Knobbs, Sergeant Colon and Lord Vetinari that I had totally forgotten about and which really made this a winner this time around.

Wonderful for teens who love fantasy, humour and satire. Not suitable for primary aged children unless you don’t mind doing lots of explaining of adult humour, double entendres, and in this case, politics and science.

Electrigirl by Jo Cotterill – A Review

Tags

, , , , , ,

On Friday night Oscar came out of school looking very excited, with a book clutched in his hand. He never stopped talking about it all the way home. His class have been doing a survey to find out their top five reads of Year Five. The book in his hand was Electrigirl by Jo Cotterill. It was one of the books his class had picked for their top five. He’d been waiting to bring it home and read it for ages, and now it was his turn.

electrigirl_2

Actually he’d read half of it in his golden time in the afternoon, and he was full of it. He was already hoping that it would be picked as one of the whole school’s top five books too, if not the best book.

He’d read it all by Friday bed time, and as he went upstairs he thrust it into my hand and said ‘READ IT. I NEED TO TALK TO YOU ABOUT IT.’ I’ve not heard him so enthusiastic about a book for a long, long time. So I read it.

Electrigirl tells the story of Holly Sparkes and her best friend Imogen. Holly and Imogen do everything together, until a new company build an office in their home town. CyberSky make mobile phones, and to compensate for building a mobile phone mast in the area, they give every child of twelve and over a mobile phone. This seems like a wonderful thing until Holly notices that Imogen is changing. She’s hooked on a quiz app on her phone and is paying less and less attention to Holly.  It also seems to be changing her personality and Holly is both alarmed and upset.

Holly takes a walk to think about things when she is caught in a storm near the new mobile mast. A freak ball of lightning hitting her changes her life forever as she wakes up with super powers. With the help of her super hero obsessed brother who is the only one she can confide in, Holly learns to be Electrigirl and investigates exactly what is happening with Imogen and her phone.

The story is well told in Holly’s voice, with fantastic graphic panels by illustrator, Cathy Brett. It’s a hybrid between a graphic novel and a novel, with more written chapters than story board. I’d have liked to have seen a few more graphic style pages. I wonder if this will develop as the series continues. I rather hope so. It would be nice to see a more even split as the graphics bring a lot to the story.

I love the fact that this is a girl superhero and she’s written for younger readers. There are women superheroes, naturally, but graphic novels tend to cater to a much older demographic and it’s brilliant to see something for the 8-12 year range that isn’t focused on how much boys enjoy graphic novels.

I also love the fact that my boy did love this, and so did the other boys in his class. It’s brilliant to hear such enthusiasm when, having taught reading in schools for years I have so often heard the ‘I’m not reading that, it’s a girls’ book’ line.  Electrigirl does a fantastic job of bridging the gender divide and giving something of quality to every reader. I look forward to reading the rest of the Electrigirl books.

 

Ottoline and the Purple Fox by Chris Riddell – A Review

Tags

, , , , ,

Ottoline and the Purple Fox is the fourth book in the Ottoline series by Chris Riddell and long awaited it has been. I have loved Ottoline since the very first book in the series, Ottoline and the Yellow Cat, and loved her so much I never waited for paperbacks. I was very sad when after the third book, Ottoline at Sea, it looked like Chris Riddell had retired her in favour of pastures new.

ottoline-and-the-purple-fox-best-childrens-booka

With the glorious Goth Girl series, I felt he had redeemed himself, and with all the awards heaped upon Goth Girl, I wonder if his publisher allowed him to resurrect Ottoline. However it happened, I was utterly delighted to receive Ottoline and the Purple Fox last year and I saved it until I knew I would be able to completely savour it. Certain books are reserved for deep enjoyment in the manner of break glass with hammer in an emergency. This is such a book.

I was poorly over the last few days, and after having waded through two dreary Jack London books out of a weird and entirely misplaced sense of duty, I knew it was time to enjoy Ottoline and enjoy her I did. Every, single page was a joy to read.

Ottoline is a young girl who lives alone with a bog creature from Norway called Mr. Monroe, who resembles Cousin It from The Addams Family. Her parents are explorers who write to her regularly and send home finds for the collections that Ottoline curates. Ottoline is not lonely as she has many friends and acquaintances and an entire raft of employees who come in to help her. In her previous books, she solved mysteries. In this book, rather more whimsical things happen.

This book shows Ottoline finding a new friend and setting up a story line I hope means there will be more books for. It also sees her exploring the strange city she lives in, in the company of a dapper fox as he takes her on an urban safari. Ottoline and Mr. Monroe also try their hand at matchmaking with very romantic results.

The Ottoline books are funny, charming, and glorious to read. The books are full of little jokes and asides and things to discover and savour. The illustrations are gorgeous, the books are beautiful things in themselves and there is, as ever, a little surprise tucked into the back of the book for the reader. These are perennially popular with all readers I tried them with, boys and girls, and they are fantastic for transitional readers because the text is so simple and the illustrations so beguiling.

White Fang By Jack London – A Review

Tags

, , , , ,

For those of you who read my previous post about Jack London’s Call of the Wild, the fact that I did not like his book White Fang either, will come as no surprise. London’s style is very distinctive. If you like him, you’re going to like everything. If not, not so much. It also features an anthropomorphised creature in the starring role, something which you will already know I am not fond of in terms of literature.

220px-jacklondonwhitefang1

White Fang tells the story of the cub White Fang, part dog, part wolf, born in the wild, but strangely drawn to man through his dog heritage, and yet at war with himself and his surroundings for much of his life. The book charts his mother’s life, his birth and then his own life and all the adventures and misadventures and in particular, misfortunes White Fang has to live through in order to find his true home and nature.

If I had read this as a child I probably would have enjoyed it more than I do reading it as an adult. I would have failed to notice the racism of the author waxing lyrical about the failures of the Red Indians to progress as a race and the superiority of the upper middle class white man in everything he does. I would also have found the episodes where White Fang is captured and forced to fight dogs probably less upsetting than I do now. As it is, I just found the book pushed me from one thing that upset or offended me to another and I disliked it more than Call of the Wild, although it is a more exciting and dynamic book than Call of the Wild.

Again, if you love stories about animals and adventures with plenty of tear sodden episodes in, this book will undoubtedly hit the spot, but as a girl I always hated sad animal stories and it took me until I was in my thirties to brave Black Beauty, Tarka the Otter and Watership Down and I think I was right to leave them until l was older. As for these, I really feel my life would not be any worse for never having read them, no matter how classic they are.

The Call of The Wild by Jack London – A Book Review

Tags

, , , ,

The Call of the Wild and White Fang (which I will be reviewing next) are always listed as children’s classics, and inevitably shunted onto those lists of 1001 books you must read before you die. Mostly this makes me very suspicious. I have read a lot of books on lists like these over the years, both as a literature student and in a futile desire to educate myself better by the ingestion of thousands of words. Generally I find myself disliking many of the books that are supposed to be great. The Call of the Wild is no exception, sadly.

1367257936_meadows-london_london_call_of_wild_cover-w

I realised, about half way through reading this, that I had actually read it before, which should have told me everything I needed to know about it. I persevered however, and then wished I hadn’t, as it didn’t improve any on the second reading.

It tells the story of a dog called Buck, who is stolen from his comfortable, civilised life as a pet, and taken to the Klondike as a sledge dog during the gold rush years. The book is told through the eyes of Buck, although the authorial voice does shout all over it from time to time.

This is part of the problem for me. I read Jack London years ago at university when I did a course on writing and the working classes. His book The People of The Abyss, is about time he spent infiltrating the slums of London’s East End in the early years of the Twentieth Century and what he felt his findings told him about the state of mankind in general, particularly poor people. What London discovered was that he disliked them intensely, he thought them lower than animals, and that there was no hope for them. He actively propounded eugenics as a clean and humanitarian solution to clearing the slums and helping the fittest survive. I found this more than a little distasteful.

It also colours everything else I’ve ever read by him, and I found myself not entirely in sympathy with his views of the magnificent wildness of beasts and their wondrously noble yet savage natures.

It is, if you haven’t already been ruined for Jack London, a fairly exciting adventure story about a dog, and were it not for the fact that as much as I hate Jack London, I also hate adventure stories with anthropomorphised animals in them. I’d probably love it. As it is, I don’t.

If you’re a lover of Lassie and the like, this is definitely the book for you, and it has the merit of  being readable and short.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi – A Book Review

Tags

, , , , ,

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is most definitely a book for teens. Let’s just get that out the way from the get go. It’s brilliant and powerful and funny and frank, but it’s also complex and political and gruesome and sexy and really not something I’m recommending for primary school library shelves.

persepolis

On the other hand it would be a top pick for a high school/college library if I had my way. In Persepolis, Satrapi tells the story of her growing up in Iran during the Seventies and Eighties and her eventual move to Europe, first for a few years in her mid teens and finally to France as a young adult.

The book is a graphic novel. It’s simply and powerfully drawn in black and white frames and I thought I would find it off putting and that it would distract me from what is a complex, political and personal history, but it didn’t. In fact, it was amazing how integral the pictures were for me and how cohesive they made the story. I’ve never really experienced a graphic novel in that way before and it made me understand why some people just love them so much. This book is a masterpiece.

Actually my copy of Persepolis is two books. It can be bought and read in two separate volumes, the first of which deals with Satrapi’s childhood and teens, the next with her young adulthood and coming back to Iran after being in Europe for a few years.

Satrapi manages to capture the complexities of her life and country and its politics. She manages to infuse her family and friends with such personality you feel you really know them. She makes you share in her bewilderment, her frustration and her anger, yet at the same time you begin to see what she loves about her country and why she finds it so hard to leave. It really brings home to you how divided being a modern person growing up in an anti modern society is, as well as how difficult it is to feel like a stranger in your own land and a stranger in everyone else’s too.

Witty, irreverent, clever, satirical and brilliant. It’s a totally compelling read.