Sunday, 25 August 2013

Possibly the most depressing book ever written.

OK, it's a very good book.  It's a very good book for teens because it combines a syrupy love-story-against-the-odds with a heavy (but well-disguised) dose of LOOK AT THE STATE OF THE WORLD WE LIVE IN, TEENS!  Kind of like Twilight with an actual point.

I was concerned that the only book I'd read by the new Children's Laureate was Pig-Heart Boy. And then even more concerned when I realised I hadn't actually read the book at all, but watched the series on the BBC, which is not really the same, is it?  So I decided to read Noughts and Crosses, which seems to be her best known novel.

Oh my goodness, how horribly depressing it is.  There are no easy answers to the uncomfortable questions it poses about racial discrimination and cultural hegemony.  Probably because there are actually no easy answers.  This does leave the reader with a bit of a sense of futility at the end, however. 

The book is set in an alternate world, where the continents have not separated and in the part of the world where the story is set, black people have power, control and, often, an utter disregard for the humanity of white people.  It follows the story of Sephy (a Cross (black person), whose father is high up in the country's government) and Callum,  a Nought (white) whose mother is employed as a nanny/home help in Sephy's home.  Sephy and Callum are close, but there are obviously many and varied obstacles in their path.  It doesn't end well.

The book is the first in a series.  I am stealing myself before reading the others...

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

I vaguely knew the plot of this through hearing people talk about the film, although I've not seen it, since I think it would disturb A and she would probably never sleep again.  I've also read Gaiman's The Graveyard Book with my students in Book Group.  It was a little more difficult and wordy than the books some of them were used to, but most of us enjoyed it.

I loved Coraline though.  It was very creepy, but very compelling, and the characterisation was fantastic.  It reminded me a little of one of my favourite films, a little-known early-80s Disney horror called "The Watcher in the Woods".  The setting was very similar to another of my favourites, the book Tom's Midnight Garden. The spooky, lonely only child motif reminded me of Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror.  For those that enjoyed Coraline, I'd recommend the other two books, if you've not already read them.

I tried to encourage A to read it but it had "too many long words".  *Sigh*.  I think it may have been a little too scary for bedtime reading in fairness.  It felt very old-fashioned and almost placeless in terms of its world geography, which only added to the sense of "other-worldness".  Very enjoyable.  Worth reading through first for sensitive souls though.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Horton Halfpott by Tom Angelberger

This was a very strange book indeed.  C and I read it at bedtime after I found it in a charity shop.  It was 99p and had a glow in the dark cover, with a picture that reminded me of Jan Pienkowski, so obviously I had to buy it.  I didn't actually look inside the book before I handed over my 99 English pence, which was perhaps an error of judgement.

C liked it, and I can kind of see why.  It was quite humourous in places; the characters were fun in a pantomime-esque way and there was enough mystery to keep the reader interested. However, it was an American book set in an English country house probably some time in the early 20th century.  It annoyed me because there were massive anachronisms in the way the characters spoke and the vocabulary used to describe items in the house and the landscape.  This didn't really bother C, in fact I am certain he didn't notice.  I did feel the need to translate some of it on the hoof, so was quite glad, for that reason, that I was reading, rather than him having read the book himself.

It's certainly not one I will be giving shelf-space to, so will be returning to the charity shop from whence it came.  It's not a bad read, but make sure you don't pay more than 99p for it!

The Baker Street Boys: The Case of the Limehouse Laundry by Anthony Read

As previously mentioned we downloaded this to the Nook for holiday reading, purely because we get the train from Limehouse to visit friends when we're in London.  This seemed like quite a spurious reason to download it, but we only had four books in our library basket, and you're allowed five at a time, so in it went.

It turned out to be a bit of a revelation!  C tends to denounce bedtime stories as boring unless they are instantly gripping and/or funny, preferably both.  This had just enough humour and mystery in the opening section to keep him going, and by the time we were about 10 pages in, he was hooked.  A also started to listen in, and by the end they were both heavily invested in the story.

They struggled a bit with knowing when it was set "why are they calling Tower Bridge new, Mummy?  It's really old!?  And Limehouse isn't where Chinatown is!"  Having explained the chronology, I though rather brilliantly, C piped up "so was it before or after the Great Fire then?"  I think we may spend some time this holiday making some sort of rough timeline...

Anyway, the stories involve Sherlock Holmes in a minimal role, but it's the children who make up the Boys that really solve the mystery.  It has sparked an interest in Holmes in the kids though, so we might do a visit to the Baker Street museum next time we're in London. 

The best news for C and me is that there are lots more of the books in the series, and the library have a very good selection of them available for the ereader :)  Bedtime story dilemmas solved for the foreseeable future.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe

This week we've been on our holidays in Scotland; an hour from Edinburgh on the train.  We took the opportunity to visit the festival for the first time ever.  I was very glad that we had some lovely friends with us who knew what they were doing, as I think I may have spent the days wandering around looking dazed rather than actually finding shows to watch otherwise. 

We saw two shows, only one of which was based on a book, but both of which are worth a mention.  The first was an adaptation of some of Kipling's Just So Stories.  The four actors used everyday items as props to enhance their storytelling, which was really, really very good.  Many small children were spellbound which, given how complex the language in the stories is, is quite impressive.  I have tried to read them to A, and she has declared them boring, but she was certainly listening at the show!  It was, however, very expensive for what turned out to be only half an hour's worth of show, which was a little irritating.

We also saw the stage show adaptation of CBBC's Help! My Supply Teacher is Magic! It was absolutely brilliant.  The only slight trauma was when A got picked to help with a trick and C didn't, which caused dramatic, but also thankfully, short-lived heartache.  I do get a slight heart-sink moment when kids are picked out of the audience in shows.  It does tend to simply aggravate kids who want to get picked and never are, or embarrass kids who don't really feel comfortable with being in the lime-light, but are suddenly thrust into it.  Anyway, it's a testament to how entertaining the show was that C quickly forgot his upset and has not mentioned it since.  Well worth a visit if you get the chance.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

The library, but portable...

So, having realised that it was in fact my computer that was hideously slow and temperamental, rather than the Nook or the library software, and, having now acquired a new computer, I have been downloading books from the library onto our three Nooks as often as the library rules allow.

I have a niggling doubt that downloading books to an electronic device cannot be quite as good for libraries as actually going in there, but since we do that too pretty regularly, it probably doesn't make too many odds for us.

The kids have enjoyed All The Best by Roger McGough on theirs, and we are currently reading The Baker Street Boys: The Case of the Limehouse Laundry at bedtime. I only picked it because we sometimes get the train from Limehouse station to see friends in Southend, so I thought the kids might relate to the setting, but it turns out it's a cracking tale so far, and it's one of a very long series, all of which are available through the library service.  Bonus!

I very much enjoyed The Comfort of Things by Daniel Miller - all about the residents of a South London street, and their possessions.  This is a book I probably would never have picked up in reality, or bought on the kindle, but it was a very interesting read.  I did suffer the disappointment of downloading a book which I thought I would love, only to find that I'd actually already read it on holiday a couple of years ago (it was The Gallows Curse by Karen Maitland, and I did enjoy it)

The Nook Simple Touch appears to be out of stock at the moment, but I will update when they come back in - we have been really very impressed with ours, and being able to support libraries and get books for free has to be a bonus.  Even if you do download the odd book you've read before.