#kidbkgrp 2014 schedule

So here we are. The first Thursday of every month, 9-10pm – let’s talk about children’s literature on Twitter with the hashtag #kidbkgrp. Do come along – I’d love to see you there :) Continue reading

Department 19 – Zero Hour : Will Hill

Zero Hour (Department 19, #4)Zero Hour by Will Hill

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This wildly vivid and intense addition to the Zero Hour series by Will Hill basically re-defines nerve-shredding.

Department 19 is standing against the darkness. The problem is that the thin red line that they provide is getting thinner by the day and now that the Big Bad is making itself known, things are getting very scary indeed. It’s time for Department 19 to face Zero Hour.

Zero Hour is part four of a series and whilst there are elements of the plot and characters which won’t make much sense if you’ve not read the others, I have to applaud Hill’s skill in making this book accessible to new readers. He weaves in detail and backstory so solidly and never once resorts to the great and awkward technique of “So what did you do last Summer?” “Well, thank you for asking mysterious stranger, this is exactly what I did.”

Mythology wise this is good and great stuff. It’s a dark weaving of tapestry; of blood sodden story and painful pasts and it all just fits. What Hill does with his Big Bad in this book is just perfectly awful. He fits. It works. There’s very little to say other than this book features one of the darkest characters I’ve ever read in young adult literature and yet I couldn’t not read him. I wanted to. I was bound to those pages and did the terribly cliche thing of sort of forgetting to breathe just a little.

One thing to quickly note is that there are some intensely graphic moments of violence in this book. They are all really well handled (I’m oddly amused by my turn of phrase there), and it’s a credit to Hill that they all feel part of this text and not gratuitous nor sensationalist in anyway. The violence in this book is narratorially (that’s not a word but go with me?) and textually deserved. As ever my suggestion is if working with children or recommending this to them, read the book and trust your instincts in how you handle this and work with this book.

What I love about books like this is when they remember that despite all the strangeness, the weirdness, the werewolves and the vampires, is that underneath it all, people are people. Still. Always. Hill gets that, I think, and his people are joyous. Idiotic. Brave. Loving. Passionate. Real.

Every time I think back to Zero Hour, I just exhale a little bit and go “Ooof. That was a good book.”

My thanks to HarperCollins for letting me have a look at this via NetGalley.

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Russell Howard’s Good News

A brief post for today but if you have a couple of minutes spare this morning, can I recommend you watch this (From 26mins onwards).

People are amazing. I think that’s all that needs to be said.

Atomic Sheep : Sally Jane Thompson

Atomic SheepAtomic Sheep by Sally Jane Thompson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This quiet graphic novel is a rather beautiful thing. I came across it after tweeting that I was visiting Thought Bubble and if you were writing comics which feature boarding schools then I’d be really interested to see them. Because, and I grant this might come as a little bit of a surprise to those of you who know me, I rather love the genre and I don’t read enough of it in comic form. So after tweeting that, Sally Jane Thompson replied and mentioned Atomic Sheep to me and, as they say in all cliche-ridden things, the rest is history.

Told in a gorgeously soft pallet of autumnal browns and muted subtle tones, Atomic Sheep covers Tamrika’s first term at boarding school. Tammy is literally and metaphorically trying to find her creative voice. She wants to get better at her art and ends up forming an art group at her new school. It’s through this club and her relationships with her slightly scary roommate that Tammy starts to come to terms with both where she is and who she is.

Atomic Sheep is a very subtly lovely book. It’s not one of the bash, kapow, thwock sort of books and if you’re expecting overt and dramatic action, I’d suggest that you look elsewhere. What Atomic Sheep does is concern itself with the moments of growth and change that Tammy goes through during her first term. There are some beautiful little moments that she has and I loved how Thompson handled that. She’s got a lovely metatextual touch where the speech bubbles overlap in arguments or fall blank or just simply *sigh*. It’s gorgeous to read. It makes you so content as a reader, really, to experience this sort of enfolding of a story. It’s palpably lovely. And I’m conscious that I’m overusing ‘lovely’ in this review but really, it is. It is.


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A couple of thoughts on Mockingjay Part One and the nature of heroism

I’m conscious that this is a children’s literature blog and I don’t want to start segueing off into telling you about what I had for dinner or things like that, but I do want to tell you a little bit about Mockingjay Part One.

The film is an adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ novel Mockingjay (part of it – it’s been split into two films) and it is rather blindingly awfully brilliant. I saw it last night and can’t quite shake that dark pained truth that it has; that way that it situates stillness against rage and pain against love. Love, as President Snow knows, is destructive. Deathly.”it’s the things we love most that destroy us.”

Jennifer Lawrence is the raging anti-centre of these films. She is the Mockingjay; this figure isolated, this totemic individual that says a thousand things with just the look of her eyes and the shift of her body. Her stillness is immense.

Is Katniss likable? To me, yes. Immensely so.  She is a hero. She is heroic. She fights for what she believes in, even though she may not know what she’s fighting for. Freedom? Love? Hope? She is the after-effect of a former world, she is the impact of the Hunger Games, she is not the same person she once was. She is a teenage girl but she’s more than that and less than that, all at the same time.

She is a hero. A complex messed up individual who stands for something deep and strong and hopeful and shameful all at the same time. A dilemma of sorts encapsulated in a stubborn, bruised shell of a person.

Heroism. Dark blues, greys and blacks; a colour spectrum of heroism encapsulated in the muddy tones of a film bedding in to say big things and horrible things and necessary things and awful, timely, relevant things.

I think of heroism a lot with young adult literature. I think that that framing of a person in the centre of a dialogue, of a narrative, is in a way creating heroes. A centre of story, a breaker against the tide.

And I think that reading that narrative is heroic, I think that every time you pick up a book you’re creating a little intervention in the narrative of the everyday. You are sticking your hand up, marking your flag in the sand, stopping in your way down the road of your life to say – this matters. This moment matters, right here, this story I am engaging with, this moment of text and I.

And that story, right there, that involves a thousand moments of heroism. A redefinition of heroism, no – perhaps a wider interpretation of heroism is required. The heroic nature of the young adult protagonist; the mark of placing themselves against the world and fighting to hold onto it.

I love Katniss. I love what she is. I love that she is. Complex, brave, shattered women exist.

Heroes exist.

We should not ignore that.


“Only the Other could write my love story, my novel”

Sometimes there are moments when I realise how much I love story. Storying. Telling something to somebody else, nobody else, just telling a story to the world and hoping, knowing, longing that somebody will hear. Just telling. Telling. It is all in the telling and the shaping and the forming and the making, making, making.

I feel feverish. I feel as though I want to lock the door and let everything spin past me.

I believe in story. I love story. I reaffirm myself to it, I cleave to it and wrap my arms around it and will not let it go.

I write for moments. I write for the moment when a girl looks in a mirror and sees herself, properly, wholly, painfully, for the first time. I write for the moment when a girl is able to describe herself and not pause and not wonder where to begin. I write for the moment when two people look at each other and realise that that moment, right there, when they see themselves in another’s eyes, that is everything. I write for the space in between people where we touch, so briefly, so endlessly. I write for the life that we live for the life that we could live for the life that we don’t want to live, for the life that we dream of each and every day.

I write for that space just beyond the fingertip touch.I write for the edge of forever and the moment when your skin touches the one you love.

I shiver for those moments. I ache for them.

I adore them.

Their story. My story. Our story.

A Children’s Literature Tour of Great Britain : Mark West

A Children's Literature Tour of Great BritainA Children’s Literature Tour of Great Britain by Mark I. West

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

West’s tour of Great Britain from a children’s literature perspective both satisfies and frustrates in fairly equal measure.

What interests me about this book is the palpable tension between the nature of such a guide and the literature it concerns. The blurb on the back cover comments that: “Many of the sites on West’s Tour are geared toward children, while some are clearly intended for adults. All will add depth and delight to your next excursion into the fantastic (and fascinating) world of British children’s literature.”

There’s a lot to unpick there, so let’s begin. The initial sticking point for me is this distinguishing between sites for adults and sites for children. This is a tension which surfaces quite often critical work around literary tourism as a whole. Fairly early on in The Literary Tourist: Readers and Places in Romantic and Victorian Britain, Watson comments that: “[visiting] places with literary associations is essentially an adult vice” (2). Other theorists suggest how literary tourism allows us to regain our childhood (therefore suggesting that the ‘regainee’ is old enough to have had a childhood) or stating that literary tourism is an attempt to memorialise (or to commercialise?) creativity (therefore suggesting that the memorialisee (sp!) is able to validate and register the value of creative cultural capital).

I grant that many of the points in the previous paragraph are cherry picked, but I hope to share with you my rationale and that is this: all of these schools of thoughts presuppose an adult tourist.

Whilst juvenile tourists most certainly do exist, they exist within certain parameters and these are mostly adult defined. However these defining parameters do not define the experience of the juvenile tourist. They also do not obliterate the experience of the juvenile tourist and it is vital to remember that, when discussing literary tourism and children’s literature, that these tourists exist and that, whilst we may not understand their interpretive strategies or their communication strategies, we need to understand that they exist.

So, now that that is said, West’s book is problematic due to this nature of partial audience erasure but also, I think, because of his selection of authors / topics to feature: King Arthur, The Rev W. Awrdy & Christopher Awdry / JM Barrie / Michael Bond / Frances Hodgson Burnett / Lewis Carroll / John Cunliffe / Roald Dahl / Ian Fleming / Kenneth Grahame and Thomas Hughes.

The gender split of these chapter headings is obvious, as is the temporal split. I was surprised to read the publication date for this book being 2003 as, from the selections of authors chosen, I had read a much earlier date for the research. Whilst the entries for each author / topic are interesting, they are brief. Each chapter picks out a relevant attraction for tourists to attend and sometimes the rationales for selection are somewhat oblique. In addition to this, the practicalities of West’s book have suffered due to time as books of this nature often do. Several of the attractions he references are now closed. Certain other details, such as the prices, have also inevitably been affected.

I do laud West’s commitment to his subject throughout this book. Children’s literature and literary tourism is a rich, rich topic and work that focuses on it is welcome and overdue. However, I think if I were to be asked to reccomend a specific guide to Britain for children’s literary purposes, I would put West’s tome aside and head over for the infuriating and yet wildly magical How the Heather Looks: A Joyous Journey to the British Sources of Children’s Books (a book I originally reviewed here), primarily because of Bodger’s itchingly vivid stylistics when compared to West’s more practically inclined tome. And yet, I wonder why I make that decision, why I ache for that wilderness of text that sings of its subject and I wonder if that is to do with my hope, my love, my fervent belief in the space of children’s literature, and of allowing the reader, of whatever age that reader may be, that space to breathe in and to bring their own story towards.

I wonder, perhaps, if that is at the heart of this issue of children’s literature and literary tourism. I wonder if that distinctly un-academic edge is necessary.

I wonder, perhaps, if I need to stand outside a house in London and clap my hands and believe in fairies.

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